- Jed Murphree, LPC
The 4 Tasks of Intimacy
Many of us, me included, have grown up with the Hollywood version of romance and "happily ever after". We have been told and shown that if you find the "right one" eventually everything falls into place and the rest of your lives' together are blissful, happy, and secure. Turns out a lot of that is absolute bunk. Relationships take work, and the more important the relationship to us, the more work it require to maintain, particularly the relationship with our romantic partners.
The more important the relationship, generally the more intimate.
The latin word intimus translates as "innermost", as a verb, intimare means "to make the inner most known". When you do that with a partner, to make your inner most stuff known to another, it means taking a risk, being vulnerable and putting trust in that person to listen, for you to feel heard.
Intimacy contributes to secure attachment, which further promotes commitment and long term relational thinking. Additionally, it helps focus and cultivate passion within the relationship.
In our current world, intimacy is more often associated with the physical, sexual bond experienced between two people. Makes sense to me, as having sex is often about being naked with somebody, and that's being really close. Through the psychological lens of the emotional connection to the other, making the inner most known is a real operation of trust, vulnerability and risk; the same can be said for sex.
When examining just what it takes to create and maintain intimacy in a long term relationship, consider these four tasks or abilities as the basic ingredients. We often make them more complex than we need to, and they still boil down to these:
1. To seek care (and receive it)
Can you ask for what you need from your partner and mate? Can you be honest and convey what you want? Some of us have a real difficult time doing this well and consistently, or even at all.
This is not about demanding something from your partner. Demands create their own issues and power struggles. Suffice to say that topic deserves attention in another post on its own.
Regarding receiving, can you accept the care given that was sought? Will you take what is given? Some of us have a hell of a time taking in what is offered, even though we asked for it.
It's not that you have to be perfect with your communication. You do need to be clear enough, however. So don't worry so much about being eloquent or prosaic, it's more important to figure how best to be heard so your partner knows how best to respond.
2. To give care
Can you provide comfort, support, and aid to your partner or mate when asked?
Giving care means being open, flexible, and accepting with your partner's requests. Giving care adds to your partner's sense of security within the relationship and strengthens the bonds that connect each other. There is balance, however, between the emotional closeness felt and the need for individual autonomy. That leads to the third task.
3. To be comfortable on your own
Can you confidently be on your own for a while? Can you take care of yourself? That means being able to be alone for periods of time, as well as being a part of a community of people beyond your partner?
Everyone can benefit from spending some time with friends and family, and to get away from their mate periodically. Namely because a single person really shouldn't, and can't, fulfill every role in the relationship for the other. That asks too much from anybody. Being with peers and getting active with hobbies and interests not only takes pressure off you, it takes pressure off your partner, and that just makes relationships flow better.
4. To negotiate
Do you know how to barter, compromise, and find consensus with your mate? Can you talk stuff out and reach a mutual agreement and then follow through on it?
To negotiate, you need to know your boundaries with things, be that around the division of labour in the household, to parenting roles, to time away, to the relationship's sexual boundaries. Just because something is asked does not mean that it will be accepted. The subject of demands turns up again with negotiation, and that still remains a topic for another post, yet definitely worth mentioning here.
The reality is that not everybody learns to do these things growing up. However, they are skills that can be developed and practiced to improve. Some of us are stronger in one or more areas than others, and some less so. Hence, the stress and challenges that exists for each individual as they age and mature within the relationship.
The hope is that over the course of time spent together, as well as apart, each partner learns to better communicate, give, receive, and negotiate with one another. Sometimes those lessons are hard-learned and tumultuous, at others the relationship just flows and moves with what feels like its own propulsion because you're in synch.
In all relationships, these tasks are done regularly with varying degrees
of success depending on the day. We will fail in completing some, and do better at others. It's not about doing them perfectly, it's more about doing them well enough, and then doing them better. Regardless of the outcomes, all four of the tasks are meant to be way to measure how we are doing in our relationship along with our partner.
So if you and your partner have been having a hard time completing any your own 4 tasks for a while, consider talking to a professional, if even for a short period of time. Counseling can help, and can be well worth your effort.
Just remember, mental health matters.