The need for intimate relationships is one of the fundamental human needs. Our relationships with others are central and indispensable aspects of our lives, whether they bring us great joy when things are going well or cause us great pain when things go wrong.
Given that personal relationships are vital to our optimal functioning, it is very important to understand how they start, develop, function, and how and why they sometimes cause us so much anger and pain.
In real life, we can distinguish between many kinds of personal relationships. Basically, we make daily contact with all kinds of people, from the bus driver to coworkers, classmates, family, friends, business partners, lovers etc. But when talking about intimate relationships in our lives, we usually refer to our relations with our romantic partners because they exemplify the model of intimate relationship.
Most of us need others even more than we realize. Isolation as a form of serious punishment (no wonder why in prison people are isolated): human beings are very social species and they suffer when are deprived of close contact with other human beings.
The Need for Intimate Relationships and Intimacy
What do we understand by intimacy in a romantic relationship ? This is a complex question that requires an elaborate response. Some psychologists believe that intimacy in relationship is a multifaceted concept with several different components. These are:
- Getting to know each other. Two persons intimately connected know quite a lot about each other, for example, details of their past, preferences on how they spend their leisure time, most hidden desires, feelings, hopes and future plans etc. The sense of intimacy is reinforced when the partners make confidences to each other, but at the same time, the level of vulnerability is increased.
- Trusting each other. Romantic partners trust each other and they have expectations to be treated with respect and fairness. Thus, no disadvantages should arise as a result of their intimate relationship. However, if this happens at some point in the relationship, the partner whose trust was betrayed, subsequently begins to act cautiously, and that in turn reduces the degree of openness in an intimate relationship.
- Reciprocity. In a healthy couple relationship there is a close link between partners and not infrequently they consider each other one person instead of two people completely separated. They refer to themselves as “we” instead of “I” or “he/ she”. In fact, this change in perception from I to We often offers subtle signals that the two partners recognize the attachment of one another.
- Interdependence. Lives of intimate partners are also interconnected: what makes a partner greatly affects the other partner’s actions and decisions. The influence they exert on each other is strong, intense and long lasting. Not all the time influence in the couple relationship is acknowledged by both partners.
- Taking care of each other. Romantic partners love each other more than the significant others in their lives (parents, sisters, friends). They care for various things, from the way they dress, good health, well-being, career or future. Also, if one partner becomes ill, the other often gets into the role of an authentic nurse.
- Responsiveness. Being responsive to the needs and desires of the other is part of the concept of intimacy and no intimate relationship could be defined as such without this important component.
- Commitment. It is natural that intimate partners are committed to their relationship. They usually enter into relationship with the expectation that this will continue until the end of life. Therefore, in most cases, every partner invests time, effort, energy and even material resources necessary to achieve this objective. In the absence of such a commitment, both partners could start to imperceptibly grow apart from one another.
There are situations when any of the above components of an intimate relationship may lack. We see relationships where there are interdependence and care, but are missing reciprocity, responsiveness or trust.
In some marriages, the initial passion and attraction have disappeared and the partners stay together only because they have a strong sense of commitment. Other relationships lack mutual understanding. Or the lack of trust and confidence may lead to exacerbated jealousy from one or both partners, and the relationship is in danger in such cases. We don’t live in an ideal world and therefore we always must make great efforts to have satisfying intimate relationships.