March 14, 2012

Entering into Intimate Relationships

One of the biggest payoffs of learning to trust (ourselves and others) and embracing vulnerability is intimacy, which is something we are built to need and crave. Before we delve into the work of identifying the reasons why we avoid intimacy and how to break free of the patterns that are keeping us from experiencing all of the goodness that comes from intimate relationships, let’s spend some time considering what intimacy is. After all, if we do not know what it is, how will we know when we have it?! Once, I came across this definition of intimacy that I really liked:
"Private and personal knowledge detailed and obtained by much study or experience."
Intimacy involves both the ability to give and receive love and grows over time as we have experiences with or “study” the person we are connecting with. One of the main problems we experience having been hurt in the past, however, is that we tend to jump ship well before any of that can happen. Thus, our relationships remain superficial – never delving into detailed private and personal sharing. Why is that? Why do we avoid intimacy like it is the plague? We have a whole host of fears and false beliefs that need to be challenged and unraveled in order to break free from the isolation that occurs when we avoid intimacy, such as (from Shelter from the Storm):
  • Intimacy means that we blindly trust people.
  • Intimacy means physical or emotional isolation.
  • Intimacy means betrayal.
  • Intimacy means agreeing with another person when you know that person is not right.
  • Intimacy means disclosing private or personal information when you do not want or wish to.
  • Intimacy means abuse.
Based on the fact that we need and desire intimacy, when we try to avoid or detach from this need, we usually compensate in some way. We engage in various behaviors to avoid intimacy (adapted from Shelter from the Storm):
  • Substituting (e.g. perfectionism, false compassion, attention demanding behavior)
  • Compulsive Behaviors (e.g. eating, smoking, shopping, sex, work, religion, TV)
  • Suppressing the Need
  • Fantasy
  • Self-pity
  • Anger
  • Unforgiveness/Rigidity
  • A Judgmental Attitude
  • Over-scheduling
We engage in all of these behaviors because we are trying to avoid the loss that comes when intimate relationships end or because of the false beliefs we have about what comes along with intimacy. Answer the next question: By never entering into intimate relationships, I get to avoid… But consider this: any behavior we use to avoid losing, actually causes us to lose! We have seen time and again the costs of trying to outrun or ignore any of our basic human needs. Answer this question: By never entering into intimate relationships, I never get to experience… One of the biggest reasons we avoid intimate relationships is that we ourselves do not know how to engage in a healthy way. We either isolate ourselves or become possessive or smothering should we connect with someone.

Remember that intimacy includes the ability to both give and receive love. If we are isolating ourselves from others, there is no opportunity for an exchange. If we are possessive and smothering, then we are stuck in a mode of only taking and not giving. Our needs are center stage and the other person is being held accountable to make sure that we are constantly reassured, comforted, and paid attention to.

Furthermore, if we are engaging in any of these behaviors, we are also, once again, on the control wagon! By either managing ourselves or others, we are hoping to eliminate the risks that come along with intimacy.

To begin the process of first identifying what intimacy is for you, I encourage you to create an “Intimacy Is…” collage. You can go whole hog and whip out magazines, glue stick, and construction paper or you can create a spreadsheet. The important thing is that you spend some time reflecting on what you would like to know and believe about intimacy – e.g. Intimacy is a walk on the beach, adventure, a risk worth taking, pillow talk.


  1. Intimate relationship is adventurous because you need to work harder just to be in this stage. I agree with you that when it comes to love it should be give and take scenario because it will be the best way to have a long-lasting relationship to someone. I really love your topic! It educates me. Thanks for this one.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment! So glad you found some useful tips that you can put into good use :)


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