Healthy Intimacy

by Jul 13, 2022Family Counseling

Healthy Intimacy

The concept of interpersonal intimacy has developed with the advent of psychoanalytic theories as they intersect with and inform cultural ideologies. Constructs of self emphasize differentiation as an important determinant of interpersonal health and efficacy.

Secure attachment alongside self-worth and individuation generate ways of being in relationship which allow for disclosure of the most secret parts of self. When injuries to these prevent unimpeded flow of give and take, various therapeutic interventions are called upon to attempt to reconstruct, restore or develop healthy relating.

This first blog post in this series will explore the above issues; future posts will give extra thought to EMDR as a viable individual therapy for use in any systems approach.

Interpersonal Intimacy

The notion of intimacy has been created by psychoanalytic theory intersecting with and informing culture. This influence has generated a popular culture which has become interested in connecting on an intimate level, with emotions that are self-regulated and behaviors circumscribed by mindfulness.

An individual’s psychic structure develops through contact with other psychic structures. These interactions determine behaviors and expectations. Intimacy has gone from that which we keep secret from others to that which gets shared with another.

Good interpersonal intimacy comprises therefore the innermost parts of two individuals interacting and communing with each other.

This dynamic of interpersonal exchange creates depth of feeling and meaning between people who then feel securely attached enough to depend on each other for support and understanding.

As a securely attached relationship progresses, shared intimate moments build upon each other to create feelings of engagement, open communications and common bonds or interests. This fosters interpersonal intimacy at its most comfortable level.

In contrast, partners who feel unable to disclose their deepest selves hide vulnerabilities and erect metaphorical walls to protect from perceived rejection and abandonment. This sets up interpersonal interchanges hardened by attachment anxiety. Relationship distress replaces intimacy with intensified acts of neediness, or at the other extreme, fearful avoidance of self-disclosure resulting in blaming.

Communication styles inform relationship trajectories. Nurturing and self-disclosing communications enhance feelings of closeness and mutual understanding.

Effective communication sets the bar for satisfying relationships. Marital satisfaction and enjoyment become synonymous with unblocked intimacy. Unproductive conflicts result from underlying fears, concerns, worries, and perceived lack.

Healthy marriages and couple relationships provide the forum where intimacy needs can be most explored and met. Within these relationships, partners can discover secure bonds with each other, the ability to experience openness through emotional availability, and nourishing responsiveness between partners.

Sexual desire can energize the bonds within couple relationships and thereby create and reinforce positive interactions leading to more fulfilling interpersonal intimacy.

Sexual Intimacy

While unimpeded and dynamic interpersonal intimacy leads to satisfying relationships, the converse also holds true. Couples in distress can’t seem to find their way out of automatic negative action and response cycles.

When partners can’t communicate their thoughts on and preferences about their sexual styles and interactions, marital satsifaction begins to wane. The longer couples remain disconnected from each other, in general, and also relative to sexual concerns, the more likely will the dissatisfaction increase. Women’s ability to orgasm decreases while men’s perception of frequency of spousal orgasms skewers: men believe their wives are climaxing when they aren’t.

Each partner brings into the marriage religious and cultural beliefs, family histories and experiences, and social expectations. When couples avoid exploring family-of-origin attitudes or internalized gender norms, couples will experience ever decreasing satisfaction and reduced levels of interpersonal intimacy. Difficulties in talking about sex can be mitigated when couples maintain emotional closeness.

Sexual activity within a relationship deepens it and furthers relational intimacy. Quality daily relating enhances satsisfaction and can act as a predictor of healthy sexual activity within the partnership. Being able to voice needs requires healthy sexual self-esteem, which leads to fulfillment rather than rote sex mired in intra-psychic and interpersonal conflicts.

Partners who have the ability to regulate emotions communicate better with each other. Emotion management in one partner can increase secure attached feelings in the other. Emotional self-regulation results in more unimpeded understanding between partners, allowing for disclosing of thoughts and emotions, and correlating with relational intimacy.

With an understanding that better differentiation correlates with the ability to modulate anxiety when in vulnerable positions of disclosure to another, or when confronting intrapsychic or the other’s anxieties, emotional self-regulation utilizes self-validation as a method of continuing the process of differentiation. Differentiation within a close sexual-marital relationship signifies the ability to incorporate some of the other into self, so that two selves form overlaps.

Dyadic distance fosters the resilience necessary to tolerate such closeness. Sexual closeness goes beyond sexual intimacy as passion, desire and attraction create feelings of connecting and togetherness. In marriage, partners are driven to enlarge upon each respective sense of self so that they can reach higher levels of differentiation.

In contrast, repressed needs lead to communication break-downs. Sexual fulfillment becomes illusory and unattainable.

Partners who can maintain good and healthy sexual self-images allow the intimacy of sex to free them into excitement and desire.

Our next blog post will examine sexual problems and therapeutic approaches. Stay tuned!


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