Defining Connection versus Intimacy
by Tracy Lee
Recently my partner and I had what I thought was the most connective, amazing experience. We attended an event that involved each of our passions. I love to dance, sing and drum, and doing all three at once is an ecstatic moment for me. My partner is in a band, which I rarely have the chance to hear. Music makes his soul sing. This event was perfect for both of us. He got to play drums and piano while I watched, and he enjoyed seeing me dancing like the whirling dervish I love to be.
I had a marvelous time. But on our way home I was very surprised when he said to me, “I need some good connection time with you.” I felt like a fish out of water with my mouth bobbing open and closed. What??? I thought we’d just had some! So why was my experience connective but his wasn’t? In working our way through that question we became hyper-aware of how differently we might think about things. We realized that what I really enjoy as a connective experience perhaps he only tolerates, or is uncomfortable with, or maybe finds just as pleasing.
This confusion can be about language too. Is connection the same as intimacy? If not, how does it differ? Let’s start with some definitions:
Connection: the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
Intimacy: self-revealing behavior, positive involvement, and shared understanding.
Self-revealing behavior: Intimate partners sharing information (for example, secrets, future plans, personal details, what really happened on spring break) through self-disclosure promotes intimacy.
Positive involvement: attentiveness, physical proximity, eye gaze, and body orientation or coordination. Simply put, you can detect a couple’s intimacy through their body language.
Shared Understanding: knowing each other’s thoughts, experiences, habits, and preferences. This comes in handy when picking out the perfect gift for your partner’s birthday!
as defined and explained in Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy
Do the definitions sound the same to you? Are they the same with different levels of depth for each person and each situation? Or do you see a clear difference? Discovering the differences, defining them, and asking in the moment, “Honey, are you feeling connected to me right now?” can immensely deepen your understanding of yourselves and how you can best utilize your quality time together.
I’ve learned from my clients some other examples of discrepancies.
Couple A: He enjoys watching movies together to feel connected, cuddle and have a shared experience. She watches movies to get out of her head and stop the busy-day thoughts; she’s barely aware he is sitting next to her.
Couple B: He describes intimate time as being fully sexual, while she describes it as cuddling, receiving a massage, spending quiet moments together.
So we begin to understand that a request to watch a movie or be intimate should be accompanied by a discussion of what each partner is seeking from the interaction. Eventually Couple A learned to understand that his request for a movie implicitly included cuddle time.
Take some time to think about what you enjoy as connection, what you enjoy as intimacy. Recall some of your experiences you’ve had of both. What was the event, where were you, who were you with, in what state of mind did you start out? Were you having a tough day at work and then kids tugging for your attention, or having a quiet day and a cup of tea? Either instance may make a huge difference in how you react later. With those thoughts in mind it’s interesting to examine one of your yummy experiences around connection and one around intimacy, and then see what amazing things you can learn if you do the same with a not-so-good or outright bad experience. Knowing what makes you feel great and what definitely does not work can enhance your next experience if you concentrate on the good qualities and work around or avoid the bad.
If you would like some help on your journey to better connection and intimacy contact me here to make an appointment.