Intimacy Matters: 6 Strategies for Healthy Relationships

Emotional intimacy is important for resilient relationships and our overall well-being. People who maintain close relationships are healthier, more comfortable, and 50 percent more likely to live longer (Holt-Lunstad, 2010) than those who don’t. And research consistently states that “people are most likely to thrive when they feel closely connected to significant others” (Pietromonoco, 2017).

Intimacy occurs when people feel “understood, accepted, and cared for” (Pietromonoco, 2017), Laurenceau, 1998; Reis, 1988) and can include both emotional and physical intimacy. Intimate behavior builds trust, warm feelings, and a sense of belonging and acceptance.

So how do you cultivate intimacy where others feel understood, accepted, and cared for? The following strategies might help. Like all other skills, they require practice and trial and error to allow for greater proficiency over time. Engage in your practice and your learning and watch your relationships flourish.

6 strategies for intimacy

1. Try to understand first.

While it’s not your fault if nobody taught you how to be a good listener, listening is an important skill to develop if you want to maintain healthy relationships.

Effective listening requires focus. We should try not to be distracted by our phones, thoughts, or other worries, and give the speaker our undivided attention. Allow pauses in the conversation to give them time to share more if they wish.

We should listen to understand both the content (what they are actually saying) and the meaning and emotion underlying what is being said. For example, if someone says, “I’m fine,” but is unable to elaborate, or their facial expression shows sorrow or sadness, they may not be telling you the full story.

You can listen beyond their words to get a fuller picture. What are you Not Saying? What do their body language and facial expressions tell you? Given what you know about her and her life, what can you conclude about her situation?

It’s important not to make assumptions, rush things, or run away from a challenging situation (physical or emotional). Instead, consider leaning into the conversation, being curious, asking questions, avoiding judgement, and creating a space where they can share and get support from you if they wish.

2. Show compassion and understanding.

It’s one thing to demonstrate our interest and concern by giving our undivided attention with body language (eye contact, head nod, leaning in), verbal affirmations (appropriately placed “uh-huh,” “I see,” or “wow”), and Curiosity (“Are you okay?” or “Tell me more”). It is another to show that you have heard correctly.

Reflective listening involves periodic summaries that show the speaker that you heard correctly. On one level, summarizing the content in your own words shows that you heard what they said. At a deeper level, the way you understand the events in communication shows that you have processed the implications of the narrative.

For example, “What I heard you say was when you went to the store to buy a birthday present, you were hit by a car at the intersection, and now you are in chronic pain and financially struggling,” summarizes what could have been a story about her recent trauma. “This accident has significantly upset your life on multiple levels and in ways I cannot imagine,” demonstrates a deeper understanding of the story.

Imparting understanding should also include emotional content when dealing with an emotional topic. When they express their feelings, include this in your reflective summary of the hearing: “…and you said it made you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.”

3. Practice empathy.

Often the speaker does not share his feelings. Although you may imagine how you would feel in a certain situation (sympathy), imagining how they feel and what they need (empathy) means you may be able to support them in ways that matter to them is. When someone is struggling, saying that you can’t imagine how they must feel is one way to show empathy for them.

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People who are naturally empathic and can literally feel the emotions of others may have the advantage of being able to effortlessly connect with the speaker’s emotions. However, the empathetic listener must also be careful not to confuse the feelings of others with their own. Check if you are correctly assessing their feelings.

Those who are not naturally empathetic in this way can ask instead. For example: “I think I would be upset about that. How are you feeling?” Or, “The look on your face makes me think you’re frustrated. Do I understand that correctly?”

4. Offer affirmation and support.

After summarizing content and emotions, it can also be helpful to make sure they said everything they wanted to say and that you heard them correctly. “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” and “Did I understand that correctly?” are easy ways to make sure you’ve interpreted correctly.

Validating your perspective and feelings, even if you disagree with the narrative or don’t share their feelings, can help build trust. However, if the logic doesn’t make sense to you, ask if you can ask a clarifying question. The reasoning and the resulting emotions should make sense to you. Pause to let the feelings sink in and say that (from their point of view) their reaction makes sense, that you understand.

If you want to offer support, be specific about how you can help. For example: “I can’t imagine how challenging that must feel. Would it be helpful to meet me for coffee one day so you can tell me more about it? Or if I came over to help babysit?”

5. Share your personal truth without judgement.

This can be difficult when they believe you are partly responsible for their circumstances. However, once they feel seen and heard, they may be more open to hearing your perspective. Remember that there is no absolute right or wrong when interpreting facts subjectively.

Speak from a place of your personal truth and feelings while avoiding negative judgment or criticism. If you want them to behave differently in the future, make your request specific and clear. Repeat areas of agreement and similarities, and frame differences as understandable and natural. Remember that agreeing to an objection is also a success and ultimately often the most sensible solution.

6. Mutuality, Growth and Commitment

Successful intimate relationships are balanced, give and take in a way that avoids making points. Each party gives more than 50 percent as misunderstandings, misalignments, differences, areas of ignorance and oversights take their toll.

Everyone contributes in their area of ​​strength and at the same time takes care of their growth opportunities. Therefore, the formula looks very different for each relationship and is not conducive to the score.

Commitment also means that everyone understands that a good relationship requires constant effort, patience, the benefit of the doubt, and forgiveness. There will be setbacks and misunderstandings, and the commitment to making it work motivates everyone to keep trying.

Together, these six areas could be beneficial during times of emotional intensity. Individually, these skills also continually benefit from relationships, both in terms of acquiring competency skills and investing in relationship success.

Although building intimacy is often hard and challenging work, the alternative is coming to terms with fractured relationships that come with conflict and stress. Instead, a commitment to fostering intimacy helps us to understand, honor, and respect one another in the face of our differences, which affects our relationships, our worldview, our sense of purpose, and our ability to foster the solutions so needed in our modern lives. can enrich .

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