Many years ago, trying to figure out a troubled marriage that would ultimately end in divorce, my wife and I consulted with a psychiatrist. After our first session, he arranged to talk to each of us separately. I had long been interested in psychiatry and had done quite a bit of reading about theories and practice; I thought that it would be exciting and valuable to talk to a trained person about the way I was experiencing my life. I loved the idea of deep exploration, and I trusted the process.
In our first and only individual session (my wife quit the process after her first individual session), I talked about my marriage more openly than I had ever done, and wondered if my unmet needs were legitimate. I said that, most of all, I wanted an intimacy that I was not experiencing in our marriage.
To my surprise, the psychiatrist said, “Well, I don’t have an intimate relationship with my wife.”
I had made a naive assumption: wise people, people with a highly evolved self-awareness, had intimate marital relationships. Suddenly, I was disabused of that notion. I woke up to the reality that intimacy can be hard to achieve and not necessarily all that common or ordinary, even among smart people who know a great deal about human relationships.
In subsequent committed relationships, my partners and I were able to achieve intimacy some of the time, but were unable to sustain it consistently. In the stretches of time in which we were not relating very intimately, I always felt somewhat alone, and sometimes lonely. When those relationships ended, I nevertheless believed that committed relationships could sustain a deep intimacy.
I finally was able to satisfy my longing for intimacy, and my own personal emergence gained new speed and intensity, just as I had always suspected it could.
My desire for intimacy set me on a path of self-discovery. I discovered that intimacy unlocks our true selves. Intimacy is how I discover my self.
What is intimacy?
Intimacy is a level of relationship in which we reach a deep connection with another person. Intimacy is founded on personal revelation: intimate, we are able to reveal our innermost thoughts, feelings, histories and dreams. We can reach intimacy even if our relationship is new or not well established previously. We don’t need any particular commitments to each other to achieve intimacy. What intimacy always requires is trust: we trust another person to be interested in us, to be caring, to be listening to us at a deep level. We also must trust ourselves—that we will be O.K. even if the other person doesn’t have the skill or integrity needed for a successful intimate exchange. Offering intimacy to another, we place a bet.
As conscious people, we have experienced intimacy often in our lives—during sexual exchange, in high trust conversations with lovers and friends, in moments of great trial together, or at times when we were in the flow with someone—a state of heightened awareness that seems almost like a state of grace.
I am tempted to claim that intimacy is a good thing and always a good thing. But what if someone tells you that he has a desire to kill people? Or reveals to you that she has secretly been stealing from her company? Or something else that is impossible to embrace or support? What’s missing in these situations is the deep connection that intimacy requires. The other person may trust us enough to reveal these dark secrets to us, but we will not be willing to continue trusting this person enough to share our own innermost thoughts and feelings.
Intimacy needs people who are ethical—not people who never make mistakes, but people who have a strong commitment to integrity. I’m not going to be intimate with a dishonest person. In this framework, people with flawed ethics—people who cannot be trusted—have a big handicap if they want intimacy. More likely, dishonest people steer clear of intimacy: they might get exposed or caught.
So, O.K., intimacy is always a good thing.
Intimacy can be hard to find
Lots of people would like to have more intimacy in their lives, but can’t seem to find it. There are several reasons for that:
First, intimacy requires trust. Jack Gibb in his book, Trust, A New View of Personal and Organizational Development, describes ten levels of trust:
Trust Level Primary Energy Released
0 Chaos Fear
1 Punitive Hostility
2 Autocratic Power
3 Benevolent Nurturing
4. Advisory Perspective
5. Participative Consensuality
6. Emergent Community
7. Organic Intuition
8. Holistic Unconscious
9. Transcendental Altered states
10. Cosmic Universal and nirvana
The higher the trust level you can achieve, the better your explanation for reality. Want more intimacy? Become more trusting.
Prisons are Gibb’s example of trust level one: a place where no one trusts anyone. There is almost no trust in prisons because it is dangerous to trust people whose bad behavior is well-established. Trust at your jeopardy when you’re locked up with criminals.
I find it sobering that Gibb’s second level of trust—only one notch above the prison—is our modern society. Most of us operate at this very low level of trust because our society is autocratic. Almost all of our institutions require a high level of obedience to authority, authority we often don’t trust. Think about the low levels of trust we currently feel for congress, the President, and our employers. We trust our society so little that we are buying more guns and more survival gear, food, and water. Living fearfully in this low trust society, many will not risk much intimacy.
Another reason that we find it difficult to trust and gain intimacy is competitiveness. Our high value on individualism, succeeding, and winning helps to keep us separate. We’re less likely to be intimate with people we’re trying to climb over or with people who are trying to climb over us.
Many shy away from intimacy because they are fearful of revealing themselves, feeling inadequate, shy, or unlovable. Some have been traumatized by violence or cruelty.
Self-absorption is a weakness that inhibits intimacy. We’re still very narcissistic at this point in human evolution. Living in a bubble, unable to see anything but our reflection, we are hard to join up with at deep levels of intimacy.
Even if we are less self-absorbed than most, we may simply lack the skill to achieve intimacy. Intimacy requires a substantial skill set including great listening, empathy, knowledge and understanding of human development, and the generosity needed to work through challenging times in a relationship. Even though we may crave intimacy, most of our relationships with others are not intimate.
How to get more intimacy
Our growth and development happens in intimate relationships with others, with nature, and with ourselves. If you’re already doing pretty well with your life by conventional measures but recognize a lack of intimacy in your life, test some ideas suggested by Gibb to move into higher levels of trust that will automatically bring you more intimacy
1.Create a high trust internal environment. Move toward a life-affirming mindset. We can control what we think. We can control our emotions. We can control what we do. As Gibb says, “I give myself my trust and my joy. I create my life.” People around us may be killing themselves with hypertension, victim-hood, or bad explanations for reality, but we can create a healthy, life-affirming internal state no matter what is happening around us.
2. Create your own reality and live in that reality with complete trust. Gibbs again: “When I see the world as I am, and not as it is, I am flavoring the world with my own being. I create my world. Looked at in this light, projection becomes a positive, awesome, and creative process. What we wish, believe in, and trust comes true.” Now we have achieved intimacy with the world around us—our world.
3.Be contagious. What you are, a trustworthy person, affects everybody and everything around you. Be aware that your trust and joy are life-giving everywhere you show up. Everything we put out comes back to us, so your trust will be returned. The trust that is returned to you is intimacy, all the intimacy you want and need. Ram Dass accomplished this level of intimacy, reporting that he was having intercourse with everyone all of the time. Operating at the top level of trust and service, he felt intimate with everyone.
But will all that get me the intimate lover I want?
Still looking for the intimacy possible in a shared life with a spouse or partner?
In an intimate conversation, a fifty-year old single colleague once hinted to me that she longed for a loving mate. She was reluctant to state her desire clearly, as if saying it out loud would make her vulnerable to even more disappointment. She had dated men, but had not met the right person. She thought that time was running out for her dream of a shared life.
I reminded her that we receive when we ask. I suggested that she ask clearly and unequivocally for what she wanted. With lots of encouragement, she finally said, “My deepest desire is to find a wonderful man for a loving and lasting marriage.” A year or so later, she met a good man and married him. She has found a lasting love relationship.
At a certain level of consciousness, we discover that we can create the intimate relationships we need.
Live in intimacy every day: your intimate lover is nearby and will notice.