What Does Intimacy Mean To You?

Patient Expert

Intimacy is a universal feeling, action and even craving—and that includes anyone living with a chronic condition. Here is just a sampling of posts that have discussed different aspects of maintaining and improving relationships when you or your loved one live(s) with a chronic disease such as multiple sclerosis.

However, intimacy isn’t something that is confined to physical affection or sexuality.

Intimacy is about so much more! Intimacy is a process; ever changing and evolving. Four commonly accepted forms of intimacy include cognitive or intellectual intimacy, experiential intimacy, emotional intimacy, and sexual intimacy.

Cognitive intimacy describes a form of activity where two or more people exchange thoughts, share ideas, or explore similarities or differences of opinion. Many of the discussions and story telling we do here at HealthCentral involve this very personal form of intellectual intimacy.

Emotional intimacy is also a close form of intimacy where two persons can openly and safely share their feelings with each other, or actively empathize with the feelings of another. Empathy is one of the greatest forms of intimacy that loved ones or friends can foster to reinforce and enhance their relationship. Emotional intimacy requires a high degree of acceptance and understanding; really trying to be aware and respectful of the other person’s emotional experience.

Experiential intimacy involves participating in a shared activity. The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of this form of intimacy is the process of musicians working their magic together in a nonverbal way to create something bigger than themselves or their individual parts of a composition. This intimacy activity can be done privately in a rehearsal space or publicly in a large concert hall. In the latter situation, the audience enjoys the same experiential intimacy, just from a different vantage point.

Sexual intimacy is the stereotypical definition of intimacy that often first comes to mind. Sex can be a strictly physical act with or within much true intimacy. But I believe that the best type of sexual intimacy combines elements of each of the aforementioned forms of intimacy. This contributes to a truly sensuous form of togetherness with another human being.

Barriers to intimacy

To be open enough to enjoy true intimacy, one must be comfortable with him/herself. Self-centeredness, shyness, aggressiveness, selfishness, lack of empathy, and fear of intimacy can each interfere with experiencing intimate relationships.

To develop more intimate relationships, you must start with yourself. If you find a particular form of intimacy difficult, start by cultivating a relationship which makes you feel most safe and comfortable.

However, to be intimate, one must also risk vulnerability. When we share deep personal sides of ourselves with others (or ourselves), we risk being rejected or ridiculed. For those whom find this too difficult, relationships may be kept more superficial and lack the degree of closeness that allows us each to experience something greater than ourselves...much like a masterful performance.