What could possibly make your life more meaningful than intimate friendships? You can survive without intimate relationships but you cannot thrive without them. Intimate relationships make you feel complete, worthy, fulfilled, and content.
I found The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly fascinating and enlightening. Matthew explains how intimate relationships develop over time, you cannot rush them. I believe learning to identify and use the seven levels of intimacy within your communication skills will change the quality of your relationships. Realize that many of your relationships will include several of the levels of intimacy, if not all seven, but also realize that not all relationship communications deserve advancing beyond the first or second level of intimacy. The seven levels of intimacy are as follows:
Level one – Small talk
Small talk can be a very important part of the daily, friendly chit chat we carry on with others. Small talk can also be very useful to break the ice to initiate conversations when mixing in a crowd of strangers. Yet small talk can be very boring; in fact it can hardly be considered conversation. When people rely on small talk to relate to others they are being lazy and indifferent with their communication style. To move into the sphere of intimacy will require more personal conversations; by simply committing your time to reveal information about yourself and learn more about them, will lay the foundation for more intimate relationships. Intimacy suffers when we are afraid to reveal ourselves for fear of being judged and the need to feel safe. Intimacy also suffers when our focus is inward and we express no interest in committing our time to learn about others.
Level two – Fact finding questions and answers
The communication at this level is very safe. It generally includes short questions and answers about the facts of what is going on in the world, our lives, and the lives of others. We ask questions and reveal answers about what we did today, the weather, the results of a sporting event, etc. The answers a person gives to a factual question can determine if the level of conversation is going to step up the ladder in intimacy or get shut down. For example, ask someone “how do you like your new job?” A cliché answer “It’s fine” will shut the conversation down, whereas an answer that reveals your feelings or opinions will advance the conversation up the ladder of intimacy. Any time you begin to reveal feelings or opinions you are advancing intimacy.
Relationships become stale when they stay stuck in the non-personal revealing of facts. When we limit our conversation to facts, we choose a life of loneliness rather than developing more intimate, meaningful relationships in our life. You can be with people but still feel very lonely. To move from simply having connections with people to developing meaningful, intimate relationships, you must elevate your conversation to be more dynamic and interesting. You must move from the realm of impersonal facts to expressing your feelings, opinions, fears, hopes, dreams, and needs.
Level Three – Opinions
As the first two levels of conversation do not require us to make ourselves vulnerable, voicing our opinion is one of the first levels where we risk our vulnerability; we must expose our personal thoughts to express an opinion. Unfortunately many people can only express their opinions to people who possess the same core values and beliefs because they do not want to risk controversy. We are of the belief, “if I do not understand your thinking, I cannot accept you or love you. When your goal is intimacy, your philosophy must become, “I love you and accept you even though I do not understand you or agree with you. When we are afraid of judgment and rejection, we build barriers and refrain from revealing our true self and opinions; but every opinion we have says something about ourselves. When we reveal our opinions we are climbing the ladder of intimacy. But even more important is to accept others fully for their opinions. We must be willing to gain an understanding of the other person’s viewpoints, not just a desire to be right. We cannot build intimate relationships without sincere appreciation and acceptance of another’s opinions.
Level Four – Revealing Hopes and Dreams
When we reveal our hopes and dreams of who we hope to become, we open ourselves up to judgment; we feel vulnerable. As a result, we will never reveal our hopes and dreams to another person until we feel completely accepted by them. But the only way we can become known by another person is through revealing our hopes and dreams. If you are going to develop a deep level of intimacy with another person, you must know about what they are passionate; when you share your dreams you tell another person what you want to center your life around. If you are going to develop a powerful relationship with someone, you must have a sincere interest in their dreams and be willing to help them fulfill their dreams; your goal must be to help them become their best self. In order to be successful at this level of intimacy you must be willing to sacrifice your time; you must be willing to put the other person ahead of your own personal agenda and short term pleasures. There is an intimate power in giving yourself to another person to help them become their best “self”
Level Five – Revealing Our Feelings
It is impossible to share intimacy without sharing your feelings. The roadblock to the free expression of ones feelings lies in the fear of rejection and the fear of feeling vulnerable. But to communicate our feelings is necessary in order for intimacy to exist. Imagine a relationship where you keep your feelings covered up for the fear of retaliation and confrontation. Intimate relationships can only thrive in an atmosphere of freedom where we feel safe to reveal our true feelings. Your goal should always be to refrain yourself from judging; you must work toward listening and gaining an understanding of why certain people have certain feelings. We all want to be listened to, be understood, held, and loved. When you stop clinging to your fears, start revealing your feelings, and feel understood without judgment, you will be moving toward a more intimate relationship built on trust, gratitude, and appreciation.
Level Six –Revealing Our Faults, Fears, and Failures
We all have fears and failures; we all need help. When we are comfortable knowing that those whom we have intimate relationships are dedicated to helping us become the best version of ourselves, we will be willing to reveal our faults, fears, and failures. But remember, it is not your responsibility to fix another’s faults or fears but rather offer your support without judgment. When we feel safe, we will feel free to expose our faults, fears, and failures; when we do, we are revealing who we are as well as how we became the person we are; it gives the people who love us an insight into what we really need. When we truly understand each other’s needs in a relationship it will lead us to the ultimate in intimate relationships.
Level Seven – Legitimate Needs
As an individual, you will thrive when your individual needs are being satisfied. But it is not just getting your own needs satisfied but being aware of another’s needs and helping them to fulfill their needs that will enable a relationship to flourish. When our legitimate needs are not met, we become unhappy and discontent with the level of intimacy in our relationships. Do you know what your legitimate needs are? Do you know what the needs are of others with whom you are in an intimate relationship? To focus on the legitimate needs of the ones you love, you must focus on two thoughts. First, each individuals legitimate needs will be different. Second, the more you center your life upon them, the more your life and relationships will thrive. The problem is we get distracted by our own illegitimate wants. We focus on our wants rather than the other person’s legitimate needs. It is never wrong to pursue fulfilling your own personal needs, but not at the expense of another person. So ask yourself, what is your ultimate goal? Is your goal to fulfill your personal wants or be a part of thriving relationships? If you want to be part of thriving, intimate relationships, you must be willing to sacrifice your time to support the needs and wants of the other person so they can thrive as an individual.
In summary, the building blocks to developing intimate relationships in your life will require a willingness to be open and sincere with your communications, to speak and act from your heart, to be a good listener, to be patient, to be selfless, to be willing to invest your time into the relationship, and to sincerely care about the welfare and happiness of the other person.
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