Lasagna, the earth's crust, and people;what do they have in common?

They're all made of layers.

Our layers are certainly more complicated than pasta and cheese, and very different from the planet's natural stratifications, but as thinking, feeling humans, we're complex, layered individuals. Our outer layers are easily accessible and shared with many people throughout the day, while our inner, personal layers are kept protected for the most part and only shared with those closest to us.

Let's follow Carole around to get the idea:

Carole met Tanya at the gym and likes to talk to her to pass the time on the treadmill or the stationary bike. "Can you believe who got voted off Idol last night?"; she asks Tanya one Thursday morning. "I mean, what is America thinking? Can't they recognize talent?"; The women are glad to have each other as acquaintances, and, although they've briefly mentioned basic facts about their homelives (they're married, they have children), they don't confide in one another about topics they wouldn't want someone on a nearby piece of cardio equipment to overhear. If someone asked Tanya about Carole, she'd probably say that Carole doesn't have a care in the world.

In her interactions with Tanya, Carole is only using her superficial layers, a level of basic friendliness appropriate for the setting and for her relationship with Tanya. There's nothing wrong with Carole or Tanya for maintaining this mostly topical friendship that only occurs when they happen to see each other. Just think about how often a grocery store cashier asks, "How are you?"; before s/he starts ringing up your purchase. Your response is probably an automatic "Fine." I'll bet you don't dump your family drama, a recent health scare and financial troubles on the conveyor belt along with cantaloupe and dish detergent.

Carole keeps in touch with her college roommate, and although their lives are busy now, they still remain close. On her last visit with Pam, Pam congratulates Carole for making partner at the firm. "I'm taking you out for a marvelous dinner next week. Lobster. And champagne!"; But instead of lighting up, Carole fidgets and appears nervous. "Pammy, I know I should be happy about this, but if you want to know the truth, I have this nagging feeling that I'm not up for this kind of responsibility. I hope I don't make a fool of myself.";

Carole has peeled back superficial layers to share more of herself with Pam than she does with Tanya.

Carole and her husband Rodney have been married for six years. They describe their relationship as happy and fulfilling. Carole feels emotionally safe with Rodney.

However, since her promotion at work, she's been feeling more and more averse to sex. At first she just thinks it's fatigue or overwork, but she feels an undercurrent of fear steering her avoidance. Confused and dismayed, she confides in Rodney. "I just feel totally inadequate. I know we've had a great sex life so far, but now I feel like I can only disappoint you in bed. Where is this coming from?"; Overwhelmed, she cries while he tries to comfort her.

With Rodney, the person she trusts more than anyone else and the person she feels closest to, she has peeled back all her layers and has revealed her inner core, the place where she is most vulnerable. Eventually Carole and Rodney trace her feelings of inadequacy back to a childhood where she felt like she could never please her mother, no matter how hard she tried. They theorize that her promotion triggered these feelings. She has a great deal of work to do to overcome those self-destructive feelings, but the point is that she would have never dreamed of shedding all that weight with Tanya at the gym, and, although she revealed herself more deeply to her close friend Pam, it was only with her life partner that she felt she could reveal her inner core and the confusing, frightening thoughts there.

What lies at your core, your emotional center?

Cherished hopes and dreams, as well as your deepest fears and longings. Your core is a protected and privileged place that isn't shared haphazardly. To do so would put you at emotional risk.

Do you ever share your deepest layers?

If you share the deepest parts of yourself with your partner it means that s/he has earned your trust. Your partner or spouse is allowed beyond your outer layers because s/he has proven her/himself in some way. Think about the people you trust most in life;what do they have in common? Most likely they are reliable, consistent and responsible. They probably respond with compassion and caring when you communicate your needs.

Your deepest layers and your relationship:

Intimacy flourishes when you and your partner share the deepest parts of your psyches. Such profound sharing can only occur when a foundation of trust is in place;a level of trust that gives you both the safety needed to peel back the layers and take the risk of becoming vulnerable with one another. To achieve the deepest and most meaningful connection with your partner, you must validate each other's core desires and vulnerabilities. This level of intimacy is transformative for you and your relationship.

This isn't to say that this type of intimacy is easy to achieve. It will not always feel safe to be vulnerable with your partner. When you're most vulnerable, your sensitivity threshold is amplified, and therefore the likelihood of misunderstanding is greatest. Because life has taught you to protect your innermost self, remaining vulnerable with each other isn't always a straightforward process. An offhand comment by your partner can send you running for cover. When your deepest core is exposed, you're likely to be overly sensitive and misinterpret neutral and even well-meaning statements as unsympathetic or critical.

Learning each other's sensitivities (core needs and vulnerabilities) will go a long way in discovering how to be supportive when you're each most vulnerable.

Are you ready to increase the intimacy in your relationship by sharing your needs?

Are you able to be vulnerable with your partner, sharing you deepest desires and fears? If so, do you think your partner feels the same about you? If you're not able to be vulnerable with your partner, what holds you back?

Start by asking yourself these questions. And, when you're ready and when you feel emotionally safe, bring these questions into a dialog with your partner.

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Author's Bio: 

Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their relationship. Rich and his wife Lucia founded LifeTalk Coaching, an internet-based coaching business that helps couples strengthen their relationships.

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Richard Nicastro, the Official Guide To Intimacy