Psychotherapy and Training Collective of New York

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The Ties That Bind:
The Importance of Intimacy in a Relationship

by Eliot LeBow, LCSW

In the beginning of most couple's relationships, they start in a euphoric state called the honeymoon period. This period can last for a few days or go on for years. Regardless of how long the relationship lasts, it comes to an end and you are left with reality. This article discusses what intimacy is and its importance for sustaining a couple's relationship.

The honeymoon period is over. Now what? What happened to all that excitement that came so easily? You either decide that the relationship is over or that you want to continue forward and see where the relationship will lead. But I warn you: having a relationship is not easy. You have to work at keeping it fresh and alive through intimacy. Once again you may have to work at the relationship so intimacy forms and builds. It is something you build upon over time. It takes effort to keep the spark alive.

Let's compare two relationships and see if intimacy is there or if it's just a mirage. A good friend of mine was in a great relationship. He would display acts of affection when others were around and he was having sex more than once a day. So why was he always complaining about the relationship? He would say that he would be happy to be in the relationship I was in during that time.

Funny enough, I thought he was the lucky one. On my side of the relationship fence, I was lucky to have sex once a week. Why could we not be happy with what we had? As time went on, I realized why but not until long after the relationships we were in had ended.

Without intimacy, relationships tend to lack feelings and emotions. How could the both of us end up in relationships that lacked intimacy when all of the signs pointed to it?

Both of us held hands with our girlfriends as we walked down the sidewalks of Manhattan. We held our girlfriends while watching television and we even went on romantic vacations.

Well, holding hands is only a behavior! It is our perceptions that define our belief of each other's motive for holding hands. Maybe for one or both partners, holding hands has become nothing more than routine. It is not the actual holding of each other's hand that makes it an intimate act but the intent behind it.

For example: a mother may hold her child's hand at the grocery store to prevent her child from taking stuff off the shelves. A mother protecting herself from arguing with her child in the grocery store is not intimate.

Looking back, my friend and I realized a few things. One was similar: the girls we dated both smoked pot. We thought about how that could possibly impact intimacy as we focused on the specific differences between our respective relationships around sex. We concluded that both of our girlfriends were in addiction.

Addiction is a very selfish disease. Motivation and emotional connectedness is a very important part of intimacy and most drugs, like pot, reduce both of these causing a lack of intimacy in the relationship.

For intimacy to exist in a relationship (the connection that holds a relationship together), you need several conditions to exist.

  1. You both must have trust in one another.
  2. You must want to be with the other in a monogamous relationship.
  3. Both partners must be focused on the other in the here and now.
  4. You and your partner must let go of control and give it freely to the other.
  5. You have to gain and retain personal knowledge of the other.
  6. Actions are to be given freely without expectations.
  7. Be open and transparent with each other.
  8. You need to create and be in a warm, friendly, open and safe environment.
  9. Both must feel safe with the other.
  10. A mind clear and free of drugs.

While my friend and I perceived intimacy, in reality there was no glue to hold our relationships together. While I held hands with my girlfriend, it was expected and not given freely. Sex is often mistaken for love and intimacy and that is what happened to my friend. It was expected for her pleasure and not their pleasure.

In conclusion, without trust, letting go of control, personal knowledge of each other, action without expectation, transparency, monogamy, care for the other and feeling safe with each other, it is impossible to be intimate with the person you are with. Without intimacy, you end up detached and unhappy, no matter how you look at it. It is the giving of you freely to each other! The focus on creating an unbreakable bond as a couple is what will truly bring out the intimacy in the relationships you enjoy!

Eliot LeBow LCSW As a psychotherapist, my primary focus is on treating those who have diabetes, a chronic illness or an addiction. I also have a thriving general practice where I see clients with a variety of different backgrounds and issues including: depression, anxiety, trauma and others. I treat pre-teen and adolescents to adults of all ages as well as couples and families. For more information on my services please visit my profile.