A Useful Definition of Intimacy

It's common to think that intimacy means two people feeling emotionally close to one another, or sharing private time together, or being sexual with each other. But the truest possible act of intimacy is to invite another person to look into your heart and mind. The act of revealing your truest and deepest feelings -- the hopes, doubts, fears, joys, sorrows and all the other rich details of your inner life -- is what constitutes the basis of all real intimacy.

What this boils down to is that the best definition of "intimacy" is simply "into-me-see". This definition reveals a fact that is often overlooked, which is that one person in a relationship can engage in intimacy even if his or her partner is not reciprocating.  This means that intimacy can sometimes be a one-way street. Engaging in such unilateral intimacy can be an especially hard challenge, especially for many men who have learned to hold in their feelings. It can be very risky for some people to let others see into them. It takes courage, the willingness to know and reveal oneself at ever-deeper levels, and a commitment to personal honesty and integrity.

Partners in a relationship can begin to lose their romantic and sexual passion for each other when they begin showing less and less of their true feelings to each other. This lack of ongoing "into-me-see" can occur because of fear of how the other person will react, lingering resentment, or simply emotional laziness. Much like tending a garden, ongoing intimacy requires persistent effort, but in both cases the fruit that blooms as a result of such loving dedication is well worth the effort. It is quite possible for two people in a relationship to continue to grow as individuals who are capable of revealing ever-deeper aspects of themselves to their partner. In this way there are always new qualities of a person to be known and loved, which is the best insurance for maintaining sexual passion no matter how long the couple has been together.

The quality of your life is enhanced immeasurably by developing and maintaining relationships with people who you allow deeply into your heart, mind and soul. Remember that secrets and emotional isolation are the enemies of intimacy. The ability to be intimate with another person is like a muscle that becomes weak when it is under-exercised. Use it or lose it!


Bill Herring, LCSW, CSAT is an Atlanta psychotherapist and certified sex addiction therapist. He helps individuals and couples develop lives of greater intimacy and sexual health.