What can be done to improve intimacy?
Human relationships are complicated because human beings are complicated. Everyone has difficulty creating, sustaining, and improving satisfying, meaningful encounters.
Suppose you are in a sexual relationship and you would like to improve it. You wonder whether or not to try to improve intimacy in order to enjoy a more mutually satisfying relationship. What would that mean? Would it be worth it?
There’s no way to know the future. All we can do is to learn from past relationships and hope that their lessons will be applicable in the future.
It seems commonly agreed that sexual encounters should always be safe, sane, and consensual. Let’s assume that the sexual relationship you are in satisfies those three minimal criteria.
There’s an additional ingredient that, in my opinion, should always be added: caring. As a teenager, I decided that sexual relationships devoid of caring were not worth their costs.
To improve intimacy is to improve the caring component of an encounter.
In addition to honest communication, intimacy requires both openness and vulnerability. Both are necessary; neither alone is sufficient for intimacy.
Openness is not the same as vulnerability. Permit me to give a paradigmatic example of each.
Openness: Suppose you are killing an evening in a strange town. You spend a few hours in a bar drinking with someone and you are radically honest with that person about your life. That’s being open. It is not, however, being vulnerable. Why? There’s little or no risk to you. When you leave that town the next day, the chances of ever meeting that conversation partner again may be nil.
Vulnerability: Suppose you are really ready for sex. While in an elevator you happen to meet a suitable sex partner who is also really ready for sex. Being hot and mutually attracted to each other, you stop the elevator, have sex in five minutes, and then go about your lives never to see each other again. That’s being vulnerable. Since sexually transmitted diseases can kill you, your behavior has been very risky. However, there was no openness whatsoever. Your sex partner may not even have known your name.
Since intimacy requires both openness and vulnerability, ask yourself, ” Am I being both open and vulnerable in this sexual relationship?”
Do both you and your partner want to improve your sexual relationship? Are you both willing to be more open and vulnerable? Are you both willing to work to improve your encounter?
If not, there’s only limited improvement possible if just one of you works at it.
If so, succeeding requires commitment and skillful means to improve intimacy.
Change always involves risk. Attempts to improve encounters can uncover unexpected problems. Solving those problems may require a great deal of care, understanding, and commitment. It can require a lot of time and energy. There’s no way to guarantee any particular outcome in advance.
The way to improve intimacy is for both partners to ramp up the caring component of an encounter by becoming more open and vulnerable. This process is neither comfortable nor easy, but it can be extremely worthwhile if you’d like a much better encounter.
Since many people are afraid to improve intimacy in their encounters, it’s a good policy to limit yourself to partners whose goals for encounters match your own. Just doing that requires serious communication.