What is intimacy?
Intimacy is the experience of emotional closeness. It occurs when two people are able to be emotionally open with one another, and reveal their true feelings, thoughts, fears and desires. This can only occur when both people are able to genuinely trust one another, and feel able to take the risk of being vulnerable. Intimacy is a universal human need; without it we have the experience of loneliness. A perceived lack of intimacy is one of the commonest reasons for relationship breakdowns.
Difficulties for men in regard to intimacy
Many men have been socialised to appear to be strong and in control. This perceived need to hide any weakness can interfere with their ability to experience intimacy, since real intimacy always involves some degree of vulnerability.
Men may abandon relationships and intimacy because they fear that they will lose their sense of being independent. True intimacy is not about giving up your independence. It’s about balancing the sense of yourself while still being connected with another.
Men often confuse sex and intimacy. Sex and intimacy are not the same thing. Sex without intimacy can be very unrewarding, just as sex with intimacy can be deeply passionate and fulfilling. It is also possible to experience intimacy without sex.
Some men confuse intimacy with the ‘honeymoon’ stage of a sexual relationship. This stage lasts for the first 6-36 months. It is a hormonally driven, heightened sense of being in ‘love’, often with a corresponding high sexual desire. When this ends, a relationship may seem to lose some of its initial intensity. This does not mean that intimacy needs to be lost, however. What it does signal is the beginning of a new phase of the relationship, in which both partners need to invest effort to maintain the emotional closeness that seemed to come so effortlessly early on.
Men may also experience difficulties achieving intimacy because of a lack of ‘emotional vocabulary’. Men often feel less able to express the way they are feeling than women, and may feel uncomfortable with discussions about emotions. However, it is important to remember that intimacy is a skill, and as such can be learned.
Tips for developing intimacy
Recognise that intimacy is a skill that takes practice. It is not always easy. It’s OK to be apprehensive about it, but don’t let that stop you trying.
Recognise that achieving intimacy involves an emotional risk. If you open up to another, there is always the risk of being hurt if the other person does not react in an accepting way. Trusting the other with your feelings, however, will often lead to them opening up to you as well. If you always wait for the other to open up first, you may never achieve closeness.
Even if the other person does not accept the thoughts and emotions you reveal, the relationship will often be better off for your honesty. Learning to manage the uncomfortable feelings you have when someone does not agree with you, without resorting to attacking or withdrawing, is an important skill.
You can ‘work’ on your intimacy whether you have a partner who wishes to or not. It is never too late to begin again. When emotional distance has become a habit, relationship breakdown is increasingly likely. The risk to the relationship of not opening up is far greater than the risk of being honest.
Challenge your limiting beliefs about masculinity such as ‘Men are always in control’ or ‘Boys don’t cry’.
Seek out an individual or relationship counsellor if you need help with developing intimacy.
For support on this topic
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MensLine Australia has professional counsellors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing confidential and anonymous information and support for all relationship issues. Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online counselling.