BY MARY GRACE GARIS IN WELL + GOOD
Something about the mere word “intimacy” evokes an image of not necessarily being in the middle of sex, but at least being in a situation that’s setting the mood for it. Perhaps the parties involved aren’t fully dressed, or perhaps they’re just inching closer toward each other. At any rate, no matter what you’re imagining specifically, it’s likely aligned to the concept of being intimate with someone, which is a notion many of us regard as first and foremost a physical act. That’s where we’re not quite right. Truly connecting with someone calls upon a combination of the four types of intimacy, and most of those don’t involve any type of touching whatsoever.
According to an Instagram that therapist Alyssa Mancao, LCSW, recently posted, fostering a sense of closeness in any relationship (romantic or otherwise) requires a combination of all four types of intimacy: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. But since you obviously won’t have natural off-the-charts natural chemistry with every person in your sphere, understanding what each of the types of intimacy has in common is crucial for maximizing the power of each.
According to Helene Brenner, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of I Know I’m In There Somewhere, A+ intimacy boils down to connection and attention. “Intimacy is a one-on-one connection that involves a synchrony between two people,” she says. “If you want to feel intimate, the first thing you and your partner need to do is stop all the other things you are doing and give each other your undivided, undistracted attention.”
While intimacy can’t be forced, it can be workshopped and improved upon. Below, Dr. Brenner shares what what each type of intimacy calls for—and how you can work on strengthening that ingredient.
To bolster emotional intimacy, break it down into three parts: slow down, keep it simple, and share what’s hard to say. Thoughtfully process your feelings before you speak, and when you do speak, contextualize your emotions so you can communicate them as direct and potent statements. Think: “I got hurt.” “I got scared.” “I love you.” “I miss you.” “I’m scared to tell you how much you matter to me.” Don’t rely of qualifiers to pad out your earnest feelings; instead, get right to the root of your unfiltered honesty. And above all, allow yourself to be vulnerable.