“Intimacy” often gets tossed around as a euphemistic term for sexual relations. However, it can be more helpful to view intimacy as a more holistic, mind-body experience of connection. Intimacy does often encompass sex, but it can also include other kinds of physical touch, like cuddling or holding hands. It also involves other forms of closeness, like forming a deep intellectual, emotional, conversational, or even spiritual bond.

 

True intimacy involves building greater and greater levels of trust and understanding between individuals. You learn not just their likes and dislikes, but how to anticipate their needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires. To get there, you first learn how to open your eyes and really see the person in front of you. Here are some of the steps to take if you want to learn how to build deeper sexual, emotional, and relational intimacy with another person.

1. Check In With Your Body

You by no means need a perfectly “healthy” body to enjoy healthy intimacy. Say goodbye to the idea that you need to be slim, fit, or limber to have a passionate, fulfilling romantic life. Yes, for some people, chronic disability or illness can pose a barrier to pain-free sex or to meeting the right person. However, healthy intimacy involves learning what works for (and pleases) the body and soul you’re already in, often while also accepting another person’s limitations.

 

That said, you should never suffer in silence if you’re living with a treatable condition. For example, if recurrent urinary tract infections make intimacy uncomfortable, try taking a UTI supplement. It should also go without saying that it’s important to get tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections and/or use protection. There’s nothing healthy about the possibility of passing, say HIV or syphilis, along to the person you love most.

 

Treating these kinds of acute or contagious health concerns isn’t just about protecting your and your partner’s physical health. It’s also about making sure your intimate life is healthy from a psychological perspective. Think about it this way: you can’t have a deep, profound connection with someone when one of you is lying about your STI status. Nor can you relax and deeply get into the moment when you’ve got an itchy, burning sensation down there.

2. Take Care of Your Mind

As with the body, there’s a popular misconception that a person needs to become completely healed before it’s possible to find love. In reality, lots of people enter into relationships and even get married with tons of past baggage or mental health struggles. You’re just as worthy of love whether or not you’re struggling with trauma, addiction, depression, or other mental health issues. Still, there are many major benefits to seeking out treatment before you get in too deep.

 

No matter how healed or mentally healthy you feel, a new partner or a close friend can still trigger you. You’ll find yourself fighting about things that aren’t really about them, but about something that happened to you in your past. It’s hard to have healthy intimacy when your image of a person is clouded by all those projections. That’s why, to deepen your relationship, it’s a good idea to see a therapist or do some self-help reading to sort out old feelings.

 

In longer-term relationships, taking time to do some mental health healing can help rekindle a spark of connection. Oftentimes, partners fall into all sorts of habits that push them apart or get them stuck in a routine. Try doing the work to get to a place where you feel better about yourself and more comfortable in your own skin. Improving your own mental health can make you a more understanding partner, capable of offering deeper levels of closeness and connection.

3. Work Together — Or Apart

Once you’ve both done the work to get your own houses in order, it’s time to reconnect and deepen the relationship as a team. This will look a little different for every relationship, depending on factors like how long you’ve known each other. A good start at any stage of any relationship is to plan some quality alone time together. Plan to spend at least a few hours in each other’s company, doing something you both enjoy, with no (or few) interruptions.

 

It doesn’t matter so much how you spend your time, as the quality of that time, and being on the same page. Put your phones on “Do Not Disturb,” unplug the TV, and focus on connecting with one another. Consider your needs: some friends or partners are longing for a deep, involved conversation about ongoing issues. Others find closeness through cuddling or kissing, having marathon sex, playing board games, going hiking, or doing anything other than talking.

 

One caveat: sometimes too much together-time actually erodes intimacy in a relationship. This is especially true when one partner has trouble expressing boundaries, asking for alone time, or finding time to pursue their interests. In these situations, the best road to healthy intimacy may mean taking some planned time apart. Once each partner has worked to find separateness and to reconnect with their own identity (see #2, above), they’ll be better equipped for closeness.

Not Too Close

Some books, TV shows, and marriage counselors use the phrase “Into Me See” to describe real intimacy. The idea is that you get so close to another person, you can almost see inside their bodies and their brains. But genuinely health intimacy is just as much about boundaries as it is about physical closeness. Even the most connected friends or lovers also need the freedom and the space to continually redefine and rediscover themselves.

 

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