It is held as a good value.  When it is missing, romantic partners complain of dissatisfaction.  The word “intimacy” is used euphemistically for sex…when the word “sex” is uncomfortable to use.  The two are not the same. Intimacy is about the openness and depth of emotional connection that lovers build.

    Lovers say they want intimacy, but routinely they don’t want it’s results: emotional complications, drama, loss of passion and walls of disconnection. Intimacy often does not feel good, because it reveals those parts of us that are unwanted, incomplete or filled with darkness. When lovers seek to build an intimate connection, they do not associate intimacy with these after-effects. Lovers want intimacy thinking that it is good, but it shows us the ugliness within.  Some are considered lucky in love, whereas most others are not.  This is not how it works; it isn’t about luck.  Loving takes work.  The work doesn’t feel fun.  It’s hard.

   Sex is not intimacy, though if partners are truly and deeply open to each other, sex can be intimate.  Most sexual partners are not open to each other.  Sex just becomes mechanical without an alive intimate connection.  Many partners spend much time hiding from themselves and each other to avoid pain of revealed fears, weaknesses and insecurities.  The transformative effect of intimacy is simultaneously destructive and creative.  Weaker partners shrink from its destructive side.

    Closeness with another at first soothes loneliness, but as the relationship deepens, activated is the old painful emotional residue from childhood.  Early in our lives was a time when we were impressed by our most intimate and influential relationships…those with our parents.  Getting close to a loved one, which seemed easy at first, forms an emotional echo of those older primary relationships. Intimacy is the activating agent which awakens old unresolved emotions.  The work of love is normal, though it may not look pretty.

    The passage of time and the lengthening of a relationship’s history deepens intimacy because partner grow mutually more familiar. Commitment speeds up intimacy, but also accelerates the pace in which old emotions are activated. Lovers get acquainted with each others’ good, bad and ugly qualities.

    Not unusual is the partner who pines for a return to the early days when excitement, passion and ease of friendly relating characterized the relationship.  But that was a time when the partners were actually less intimate…that is why it was easier.  The partners knew each other less well.  Partners could still believe each others’ lies.

    Our relationships demand that we constantly grow…by deepening our capacity to love life, our partners and ourselves.  Developing and deepening intimacy forces us to be conscious of ever deepening layers of ourselves. If we resist, our essence dies and our relationships becomes either stagnant or bitter. The growth process within love relationships is of accepting and loving every newly revealed part of ourselves. It is the illusion that the troubles are our partners’ poor characteristics, but the real struggle is our inability to accept all parts of life.

    The weakest place within is that which demands growth first by the psyche and the partner; but it also is the issue that is the least pleasant task.  The more painful an issue the greater likelihood a partner will refuse to face it.  When a partner refuses to grow the essence of the relationship dies.

    Loving another and ourselves is the work of life.  Intimacy is the openness and sharing required for that work to be done.  The word vulnerability does not give adequate emphasis to the unfathomable fear it can foster.  Being seen and known terrifies many, who flee from the riskiness that intimacy provokes.  Not until a lover loves and accepts him or herself sufficiently to be real in relationship can the union of partners celebrate all that life and love have to offer.  Not until a lover is fully exposed so all limitations are on display, and he or she is still accepted, can love bloom.

    Intimacy is not sex, though sex can be intimate. A love relationship is the process of growing and overcoming obstacles to love.  It is hard, often uncomfortable work.  The presence of discomfort is not the symptom of something wrong, but instead is normal. Love relationships are tremendous work if they are to be vital with growing partners.  Otherwise they are just miserable.  This is what is real about intimacy.  Andrew Aaron, LICSW

Sign-up for exclusive content. Be the first to hear about updates from the Aaron Institute.