Human beings have an inborn need for closeness. As infants, a human will not survive without caretakers, and we need them for a longer period than most animals. Babies learn early to seek attachment to a mother or the person in charge of feeding them. Instinctually, they know that their lives depend on closeness and intimacy. They truly cannot survive without it
While we learn to feed and care for ourselves, we never outgrow the need for closeness and touch. We both need and desire closeness in our relationships and friendships. We want to share our lives, our experiences, our feelings and thoughts. When we feel close to someone, we feel important and cared about. Studies found that receiving more hugs from their partners led to lower heart rates and blood pressure.
Closeness and intimacy
We have a need for intimate relationships; they help us regulate emotions and help us feel safe. Adital Ben-Ari and Yoav Lavee are leading researchers in the field of intimacy. In their studies, they have identified seven characteristics of closeness. These are, by no means, all the characteristics you will find in healthy intimate relationships, but they are a good start.
It is not realistic to expect all these characteristics all the time, but they are a good measuring stick to evaluate where you are in your relationship. It is important to see your strengths and to see the areas where you can grow.
Intimate relationships differ from casual relationships in at least six ways:
1. Knowledge: When we find someone we trust enough to develop an intimate relationship, we share information that we would not disclose to a casual friend. Gradually, we share our past and our fears, our dreams, desires and goals for the future. In the simplest of terms, it means knowing about one’s everyday life events both large and small. This is a reciprocal process.
2. Interdependence: In intimate relationships, each partner influences the other. People are drawn together through mutual interest, moral and ethics. Friends and partners frequently, meaningfully and significantly influence one another on important topics and issues. This ranges from simple things such as introducing one another to new foods to opening our minds to new ideas. They can rely on one another.
3. Care: Intimate relationships have a heightened level of feeling and care that goes beyond mere friendship. They show concern for the other’s welfare, offer comfort in stressful, painful times, nurture in times of sickness, and work to keep the other safe.
The way care is shown is highly individual and specific, but in intimate relationships, friends and partners go the extra mile to help the other.
4. Trust: Trust is the trait which holds together intimate relationships. It is the belief that another human being will act with fairness and honor. It is the confidence that our friend and partner will not knowingly cause us harm. It is the knowledge that they “have our back.”
No one is perfect and we will fail those we love. In those hard times, trust will see you through to the other side. Trust can only come over time and experience.
Responsiveness: Intimate partners care about and respond to one another’s needs. They recognize, understand and support one another in time of stress, pain and hardship. It is doing what you can to help the other get their needs met in a timely manner. This leads to a feeling of being appreciated and loved.
5. Mutuality: The relationship moves from “me” to “we”, developing a mutual admiration society. Each person involved recognizes that there is a close connection and respects it.
6. Commitment: There is a mutual desire that the relationship will continue indefinitely. This commitment to a long-term relationship allows the other six characteristics to develop and grow. Commitment allows trust to deepen, knowledge of one another to develop, care to be shown and effort to be put into the relationship where there is responsiveness and interdependence.
Intensity carries with it strong emotions that often masquerade as connection and closeness. We tell ourselves that surely this is love because the emotions are so strong.
Intimacy is not about strength of feeling. It is a close connection that brings safety to our lives. It can be fun and exciting as well as quiet and peaceful. It takes courage to be intimate because you are opening yourself to another but it is the way to a richer, more fulfilling life.