Waking up to a “good morning” message is cute and all and so is a mid-day rendezvous. But there comes a point in some relationships when you want something more than just a thoughtful text and a good orgasm. Can your significant other tell that you’re sad by the tone in your voice? Do you feel like you can be your truest self around them? These are signs of what experts refer to as an intimate relationship.
“It’s a relationship where two people share more with each other than they do with other people,” Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a clinical psychologist says. And Tara Fields, PhD, marriage and family therapist and author of The Love Fix agrees. “It’s the safest place in the world when you’re scared, when you’re traumatized, when you feel wounded and sad,” she says. In an intimate relationship, you should feel safe being vulnerable and comfortable enough to expose your whole self, Fields says.
But developing an intimate relationship with someone is no easy task. It requires several key elements—commitment and trust, to name a few. Not sure if you and your S.O are on that level yet? Here are 10 surefire signs you’re in an intimate relationship.
1. You’ve established a strong sense of trust together.
This one’s a biggie. Without trust you can’t really form any relationship, let alone an intimate one, both experts explain. But you can’t rush it either. Trust is built over time in a relationship “where there’s been a mutual display of stability,” Carmichael says. It happens as people spend more and more time together, she adds, and as they learn to confide in each other and anticipate each other’s needs.
Not sure if you two are there yet? Don’t panic. You can build trust in small, consistent ways. Like, next time you say you’re going to call them after work, do it. Set a reminder if you need to and follow through. Or, open up to them about something that scares you like maybe meeting their friends or parents during the holidays. Being vulnerable with your partner will help build trust.
2. They’re committed to getting to know you inside and out.
Intimacy comes from the latin word for familiar, Carmichael points out. So the person you’re in an intimate relationship with should be actively trying to get to know you better. Intimacy calls for “an interest in learning, studying, and familiarizing yourself with that person’s body, with that person’s life story, and with that person’s emotions,” according to Carmichael.
In other words, what has your partner done to show that they’re getting to know you and vice versa? Do they remember your favorite book and go out of their way to buy their own copy and read it too? Or maybe you’ve noticed they’re really into anime, so instead of The Bachelorette, one night you might suggest an anime marathon. Showing that you care and are committed enough to learn what they like and why is an easy way to build intimacy.
3. You can be vulnerable around them.
If you don’t feel like you can open up to your partner and still feel loved, your relationship might not be as intimate as you think. The only way to find out for sure is by opening up. “That’s when you really find out, ‘is this a fear or a fact that I can’t be myself and be loved?'” Carmichael says.
When preparing to get vulnerable with someone, Carmichael encourages using her W.A.I.T. strategy.
- Want: Make sure this information is something you actually want to tell the person.
- Appropriate: Is this the right time to reveal something deeply personal about yourself? Maybe your S.O. recently lost a relative and isn’t emotionally capable of receiving this information.
- Inoculate: “Just like a vaccine slowly builds up immunity for disease, you’ll want to ease others into the information you are planning to disclose,” Carmichael says. Give them little bit of the information and see what they do with it. If the person remains supportive, that’s a sign you can open up even more.
- Trust: Do a gut check before opening up and check in with yourself about how trustworthy this person is to you.
4. You feel accepted in every way possible.
In a truly intimate relationship, you and your partner will feel completely accepted by the other, Field says. And you shouldn’t feel the need to engage in what Carmichael calls impression management—the desire to manage how people see you. Instead, you won’t hesitate to have them spend the night even though you sometimes drool or snore while you sleep. Why? Because you know they’ll accept you anyway. “The more we pull back the curtain and let people look a little deeper, even the parts that aren’t so perfect, that’s where a lot of intimacy comes from,” Carmichael says.
5. You can rely on them when things go wrong.
Life gets tough sometimes (think: job loss or financial hardship). How will your partner react? “Do you feel like both of you can use whatever arises to create more intimacy to heal the wounds?,” Fields says. Or are you constantly worried that they’ll bolt? Say you got laid off. Would your partner immediately reassure you that you’ll find another position, or maybe even jump into problem-solving mode and suggest they pick up some overtime? Or would they completely panic and possibly end up blaming you?
If you chose the former, it sounds like you’ve mastered another important element of an intimate relationship: support. You can rely on them no matter what. If you’re stuck on the latter, then your relationship isn’t quite there yet and maybe there are some other elements of an intimate relationship, like trust and vulnerability that the two of you need to work on.
6. You feel interdependent in the relationship.
The healthiest intimate relationships involve interdependence, according to Fields. But this is the most challenging stage to reach. Interdependence in a relationship means you feel the safety, space, and trust to be yourself and do your own thing, too. It calls for “being a ‘we’ and being a couple without being afraid you’re going to get smothered and never get out,” Fields says.
How do you know when you have this? Scene: You were just invited on a girls trip by one of your besties and you haven’t seen them in years. But it falls on the same weekend as your boyfriend’s cousin’s wedding. What do you two do? A) Work together to figure out whether you can go on the girls trip two out of the three days and still make it to the wedding on Sunday. B) End up in a fight about how you don’t make enough time for him and his family. In an interdependent relationship where you can be a “you” and a “we,” the answer is definitely option A.
7. You grow from your shared experiences.
Another sign of an intimate relationship? “When you feel like it’s stimulating you to have more awareness about yourself and when you’re able to talk about [this newfound awareness] with another person,” Carmichael says.
Maybe you’re super shy and your S.O. is outspoken. And every time you’re out together and see someone you know, you kind of just stand there while they do all the talking.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself during those awkward moments, being in an intimate relationship would encourage you to start a conversation with your partner about it. Knowing that you’ll already be supported, you can talk about how this makes you feel and what you can both do to make these situations more comfortable for you.
8. There’s a team mentality in the relationship.
“Your mate is your person,” says Fields, meaning they take priority over a number of things. Too often, the therapist has seen couples whose extended family members, mother-in-laws, etc. pit partners against each other by involving them in conflicts outside their relationship. Partners disagree—it happens—but if your relationship is an intimate one, you and your partner will be sure not to shame the other for their stances, and instead, hear them out. Remember, your relationship is supposed to feel like one of the safest place in the world, Fields says.
Speaking of meddlesome parents and in-laws, learn how to set boundaries with them:
9. Raw honesty isn’t something that scares you.
Just because you don’t shame them (re: team mentality), doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be honest with them. Intimate relationships call for partners to offer honest feedback. Let’s say you S.O. is excited about buying another car, but you two can barely afford the one you have. It’s important to be honest with them and say, “Hey, I don’t think we’re in a place right now to make that kind of purchase.” Sure, your feedback may cause short-term disappointment and discomfort, but as long as it comes from a loving and supportive place, Fields says, that’s okay.
10. You feel like they understand you.
Remember in elementary school when you and your best friend would give each other a look across the room and burst into laughter because only the two of you knew what was funny? You felt seen and understood (amirite?). Well, getting to that stage of understanding with a partner is also a sign of an intimate relationship. It happens “when you feel like someone really knows the inner you,” Carmichael says. Maybe you’re finishing each other sentences or laughing at the same random jokes no one else is laughing at. That’s when you know you’re there.
Another sign? “When you hear the person that you are intimate with say something that demonstrates they’ve really heard you,” Carmichael says. Maybe in conversation you’ve talked about how uncomfortable you are at your home office desk and out of the blue they buy you a new ergonomic chair. Going the extra mile to not only listen, but respond, shows how much they understand you and is surefire sign of an intimate relationship.
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