Use Intimacy and Trust to Build a Strong Foundation for your Relationship
Relationships, especially romantic ones, rely heavily on a strong foundation for their long-term success. In this article, I want to highlight intimacy and trust in particular as crucial elements that will help you build that strong foundation.
Connection <-> Trust <-> Intimacy in Relationships
Let's start by looking at the meaning of intimacy and trust.
Intimacy - Intimacy in relationships is all about connection, be that emotional intimacy, physical or sexual.
Trust - Think of trust as the belief or confidence in the reliability, integrity, and honesty of another person. You need trust in order to connect and be intimate in a relationship but you also need connection to build trust.
They’re so strongly linked, which is why we’ll be diving into the role of both of them in healthy, thriving relationships.
So whether you’re in a new relationship or you’ve been with your partner for years, reinforcing intimacy and trust with yourself and your partner, will strengthen your relationship for a future full of fun, passion and love!
Understanding the Connection Between Intimacy and Trust
What is intimacy in relationships?
Before we get further into it, let’s get clear on the meaning of intimacy in the context of romantic relationships. You might be used to using the term ‘intimacy’ as a euphemism for ‘sex’, but that’s not what we’re going for today. In the context of a romantic relationship, intimacy involves a far deeper level of emotional connection that goes beyond physical attraction or sexual activity.
I like to think of intimacy as anything that makes me feel that kind of deep nourishing connection with a partner. It could be as simple as vulnerably sharing our thoughts, feelings, and desires with each other. Another lovely way of looking at it is as a “positive, give-and-take cycle involving each person in the relationship” Courtney Telloian, PsychCentral
What does trust in relationships look like?
Now let’s look at trust through the lens of romantic relationships. I encourage you as always, to form your own definition of trust. To me personally, trust in a relationship is about reliability, honesty and integrity.
If a partner follows through on commitments, stays true to their word and is upfront and honest from the get-go for example, that helps build my trust in them. What makes you trust a partner more?
To get a better understanding of what trust looks like in a relationship as opposed to other contexts, I invite you to think about the following:
- What does it take for you to trust a romantic partner versus a colleague or friend?
Many of us expect a great deal more from our partners than our friends for example. We can be much less forgiving and allow the slightest breach of trust to derail our relationship. It’s something to be mindful of at least.
For now, I just want you to understand that trust is a key factor in building intimacy in relationships. It’s such a large component of what makes a relationship successful. Trust is also an important characteristic that people look for in a spouse or partner according to John and Julie Gottman, leading relationship experts. Trust is one of the most important aspects of relationships
Building Trust in Your Relationship
Trust is essential for creating a safe and secure environment for intimacy to flourish.
“To trust means to rely on another person because you feel safe with them and have confidence that they will not hurt or violate you. Trust is the foundation of relationships because it allows you to be vulnerable and open up to the person without having to defensively protect yourself,”
- Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University
TRUST GOES BOTH WAYS
While it’s easy to focus on what our partner is doing or not doing to be trustworthy, we mustn’t forget our own responsibility in building trust in our relationship. As I go through some practical tips and behaviours, consider how you yourself might be able to demonstrate them and lead by example.
BEING RELIABLE AND DEPENDABLE
Let’s start with the perhaps more obvious factor in building trustworthiness - being reliable and dependable. Some ways of demonstrating reliability and dependability, are by keeping your promises, being there when your partner needs you and taking responsibility for your actions, apologising when you make a mistake.
COMMUNICATING OPENLY AND HONESTLY
Communicating openly and honestly also goes a long way in creating a safe trustworthy relationship dynamic. This means being upfront about your feelings, intentions, and actions, and not keeping secrets or withholding information. I use the analogy of a brick wall to explain this in more detail in my blog post 5 ways to make your relationship even better. Notice how openness and honesty allow both you and your partner to feel safe letting their guard down.
Respecting boundaries is one that many people don’t think about in the context of romantic relationships, especially when you’ve been together for years already. Even if you’ve been married for over 10 years, you still have to respect each other’s nos. The prerequisite to this is of course knowing your own boundaries and being able to communicate them to your partner.
Identify your boundaries -
I’m not talking exclusively about sexual boundaries here, those are absolutely important too, but don’t neglect boundaries in the rest of your life. A boundary can also be around a need for personal space and time.
For example, allowing your partner to have time alone, and respecting their need for privacy or personal time. Encouraging them to pursue individual hobbies or interests, for example, might actually make them feel freer, less restricted and therefore safer in the relationship. That’s going to foster intimacy and an overall healthier dynamic.
There’s too much to get into in this article. I’ll probably write a separate piece just about boundaries, but in the meantime, you can check out this article from Very Well Mind, What Is Boundary Setting?.
BUILDING TRUST IN A NUTSHELL
All of these come back to wanting to feel confident that our partner will keep our best interests at heart. We want to have faith in their intentions and for them to have faith in ours. It’s crucial that you both try to be as consistent in your actions and words in order to build that trust and maintain intimacy.
Of course, we’re all human so we’re bound to mess it up occasionally. That’s ok. The important thing is how you handle the situation to learn from your mistakes. By owning up to them and showing what you will do differently, you can actually grow closer and foster greater intimacy. We’ll talk more about intimacy in relationships next.
Fostering Deeper Intimacy in Your Relationship
FIVE TYPES OF INTIMACY
Earlier on I talked about intimacy as anything that initiates a deep nourishing connection with your partner. There are actually five different types of intimacy. I won’t go into them in detail but I think they’ll help expand your understanding and hopefully inspire you to explore intimacy further.
The five types of intimacy are:
If you want to read more about that, I found this article quite interesting: What Is True Intimacy in a Relationship?
HEALTH BENEFITS OF INTIMACY
Intimacy in relationships is not given enough attention in my opinion. Not only does it play a vital role in healthy and happy relationships, but it also turns out that our health benefits too.
Did you know that intimacy, specifically sex can have physical and mental health benefits for women? A few of the many benefits include stress reduction, a better immune system, decreased depression and anxiety and even improved self-esteem. Now you know you’re actually improving your health while enjoying some quality intimate time in your relationship. The Benefits of a Healthy Sex Life
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR GREATER INTIMACY
If you want to have a more intimate relationship and start that positive cycle of give-and-take, read on for some practical tips that you can start implementing immediately.
- Communication -
It’s no surprise that I would include communication in this list. There’s just so so much that we can achieve in our relationships, romantic or otherwise, through communication!
Try vulnerably sharing your thoughts, feelings, and desires with each other. I also recommend openly sharing your fears and insecurities, even if it’s scary. It will help you articulate what’s going on inside yourself and help your partner understand it too. Vulnerability and open communication can be a beautiful act of intimacy. Remember that in a healthy dynamic you won’t be judged for revealing your ‘true nature’, the fact that you too are a flawed human (shocking!).
This needs to be a judgement-free zone for it to work. Consider going for a walk or finding a neutral space to talk. You’ll want to create a safe space for both of you to express yourselves.
- Trying new activities together -
Shared experiences bring us closer and can create a deep sense of connection. Whether that’s going on a date or a low-key evening cuddled up watching a movie. Think about what type of experiences make sense in the context of your life and your unique relationship.
Some couples love the rush of adventure sports and can turn that adrenaline high into some hot action in the bedroom. For others, it’s going on a weekend trip to break away from the day-to-day monotony. That novelty can spark the adventurous parts of you and make you feel more open to trying new things.
Whatever your type of activity is, it’s important to make time for fun and relaxation together. Novelty and adventure can ignite intimacy in your relationship and ultimately make it more fun and sustainable.
- Gestures of appreciation -
What are you doing to show your partner that you appreciate them?
Even if you both know you love each other, it’s still nice to receive little gestures of appreciation. It could be something as simple as sending them a text message during the day telling them how much you appreciate something they said or did. Bring a smile to their face instead of only texting to tell them to pick up something from the grocery store.
Appreciation is perhaps one of the less obvious acts of intimacy. People of all genders want to feel appreciated and acknowledged though and it doesn’t take much.
- Physical Contact -
Finally, let’s get physical. Touch is a beautiful way to help build emotional closeness and physical intimacy in your relationship. If you’ve ever been deprived of touch, you probably got a rude awakening about how important it is.
Physical contact can range from gentle hugs to sensual kisses and beyond. Make sure that you’re respecting each other’s boundaries here as we talked about earlier. I encourage you to think about what would create an atmosphere of intimacy and connection for you.
TRUST & INTIMACY
“How we tune into our sense of touch as an adult is intimately connected to how we liked to play as a child. [...] Nothing is better, however, than a touch on the shoulder or hug that wordlessly conveys: I see you. I care about you. I’m excited to be with you. We’re in this together. ”
Quote by Esther Perel
Now that we’ve explored touch and intimacy individually, let’s take a look at how they impact one another.
Building trust allows us to feel safe and let our guard down. It’s not hard to imagine that being guarded makes it hard to be intimate, and intimacy requires vulnerability. That’s why we talked about communication and boundaries both as a way to create a safe environment, but also as the foundation for fostering a more intimate relationship.
Openly and vulnerably sharing your feelings, desires and expectations with each other also deepens your levels of emotional intimacy. That strong emotional connection will help you overcome any fears of judgment or rejection and allow you to enjoy exploring all types of intimacy together even more.
How trust and intimacy will help you build a strong foundation for your relationship
Reality check - building a strong foundation for your relationship through trust and intimacy takes time. It will be a journey full of vulnerability, confronting feelings and lots and lots of communication. It’s worth it though!
“Engaging in eroticism enables us to maintain a sense of aliveness, vibrancy, and vitality”
Quote by Esther Perel
By now I hope you feel more confident in how to nurture trust and intimacy for yourself and your relationship. A few things worth highlighting are the power of communication, vulnerability, and boundaries.
Remember that communication came up as a necessity in both building trust as well as intimacy. We aren’t mind readers so we rely entirely on what’s being communicated verbally or through things like body language.
Vulnerability comes into this, since allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your relationship is what allows you to deeply connect. When you allow your partner to truly see you, it actually helps them trust you more and brings you both closer.
In order to be vulnerable emotionally or physically though, we need to feel safe. The best thing you can do for yourself to create that sense of safety is to get clear on what your boundaries are. Once you know what want and don’t want you’ll be able to communicate that to your partner and help them understand how to maintain a safe environment. Sounds good right?
Most of us crave a healthy, fulfilling relationship whether that’s with a current or future partner. So the main thing I want you to take away from today is the importance of building a strong foundation first. Fostering intimacy and trust with yourself and your partner is an incredible way of building and strengthening that foundation. Oh and don’t forget to have fun with it!
You deserve a future full of fun, passion and love!