Intimacy in Relationships: Communication, Cooperation and Support
Originally Published: December 9, 2021
Revised: December 17, 2021
Romantic relationships are often a big part of being a teen. It can feel thrilling to get involved with someone this way but also a little daunting at first. You might have questions like, “How do I know I can trust this person?” or “How will I know if I’m in an unhealthy relationship?”
One of the keys to a healthy relationship is intimacy, which means closeness. Intimacy can be built with communication, cooperation and support, among other things. Physical intimacy can include any physical contact—ranging from holding hands to sex (which includes anal, oral or vaginal sex). But intimacy is not just sex. It’s also feeling like you can be vulnerable with your partner and trust them. Emotional intimacy comes from communication and trust.
Relationships may happen quickly, but true intimacy can take time to build.
Ultimately, being intimate with someone ideally means you genuinely feel connected to and safe with each other. I wanted to hear from other teens about what makes them feel they can be emotionally and physically intimate with a partner. And what happens when this intimacy is lost? How do they then look ahead to new relationships?
What Does Intimacy Look Like?
Relationships may happen quickly, but true intimacy can take time to build. “I feel like I can be intimate with someone if I am their friend and I’ve known them for a while,” says Sam, 16, of Princeton, NJ. Intimacy typically means you feel like you can open up and be vulnerable. This doesn’t usually happen overnight. Sam also makes a good point about being friends. Having a friendship as a foundation with someone—while not essential—can make it easier to deepen the relationship.
Another way to understand your partner and yourself a little better is to figure out what helps you to feel connected. Do you respond more to verbal intimacy, emotional intimacy, physical intimacy? All of the above? For example, physical touch is really important to me, which has proven difficult during a pandemic! Especially now, when we’re supposed to stay six feet away from each other most of the time, it’s a good idea to be flexible and consider other ways that you can be close to your partner.
Sometimes just trusting that your partner is there for you is enough. When asked what makes her feel like she can be intimate with someone, Darlin, 19, of Jacksonville, NC, replies, “Feeling taken care of.” Knowing someone is paying attention to your needs sounds simple but is so meaningful.
The Value of Communication
Communication can also strengthen relationships. Something as simple as asking your partner how their day was can lead to a better connection and fulfilling conversation. “Openly discussing that we can be honest and want to be on the same page makes me comfortable,” says Kaitlyn, 14, of Newark, NJ.
Checking in with each other about whether something feels particularly good or uncomfortable is a great idea. Taking the time to do this shows your partner that you genuinely care how they are doing. It also encourages them to do the same and check in with you! Why not ask your partner periodically how they are feeling in your relationship and whether they are comfortable or if they ever think about changing anything?
Keeping lines of communication open before, during and after sexual intimacy is also important. Having consent and mutual agreement between partners about what they want to experience is an key part of healthy relationships. “I feel most safe to be intimate with a partner when we are openly communicating about how we feel,” says Sophie, 19, of Marblehead, MA. “I need to trust the person to respect me.”
When Intimacy Is Lost
Unfortunately, sometimes relationships can become toxic or even abusive. What are some things that make teens feel like they can no longer be intimate in a relationship? “If that person is unfaithful or tells everyone about our relationship,” says Darlin. Others I heard from echoed this, talking about the importance of trusting a partner not to cheat on them and not to betray them by sharing intimate details about them.
Consent is another piece of the intimacy puzzle. Feeling pressured to do things sexually can have a negative impact on a relationship. “It makes me lose trust if they try to convince me to sexually act in a way I don’t want to,” says Sam. Others agree, sharing that they have felt this pressure sometimes even after speaking up. Logan, 18, of Mansfield, MA, says, “Arguing for sex when I have said I’m not down for it” makes him feel less trust and emotional intimacy. He goes on to explain that trust is completely lost when someone is “doing things I am uncomfortable with without asking about it, like performing a specific act without consent.” This lack of respect is a huge warning sign. A partner should listen to what you want and never try to force you to do something you don’t want to do.
Having someone betray your trust can have a significant impact on how you feel about future romantic connections. “It came to affect me in relationships afterwards because I had more insecurities and had a harder time opening up,” says Darlin. So what has helped Darlin feel able to connect in future relationships? “Just lots of time and trust, plus lots of patience from my partner.”
Time can definitely help. It can take a while to feel ready to be intimate with someone new. “I was stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship for over a year,” says Sophie. “It has impacted how I see love and my ability to trust others. I have not given up hope, but I know my next relationship will need to take much longer to develop my trust.”
But even if past relationships have been unhealthy or abusive does not mean that future relationships have to be like this. There are ways to build intimacy in future relationships, even after unhealthy relationships. “It was the intimacy and care that my current significant other expressed to me that made me really feel like I could be loved again,” says Martin, 18, of Brooklyn, NY. “It’s amazing to have the care again.” It’s possible to feel loved and appreciated again after being hurt.
At the end of the day, building intimacy, trust and communication are lifelong skills for anyone interested in pursuing relationships. Finding a healthy and positive way to interact with your partner is important. You are worthy and deserving of a loving, healthy and intimate relationship.
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