Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.
Intimacy isn't so much about what happens, more about how. Not so much about content, more about process. Two siblings discuss their scary dreams, giving each other understanding and support, feeling their common ground. They don't agree on lots of things and sometimes there's not so much trust and comraderie, but this conversation is the height of intimacy. Two spouses sit quietly watching TV, reading and playing video games. They seem like they're in separate worlds. Then, one comments on the game on TV and the other reaches out to cuddle. They don't discuss much in detail, more need-to-know communication, but the feeling of comfort and togetherness has grown between them. That's intimacy, too. Friends share mutual complaints and ideas over the phone or internet, knowing they connect on a deeper level than chitchat. They appreciate each other's position in life and welcome each other's thoughts. That's more intimacy.
Even love-making or sex play isn't intimate when people are just going through the motions, thinking whatever may be a world apart or fantasizing about someone else. It looks intimate and involves private parts but isn't truly intimate on an emotional level. And for real intimacy, that's the only pertinent level. The focus has to be on each other for the act to qualify as intimate. The opposite is role play.
The same goes for eating a meal, cooking jointly, sleeping in bed, housework, and other daily endeavors. Any activity, even playing a game or watching a movie, can be done really together in a bonded way with mutual sharing and pleasure or as solitary activities that just look like the people are together. They are physically together but may or may not be mentally or emotionally close.
How many families suffer from emotional distance, not trusting each other enough to confide, fearing each others' and their own reactions, processing thoughts and feelings only through their own filters without empathy for the other? They may even cook and eat , dress, clean house, and sleep in the same house, but they lack intimacy and there's isolation and pain there.
It's not always a black and white situation. Relationships may be intimate at times and not at other times, or in some types of endeavors and not others, or a certain proportion of the day/week. Usually, shared experiences, especially good ones, or ones in which they overcome challenges, connect people intimately. Yet, I've heard people say that their relationship is truly intimate when they've been apart awhile and they rejoin and share their experiences, realizing how much they missed each other and tenderly appreciating their renewed contact. While some couples do everything together, that may a sign of true intimacy or just of dependency. It's about quality of relationship, not quantity of contact.