We crave intimate relationships, but how do we develop intimacy? Try these seven levels of communication.
Level #1: Clichés
In the very early stages of dating, we tend to communicate in clichés. This is when most of our conversations are via text. The typical “Hey, how’s it going?” “Hi, I’m good 😊” message exchange. When we communicate in this way, we learn absolutely nothing about each other.
Level #2: Facts
At this level, we communicate just a little more than clichés. “How was work today?” “What did you do this weekend?” etc. These conversations can be held with anyone, they don’t reveal much about you, and along with clichés are often used to avoid intimacy.
Level #3: Opinions
This is the fight-or-flight level of communication. We dodge most opinionated conversations because everyone seems to have a different opinion about everything, and we're terrible with conflict.
“Culture says ‘I’ll love you…when I understand you.’ However, what is the most common thing men say? ‘I don’t understand women.’ The most common thing women say about men? ‘I don’t understand men.’ Love is not based on understanding but on acceptance.”
Love is not based on understanding but on acceptance.
Intimacy involves revealing yourself to your partner. How can we truly expose ourselves if we feel like we will be judged, corrected, or rejected when we communicate our thoughts? We can’t. We're comfortable expressing ourselves when we feel accepted. Acceptance has the power to assure us in overwhelming ways. When we feel accepted by our partner, we have the courage to grow.
Arguing for the sake of being right isn’t healthy, but neither is avoiding our opinions out of fear we’ll disagree or that we’ll be misunderstood. The interesting dilemma is that we don’t know what we don’t know and communicating with opinions can help us break down barriers. We need to fight our instincts to revert to facts and clichés when communicating.
Opinions are formed by two factors: our education and our experience.
Discussing different opinions and accepting each other helps us to learn what’s unfamiliar to us and to become better people. These conversations might help you determine that you and your partner aren’t compatible, or they might inspire you to think differently.
Level #4: Hopes and Dreams
We all have hopes and dreams, and we light up when we share them. Communicating your hopes and dreams can breathe life into your relationship. There's so much joy in discovering this pure place in a person’s heart. It can increase our attraction abundantly, and it’s in these revelations where real connection begins. It’s at this level of communication where we start to fall in love. When we know our partner's hope for the future, we associate them with their dreams when we think about them, and we can’t help but to naturally think of ways we want to help them.
When you have helped someone achieve their dream, it creates a supernatural bond between you.
Someone who has your back and lovingly encourages you is a precious gift. One of the most beautiful moments in a relationship is when you realize that while you can accomplish things alone, you don’t have to.
Level #5: Feelings
We have to remember that love is not based on understanding. Love is based on acceptance.
There are five steps to communicate feelings:
Knowing our feelings
Being comfortable expressing our feelings
Expressing them at the right time
Expressing them in the right place
Expressing them to the right person
Guys aren’t so great at the first two…but women aren’t so great at the last three. Men and women are equally bad at communicating their feelings.
If love were only based on understanding, then we would have a reason for every feeling we have and often that’s just not the case. We don’t always know the cause of our feelings, and we don’t necessarily expect our partner to fix how we feel. This level of communication is so important because if we can’t express our feelings with our partner, we will inevitably pull away from each other or carry resentment.
We must learn when to be present and when to give the other person space. Most importantly though, we need to maintain an environment where our partner feels comfortable sharing their feelings and knowing that their feelings are accepted even if they aren’t understood.
Level #6: Fears, Faults, and Failures
Many of us operate from a place of fear, but fear destroys intimacy. We're afraid to truly reveal ourselves, especially our negative qualities, perpetuating a feeling of loneliness. This reaffirms the power acceptance can have in developing intimacy. We spend too much time pretending that we don’t have any fears, faults, or failures. We hide from our fears. We protect our faults as though they're more acceptable than the mistakes of others, and we ignore our failures even though that’s what makes us human.
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” - John Steinbeck
No one is perfect, and as soon as we relieve ourselves, and others, from the pressure to be perfect, we can be real. This level of communication bonds a couple and forms incredible intimacy. We all need a lighthouse to navigate ourselves through our darkness and the storms that inevitably crash through our lives. Your relationship should serve as a safe place.
Level #7: Legitimate Needs
As humans we all have basic legitimate needs: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual ones. Although we know what our legitimate demands are, they’re quickly forgotten, unmet, and not communicated. Our culture is so consumed with fulfilling your wants, but happiness is not found in your wants – it's found in your needs. You thrive when your needs are being met.
Happiness is not found in your wants – it's found in your needs. You thrive when your needs are being met.
In the initial stages of dating try replacing the question “What do you want?” with “What do you need?” Don’t stop asking this question throughout your relationship! How is your relationship meeting your legitimate needs and those of your partner? Because this level of communication is the essence of true intimacy.
This is just scratching the surface of understanding intimacy. For more insight read Matthew Kelly’s book “The 7 Levels of Intimacy.”