We all want intimacy.
We all want to feel close and connected to someone. To feel seen, appreciated and held.
But the way most of us have been taught to go about intimacy is actually causing a lot of struggle in our relationships. And it may be holding us back from the deeper, life-long intimacy that many of us crave.
Most of us are modeled only one kind of intimacy, but there's actually two different types. Dr. David Schnarch (author of Passionate Marriage and Intimacy & Desire) refers to the most common as other-validated intimacy -- the kind of intimacy where we feel close or connected with someone else through shared experiences, beliefs, ideas or feelings. It's that feeling of closeness when you share something about yourself and are met with a resounding, "Oh my god -- me too!" It's intimacy born from our commonality, our shared experiences, our sameness.
As warm and cozy as this type of intimacy is, it has a few inherent flaws. Under other-validated intimacy, how do you experience intimacy with someone who is different to you? What if you disagree on something, or see the world a little differently?
Our reliance on other-validated intimacy can cause deep riffs in relationships. Whether it's with a partner, a friend, a parent or your child, you're going to stumble across moments where you just don't get each other. When you can't relate, you don't agree, or you just don't know what the other person is talking about. If other-validated intimacy is the only kind of intimacy you know, you're probably going end to up feeling disconnected, separate and shut down.
Luckily, there's another type of intimacy.
Self-validated intimacy is created when you reveal yourself to someone. It's the very act of revealing that creates the intimacy. Their response, whether they agree or disagree or are completely ambivalent, is not what matters. It's that you're choosing to share yourself, warts, beauty spots and all, with another. It's your vulnerability, your courage and your openness that creates the intimacy.
You don't need your partner to agree with you, or to share your feelings. You don't need them to relate or even to understand what it is that you've experienced. You just need them to witness you, and be present. Intimacy is then created not because you've shared a same experience or hold a common belief, but because you have revealed yourself. Because maybe you've made yourself that little bit more known.
Self-validated intimacy can certainly be challenging. It means revealing yourself to your partner with no real expectation of how they will respond or how your disclosure will be met. You may end up feeling closer, but you may not. Instead, self-validated intimacy requires you to validate yourself. To know that regardless of whether or not your experiences, thoughts, feelings or ideas are shared, that they are indeed still valid. That you are valid. It means holding onto yourself as you strip down and bare it all, so that you may be more fully and completely known. And then continuing to hold onto yourself no matter what the response.
It's self-love at its most fierce.
The most beautiful thing is what can happen once we commit to sharing our vulnerable truth: resonance. For when one person shares their truth with soft, tender courage and vulnerability, it so often activates something inside the listener. It stirs their own truth, just like one tuning fork will resonate with another of the same natural frequency. In this way, it opens the channel for deep, open and courageously honest communication, and a deeply profound sense of connection.
But we have to be willing to let go of even this outcome -- the last little security blanket of other-validation -- so that we can truly stand strong in our own truth and offer it without expectation. Because if we're revealing ourselves with the expectation that our partner will do the same, it's no longer self-validated intimacy. Instead, we must reveal ourselves as a powerful statement of self-appreciation, whilst also opening ourselves to the possibility of truly being known.
This opens up endless possibilities in intimate relationships. Imagine if in the heat of an argument, you could stay strong in your sense of self, and in doing so end up strengthening your relationship with your partner? Even in the uncomfortableness of disagreement, you're learning more about each other -- your differences and your uniqueness. If you can respect each other in that, rather than trying to find an objective right or wrong, perhaps you can move through disagreement with much more ease and grace.
How might this apply in the bedroom?
Sharing a sexual experience with someone -- whether it's pleasure drenched, cathartic, deeply spiritual or some other flavour entirely -- can be one of the most enjoyable and sacred parts of sex. But we can still experience intimacy in sex, even when our partner doesn't have the exact same experience as us.
Let me be specific.
Imagine for a moment.
You've just collapsed together into the sheets after an epic love making session. Your sweaty bodies are pressed together tightly, delicate curves and angles fitted perfectly. You look into your partner's eyes and whisper breathily, "That was the most spiritual experience of my life. Did you feel it?"
Your partner's face falls blank. There's an achingly long silence as they collect their words carefully. "It was absolutely amazing... but you seemed to be having a much deeper experience than me."
How do you respond?
Do you pull away, mortified and suddenly achingly alone?
Or do you (perhaps after a few deep, centering breaths) go on to explain what you felt, the heights you went to, and how incredibly expansive and liberated you now feel? Do you relive the experience and share it vulnerably, expanding your understanding of it and perhaps even yourself?
As you share, you may end up flooding your partner with pleasure and delight. They might share their own moments of profound ecstasy. Or maybe they won't get it at all. It actually doesn't matter -- your experience is your own, and whether or not your partner can connect with it in no way detracts from your spiritual encounter.
That's self-validated intimacy in action.
The best thing about self-validated intimacy is that it's limitless. It's the kind of intimacy that can just keep going deeper and deeper. As you learn more about yourself, there's more to share. As you grow and develop and shift and change, there are new parts of yourself to explore and reveal to your partner. And as you get older, as you keep unfolding into the depths and intricacies of who you are, your potential for this rich type of intimacy deepens as well.
Eventually, you'll run out of things to agree on. But revealing yourself to another -- this can continue until the day you die.
So how do you practice self-validated intimacy?
Ask your partner for the opportunity to be heard, and then let go of your expectations. It's not about them and how they receive you -- it's about you. It's about you revealing yourself, and having the courage to do so, openly, vulnerably and authentically. How much of yourself can you reveal? How naked can you get?
Some great topics to get you started...
The thing I'm most scared of right now is...
What I most want you to know about me is...
The biggest challenge I'm facing in my life right now is...
If you want to go deeper in your relationship, this is the perfect place to start. Feel into an area of your life where you want to be seen, and then go ahead and reveal yourself. Let go of expectation or ideas around how your interaction will look. Let go of your partner and hold onto yourself. And open yourself to a new and deeply rewarding kind of intimacy.