How to foster intimacy and healthy relationships

This post was written based on an appearance by Courtney Washington, PsyD, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute, on the PBS HealthLine program.

As humans, the relationships we have with each other play a vital role in our happiness and mental health. In fact, having healthy and meaningful relationships is one of three aspects to leading a meaningful life, alongside pursuing personal growth and giving back to our communities. But what does a healthy relationship look like and how can we foster these partnerships to feel more fulfilled?

Isolation and anxiety

If we need other people in our lives, what happens when we start isolating ourselves, either by choice or by a circumstance like the pandemic?

Anxiety feeds on a cycle of negative reinforcement. If we are anxious about going out and meeting people and then staying home, the anxiety goes away. Thus, it reinforces the idea in our mind that avoidance is best for us. However, we may then begin to feel more anxious and depressed because of this isolation. The best thing to do when you feel anxious or uncomfortable about engaging in relationships, or feeling vulnerable, is to lean into that discomfort and work to make that connection, because avoiding it doesn’t only makes things worse.

If you’re afraid of getting close to people, if you’re worried about being emotionally hurt in a relationship, or if you feel like you can’t trust people, these are all worries and fears a therapist can talk about. work to improve.

What is a healthy relationship?

We interact and communicate with many people in our daily lives, and everyone we engage with has some kind of relationship with us, from superficial conversations at the grocery store to deeply intimate partnership relationships. All relationships are made up of a combination of intimacy and boundaries.

Intimacy in relationships takes various forms that tend to fall into five categories, and healthy relationships contain a combination of these:

Shared experiences. Engage in activities that you both enjoy together. Emotional intimacy. Talk about your feelings together. Verbal intimacy. Talk to each other about everyday situations, such as who will take the dog to the vet. Make plans and keep track of superficial events in everyone’s life. Non-sexual physical touch. This would include claps, hugs, and in some relationships, even cuddling together. Sexual intimacy.

Healthy romantic relationships should contain these five types of intimacy, while healthy platonic relationships will generally contain anything but a sexual component.

Tips for being more open to intimacy

If you’re looking to have closer relationships in your life, whether sexual or platonic, there are ways to encourage them through your approach and mindset. Consider the following:

Try leaning toward discomfort.
We are creatures of habit and tend to get stuck in cycles of only doing what we know how. The more you step out of your comfort zone and try to be as flexible as possible in your interactions, the more new things you will experience that could lead to a new relationship.

Be aware of the limitations.
There are different types of limits that exist with different types of relationships. You wouldn’t share as much about your life with, say, a grocery store clerk as you would with your partner. Understanding the boundaries of different types of relationships can help you strengthen those that are open to becoming something deeper and more meaningful.

Remember that relationships are a process.
Intimacy is a gradual process, and even once you’re close to someone, that relationship is still subject to breaking and mending. Often what happens when we try to get closer to someone is whether or not we succeed in this quest, which means we feel supported in return or we feel rejected. If we feel rejected, we back off and walk away from that person and hesitate to reach out again. When we feel connected, we keep reaching out. All relationships go through periods of rupture where one can feel rejected. Take a step back, and if this relationship is important to you, it might be worth reaching out and trying to mend instead of retreating.

If you struggle with anxiety or another aspect of your mental health, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute offers support and resources to address emotional and behavioral issues. Additionally, those who want to talk to someone about their mental health can call the PBHI Helpline at 260-373-7500 or 800-284-8439 anytime, 24 hours a day.

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