How to foster intimacy and healthy relationships


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

As human beings, the relationships we have with each other play a fundamental role in our happiness and mental health. In fact, having healthy and meaningful connections is one of three aspects of leading a meaningful life, along with 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, whether by choice or a circumstance like the pandemic?

Anxiety feeds off a negative reinforcement cycle. If we are anxious to go out and meet people and then stay at home, the anxiety disappears. Thus, it reinforces the idea in our mind that avoidance is best for us. However, then we can start to feel more anxious and depressed from that isolation. The best thing to do when you feel anxious or uncomfortable about being in a relationship or being vulnerable is to lean into that discomfort and fight for that connection, because avoiding it only makes things worse.

If you’re afraid of getting close to people, you’re worried that you’ll be emotionally hurt in a relationship, or you feel like you can’t trust people, these are all concerns and fears that you can work with a therapist to improve.

What is a healthy relationship?

We interact and engage with many people in our daily lives, and everyone we interact with has some kind of relationship with us, from superficial conversations at the grocery store to deeply intimate partner 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, with healthy relationships containing a combination of these:

  • Shared experiences. Participate in activities that you both enjoy together.
  • Emotional intimacy. Talking about their feelings together.
  • verbal intimacy. Talk to each other about everyday life situations, such as who will take the dog to the vet. Making plans and keeping up with the superficial happenings in the lives of others.
  • Non-sexual physical touch. This would include high fives, hugging, and in some relationships even snuggling together.
  • sexual intimacy

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

Tips to be more open to intimacy

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

Try to lean into the discomfort.
We are creatures of habit and tend to get caught up in cycles of only doing what we know how. The more you move out of your comfort zone and try to be as flexible as possible in your interactions, the more you will experience newness that could lead to a new relationship.

Be aware of the limits.
There are different types of limits that exist with different types of relationships. He wouldn’t share about her life as much with, say, a grocery store clerk as he would with his partner. Understanding the boundaries of various types of relationships can help you strengthen those that are open to growing into 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 breakage and repair. Often what happens when we try to get closer to someone is that we are successful or unsuccessful, which means we feel cared for or rejected. If we feel rejected, we back off and walk away from that person and hesitate to get close again. When we feel connected, we keep reaching out. All relationships go through periods of breakup where we can feel rejected. Take a step back, and if that relationship is important to you, it might be worth reaching out and trying to make amends rather than withdraw.

If you are struggling 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 wish to speak to someone about their mental health can call the PBHI Helpline at 260-373-7500 or 800-284-8439 anytime, 24 hours a day.