All intimate relationships are supported by two pillars: Intimacy andSafety.
Intimacy implies both closeness and communication (Holmes, J.Attachment, Intimacy, Autonomy, J. Aronson, 1996.) The more we communicate with one another, the closer we get. The closer we get, the easier and deeper our communication.

Intimacy develops gradually, as couples share personal information of an emotional nature with each other. What is shared can be a relevant experience, a personal reflection, or an opinion or view that shows one’s beliefs and philosophy, ways of seeing things, of interpreting reality around and within us. Whatever it is, it is information that this person regards as deeply personal. At times it is the first time this information is shared with another person. At times, it is shared in a newly and deeply felt way, which makes it different than in the past. This experience ties two people together in unique ways and deepens their feelings for one another.

Sharing in a deep, personal way not only facilitates intimacy with another human being, but also sheds light into our inner lives, aiding self awareness and increasing insight. As we verbally communicate our emotions, we get to know ourselves better, and we become more sophisticated and willing to share.

As one partner shares, the other responds with empathy. Empathy is the ability to put him/herself in the other person’s shoes, and feel what the other person feels. The expression of empathy, in turn, is conducive to more sharing. This process creates an emotional connection between two individuals that gets deeper as the sharing continues. With time, partners come to know each other not only by what they say, but also by what they don’t say. Intimacy requires closeness, as we said, but also the ability to let our partner be separate from us.

It is important that each partner is both part of the couple and an individual in his or her own right. Each needs to maintain an individual identity and this is fostered and encouraged. The more we can be ourselves in an intimate relationship, the more comfortable we are in it. The more our partner is threatened by who we are, the more we feel we have to choose – be ourselves or be in the relationship - the more we come to resent being put in this position.

We all know women, in general, have easier time sharing emotional information and feeling empathy than men. There are many possible reasons for this gender difference. It could be that our culture tolerates emotional sharing from women but not from men, accepting and even encouraging opening on their part. It could be that the close relationship women are able to maintain with their mothers past adolescence increases their comfort and appreciation for emotional closeness throughout life. Or it could be a genetic predisposition, possibly due to women’s traditional nurturing roles of bearing and raising children, that allows them to be more in touch with their emotions and more verbal about them and more empathic to others’ feelings than men.
Be as it may, when men are emotionally sharing in intimate relationships, both men and women feel there is intimacy between them. However, if only women are emotionally sharing, both partners feel there is no intimacy. It is thus male disclosure of emotional information and his ability to feel empathy that determines the level of intimacy in the relationship, as perceived by both partners. (Mitchell et al. 2008. Predictors of Intimacy in Couples’ Discussions of Relationship Injuries: An Observational Study. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 21-29.)

These findings point to the need to encourage and facilitate disclosure of emotional information on men’s part, in order to nurture the development of intimacy in couples.
These are things that can be done to facilitate this process:
*Provide encouragement and support for men to open up without threatening their cultural and personal expectations of what a man should act like.
*Reward disclosures, so that there will be more comfort and less resistance to them in the future.
*Be more aware of men’s attempts to disclose and ways of doing so, as these may follow different paths than women’s disclosures and need to be identified.
*Create an environment where it is safe to disclose, because disclosing makes one vulnerable. One way of doing so is to be the first to disclose, modeling what to do and how to do it.

Emotional and physical safety, as the word implies, develops when the two partners can let their guards down when together and fully express who they are. Intimate relationships, when healthy, provide a feeling of comfort and security to the two people involved. They also provide a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives.

An old Irish proverb states that “We live in the shelter of each other”, referring to the comfort and safety provided by intimate relationships. We feel at home with our loved ones, we feel protected, heard and loved by them. When this is occurring, intimate relationships become the secure bases from which partners can launch themselves into new ventures and experiences and to which they return when needed. Feeling emotionally safe means each partner trusts that the other will be available and responsive when needed.

Safety and intimacy cannot exist without each other. When there are problems, one or the other or both are at risk. Partners become defensive when together and they are afraid to share their inner lives with one another.
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Author's Bio: 

Daniela Roher, Ph.D. has been a psychotherapist for nearly forty years in a career that has spanned three countries in two continents. Dr. Roher’s passion for her work stems from a deep interest in human interactions and connections and keeps her at the forefront of the new science of relationships. She continuously studies and applies treatment models that best help couples identify, understand, address and resolve interpersonal issues, in order to bring intimacy and deeper connection back into their love relationships.

Born in Italy, Dr. Roher attended the Universities of Torino in Italy, Cambridge in England, Wayne State University in the US and the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute. The experiences she gained from her studies in different countries nurtured her discipline and love of knowledge and her appreciation of the many ways in which different cultures affect and shape the human mind. From her many years of studying and practicing as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, she brings an ever deepening understanding of the human journey, with all its challenges and rewards.

Dr. Roher lives in Arizona where she has a private psychotherapy practice counseling individuals and couples. When not in her office, her love for the desert keeps her outdoors, not wanting to miss any opportunity to be in touch with nature and observe the miracles that constantly unfold. She is also an avid blogger on various psychological topics, with a special focus on couples’ areas of conflict.