Everyone from Oprah to your Aunt Mabel talks about intimacy. And much of what’s said is misinformation or myth. Here are some of the most common examples of intimacy myths:

Myth #1: Women are better at intimacy and want it more than men

This myth hurts both women and men. It dishonors the genuine desires for connection that many men feel, and confuses and isolates them. It also forces responsibility for good relationships onto women, creating resentment and depression.

It’s more accurate to say that many women relate to styles of intimacy that are different from the styles that are comfortable for many men. This is not a problem — it’s an exciting opportunity to synthesize two hearts.

Myth #2: Intimacy equals love

Many people who love each other lack the tools or desire to create intimacy. Sadly, some people use love to manipulate, bully, and hurt each other and then feel surprised when they don’t feel close to each other. In many ways, intimacy is more about people liking each other than it is about them loving each other.

Myth #3: Intimacy equals sex

Most of us have had sex that was not intimate, and many of us have had intimate relationships that had little or no sex. This is not surprising. Sexuality is one vehicle for intimacy, but not the only one. And intimacy is one aspect of sexuality, but not the only one.

Some people like to use sex to get close to a partner, while others can’t really enjoy sex unless they already feel close. It’s important for people to discuss how they feel about this rather than struggling with anger and hurt about it.

Myth #4: Intimacy means losing your self

Intimacy can only occur between two individuals with two selves. Intimacy occupies a very special place between two separate lives, acting as a spark that connects and excites. When one person demands that the other submerge him or herself in the relationship, that person is asking for a kind of immature safety that is the opposite of intimacy. And while people in the first blush of passion often lose themselves, they must disentangle from each other if the relationship is to grow and become intimate.

Myth #5: Intimacy has no room for conflict

Since true intimacy involves the ongoing exposure of two individual selves, combined with a commitment to maintain a connection despite discomfort, intimacy involves conflict. It must be a special kind of conflict, however: cooperative, productive, conscious.

Myth #6: Intimacy is easy

Intimacy involves self-awareness, honesty, courage, trust and communication. How could it possibly be easy?

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Nurturing intimacy involves moving closer to your partner, or pulling your partner closer to you. Assuming that you want this, how can you do it?

Not surprisingly, communication is the key. Moving closer means making yourself more available.

Talk more about yourself — not stories about who said or did what to whom, but information about you. How did you or do you feel? What does the world look like to you these days? What makes you glad you’re you? Where do you feel you’re headed and how do you feel about it? How was today different than you thought it would be?

Talking about yourself in these ways may seem strange, but most people are eager to get to know their partners and stay updated. When we care for someone, we want to look through their eyes as best we can. Ultimately, it’s a primitive, futile wish — all the more reason that we’re grateful for the few glimpses our partner helps us get.

There are two ways to pull your partner closer to you. One involves getting to know your partner better. Be more curious: ask about those gaps in your mate’s life. Ask about what today felt like, instead of what happened. Find out why a certain movie, word or sweater is so meaningful. Discover another movie, word or sweater that has meaning you didn’t know about.

The second way to pull a partner closer involves spending time together. There’s just no substitute for sharing experiences, even trivial ones. Keeping someone company (without being asked) or inviting someone to join you (before she or he offers) conveys a powerful message that you desire their companionship, and prefer it to other things — the TV, telephone or alone time.

If you do spend time with your partner, focus on what you like about them. And if you do talk, tell the truth. The harder it is to do it, the more important it is. Don’t forget to laugh together.

And if you can’t figure out anything else, say, “I want us to feel closer.” That’s the clearest message of all.

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What is intimacy and why are some of us so uncomfortable with it?

No single definition of intimacy can satisfy everyone, but here’s one that works for many people: intimacy is the feeling of being known. It’s a feeling that someone else knows your true self, and the trust that there’s a joint commitment to maintaining your connection even when it’s difficult.

Intimacy takes many forms: verbal, physical, sexual, spiritual. A relationship is all the more powerful — and intimate — when it features more than one of these forms.

Unfortunately, people may focus on different aspects of intimacy. I often hear couples complain that one is only interested in sex while the other is only interested in talking.

Everyone needs intimacy. It is so stressful for people to feel isolated that they inevitably find ways of connecting with others — even if it’s only over whiskey with strangers in a bar.

Not everyone is aware that they need intimacy. Some people are so defended against their fear of dependence, exposure or loss, that they truly believe they need no one. Sadly, they are just fooling themselves.

When relationships are troubled by serious problems with sex, affection, nagging or chronic conflict, the cause is frequently a power struggle about intimacy.

What forms will it take? What are acceptable limits? What will people have to pay in order to get what they need? In healthy relationships, people discuss these questions in various ways, and they are flexible enough to accommodate each other’s needs.

In unhealthy relationships, people attack, criticize and blame each other for the mess they’re in, rather than seeing their mess as a joint creation.

People face a fundamental dilemma: we need intimacy, but we’re afraid of it. The way in which we handle this internal struggle defines our personality and relationship style.

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