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What is intimacy?

People have different ideas about the word “intimacy”. For many, it’s a code word for sex. We at reSTART do not think of it this way. We subscribe to the ideas put forth by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, Dr. Brene Brown and Dr. Patrick Carnes. The Gottmans, through their 40+ years of research, say that intimacy is: “. . . the feeling that grows out of knowing another person’s past, present, and future in great detail (“love maps”) and they know the same about you. Intimacy requires the development of respect and admiration.”Dr. Brown talks about the sense of intimacy and trust that grows out of allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person, risking and “daring greatly” to be known. And Dr. Carnes talks about how, over time, two people come to know one another in an increasingly open way that develops trust. In the context of romance, he calls this “courtship”.

Friends With Benefits?

These ideas clearly overlap and get at the notion that intimacy is not sex. It really is the development, over time, of an open, honest, trusting relationship. This sounds like friendship, doesn’t it? And, indeed, it is that. In their study of satisfying, long-term relationships they found that the core of success was friendship, characterized by trust, respect, love and admiration. Between romantic partners there will be sex, of course, added into the mix.

Distorted Reality

The clients who come to reSTART have, for the majority, little notion of healthy intimacy. They have spent their growing up years playing video games, watching porn, and whatever other online activities they found interesting. The content of video games and porn was largely what informed their ideas about relationships. The more time they spent online and how early its overuse began influenced the ways their minds came to bewired.It is safe to say that most of our clients come to us with an intimacy disorder. They rarely know how to build and maintain close, intimate relationships, face to face,either with those they would like as friends, or those they would like as romantic partners.

Not Always As It Seems

Gamers often believe that their online friendships count as intimate, and, it is true that they may feel close to those they game with and talk to in their online communities. Sometimes these online relationships are mutual and sometimes gamers meet these friends in person and deepen their friendships or romantic relationships. But, here’s the thing, however close you feel to someone you only know online, the reality is that you have no way of truly knowing who they are. You may feel trust in this person and then have the trust betrayed either by them disappearing one day (a common occurrence) or meeting them one day in person and they are different from the person they presented to you online. We know, for example, of a 22 year-old man who had been having a romantic relationship for 10 years with an older man, pretending to be a grown woman when he was just 12+ years old. At 22 he was committed to never meeting this man, as he didn’t ever want to be discovered for whom he really was.

Shifting the Intimacy Paradigm

So, in conclusion, the online lives of our clients have, for the most part, not allowed them to develop the skills of intimacy-building. Their intimacy disorder can change within the safe, close environment of our program where they learn how to risk being vulnerable with one another. The change takes time, but many of them find that the investment in this growth is worth it. They, like all of us, need and want intimate relationships. As they discover a path toward it, their hopes for the future develop.