There are two types of intimacy in relationships, and while they’re both about how we interact when we’re in close proximity to loved ones, the similarities stop there.
These two types of closeness are (1) push-pull intimacy and (2) wholehearted intimacy.
Let’s take a look at what they’re each like, so we can get a better sense of how they work in daily life.
How Do These Types of Intimacy Differ?
|Push-Pull Intimacy||Wholehearted Intimacy|
|Conditional love (““I’ll love you if you’ll love me back,” “I’ll love you, but only if you act the way I want you to act,” “I’ll love you if you make me feel safe,” “I’ll love you if you agree with me”)||Unconditional love (“I love you no matter what state you’re in,” “Nothing you say or do will make me stop loving you”)|
|More fragile, brittle and rigid||More flexible, solid and resilient|
|Takes things personally||Doesn’t take things as personally|
|Holds a grudge, stays stuck in offence, pain and justified anger||Soothes themselves and moves on from hurt swiftly|
|Controls others as a way to feel in control of themselves||Let’s people take control and responsibility for themselves|
|Requires fairness—giving and receiving must be equally divided||Is okay to give and not receive. Similarly, is okay to receive and not give.|
|Finds it either (1) hard to stop, slow down and rest OR (2) hard to get motivated, get excited, get going||Can both rest when needed and go when required|
|Rescues others from their mess and pain—takes full responsibility for others actions||Allows others to experience the consequences of their actions, offers support to help them through their mess|
|Lives based on how others perceive, interpret and respond to them||Lives based on their personal values and how they wish to act, respond and experience life|
|Jokes and laughing are hard to come by||Inside jokes, circumstances are funny, jokes about partners quirks or flaws taken lightly and truly seen as humorous|
|Identity defined by behaviour||Identity separate from behaviour|
|There’s little to no space for the partner to have their own time, space, life, friends, hobbies, schedule. Everything is seen as a personal choice against or without the other partner||There’s space for the partner to have their own time, space, friends, life, hobbies, schedule and it doesn’t threaten the other partner|
|Needs others to act in a particular way to feel good about themselves. On some level, they’re afraid they’re not enough, bad, incapable, weak, unwanted, unloveable, unsuccessful, flawed, rejected, trapped etc.||Doesn’t need others to act in a particular way to feel good about themselves. They know from the inside out what they are good, safe, strong, loved, successful, holy, accepted, free etc.|
|Gets stuck in games of “cat and mouse” in marriage—one person avoids while the other ruthlessly chases, seeking what the avoider refuses to give||Both people are free to be themselves, go through their own processes and deal with their own shit—the other relaxes, observes, attends to themselves and allows their partner to be the powerful, capable person they are|
|Vulnerability is too shame-inducing and painful or it’s seen as weakness—it’s avoided as much as possible||Vulnerability can be hard, but it’s prioritised as necessary, useful, empowering, relieving, connecting and golden|
Growing up this level of reciprocity is needed in order to survive. For physical and emotional nutrition, the infant learns to be completely focused on his or her mother. Even the child and adolescent are attuned to the others in their life, learning and being shaped by what is acceptable or not.
This represents our fundamental desire for connection, love, and belonging.
However, as we get older, our reliance on others for validation begins to have a detrimental effect on the potential of our relationships. It stunts our capacity to have an intimate marriage, including passionate sex, with someone we care about.
Let’s look a little bit more into these two types of closeness.
Push-Pull Intimacy is a style of closeness where the husband and wife are dependent on each other for positive feedback and acceptance.
Push-Pull Intimacy demands a high level of fairness.
Fairness is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit—“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”. Or perhaps more accurately—“I’ve scratched your back, now you must scratch mine”.
In this type of relationship, one person will express feelings, perceptions, doubts or concerns and they will want (i.e need!) their spouse to accept, validate, or reciprocate in-kind with similar sharing.
Mutual exchange and reciprocity are at the core of Push-Pull Intimacy.
Built into this type of intimacy is an overreliance on the spouse to confirm they’re “okay”.
People often think that “give and take” is a fair and necessary part of marriage—and this is never clearer than in sex.
But this type of intimacy can only get you so far.
Push-Pull Intimacy requires that certain truths must be ignored, avoided or repressed because if they were shared they would be anxiety-inducing.
This is what most people think of as a normal relationship, so it might surprise you to know there’s another way…and it leads to better sex.
On the other hand, Wholehearted Intimacy is a style of closeness where the husband and wife are not dependent on each other for positive feedback and acceptance.
They will still offer support, love and encouragement, but it’s a free-flowing gift because the partner receiving the acceptance isn’t reliant on it.
In this style of intimacy, the husband or wife may need to share something that’s difficult. Despite this difficulty, they won’t hesitate to say what needs to be said for the overall benefit of the relationship. They will speak in love, without accusing or blaming. They’ll take ownership for their “side of the street” and if this is hard to hear or challenging to say, they will acknowledge that and still lean in.
This is called “wholehearted intimacy,” and it can lead to incredible sex, as well as a calm, reliant relationship.
To learn more about these types of intimacy in action, you might enjoy Want Intimate Sex? See Why “Give & Take” Doesn’t Work—And What To Do Instead.
Stephanie Renee Cluff