Repeat after me: no matter who it is with, every relationship requires work. Despite all the internet memes telling you to get rid of your boo after any mistake, what we need to remember is that when you bring two human beings together - no matter the shared values and chemistry- there will always be work to be done. Now, this doesn’t mean that your relationship has to be difficult, it’s simply a realistic understanding that we are all beautifully unique and choosing to be in relation with another, requires sacrifice and compassion.
With that said, it’s common knowledge that after the heat and intensity of the honeymoon period come the challenges of not only unifying your lives, but choosing to stay together thereafter. This fine dance of communication and understanding help build the foundation of your relationship. So, what do you need to know about your partner’s unique perspective on love and intimacy, and how can that information help you build a better relationship?
1. Authenticity, Vulnerability, and How They Relate to Intimacy
What does it mean to be authentic and vulnerable, and how does that affect your ability to be intimate with your partner?
Being seen for who you really are- authenticity- is a vulnerable feeling. That is where we often see that intimacy = into me I see. The idea of being seen for you and to see your partner for who they really are is fundamental in building a healthy relationship. A relationship based on the truth of who you each are, want, and desire. Finding acceptance and appreciation for who your partner is- not who you want them to be- and vice versa, is crucial for creating a relationship that can stand the test of time…. And challenges.
“Authenticity is a fundamental building block of healthy and fulfilling relationships.”
Why is Authenticity Important?
Authenticity means remaining true to one’s self regardless of the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others. It is the willingness and ability to see and be seen by our partners for who we truly are. If couples are not able to be authentic, real, and vulnerable with each other, the relationship ultimately will not last. We cannot consistently hide, conceal, or suppress parts of ourselves- our personality, thoughts, feelings, experiences and stories- and expect to be happy and satisfied within a relationship. If you’re willing to be honest about who you really are, and open-minded about who your partner is, your relationship will grow stronger.
What does it mean to be vulnerable in your relationship?
Authenticity and vulnerability often go hand in hand. We are more able to be authentic when we practice vulnerability with ourselves. This can then be extended to others as you are secure in knowing who you are, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
Vulnerability requires courage to sometimes relinquish our need for power and control, while also coming to terms with the fact that we don’t always have it all together and we all need help at times. Embracing vulnerability in your relationship opens the space to fully express your wants and needs to your partner. In healthy relationships, it’s being able to share your true thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism or contempt. Staying in love takes a level of vulnerability that isn’t always comfortable. This is why creating a safe space within your relationship for honest and open communication is of high value and importance. Even for the sake of sexual intimacy, vulnerability is linked to letting go and surrendering, which is essential for climax/orgasm. The more you can cultivate feelings of safety when you are vulnerable with your partner, the easier it becomes to feel secure in your relationship.
2. The Importance Of Feeling Safe and Secure
Feeling safe in your relationship creates the necessary environment for you and your partner to show up as yourselves. In Emily Nagoski’s reflection of Sue Johnson’s attachment work in “Come As You Are” training, she mentioned that in order to feel safe and secure within relationships, couples need to feel and believe that their partners ARE in fact there for them:
“ARE you there for me?”
A: Accessible (and paying Attention)
R: Responsive (and Receptive)
E: Engaged (and Empathetic)
What can ultimately be helpful is to learn and know about your partner’s attachment style as well as your own. When we develop the self-awareness of our own attachment style, we can begin to understand what our triggers are within the relationship. This not only helps us better understand ourselves, but how we relate to our partner. The same idea spans to your partner: the more you understand their attachment style, the easier it becomes to pick up their triggers and understand their behaviors.
Covering The Attachment Styles & Their Impact In The Bedroom
There are four main attachment styles: anxious, dismissive avoidant, anxious avoidant, and secure. So… what does that even mean?
Attachment Theory was developed by British psychoanalyst, John Bowlby in 1958. It is a categorization for how we relate to others and is formulated in our human need for a secure home-base in early childhood. Simply put, as children we need to know that we are safe, seen, and loved. Our attachment style is developed by the consistency and responsiveness from our caregivers in early childhood. If we come from a household that was consistently responsive about our mental, emotional, and physical needs, we may have developed a secure attachment style as an adult. If we were raised in states of inconsistency or unresponsiveness, however, it is more likely that you developed one of the insecure attachment styles (anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant).
People with anxious attachment are usually more directed towards the other. They tend to be people who are more willing to sacrifice their own needs, and need constant reassurance. The more anxious a person is in a relationship, the more likely they are to be fearful of rejection, have fears of abandonment, and carry a more fragile sense of self-worth.In the bedroom, this type of person may use sex to meet their emotional needs and tends to sacrifice their own needs and desires to please their partner.
Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
Someone who is dismissive-avoidant in their attachment style may appear withdrawn and highly independent. They may feel as though they do not need close, intimate relationships, preferring not to be dependent upon others, nor have others depend upon them. People who are dismissive avoidant tend to be more emotionally distant and are less likely to connect on an intimate level. They can experience discomfort with closeness, feeling that it is imposed upon them. In the bedroom, these individuals can see sex as more of a transactional experience and less of an emotionally intimate connection.
Anxious Avoidant Attachment
Someone who is anxious-avoidant may be very hot and cold. These individuals have a combination of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles leading them to be very inconsistent in their behavior around love, intimacy, and relationships. Relationships can cause high anxiety, driven by a fear of rejection and abandonment and simultaneous feelings of distrust can lead them to expect betrayal while also craving love. In the bedroom, these individuals can have poor boundaries and compromise their own needs for the sake of not being abandoned by a partner while possibly forcing emotional detachment in fear that it could happen.
We all aim to feel securely attached with our partner. People with this attachment style are more likely to have a strong sense of self and are less likely to struggle with lack of self-worth. This leads partners feeling safe to express their vulnerability and show up as their authentic self without fear of rejection. Someone with this attachment style tends to be more confident in the bedroom with an ability to respond to a partner’s sexual preferences without compromising on their own needs and desires.
3. The 6 Types of Intimacy
Why is knowing the different types of intimacy so important to fostering connection and appreciation for your partner? Well, there are many ways to express love and connection within your relationship. Knowing what ways you’re already connecting intimately with your partner can give you a better understanding of what areas you can work on. Which type of intimate connection are you currently practicing and how often?
When people refer to safety and security within relationships, they are often referring to feeling emotionally safe and secure. Emotional intimacy is the ability to mutually express and share thoughts and feelings in a deep, meaningful way, feeling seen, heard, validated, and understood.
This is vital for both partners, while especially important for women - being able to share thoughts/feelings without the fear of judgement, criticism, or being put down.
Both partners need to know that whatever they share will not be thrown in their face or used against them later. This is how open and honest communication can be established.
Spirituality does not mean religion. Your spirituality can include practices like prayer and meditation. Your relationship with the spiritual does not necessarily rely on organized religion, but it can be, as well.
This type of intimacy can also include having a shared faith in something greater than yourself, or relate to shared values and morals.
Joint spiritual connection creates a strong and powerful emotional and physical closeness with one another and removes the mask you share with the rest of the world.
This type of intimacy bids the ability to have meaningful conversations around mutual interests. If your interests are not mutual, intellectual intimacy can still be achieved if both partners are open and willing to listen and learn about what each of you considers important.
To develop a meaningful intimate relationship, we must be willing to embrace and honor each other’s differences instead of using them as points of tension. It is also important to consider that some areas of intimacy may not be as strong as others, and that’s okay, as long as both partners are willing to strengthen the areas of intimacy that are most important to each of you.
Recreational intimacy entails the ability to spend quality time together, where both partners are able to enjoy and indulge in the time that is being spent.
This can include date nights and planned activities such as concerts or sporting events, it can also include partaking in physical activities together, such as working out or recreational sports.
It can also foster the feelings that lead to more physical and sexual intimacy later. Engaging in new and different experiences together fosters the feelings of adventure and excitement that our sexual self feeds off of.
Physical intimacy is a tangible expression of love and appreciation within relationships through affection, affectionate touch and potentially sensual touch.
It's important to keep in mind that this may not include sexual or erotic touch.
Remember: One of the major goals of sex therapy is to help couples expand on their intimate/sexual experience.
Sex is more than intercourse and intimacy is more than sex! Couples often struggle with being able to separate or expand between the physical and sexual, thinking them to be one in the same - they are not!
Physical intimacy carries two of the five gears of touch created by Barry W. McCarthy - a certified sex and couples therapist.
First gear: Affectionate Touch — this usually involves clothes-on touching, such as holding hands, hugging, or kissing. Affectionate touch is not sexual, but it provides the foundation for intimate attachment.
Second gear: Sensual Touch — this involves non-genital pleasuring which can be clothed, semi-clothed, or nude. Sensual touch includes a head, back, or foot rub; cuddling on the couch while watching a movie, a “trust position” where you feel safe and connected, cradling each other as you go to sleep or wake in the morning. Sensual touch is an integral part of couple sexuality. It has value in itself as well as a bridge to sexual desire at that time or later.
Sexual & Erotic Intimacy
What people typically refer to as “the act of sex,” ie. Intercourse, but again, this can be expansive...
This can entail playful touching- either clothed or nude, erotic touch- via manual, oral, rubbing, or vibrator stimulation, and finally penetration & intercourse.
Sexual and erotic intimacy is NOT just penetration. It is the physical journey we take with our partner to achieve sexual pleasure.
Here we explore McCarthy’s third, fourth and fifth gear.
Third gear: Playful Touch — this intermixes genital pleasuring with non-genital touch (usually semi-clothed or nude). Playful touch can include touching in the shower or bath, full body massage, seductive or erotic dancing, games such as strip poker or Twister, “motor-boating” or “helicopter dances”. What makes playful touch inviting is the enhanced sense of pleasure and playful unpredictability. Playful touch is valuable in itself and/or can serve as a bridge to sexual desire…
Fourth gear: Erotic Touch — this is the most challenging gear because many feel the need (or obligation) to transition to intercourse from this gear. Erotic, non-intercourse touch can include manual, oral, rubbing, or vibrator stimulation. Erotic scenarios and techniques are an integral part of couple sexuality providing a sense of vitality, creativity, and unpredictability. Erotic touch can be mutual or one-way. It can proceed to orgasm and/or transition to intercourse, but it does not have to…
Fifth gear: Penetration & Intercourse — there are two crucial concepts in integrating penetration/intercourse into the approach of gears of connection. First, intercourse is a natural continuation of the pleasuring/eroticism process, and not a pass-fail sex performance test. Second, it is important to transition to intercourse at high levels of arousal while continuing multiple stimulation during penetration to maintain erotic flow.
Knowing what type of intimacy you and your partner share can give you insight into what types of intimacy you can explore together. This paired with your work to show up authentically in your relationship can help you develop or maintain a secure attachment with your partner.
4. Showing Appreciation For Your Partner
Throughout the years, you and your partner will enter and leave different stages and seasons in your life. It’s important to note that not every stage will be conducive to you or your partner showing up how you’d want or like. Your ability to practice mindfulness and awareness of where you both are in your lives- what season, what challenges you are facing, and what stressors may be present- help develop empathy for your partner.
Our partners are human beings outside of ourselves. They have their own journey through life, their own experiences and perspectives, and carry their own needs and desires. In order to develop more appreciation for your partner, take the time to get to know them for THEM- not for who you think they are. It can feel like such a breath of fresh air when we discover something new about our partners even years down the line, and we can only do that if we are willing to be curious. Figure out what your partner’s love language is. Try to not jump to conclusions or judge them. Listen to understand , not to respond. Offer a space of safety to cultivate vulnerability. Most of all, be compassionate. Make an effort to learn how your partner feels safe, seen, and heard and try your best to show up for them that way.
Wishing you a warm holiday season.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Board Certified Sex Therapist
You deserve to feel safe within your intimacy, and I'm specially trained to do that.
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Sex Therapist, my main mission is to help you foster true intimacy within yourself by guiding you through the therapeutic healing journey.
I offer complimentary consultations at 954-488-2234 to answer any questions you may have.