As humans we all have a strong desire to become close to another person. The desire for intimacy can be found not only in romantic relationships, but also in deep friendships. The term intimacy has become a euphemism for sex. But anyone with a close and trusted friend will understand that physical attraction is not essential for the creation of a true bond.
Intimacy begins when we share something. It is the building of trust between two people. It is the first hesitant step that we must take to deepen the friendship and connection with another human being. One member of the friendship must take the risk and become vulnerable, they are taking a chance that the listener is trustworthy, and will not betray their friendship.
Social penetration theory suggests that we build intimacy whether with a friend or a romantic partner, by engaging in exploration. We initially begin to offer impersonal and superficial information to gauge the reaction of others. If the response is supportive it then encourages us to advance in self-disclosure, and the offering of more emotionally significant information.
The process of building intimacy in any relationship may feel uncomfortable and full of anxiety. We are all letting our defences down. Defences may have been maintained since childhood or adolescence. The removal of the defences allows for the confession of our darkest secrets that we fear may lead to social rejection. But when we are accepted and understood, it deepens the bond and creates true intimacy with another person.
If we share some of our darkest secrets and it doesn’t go down well, then we may feel judged. Research suggests, that there are many steps to building intimacy. And it is easy to make a misstep along the way. An early confession or probing someone for their secrets can often create a barrier to true intimacy. Both parties must feel comfortable and secure as they reveal aspects of themselves, and aspects of their past, to build an intimate relationship. Pushing too quickly or over-confession can lead to a rupture in the relationship.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington