They looked so good together as they stepped out of the car, she wore a green patterned ankara dress, her husband wore an outfit made from the same fabric. He takes her hand as they stroll into the mall, his arm resting slightly on her waist. “Lovely couple” she heard a passerby say.
Her mind drifts back to the fight they had the previous day, married for 5 years and she never knew her husband nurtured a dream to one day be a professional pianist, she wonders what inspires him to do the things he does recently, and suddenly she feels he is insensitive to her because he doesn’t know the things that upsets her. Sometimes she feels married to a stranger because they have stopped having meaningful conversations. Lovely couple? “If only they know how misunderstood and unlovely she feels within.”
This is the story of many couples in our society today. The busyness and the fast pace of life often gets us carried away and we let important relationships deteriorate. Some lose their sense of need for intimacy with the mellowing of passion that comes with years of living together and familiarity. It is common for couples to pass off the air of closeness and false intimacy when in public but in the confines of their marriage they do not see eye to eye on most issues and barely know themselves. Wearing outfits made from the same fabric signifies closeness or unity in my part of the world, but there is more to intimacy than same outfits, kissing and hands holding. There is more to true intimacy than sex, yes, sex. Surprisingly, true intimacy goes beyond sex, true intimacy goes beyond the bedroom walls into the hearts involved. Sex is an expression of intimacy but not the core of intimacy. So what is intimacy?
The Oxford dictionary defines intimacy as a close or warm friendship. True intimacy is to be fully known and loved by another; it is the process of giving yourself completely in honest and transparent self-revelation. The simplest way I ever heard intimacy defined is by breaking the word down: in-to-me-see. It is a union of two hearts so they can see into each other.
One could ask why the desire for another man to see into you? Women especially, are seen to enjoy secrets and drama but intimacy of hearts is a necessity for one to have a good relationship, because within every man is something deeper that physical appearance, something much more than intellect or logic. We are all born with a need to be known and loved and we are designed to connect with one another. It is a known fact that infants who receive inadequate human contact do not thrive well, and medical research on patients with terminal diseases has shown that those who were intimate with their spouses and received love had better chances of surviving. We need each other. It is time for intimacy to go beyond pretence and fake smiles, while we silently pray for some understanding from our loved ones. Intimacy is freedom when your trust is well placed.
If intimacy is such a wonderful thing, why is it missing in our homes and relationships? The absence of deep connections and intimacy in most African families could be traced to fear. Fear of betrayal, abandonment and rejection. It is sometimes difficult for couples to get intimate because we spend so much time and energy in hiding our true selves from each other, it is natural to protect our most intimate feelings from another human being just like us, it is natural to hide our imperfections and show our good sides to people but one can only be free when mind, soul and body is bared to another in love, a person truly deserving. Couples also experience a point when intimacy takes a backseat to everything else that’s happening in their life like careers, the house, the children growing up, and just generally surviving day to day but only true intimacy can keep two people together in the long run.
Intimacy begins with being connected to your own heart, knowing yourself and loving yourself first, only then are you ready to love another. If you help your partner feel loved, respected and understood, you will begin to feel more of the same about yourself. Although it can really be uncomfortable exposing the deepest parts of ourselves, it takes time. It is a process; it is more of a constant evolution than a final destination. It has been said that true intimacy is achieved in layers, just like peeling off the onion skin to get to its core.
In African culture, the husband is the major decision maker and many times the wife basically supports his decisions out of fear of going against him even when she feels her own opinion could be better. It is important that the man in your life understands that true intimacy is having an understanding of your deepest desires and allowing you to get through the walls he spent his life building. Being intimate involves the mixing of our life with another’s, a close union or combination of hearts: “an intimate mixture.” And for this to be achieved, all forms of pride and desires to dominate the other person have to be put aside.
Anthony is a Lagos based business man, often out of the country on long trips and when he is around prefers to enjoy his weekends at clubs with his friends because Sade, his wife has become really moody these days and there seems to be a wall between them. Of course he works hard for the money so she should understand and not complain about his absences too much but she keeps telling him he has changed. Sade on the other hand would not mind his absences due to work so much if he would just spend more quality time with her and the kids when he gets the time, then there is that other personal issue that she fears to bring up in case he gets angry. She feels her life is slipping by her and she withdraws into herself. He feels she has changed and he would rather hang out with friends who understand him.
The wall between Anthony and Sade can only be pulled down by a conscious effort at true intimacy from both sides. For the woman to understand the changes in her man, they need to talk. For the man to get to the root of his wife’s moodiness there is a need for direct and open communication.
It starts with communication, statistics shows that women are more open with their feelings than men; they are very vocal while men would rather act and analyze things. A common myth says “Women are like open books; men are just too intimidated by the dust to look inside the covers”. But to every rule in life there is an exception, some women find it hard to open up too, both parties, men and women, are guilty of keeping their feelings inside and fighting the motivation to say what is on their minds. It would be a better world if we would stop thinking our spouse has mind reading powers. Women in this part of the world need to be proactive, enough of the tears and get down to communicating their need for intimacy to their men.
Openness and directness is a necessity in building intimacy. Things should not be assumed or taken for granted. We are quick to assume the negatives; it is easier to convince ourselves that people don’t like us instead of convincing ourselves they do. And this is understandable; it’s easier to face rejection when you expect it. But there is a problem with not reading the subtle signals of warmth and love, and yet we can easily detect the signs of disregard, hatred or contempt. We major in the negatives and minor in the positives.
For women all over the world, all forms of fear needs to be obliterated, He is your partner and all forms of suppression by culture and society should be set aside for true intimacy to thrive. Your partner needs to know what moves you, what drives you, what inspires you, what your goals are in life. He needs to know what upsets you. So be open and ready to get it off your chest. Be positive and stop looking for the imperfections in your relationship but be determined to let yourself be seen into. Let yourself be heard and understood, and tear down those self-imposed barriers to true intimacy.