Though we may think of ourselves or our partners as wonderful in relationships, something you wouldn't trade for the world, there is still no such thing as a perfect partner. We all have room for improvement in love. Even as a relationship grows and strengthens, new issues arise, and new changes must be made. This is good! It means both halves are always working to keep one another.
Trying to figure out what to change and where to grow, though, can be tough. Thankfully, there are tests that can help, allowing us to always become better partners.
The Bare Necessities
When entering a new relationship or continuing to build and grow an old one, there are some important themes and practices that are equally important for all stages and levels of commitment.
If you want a relationship to go anywhere or maintain satisfaction within it, you'll need to continuously promote things like trust, honestly, communication, and intimacy. In fact, intimacy might be the most important element of all, as it's what differentiates a romantic or physical relationship from a merely platonic one.
What Exactly Is Intimacy?
As important as it is, intimacy is also rather subjective. What one couple might consider an intimate act, another might find shallow, so it's important to self reflect and understand what *you* consider to be intimate.
Generally, though, intimacy is associated with physical closeness and sexual acts. While it's true that these are both very intimate, other behaviors that foster intimacy can include verbal affection, developing household routines/rituals together, doing mundane activities together, and much, much more.
A couples' needs depend on the people involved, but all relationships need some levels of intimacy in order to foster that closeness.
What Is Intimacy Intelligence?
One's level of intimacy intelligence or intimacy IQ is measured by their ability to "create and sustain emotional, mental, and physical closeness with our intimate partner," according to Dr. Robert Johansen, a couple's therapist with over 41 years of experience.
He notes that one important aspect of partner intimacy is our ability to be close with our own selves first. We have to be aware of our own needs, wants, and feelings within a relationship before we can begin to share them with others.
Dr. Johansen has noticed this as a recurring theme with his couple's therapy clients. When the couple's complaint is that they don't feel close, instead feeling distant or even resentful of one another. They feel like love has been lost, and they don't know how to rekindle it.
He writes, "Part of my efforts to help these couples includes asking unlikely, unanticipated questions like, 'How much do you like the person you are when you are with your partner?' After a moment of befuddlement, their answers are often, 'Not as much as I'd like...' or, "I'm often on guard, defensive, resentful, withdrawn," and the like."
"In an affirming way, I'll respond, 'Given what you've just said, it's not surprising how difficult it is for you to create and preserve emotional closeness, much less increase it,'" he continues. "After a painful nod of agreement, I'll state what's become a glaringly obvious question, 'So, how then can I like who I am in relation to my partner?'"
He'll then explain to them how they need to fully understand their own feelings, separate from their relationship, before they can truly throw a partner into the mix.
Far From Selfish
He often has to assure people that thinking this way isn't as selfish as it may seem. To put yourself first, to fully and wholly understand your desires, to need to understand those desires before moving forward with a relationship, that doesn't make you self-centered. Knowing these things only makes you better equipped to navigate issues in relationships, as you'll know where your priorities lie.
Having this knowledge also helps someone be more mature in their approaches to disagreements or arguments.
An Intimacy IQ Assessment
So, given that low intimacy IQ is common among struggling couples and very much tied to someone's awareness of their own needs, is there a way to test your own intimacy IQ and see where you need work? Yes!
Dr. Johansen wrote a self-assessment tool that encourages you to ask questions, dive deep, and discover where you're lacking in intimacy intelligence. As expected, it begins with...
1. Self-Knowledge: As mentioned, having high intimacy intelligence relies heavily on knowing yourself. We need to be able to sort our needs from our wants, our boundaries from our uncertainties, and our passions from our obligations. So, what are your relationship needs? What feelings do you associate with those needs? What are you not willing to put up with? What would raise red flags in a partner? What is your limit for less-than-stellar behavior? What do these things look like when they're being tied to another person?
Specifying Your Needs
2. Needs Approbation: After you've figured out your needs, you now need to examine them further. Do your needs sit well with you? Are they needs that you feel comfortable with? It's easy for us to diminish ourselves and the things we feel we need to maintain a connection, but bullying yourself over them will only make you more likely to let people neglect those needs. You're worth more than that.
3. Needs Representation: If you have your needs sorted and have made peace with them, now comes the actual practice of making sure those needs are met. How do you advocate for your needs? How early on do you communicate them? Do you start right away, or wait until it becomes an issue you feel the need to address? Do you feel comfortable sharing needs you may consider deeply personal, vulnerable, or embarrassing with your partner?
4. Risk-Taking: An element of life that can affect intimacy is one's penchant for risk-taking. To take risks in a relationship means you'll be trying new things often and keeping things fresh, preventing your relationship from going stale. So, how risky are you? How open are you to new ideas or suggestions from your partner? What are your limits when it comes to these suggestions? How willing are you to step out of your comfort zone?
5. Making Friends With Fear: To be known by someone is terrifying. That's another mental roadblock that prevents a lot of people from being able to fully open up in relationships, to fully give themselves to intimacy. There's no cure to this fear besides just facing it, by opening yourself up to the risk of being hurt so that you may be loved instead. Are you ready to face that fear? If not, what do you need to do to feel ready?
Relationships are scary. For someone who's been hurt by love in the past, having to relearn all the steps to loving someone in a healthy way, not to mention receiving love in a healthy way, is tough!
Measurements like intimacy intelligence can help someone on that path to relearning love, understand where they are within it, where their strengths lie, and where they need to work on themselves. It can help give them a guiding hand, a place to start, whatever they need to gently ease them back into loving.
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