Intimacy in relationships is often seen as the closeness and emotional connection with another person(s). However, there are multiple ways of gaining closeness and emotional connection with your partner(s):
- Physical Intimacy:
Physical intimacy is not only limited to sex or sexual activities, but it can also include hand holding, an arm around the shoulder, cuddling, or sitting next to each other on the couch.
- Emotional Intimacy:
Emotional Intimacy is creating a sense of closeness between partners through sharing of emotions, feelings, and belief systems.
- Intellectual Intimacy:
Intellectual intimacy is the understanding of your partner’s mind and thoughts, it can be seen in sharing information, common interests, and meaningful conversations.
- Experiential Intimacy:
Experiential Intimacy is the shared experiences you have with your partner, this could be participating in an activity together, an evening stroll, or a daily routine specific to your relationship.
It is important to note that intimacy is not always innate and needs to have continuous work done to maintain a relationship.
What Relationship Boundaries Are and How to Set Them
Relationships boundaries are very important and necessary in every relationship. Relationship boundaries help define what each partner is comfortable with and how they navigate the relationship with the other(s).
Boundaries should include the limits and rules we set for ourselves and others to abide by these boundaries help alleviate stressors and feelings of discomfort. Sitting down with your partner and discussing what boundaries would benefit your relationship and each other is important.
If you are unsure how to start this conversation with your partner(s) you may want to look into couple’s therapy. Couples therapy is not just for married folks but can be a useful tool to learn how to develop supportive language and build boundaries in your relationship as well.
Your relationship does not have to be in a “bad spot” to start therapy just as you don’t have to be in a “bad spot” to begin your therapy journey.
5 Ways to Negotiate Boundaries
Negotiating boundaries in your relationship is imperative to creating and setting the foundation of your relationship with your partner(s).
There are different types of boundaries to explore in your relationship: physical, emotional, time, sexual, and intellectual. You and your partner(s) should spend time understanding the implicit and explicit boundaries you have individually within your relationship. Implicit boundaries are boundaries that you imply to your partner, nonverbal expectations. Explicit boundaries are clear and concise boundaries that you verbalize to your partner.
To begin to negotiate boundaries with your partner you should discuss what are the explicit and implicit boundaries you have within your relationship.
Here are five ways to respectfully negotiate boundaries within your relationship:
- Understand your priorities
- Discuss what are your absolutes
- Discuss what you are willing to try, understand each other’s limits
- Determine the frequency and types of intimacy you and your partner(s) want and need
- Create a dialogue for when you would like to reframe or modify your boundaries.
How to Make (and Maintain) Healthy Intimate Boundaries
It is essential to maintain healthy boundaries for your relationship to continue to be a safe and comfortable environment for you and your partner(s). If you have not communicated or introduced boundaries it can be an overwhelming task to try and figure them all out at once, so start with a few.
You and your partner should take a weekly or daily reflection to see if the boundaries are manageable in the relationship. Focusing on a few at a time will allow you to create a good foundation for future boundaries. You and your partner(s) should also discuss how to hold each other accountable for maintaining boundaries. Consistency is key in maintaining boundaries, it alleviates the confusion or frustrations that come from a lack of consistency.
Communication is a key component of any relationship. It allows you to explain to others what you are experiencing and what your needs are. Everyone has a different way of communicating, and it is imperative to work on understanding your partner(s) communication style.
Understanding your partner’s communication style can help in avoiding misunderstandings and complications that come with guessing what someone needs. Honest and effective communication also allows you to support each other in your relationship and build a stronger bond with your partner(s).
Who to Talk to When Intimacy Struggles Arise
It is common for couples and partners to come to therapy to discuss their struggles with intimacy. A couple’s therapist may be able to help in guiding you and your partner in establishing boundaries and communication skills.
It is important to understand when to seek a therapist that specializes in sex therapy. Sex therapy specialists hold a specific certification called AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) alongside their professional licensure. AASECT-certified therapists can help couples and partners navigate through different aspects of their sexual/physical relationship. It is important to reach out to an AASECT therapist for the following reasons:
- Experiencing pain or physical discomfort when you have sex.
- Processing sexual trauma.
- Wanting to explore open relationships.
- Experiencing shame associated with sex.
- Exploring sexual orientation or gender identity.
If you are interested in finding an AASECT-certified therapist a great place to start is with AASECT’s referral directory. You will be able to search a list of therapists, counselors, and educators in various countries and U.S. states.
Written by: Janel Wenger, ALMFT.
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.