By Jeremy Brown
In any relationship, people want to have closeness with their partner, and they also want to feel intimate with them. In fact, some might consider the two to not be mutually exclusive. After all, you can’t be intimate with someone that you aren’t close with, and vice versa, right?
Well, as it turns out, the differences between the two are greater than you might actually expect.
Lack of intimacy in a marriage leads to boredom and long rough patches. Without a mix of both, your marriage is basically just a pact to die together.
“Closeness is low risk, low anxiety, high predictability, comfort, familiarity,” explains Dr. Tom Murray, a couples counselor and sex therapist. “With intimacy, there’s a substantial degree of mystery in the relationship. And, that allows for high risk, high anxiety, low predictability, newness, and novelty.”
Closeness is a vital component of any long-term relationship, Murray says. It’s necessary for the safety and security that fuels a committed and monogamous partnership. You want to know that bills are going to be handled, the kids will be picked up, that someone will be there for you when you need them.
However, as the relationship progresses, the closeness can grow to such an extent that it begins to edge out intimacy, leaving partners in a comfortable, risk-free, often sweatpantsed space. It’s secure, sure. But it’s devoid of anything new or exciting.
There’s an invasive weed in the South called kudzu. He’s taken to calling closeness “the kudzu of marriage” because it comes in and pushes out intimacy. When intimacy is totally gone, couples become those people who sit at a diner and don’t exchange a single word.
“They just have this unspoken contract to die together,” Murray says. For a couple to truly embrace the idea of intimacy, they have to realize that, every day, their partner is a new person based on the things that have happened to them.
“Intimacy is saying, ‘I understand that you’re a new person today. You’ve had a full day of experiences. You are a mystery for me to discover; you’re a gift for me to unwrap,’” Murray says. “That’s hard for people to do.”
So what is the difference between closeness and intimacy? Here are some key examples.
1. Closeness is playing it safe.
For many couples, especially those with kids, getting even a moment alone together can be a near-Herculean challenge. When those rare times do happen, most people tend to fall back on familiar patterns. Eating at a favorite restaurant. Ordering the same meal. Going to the same movie theater. Watching the same show on Netflix.
If our time is that limited, the thinking goes, why don’t we make sure we’re doing something we enjoy? However, if couples fall back on that pattern enough, they’re only eating in that restaurant and only ordering that meal.
It’s as simple as varying the routine. It’s crucial to color outside the lines a bit. Take a cooking class. Do one of those wine and painting classes. Go see a random band at a local venue.
“Couples need to do something that gets them to experience life outside of their comfort zone and have a shared experience between them,” Murray says. “It doesn’t have to be skydiving, although that may be good. It can be anything that is outside of their comfort zone that creates an adventure.”
2. Intimacy means staying curious.
When you seek intimacy in a relationship, you have to remain constantly curious about your partner, which only comes with the realization that you will never fully know them. They will always have new thoughts, opinions, and desires that will surprise you. You have to be willing to accept that concept and also be willing to keep uncovering the layers.
“If I think I know my partner, then I’m already under the delusion of closeness,” Murray says. “I can never know my partner, but what I can do is know myself better in my partner’s presence. And you hear that in the word ‘intimacy.’ ‘Into me, I see,’ I get to know myself better in my partner’s presence. This is how you can reignite your passion and discover your partner in new and exciting ways.”
3. Closeness is routine, even in bed.
Gaining an understanding of what turns your partner on and what they enjoy during sex is one of the benefits of a long-term relationship. But sex easily becomes bland, sucked of all the curiosity and spontaneity. Soon, it can feel like listening to the same album over and over again.
“Couples will tell me they’re not having much sex and, and I’ll say, ‘Let me guess what your sex is like: nipple, nipple.’ And you’ll see their head nodding,” says Murray, who says that these couples often have 100 percent of their sex in the bedroom. There’s an obvious disconnect here. Great sex requires switching things up.
In other words? If you have the whole house, use the whole house. Role play. Wear some costumes. Break out some new toys.
4. Intimacy acknowledges your own desires.
Very often in a marriage, one tends to compromise their own interests or desires in favor of maintaining the status quo. And that doesn’t just apply to sex. It can be a hobby, a skill they want to learn, a place they want to visit. If it threatens the bubble of comfort that the two partners have constructed, many people tend to put it on the shelf.
Don’t, says Murray. “Intimacy is holding onto that core sense of self,” he says. “That realization that, that your needs, wants, and desires are just as legitimate. It’s a negotiation of how do you and your partner collaborate to have those desires fully expressed? An example might be to go on adventures together. The adventures don’t have to be huge expenses to be different, you know, countries or whatnot. It can just be going someplace even locally that you’ve never been before.”
5. Closeness is keeping your fantasies to yourself.
Everyone has sex fantasies of one type or another. Chances are, the majority of them are fairly tame. But what if you harbored a desire, even one you would never act on, for something a little outside the lines?
“In a close relationship,” says Murray, “you would say, ‘I’m going to keep anxiety low, keep my fantasies private, and not share it because I’m afraid that if I shared my fantasies with my partner that, my partner might take it personally or make it about them.’”
6. Intimacy is letting your fantasies run wild.
Assuming that whatever you’re fantasizing about does not involve anything harmful, illegal, or completely depraved, then sharing that fantasy, no matter how out there you might think that it is, can only be a positive thing.
“Sharing a fantasy could possibly open up new avenues for the two of you to explore,” Murray says. “It’s a push towards newness. It’s saying, ‘How do we elevate this relationship so that it’s fulfilling, nourishing, and inspiring? Particularly if we want to remain together.’”
Jeremy Brown is a writer who focuses on relationships, marriage, and love. For more of his relationship content, visit his author profile on Fatherly.
This article was originally published at Fatherly. Reprinted with permission from the author.