Intimacy, what is it?
It seems that the word is often misused in today’s society. The word “intimacy” or “intimate” is used a lot to discuss sexual relations with one another. The reason I state it is misused is because the physical part of intimacy (sex) is only one of three parts. Below is the actual definition of the word:
in·ti·ma·cy /ˈɪntəməsi/ [in-tuh-muh-see] noun, plural in·ti·ma·cies.
1. the state of being intimate.
2. a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
When I first entered recovery I really didn’t understand the meaning of the word or the different types of intimacy. I always thought, as many still do, it meant “meaningful” sexual intercourse with another human being such as a spouse or committed partner. Men would use the word “intimate” to signify they had sexual intercourse with their wives. It wasn’t until our couple’s therapist pointed out a peculiar pronunciation of the word “Intimacy” that it began to click.
Although it isn’t actually pronounced as follows, he referred to intimacy as “In to Me See” which explained a lot. That really is the definition of intimacy, to be close, familiar and loving in a personal relationship with another person or group. To see into the other person, to get to know the other person on a deeper level, is what intimacy truly is.
Once I understood the word intimacy, I was able to break up the meaning into three categories:
Intimacy with God is paramount for us to be able to establish intimacy with others. Spiritual intimacy between two humans can be a very powerful expression of connection and love. When we are in deep prayer with our brothers in recovery or with our spouses, we open up a connecting bond that is truly incredible. When we pray, our brains light up, our focus becomes much less about ourselves, and more about others and especially God. Praying together, deeply, is one of the most powerful representations of intimacy that I believe can be achieved. I believed God designed us to feel this intimacy with Him and with one another, when we pray!
Emotional intimacy between two humans occurs when they share with one another their thoughts and feelings. Sharing can be a very difficult thing for a lot of us in recovery. Why? – Because we can’t trust anyone but ourselves! We grew up with this mentality and trusting others with our thoughts and feelings would end badly for us. After all, if someone knew who I really was, what I had done, what I think about, or how I am feeling, they wouldn’t like us, much less love us. This is a common misbelief all addicts have. This is why it is important to open ourselves up and share our thoughts and feelings in group meetings, with our accountability partners, with our sponsor, with our therapist, and even with our wives. Sharing breaks down the walls of isolation and allows us to feel loved for who we really are not some façade we have created.
Finally, we arrive at physical intimacy; the intimacy that is most widely used. However, physical intimacy does not always mean sexual intercourse. Understand that intimacy is much deeper than just sex. Heterosexual men can be physically intimate with one another without sexual intercourse. There are many aspects of physical intimacy that should be analyzed. However, for the sake of time and space on this blog, I will only briefly list and describe a few. Holding hands is considered physical intimacy. When we hold hands with another man either in meetings or in recovery exercises, we establish a small bond of physical intimacy. Holding hands with our loved ones can be something very special; don’t ignore the opportunity to do so! Hugging is also considered physical intimacy. When we hug one another, we are exhibiting trust and building of intimacy either between two men or a man and his wife. I would caution, though, that unmarried friends of the opposite sex not get into a habit of physical touch such as hugging or friendly kissing as we don’t want to end up where some of us started, in intimate relationships with a woman other than our wife! Kissing is considered an act of physical intimacy, but we usually do this with our wives or a committed partner. Kissing doesn’t have to be romantic or passionate to be intimate, a simple peck on the lips or cheek can be an act of physical intimacy. And finally, non-compulsive sexual contact with our wife is the ultimate sign of pure, physical intimacy between a husband and wife. When both partners are willing to know and trust one another so deeply that they become sexually intimate, it creates an amazing thing between the two and with God. God smiles when we are sexually intimate with our wives! In recovery, I have learned what great physical, sexual intimacy really is, it is a non-shameful sexual connection with my wife that nothing else in my addiction could ever come close to besting!
I hope you have noticed the order in which I wrote this discussion on intimacy. I believe there is a reason for this order and that intimacy must begin with our spirits and God, then with other human beings on an emotional level, and finally, after both spiritual and emotional intimacy has been established, move on to the physical intimacy! It is important to keep this in mind the next time we want to jump to the physical, sexual intimacy with our wives yet haven’t worked on the spiritual and emotional parts first!
All the above has been my own personal description of intimacy. However, I believe one of the best descriptions of overall intimacy was presented to me during one of my Sex Addiction Specialist training sessions. The quote below was adapted from Claudia Black.
“Intimacy is when I give the other the very weapons of my destruction (in my case the knowledge of and truth about me). Then, after taking the risk to share, the other uses the weapons of my destruction – not to destroy me, but to defend me.”
I experienced this after doing my clinical disclosure to my wife and then my formal first step in recovery. Both my wife and the men who heard my first step could have easily used the information I had given them to destroy my life, but instead they have chosen to use it to defend me! My wife and the men in my recovery group know more about me than any other set of human beings alive, more than my own family of origin. I challenge you to find that kind of love and support, to be truly intimate with each other as God intended. Then to support and defend one another with the knowledge you have gained.
Take what you like and leave the rest.