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May 15, 2020

How To Promote Intimacy With Communication

In a relationship, when you share a vulnerable expression with your partner you may feel anxious on how they respond. Opening up your heart and your life to your partner for the very first time can be nerve wracking. You might have had a negative previous experience with a past partner leading you to have a more difficult time opening up. But you must remember how important intimacy is to your relationship. Intimacy can be created through communication by disclosing vulnerabilities. Once your partner opens up to you about something, that is sharing a moment with you in being vulnerable. Being vulnerable with your partner is fundamental to building intimacy. Communication is a wonderful way to deepen your intimate connection while building trust on the way. Communicating about vulnerable past events or disclosing something that has been weighing you down can build the skills necessary to address sensitive events in the future.

Responding to Disclosure in a Relationship

Fear from not knowing how your partner will respond may stop some people from sharing things that make them feel vulnerable. But disclosing and seeing how your partner responds can help you determine if there is a long-term future with this person. If they respond dismissively and do not listen to you then that might mirror a future response pattern leading to poor relationship compatible. However, if they respond with love, comfort, and understanding your intimate connection will deepen. Now you know you can turn to this person to help manage times of crisis and they will express genuine concern.

The Intimate Process Model

The intimate process model can better help you understand how intimacy help the development of relationships. Intimacy generally is cultivated when there are interactions when one partner is disclosing thoughts and feelings that may make them vulnerable. Common examples of disclosures are parental divorce, loss of a loved one, or another traumatic event. Disclosures can also be present hardships such as having a poor work evaluation. The intimacy process model works when the partner responses in a way that communicates that they are listening and deepening their knowledge of your true self. Your true self or also known as the inner self is encompassed by your needs, beliefs, and emotions. In your relationship, your partner discovers your inner, vulnerable self by when you disclose and reveal feelings and thoughts that make you vulnerable. Your partner knowing your inner self is important to build intimacy, especially for later stages in the relationship when you may encounter new challenges. The second part of the model is that your partner makes you feel validated and respects you in response to your vulnerable disclosure. The third part is that your partner responds in a way that makes it apparent that they care about you and your wellbeing. These three processes past through an interpretative filter which shapes both of your perceptions on the communication leading to the overall feelings of being understood, validated, and cared for. The interpretative filter plays the role of how your partner will respond to your disclosure. We look to our partners to be responsive during vulnerable times.

Responsive behaviors include four steps:

  1. Listen to your partners initial disclosure
  2. Understand both the meaning of the words on a fundamental level and on a deeper level
  3. Responding to the disclosures in an understanding way, while asking questions to gain even deeper intimacy
  4. Being mindful of whether, when and how to transition to another topic to make sure you are not being dismissive

Responsiveness and Empathy in Relationships

Empathy is the umbrella under which responsiveness falls. Empathy means having the capacity for understanding and sharing in another person’s feelings and thoughts. The interpretative filter guides the degree of sensitivity to your partner’s disclosure. Even if your partner may think they are being responsive and empathetic to your intimate disclosure, you have an interpretative filter too which may determine a different meaning and impact of their attempt at intimacy. Our attempt of responding with empathetic behaviors will not be felt unless our partner experiences them that way.

If any step in the intimacy process model fails, such as lack of responsiveness or faulty interpretative filter then the whole model crashes. To make sure you communicate with intimacy, it is important to make your responsiveness resonate with your partner’s mode of communication. So they understand the genuine sincerity of your words. Picking up on times when your partners’ interpretative filter did not register the intent of your reaction and analyzing what was miscommunicated by having an open and honest dialogue is important to making sure the interpretative filter did not jumble what you truly meant. Most of the time caring, understanding, and words of validation are experienced in the way they were mean to. However, sometimes there is a gap between what you say and what your partner takes from what you said which weakens the relationship. Honest communication through times when interpretative filters may confuse intention is necessary to get back on the right track. You may have had an experience of complimenting your partner, but the wording confused the interpretative filter and they took it as a back handed compliment. Getting to the route meaning behind and stating intentions are good strategies to employ when miscommunication is heighten.

Why does one feel the urge to disclose in the first place?

Well most people want to share thoughts and feelings that make them vulnerable when their motives, goals, needs, and fears come into play. Showing our true self is a process that takes time just like the intimacy process model. Knowing the time and place to disclose also plays a role in how the disclosure effects the level of intimacy in the relationship. Some partners share traumatic experiences on the first date which may be overwhelming and scare off their potential partner.  Others may tell their partner a story that might not be all accurate. Both of these types of disclosures, too quick and inaccurate, do not strengthen intimacy nor build the relationship. There needs to be a foundation to share disclosures so both partners feel safe and ready to accept the other partner letting their guard down. Self-revealing disclosures brings your partner into your zone of privacy. Traditionally we think of self-revealing behavior as verbal, such as disclosing hardships they encountered throughout their life. But self-revealing behavior can also be nonverbal behavior, for example physical touch or sexual contact. Dropping down your defenses and opening up to your partner about private, personal information creates intimacy through communication.

Importance of the Process of Intimacy

Thinking back in your relationship when are the times you feel most close to your partner? Some of the instances may be when they supported you after disclosing self-revealing information, such as revealing a concerning diagnosis. Research also supports the importance of promoting intimacy through communication. The intimacy process model that I explained above has been widely researched by experts. It has been shown that closeness and well-being is increased by being in a relationship with an empathetic, responsive partner that expresses feelings of vulnerability.  Evidence also supports that a relationship is damaged when one partner is in a vulnerable state and their partner responds with walking away and becoming disengaged. Imagine how you would feel if you tell your partner one of your insecurities and they don’t respond or give a dismissive answer. It is important to be empathetic and put yourself in the position of your partner, especially when they are expressing feelings of vulnerability. When your response lack empathy, you not only miss the chance to be supportive of your partner; but also, you lose out on an opportunity to enhance the intimacy in the relationship. Also, you may miss out on future possibilities of increasing intimacy through communication, because your partner fears to be vulnerable with you again. If withdrawal in the face of vulnerability keeps occurring throughout the relationship, intimacy in the relationship will really take a hit, even possibly ending the relationship.

Other research studies including one that looked at relationships where one partner had been diagnosed with breast cancer linked increased self-disclosure to predict better partner responsiveness leading to stronger feelings of closeness. Would you believe that having a responsive partner also corresponds to how well patients recover from critical medical diagnose? Empathy and responsiveness really do mean so much to individual and relational well-being and intimacy. In the study, patient’s severe physical pain corresponded to their partner’s gestures of affection and empathy even when all participants had the same general happiness in the relationship.

The role of Self Esteem in Intimate Relationships

Do people with lower self-esteem benefit from disclosing sensitive information? In general, when in a relationship with someone with low self-esteem you have to communicate more clearly in order to properly share your understanding and support, so it gets properly processed through their pessimistic interpretative filter. Interestingly, disclosing vulnerable information does not always have a positive effect. If you struggle with self-esteem research shows that after you disclose you may feel less valued by your partner, while if you chose not to reveal you may feel more valued by your partner. Whereas the opposite is true for people that report high self-esteem, in that they feel more valued by their partner if they reveal and less valued if they do not tell their partner self-revealing information.

Keeping Intimacy in your Relationship

Relationships dynamics change throughout time and you may be wondering how to address new challenges in your relationship.

Four Steps to Helping you Enhance Closeness and Intimacy

Tip: Don’t forget about the intimacy process model as it also is important in carrying out these steps.

1 Participate in Shared Activities

Over time the intimacy and closeness in many relationships declines. This is partly because partners normally get comfortable with the same routine and habits so their relationship lacks new, exciting experiences.

Self-expansion Model

The Self-expansion model explains the common “years of blandness’ following an initial happy relationship. There are two assumptions in the model. The first is no matter the relationship status, people strive to reach their goals by increasing their productivity. To increase their effectiveness they search for resources, learn, and take time in strengthening their skills. The second assumption is that intimate relationships are one common way to enhance your identity and increase capacity to meet your goals. In the first years of a relationship, everything seems new and exciting. You are expanding yourselves together. Your meeting your partner’s family and maybe tasting new cooking recipes. Overtime, you become used to your partner and the exhilaration in the relationship typically fades. Expanding with your partner decreases because expansion has limits. For example, once you stay up all night getting to know your partner’s life philosophy you grow together. But, once you already know your partner, growing together does not come as naturally when you fall into a normal routine. Then the feelings of love and intimacy may fade since self-expansion in the relationship drops.

How do you bring back growing together into relationships?

Create new experiences that unknown qualities and aspects of each partner can come to light. Sharing in activities gives the opportunity to gain deeper levels of understanding, care, and validation.

Questions to ask when picking a Shared Activity

  • Do you consider it exciting?
  • Does your partner consider the activity exciting?
  • Does the time and length of the activity work for both of you?
  • Can you both grow or move onto new stages of this activity together?
  • Does this activity have me spending time with my partner or is it more independent?

2 Support each other

Do you know the greater social ties and connections you have the more likely you will live a longer and healthier life? Being there for your partner through thick and thin not only helps with emotional wellbeing, but also physical.

But what does Social Support look like in relationships?

Social support can be as simple as being a listening ear when your partner had a tough day at work. Or it can be more serious types of social support. For example, Christopher Reeve the star of the Superman movies, became paralyzed due to falling from a horse. His wife, Dana, was there by his side the whole way and was constantly committed to him.

Benefits of Support in relationships

Partners in more supportive relationships are better able to face challenges and cope with external stress. Overtime, the benefits of a supportive relationship are still felt, because the partners know how to work as a team to resolve conflicts.

The Role of Perception in Supportive Relationships

How your partner interprets your support has a major effect on outcomes. That’s why there is a difference in how your interpretative filter perceives support available to you and support you actually receive. People prefer and benefit more from support that relationship experts call invisible support which is support we perceive to be available. The opposite is visible support which is the support you know you have received which can be damaging to one’s self-esteem and actually increase pressure.

This may have you a little confused, so imagine if you have a goal to lose weight and your partner is constantly in your face to monitor your workout and count your calories you may be a little annoyed. That is an example of visible support. An example of invisible support would be knowing your partner is there for you to comfort and motivate you if you are not making the weight loss progress desired. Knowing the level of support can help you be at the sweet spot to not overwhelm your partner. Supportive relationships depend on if your partner’s perception of your support enables them to feel capable and competent in the face of hardships.

3 Make the Most out of Positive Personal Experiences

Sharing with your partner that you got an A+ on your final makes you feel accomplished and in return your partner typically feels proud of you. Leading psychology researchers have found that sharing of positive events in a relationship, builds both personal and interpersonal resources. This process of sharing positive events is referred to as Capitalization. Capitalization allows us to relive those events when we tell our partner about them and lets your partner experience the positive impact of them with you.

There is a catch to capitalization. Like all the other steps, the success of them depend on both you and your partner’s interpretative filter. There are four possible responses to sharing with your partner your success of getting an A+ on your final:

Which response would you like to receive?

  • Active-constructive response: Wow! That is amazing! I would love to see the paper; I am so proud of you!
  • Passive-constructive response: Oh, that’s great, how did your other finals go?
  • Active-destructive response: An A+, I am surprised. It is a lot better than you got last time.
  • Passive-destructive response: Maybe I should take that class, since it seems easy.

Now think back to what response you typically give to your partner?

How your partner responds and how you respond when there is a sharing of positive events has such an impact in the intimacy of your relationship. Research shows that relationships that have the active-constructive response have the highest levels of intimacy, while relationships that rely on the other responses have much lower intimacy levels.

4 Forgive each other

Forgiving is the most challenging step in some relationships. Betrayal happens in different forms not just cheating. Many relationships are challenged by a partner breaking a promise, lying, or talking behind the other partner’s back. If you choose to continue the relationship after betrayal, forgiveness is the only option for a healthy, intimate relationship.

Will my partner forgive me?

Whether or not one partner forgives the other depends on four main factors:

  • Seriousness of the offense
  • Personality of the victim
  • Qualities of the apology
  • Depth of the relationship

How do I forgive?

Forgiveness comes from when you transform your pain into a generous, unselfish attitude towards your partner. Forgiveness is a process that involves changing your personal motivation and expressing your forgiveness through behavior and communication.

Silent Forgiveness

This type of forgiveness happens when your personal motivation changes in that you are motivated and emotionally ready to forgive.

Hollow Forgiveness

Hollow forgiveness is when you only express to your partner that you have forgiven them, but you still lack the emotional motivation to really forgive them.

To truly forgive your partner you must be ready and motivated to forgive them and communicate that you have forgiven your partner. Forgiveness is an unselfish act that maintains the relationship by focusing on compassion and sincere apologies.

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