I remember the first time I got really intimate with my husband.
It wasn’t the first time we had sex.
And it wasn’t when we told each other our secrets as we began to reveal ourselves.
Our real intimacy began when I first asked him to pick up his socks.
::: ::: ::: :::
We had been living together for about six months. In the first 3-4 months, I was so excited to be living together. Having him there, sleeping together each night, cooking and hanging out together. Even having his socks on the floor was a sign of our union (‘ohmygod, we’re living together, his socks are here! squeee!’).
But then, after six months of socks on the floor, I was like,
could you please.
your fucking socks.
That request pushed us over the edge into the waters of real intimacy.
Because, we had to talk about who we were as a couple (how do we talk to each other?), what our roles would be (do I pick up the socks, or you?), how our life worked together (who does the laundry?), and how we would handle conflict (up front, passive-aggressive, etc.).
All that from socks.
Over the years, our intimacy has deepened. We’ve gone through the toothpaste and the toilet paper discussions. We’ve talked about who does what in the house, what roles we each take, and why. This is the wading pool of intimacy.
We have walked even deeper into those waters.
We have figured out how to talk about our feelings and make a safe place for each of us to do so.
We have defined what ‘family’ is for us, which entailed an 8-hour discussion that brought us to the first time we ever asked, ‘should we get divorced?’
We have looked at what old stories we play out. For instance, my husband and I both do many individual activities, but I get triggered when he’s gone ‘too much.’ My trigger stems from a way my own parents interacted that is stuck in my head.
And we dove deep into the scary waters with the Sex Surge, when I first asked, ‘what do you think about open marriage? Because I think I might need one.’
That is some intimate stuff, my friends. That is deep, dark, and scary. Hard to listen to, hard to say, hard to hold space for.
Each time we wade deeper into intimacy, it scares the shit out of us both. We get angry and cranky and push each other back a bit. Because greater intimacy means greater vulnerability. And vulnerability has the potential for deep pain.
::: ::: ::: :::
Here is a visual representation of what it looks like inside me when we practice intimacy.
[Please! Be intimate with me! Even though it scares me to death!]
My hands are open. My chest and heart are open. But my eyes are wary and my body is bracing for a hard hit. I don’t want the vulnerability, but I do want the intimacy. And this is worth the (potential) pain.
Each time we go deeper, though, the rewards are huge. We create more trust, more ‘home’ inside ourselves for the other to rest in, and more assuredness in our bond.
::: ::: ::: :::
Two weeks ago we had a fight. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, away from him, tears streaming down my face as I looked out the window.
‘Please,’ he said, ‘please just say what you need to say. Whatever it is, it’s okay. This can’t move until you say something, though.’
I was scared. Scared to death to say what I really wanted. Even after all the years and all the intimacy, this was a very deep part of my heart and my need.
I crossed the bedroom, took his hands in mine, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘I know that I am your everyday. Your working week. Your foundation. And many women would be glad to be that for their partner. That’s all they would need. And I’m sorry I’m not one of them. Because what I really need, and what I really want, is to know that you still think I am amazing. That I am special to you.’
[Cue tears from us both.]
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Oh, I made a big mistake. I have been talking you up to everyone I know. But not you. I haven’t been telling you how great I think you are. I’m sorry. I can change that.’
We dove deeper into intimacy- into the fear and vulnerability- and we swam into new territory, and deeper love.
::: ::: ::: :::
We have been through the intimacy of small things- toilet paper, socks. And we have been through the intimacy of big things- feelings, roles, old stories that play in our subconscious and could drown us. And now we are swimming in the intimacy of our need and brokenness.
And it is in traveling to deeper levels of intimacy that we have been able to heal our wounds and make ourselves whole.
What do we do?
1. We make safe space to tell the truth. Safe space to tell the truth takes time + effort + practice + faith. This is the circle that feeds itself, though- if you take the risk to tell the truth, more space is created for truth, which makes it easier to have faith and risk telling the truth…
2. We tell the truth. To ourselves and to each other. If we lie to ourselves, we’re already dead as a couple. Honesty and intimacy begin with you. And we tell each other the truth- as best we can. Knowing we may fail, or be awkward, or need to re-tell our truth at some point. And we tell the truth even if it hurts, because that is when it is most valuable.
3. We communicate like crazy. We talk and talk and talk – and actually talk about how we talk – until we understand each other. And then we talk some more about how to solve the issue or what needs to change, or where compromise is necessary, or what we’re going to try, or what story we need to examine in therapy.
These aren’t the only things we do, but they are essential. And the repetition of them has deepened our intimacy and improved our communication. Real intimacy, mature intimacy, is the willingness to tell the truth, listen to the truth, and hold your own fear in check as you keep your heart open. Real intimacy is taking the good and the bad, opening to the light and the dark within ourselves, our partner, and our relationship.