This is a part of a series…
- Marriage Pt 3 – God’s vision for marriage
- Marriage Pt 2 – safe with each other
- Marriage Pt 1 – God is so good
- (OLD POST) Men, women, love and attraction
- (OLD POST) Creating deep intimacy (into-me-see) in relationships
What does the dictionary say about intimacy?
God desires intimacy, you desire intimacy, people around you desire intimacy. But it can be really hard to find, get and keep. In this post I’ll try to explain what it is and why it’s hard to find.
Here are some bottom lines:
- it takes courage to open ourselves to each other, but without openness we can’t have intimacy
- without someone to tell our inner stuff to, we will suffer mentally and emotionally
- not all talking is the same… shallow chit chat doesn’t take away emptiness, it is deeper talking that stops us from feeling isolated and gives us a sense of being connected and accepted and warm
By the way… the same goes for our relationship with God. Unless you will speak out and vent the yucky stuff you feel, you can’t have a relationship with (not just knowledge of) Him. If you’re afraid of His wrathful rejection you might keep your real feelings hidden and you stick to safe prayers. If you won’t talk openly with Him, you will notbe able to enter into deeper intimacy with Him as a Person. Tell Him how you feel. Tell Him what you feel. Ask for what you need.
Here is how intimacy works in my opinion. Please note: this is a combination of my own experience and observations, combined with the two most influential books I have ever read on marriage:
- 7 levels of intimacy – I cannot recommend that book strongly enough. It’s like reading the bible in laymans terms, it contains THAT MUCH wisdom, reaching far beyond just intimacy.
- Getting the love you want – This book impacted me so much that I felt like I could suddenly see how and why… and especially I could see how not to and why not to. This resulted in a lot of freedom for me and a renewed hope for a future relationship.
- I should probably add love languages to this list of excellent relationship books, but it doesn’t relate to this post
And so… without further ado… this is my view of intimacy, how it grows and the tremendous good it can bring to the emotional and mental health (and happiness) for any friendship that pursues this.
The 7 levels of intimacy (“into-me-see”) are…
1. Cliche 2. Facts 3. Opinions 4. Hopes and dreams 5. Feelings 6. Traumas 7. Needs
This is when two people meet. It’s the normal ritual greeting your culture uses every “hey, hi, whats up, nothing”. That kind of stuff. If that goes well, people will go on to the next step.
If the ritual of greeting went well people will share some facts “nice day, yeah, I was so busy this week, yeah me too, I bought a new car, I am thinking of getting a boat”. In this level people are sharing safe facts, to see if the other person wants to engage, to see if they are a suitable person to connect with, to find out a bit about their lives. If this exchange of basic information goes well, if they feel comfortable with the other person, they go a bit deeper. Not too much too fast, just a step at a time, watching to see how it goes.
So you have shared basic information about yourself and the other person received it without judging you. Now it’s time to let them see a bit more of you. More than the facts of your life, you show some opinions. Opinions are not how you feel, they are less deep than feelings, but they are deeper than facts. “I don’t like rude people, yeah me neither, I love summer, me too, you are a really nice person, thanks, you’re pretty, thanks!”.
If the other person listens to your opinions without judgement, you might offer more opinions and stronger opinions. If the other person refuses to share their opinions, you might stop sharing yours. This happened to me recently, I shared my strongly held opinion on something and the other person was cagey and refused to share theirs. I avoided them for a week or more, as I felt like I had put myself out there and that person didn’t reciprocate. I took time to think about the relationship and if it was working for me, or not. I had to decide what I wanted, what I preferred and what I could live with in the friendship.
It’s an equal thing. It goes both ways. If both people shared their opinions and it went well, you’ll consider going to the next level… a bit deeper, a bit closer to the inner you.
4. Hopes and dreams
Saying what you think right now (opinions) is deeper than general facts. Now sharing what you hope to achieve in your life, what you dream about, what gets you moving… this is deeper that just what you think in the moment.
What you hope to do with your life is more you than an opinion. Your hopes and dreams are built up by your thoughts and opinions over many years. It’s a deeper part of you. It’s more of youand you will only share this if the other person accepted your opinions without finding fault and judging your opinions negatively. So if you felt safe and accepted, you’ll consider sharing your ambitions and pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams.
This is a greater level of vulnerability, you’re putting yourself out there more. You’re saying this is me and waiting to see if the other person laughs and says you’re nuts. But you’re hoping the don’t, you’re hoping they see the deeper you and accept you, support you.
In my life, since I was a teenager or earlier, I dreamed about preaching the gospel worldwide in real power and authority. Bringing release to people. Solving problems. Teaching truth. That’s my long term goal. Short term, I toy with the idea of being Dr Phil. If I tell you this and you laugh, it’s over between us in terms of any further deepening of intimacy. But if I tell you this and you are supportive of me (you say that you can see that potential in me) then I will let you go deeper into who I really am. But you have to support me, believe that with hard work and dedication I can rise to that level and be that person… in other words, tell me that you see the best in me and you want the best for me.
If I share this and if you also choose to respond and share your own hopes and dreams for your life – small or big – then I get a chance to accept and support you.. Now we are at a deeper level of intimacy. We know more about how the other person ticks on the the inside. Now we can share a deeper life and go to the next level.
This might seem like the deepest level, but it’s only number 5 of 7. If you listened to my dream of being Dr Phil and helping people get free of darkness and sadness so that they can live an abundant life.. if you heard that and I if genuinely feel supported by you… then I will let you see my feelings. If you accept my dream, I will let you see the passion behind the dream. I’ll show you how I feel. My dreams are driven by my feelings.
The things I feel drive my dreams. If I always feel like running away, my dream might be to buy a boat and sail it in the open seas for the rest of my life. If I felt hurt as a child and then I realised that other people also feel that way, my dream might be to rise up and help others (which in my case it is).
The feelings you have over the long term result in your dreams. Your dreams are a product of how you feel. If you can accept the dream of the person you are talking to (and share your own), then they might let you learn about the feelings that resulted in that dream.
It’s another deeper layer into who they are and how they came to be this person. If you can connect with and support then and show acceptance on this level, you may be allowed to see into them deeper still.
Our feelings are shaped by what has happened to us in our lives. Events.
If someone said “you’re a bad person” that can have an enormous effect on our self esteem. Parents are the ones who give us much of our identity. If the parent told us we are bad, then the impact could be life changing. If someone abused us, that shapes and decreases our self worth.
The stuff on level 6 is the stuff we keep hidden, because we fear rejection at this level. But if someone will listen and accept us at this level, it can change our lives. If we can listen to someone who is sharing at this level, we can change their lives by accepting what happened to them and still seeing the wonderfulness of who they are.
Sharing the deep traumas in our lives doesn’t happen soon – and it shouldn’t! Some people only share this stuff after they are married, because they feel safe, they feel the other person can’t leave and will now accept them.
The other levels are there to ensure that only a loving and accepting and trustworthy person gets to see this very deep and emotionally raw layer of us. Risky and dangerous people are like bulls in a china shop and must be kept out, otherwise they may damage the shop even further.
You might ask “why should I ever go there again?” or “why share this with anyone?” If you choose to let someone safe listen to your story, about what happened to you, their acceptance can create much greater intimacy between you two. It will be healing for you – as long as the person is safe… and if they went through the previous levels of accepting you and they shared their own inner selves, then they might be a good and safe person to share with.
Perhaps the person’s traumatic experience told them that they are somehow dirty, (I felt that way after abuse as a teenager) but now you (the person listening) have a chance to listen to the story and remind them that they are good, clean and wonderful in your eyes. You could listen and accept and remind them that they are forgiven and washed clean by Jesus. Remind them that in God’s eyes, He had forgotten all of our sin and the sins done to us. According to the bible, because of Jesus taking our sin away, we are holy, pure and blameless. Help the person see that you can see the good in them… they really are: wonderful, gifted in some way, full of potential.
Remember, this is a two way thing. Don’t try save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t rescue a person who doesn’t want to be rescued. Be careful sharing your stuff with someone who won’t share back. Be careful to share with people who have shown themselves trustworthy by accepting you at the previous levels.
On level 6 listening and accepting and seeing the best in the person is how you heal them… and that is what they should be doing for you too. A relationship is a two way street.
On level 7 there is even more good news.
If I show you what happened to me, the traumas that have happened in my life, and if you listen and accept and support me in them… then you may begin to understand why I think and behave as I do.
If you can accept my traumas, then you are also in a good place to help me heal from those traumas. If you show me your trauma, I can help you heal. This is how the healing can happen…
Let’s take an example… a female survivor of abandonment might react really badly when her partner stares at another woman. The abandonment – rejection/betrayal – is the trauma of level 6. If she forms enough trust to share this with her current partner, he can accept what happened to her and love her.
Because of the trauma she has learned a deeply ingrained lesson in life, maybe it’s something like “every man is bad and will eventually leave me” and because of this belief, she might even do things that drive a good man away. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. She believes bad things will happen, she behaves as if it will, she is waiting for it to happen… eventually with words, comments, behaviour, poor choices, she has now punctured the boat with that they both sail in with so many stabs and wounds that the ship does sink. The relationship ends – and she walks away saying “You see! I knew it. All men do this”.
But the old lesson she learned back then has just repeated itself in a good relationship with a good man. If the man and woman can go to level 6 and she can share how she feels panicked when he looks around the room, then they can go to level 7 where he and she agree to work together to do things differently.
So if he is looking around the room and she feels panic is starting to rise up, she (by earlier agreement) touches his hand and he recognises that his innocent behaviour is triggering her trauma, which triggers her feelings. He can choose to look directly at her and tell her how in love he is with her, how she is perfect for him, how pleased he is with her. Every time that old tape recorder of rejection begins to start up in her head, she can ask him to re-program it with the truth of their relationship.
Over time she will no longer hear those old damaging truths and she can believe the truth about the man she is with. And she can get to know the things he struggles with and she can speak into his life to help him see the new truth and potential of his life.
You see, everyone has damage, everyone has trauma… and this is how people who make the effort to get to this level of intimacy can heal one another. This is one of the reasons that God gave us marriage, to help one another. But this effect is not only for marriage. It can happen between any two people who choose to care. It can happen when brothers talk, when sisters talk, when best friends talk. It happens when people go to counsellors and when we join support groups.
If we do not have someone in our life to share with, we will gradually suffer more and more, emotionally, mentally and we will feel isolated and eventually we may suffer from paranoia and break down. I believe that this is why Jesus put so much weight and rewards on His one command: to love.
Accepting the other person’s story and helping them to see their strengths and their goodness and their strong points and values is the very best thing you can do for children, friends and loved ones. See the best in people and tell them. Listening, accepting and then helping the person release that old story and find a new story and new truths about themselves.
But please remember, an intimate relationship is a two way thing. It’s not you doing for them. It’s not them doing for you. It’s a relationship. You can read more about what the bible encourages us to do for one another: One anothering
This post was inspired by these two books
I also recommend this book