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Nourishing & Diversifying Intimacy

There’s a good chance that when you hear the word intimacy, you’d probably think about physical and sexual intimacy. I think most people would. But intimacy isn’t limited to these two types. It is also emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. 

In a world where we’re most “connected” in various ways, we’re the most alone because the tools of our connection lack true intimacy. Nothing highlights this more than the aloneness and isolation you can feel during the holidays. Today we’re delving into artificial intimacy: What it means, its impact, and how you can shift from it into more authentic intimacy as you move through this upcoming holiday season.

What is Artificial Intimacy?

Artificial intimacy is the type of intimacy sustained by daily life but lacks a sense of oneness and connectedness. In romantic and sexual relationships, it’s based on initial infatuation and sexual chemistry. This dynamic is often characterized by artificial compatibility creating a weak foundation to your relationship house.

Dr. John Gottman introduced the concept that a foundationally secure partnership is like a house. It has weight-bearing walls and levels that each person builds upon to create a sturdy bond.

The Relationship House has weight-bearing walls of Trust and Commitment and has the following floors associated with specific actions:

Floor 1: Building Love Maps

Floor 2: Sharing Fondness and Admiration

Floor 3: Turning Towards

Floor 4: The Positive Perspective

Floor 5: Managing Conflict

Floor 6: Making Life Dreams Come True

Floor 7: Creating Shared Meaning

You can see from these floors that intimacy is not just a feeling; it’s an action. 

When you engage in these actions, you build deeper bonds and feel heard and seen in a reciprocal way. 

So, What gets in the way of deep intimacy?

Barriers to Authentic Intimacy

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. Conflict on the road to progress is inevitable. And at least some division is always a certainty because we all want what we think is best for everyone. It’s simply not realistic for any house to avoid some division. But how much division can any house withstand before it finally falls?” - Grey’s Anatomy

You can have many barriers to true intimacy because of adverse life experiences such as traumatic loss, childhood trauma, and adverse life events and stressors. These types of experiences gone unrecognized and unresolved can lead to:

  • Fear of Intimacy

Your ways of relating to yourself, other people, and the world are impacted by these types of events. One way this can show up is through artificial intimacy. These ways of relating are known as your attachment styles, and within them, you might find yourself reenacting your attachment wounds. From a trauma lens, fear of intimacy can be about fear of rejection or avoiding pain that has previously come from loss. There are many other ways this can show up in your relationships. You can learn more about them in Move From Fear Mode to Secure Mode

  • Lack of Deep Connection

Trauma can lead you to turn away from yourself, and then you can turn away from others. When you turn away from one another and/or only share tasks, you can end up feeling alone while together. A surface type of intimacy develops from sharing daily life tasks and common interests. But what is left in your relationship when that’s done? What sustains your bond? 

  • Animosity

Trauma can close you off because connecting might bring up strong reactions for you such as fear or shame. You might find yourself acting and reacting in ways that create animosity to avoid those feelings, even when you don’t intend it. Animosity can show up in feeling like strangers or, even worse, like enemies and turning against each other. This dynamic will work against your intimacy because the opposite of vulnerability is animosity. When this is present, you can feel unsupported, misunderstood, and alone despite being surrounded by others. 

  • Denial

Denying the existence of conflict in your relationship will work against you, and so will keeping the peace to avoid tension. Sometimes avoiding tension feels like the safe thing to do. It temporarily lowers the intensity of the situation. So things feel “ok.” However, sweeping things under the rug or engaging in artificial solutions to deep problems often increases the long-term rift. You miss out on growing together through transformational tension, and you lose out on seeing conflict as an opportunity for growth and closeness in your relationship. 

Take a moment to reflect if any of these apply to you, and use the Relationship House floors to see which floor might need your attention the most.

Here are some things you can do today to strengthen your relationship floors.

How to Nourish Intimacy

  • Try New Things Together

New experiences help you see each other in a different light. It gives you a fresh perspective. You may even discover something new about one another and yourself - Surface new insights. Laugh. Be silly. Explore. Go on an adventure. 

  • Revisit Old Conversations

Sometimes when we take our connection for granted, we perceive things and people in a status quo when they’re no longer that way. You become familiar strangers. Take an inventory of what sustains your bond and build on that. One way you can do so is by revisiting old conversations. If you think you already know something about one another, check the pulse. Is it still the same? Or have one or more people evolved past what you thought?

  • Increase Quality Time Together

Put away technology, make eye contact, and have a conversation without distraction or “doing.” Be present with one another so you can create shared meaningful experiences and memories. One way you can do this is by creating a conversation jar. Write questions you have for one another and put these individually in a jar. Set time aside and take turns exploring curiously these questions together over time. Approach this with a non-judgmental, willing, and open mindset. 

  • Engage in Physical Intimacy Without the Expectation of Sexual Intercourse

For sexual and romantic partners: Not all touch is sexual, and not all sexual activity is physical. Kissing, holding hands, cuddling, and skin-to-skin touching are physical actions that don’t necessarily need to escalate into sexual intercourse. Enjoy the moment. Non-physical sexual activity can include sharing fantasies or having a sensual conversation without expecting an outcome or result.

  • Diversify Your Intimacy

Take time to develop other types of intimacy to strengthen and deepen your bond. Intellectual and spiritual intimacy are examples of other types of intimacy you can build. Intellectual intimacy happens through sharing ideas, perspectives, and opinions. Spiritual intimacy happens through being open about your innermost beliefs and values that drive your choices. This is an area where sharing dreams and making them come true can happen, so you can live your most fulfilling life.

When you overcome barriers to intimacy and experience one another differently, you engage in discovery, curiosity, and imperfection. And doing so can lead to trusting, sharing affectionately, detailed knowledge, and a deeper understanding of each another - This is the state of being intimate. 

As you move through this holiday season, take some time to see where you can incorporate some of these suggestions in a way that makes sense to you for deeper, more fulfilling intimacy.

Check out these previous related posts on Habits of People Who Thrive in Relationships and Hungry for Connection for valuable insights and tips.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with deep connections.

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Hiba Khatkhat

Hiba is a holistic psychotherapist specializing in trauma, couples treatment, and culture. She's passionate about solving mental health crises by practicing prevention. She brings over 18 years of experience working with individuals, couples, & families in her private practice. She is known for her work on the transmission of trauma and its impact on relationships.

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