Intimacy can be defined in many different ways. One expectation that seems to often come up as couples move towards intimacy is the idea of reciprocity, that is, that if one person shares, the other has to also. An example is: if I say I love you, you should say I love you back. If I say something about how the love making we just experienced was great, you would say the same thing back. But that expectation causes problems and even often hinders intimacy. Being in a couple is a great way to develop yourself—you are forced to deal with someone else and if you don’t there are consequences. A question will get you to thinking about this issue: Can you tell your partner important information about you and that’s it? She or he doesn’t have to say anything back? Can you be ok about that, accepting that you were intimate with your partner? Conversely, can you hear an intimate statement from you partner and not just parrot something back?
Let’s look at this from a different angle. If you are compelled or feel compelled to reveal something about yourself because your partner revealed something, are you being intimate, or just compelled? Revealing that you love someone is different than saying, “I love you,” after your partner has just said it to you. It can be surprising to some clients who come to a couples therapy office when they share something important and the therapist doesn’t make sure that the partner shares something as well.
Differentiation is a term that has been used for a long time in the marital/sex therapy areas (see Schnarch, or Kerr and Bowen). It is something you want but is hard to get. It is getting your self healthier, being stronger emotionally, being able to sooth yourself. And people that are more differentiated are able to share without expecting their partner to share back. And more differentiated people don’t share back only because their partner shared with them.
So, perhaps you could challenge yourself. Make sure your partner has your attention and no one else is around, then you share something important and personal about yourself with your partner, and that’s it. You don’t expect anything in return (other than you would like him or her to hear you, but you don’t even expect that). It would be an intimate thing to do.