Healthy Relationship, Healthy Self: Build a Stronger Connection Through Self-intimacy

Intimacy is all about connection--the feeling that you and your partner are kindred spirits. The hallmark of a healthy marriage or relationship is feeling close and attuned to your partner, but maintaining this connection isn't always easy. Therefore, finding ways to enhance intimacy is a priority for all couples.

Self-intimacy: A prerequisite to interpersonal intimacy

You are probably in many different relationships: with acquaintances, friends, family, coworkers, to name a few. When you think about the relationships in your life, does your relationship with yourself ever come to mind? Probably not, yet this relationship is central to all of your other relationships.

Self-intimacy is the experience of feeling connected to all of yourself--the parts of yourself you naturally embrace as well as the parts you wish didn't exist. This connection allows you to feel grounded--giving you an emotional center that anchors your experiences. This anchor has an important place in your relationship.

To get a better understanding of your relationship with yourself, reflect on the following questions: "How do I feel about myself? What do I like about myself? Dislike? Hate? Which parts of myself do I find easy to accept? Which parts make me feel uneasy or conflicted?" Your answers to these questions reflect the type of intimate relationship you have with yourself.

Self-Estrangement: A block to interpersonal intimacy

Unfortunately, you may not have access to important parts of yourself. Why? Because you can dislike a part (or parts) of yourself so intensely that you deny its existence. Your denial doesn't mean, however, that these parts do not surface in your relationship--they usually seek expression. When you ignore parts of yourself, you've left the realm of self-intimacy (a connection to yourself) and have entered the world of self-estrangement (a disconnection from yourself).

At one time or another we've all denied certain truths about ourselves, maybe with little consequence--truths that would make us feel vulnerable or ashamed, desperate or inadequate. However, when you're in a relationship, the consequences of self-estrangement are always significant. Why? Because you can never fully hide from your spouse or partner.

When self-intimacy is the norm, you'll be fully present and emotionally available to your partner. When self-estrangement rules your inner world, you will remain disconnected from yourself and your partner. Your relationship is robbed of intimacy whenever you close off aspects of yourself to your partner.

Self-estrangement in action:

The husband who cannot be vulnerable with his wife is self-estranged--he denies his vulnerable self. A wife who minimizes her outbursts is self-estranged--she denies her anger. The girlfriend who ignores her jealousy is self-estranged--she denies her insecurities.

For the last ten years, Chris has worked almost nonstop to become a successful attorney. His driven nature has served him well professionally and he recently made partner at his New York City law firm. To his dismay, Chris's work-related success has always eluded him in his personal relationships.

Chris complains that he often feels distant in his marriage, despite his wife Kendra's encouragement to be more open and share his feelings. Chris is estranged from any emotions that make him feel "weak" or vulnerable. It's his inability to connect with these parts of himself that continues to block intimacy in his marriage.

Chris's first step in breaking out of this self-estrangement pattern is to honestly assess his relationship with himself--in particular, the parts of himself that he wished didn't exist.

Are you ready to assess yourself?

Rate yourself and your relationship intimacy:

Using a scale from one (no intimacy) to ten (very satisfying levels of intimacy), rate the intimacy in your marriage or relationship.

If your rating is relatively high (8 or higher), than you probably don't struggle with self-estrangement. If your rating is relatively low (4 or lower), self-estrangement may be standing in the way of a deeper connection with your partner.

To help determine the impact that your level of self-intimacy has on your marriage or relationship, now rate yourself on the self-intimacy/self-estrangement continuum below:


Pick a spot on this continuum that reflects how connected (or disconnected) you feel to yourself. Try to think about how self-connected you feel in general, since this may shift for you, depending on circumstances. If the spot you choose is closer to the self-intimacy end of the continuum, this means you feel grounded and are able to share yourself fully with your partner; if your spot is closer to the self-estrangement end, you feel disconnected and are unable to share yourself fully with your partner.

Rating yourself can feel a little daunting, so give yourself enough time to adequately reflect on these issues. If it does feel like self-estrangement is holding you (and your relationship) back from achieving the intimacy you desire, speak with someone who can give you support around this issue (your partner, a trusted friend or family member, a counselor). You've already taken an important step by assessing your level of self-intimacy.

Are you ready to build a stronger, more intimate relationship?

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