Relationships aren’t just about romance and having “that loving feeling”.
They are about feeling safe enough to be intimate with your partner on all levels, and completely sharing yourself with another person.
In fact, intimacy isn’t just limited to our romantic relationships. By learning more about the different levels of intimacy, you will be able to be more intentional about intimacy in all your relationships – and not just your romantic ones!
Five Levels of Intimacy
1 – Safe Communication. There is minimal intimacy, and is the type of communication we have everyday with people we don’t know very well. It’s the chat we have with the supermarket checkout girl, or the person we stand next to at the train station – for example, “Terrible weather out there,” or “Looks like the Broncos will win the league”.
There is little to no risk of rejection as it involves facts and information, without sharing anything personal such as our feelings and opinions.
2 – Sharing Other Peoples’ Opinions and Beliefs. We begin to reveal more of ourselves at this stage, by alluding to what others say or believe. We might say, “My boss always says … “, or, “So Gerald Baden-Clay has been found guilty!”, to subtly test the other person’s reaction. If we find they do not share our opinion, we can distance ourselves if we feel threatened by criticism or rejection.
3 – Sharing Our Own Personal Opinions and Beliefs. By sharing our own thoughts, opinions and beliefs, we are taking a bigger risk, and making ourselves more vulnerable. However should this not turn out the way we want, we can always say that we’ve had a change of heart, or thought it through some more – and so avoid potential conflict or pain.
4 – Our Own Feelings and Experiences. The next level of vulnerability, and therefore intimacy, is when we reach the point of sharing our own feelings and experiences. We may reveal our failures, our joys, our hopes. It is more risky because if we feel rejected or criticised, we can’t change our experiences, or how we feel about something.
If conflict should arise, we may be able to convince the other person that these are examples from our past, and that we are different now.
5: Our Own Needs, Emotions and Desires. The highest level of intimacy, requires the greatest amount of trust in our relationship. It is only when we feel truly safe with somebody, that we become willing to share the deepest core of who we are. It’s up close and personal. This is when we share things like, “I’m feeling hurt, because you haven’t remembered our anniversary”; “I need to know that you will have my back when we got to that party”, “I feel guilty that I’m not making as much money as you”, or “I want to spend my life with you.”
It’s also the level where we let others see how we react to things emotionally, warts and all. To everybody else, we may present the facade of a successful business person; only our best friend or partner is aware that losing that client, has left us feeling anything but.
Intimacy Takes Time
Because of the effort involved, it takes time, effort, some pain, criticism and rejection, to reach level five. Plus, both people in the relationship need to move through the levels together. If I’m sharing at level four with someone (feelings and experiences) but my partner is sharing at level three (opinions and beliefs) we’re not experiencing true intimacy. I may feel closer because I’m sharing at a higher level, but this is a false sense of intimacy.
In truth, intimacy is measured by the person with the lower level of vulnerability.
Sex can be a False Sense of Intimacy
Level 5 is the healthiest, safest and most intimate place to have sex. It is when we feel loved unconditionally, and have the highest level of trust, that we are able to give ourselves completely to each other, increasing intimacy and the enjoyment of sex.
We can have sex at the other levels, but without that same level of trust the vulnerability of sex may be associated with anxiety, fear and distrust.
Author: Dr David Wells, B Psych (Hons), Dip Prof Couns, D Psych (Clin Geropsychology).
David is a Clinical Psychologist, with a keen interest in couples counselling. He strives to provide a safe environment for his clients to explore their issues and, with assistance, develop new techniques which will help them change their unproductive behaviours. The aim is to have a happier life that assists people to reach their relationship, personal and life goals.
Dr David Wells is currently on extended leave. If you would like to book with an alternative clinician with similar expertise, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Based on information from “The Five Levels of Intimacy” by Barbara Wilson at www.powertochange.com, viewed 22.05.17.