7 Day Intimacy Challenge | Counseling | Therapy

7 Day Intimacy Challenge

Shannon Oliver-O'Neil , LCSW — Therapist, director of intern program, director of rhode island office

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Intimacy is the building block of emotional health. Without it, meaningful relationships are hard to create, let alone maintain. Despite its importance, many people struggle with building intimacy across their relationships - whether platonic, familial, sexual or romantic. That’s because in order to have intimacy, you have to be vulnerable, and being vulnerable is hard. Vulnerability allows people to feel close to you, to know when and how to lend support, and feel appreciated and loved by you. To build intimacy in your relationships, you need to do 3 things: 1) get better at asking for support/showing vulnerability, 2) get better at showing affection and appreciation, and 3) get better at listening/being available when people try to show you themselves.

This 7 Day Intimacy Challenge will help you build up all three of those muscles, with a different challenge every day.

Day 1: Be honest and specific when asked “what are you thinking about” or “how are you feeling?

So often we miss opportunities to let people truly know how we are doing. How many times have you answered the above questions with “fine”, “nothing much”, or “good”? How many times have you given those answers even when they’re not true? On day 1 of the 7 Day Intimacy Challenge, build your vulnerability muscle by taking the time to actually check in with yourself and then give an honest, specific answer. You don’t have to give a stranger a play-by-play of your day, but challenge yourself to be more honest and more specific than you normally would. This could sound like: “It’s been a stressful day, thanks for asking” or “it’s been a slow day, I’m a little bored.” The important thing is to name your actual feelings, regardless of whether or not you provide further details.

Day 2: Be vocal when you feel gratitude, admiration or affection for people around you.

People (including you!) need to be reminded that they are appreciated, that they are competent, and that they are cared for. On day 2 of the 7 Day Intimacy Challenge, build your appreciation muscles by tuning in to what, specifically, you admire, appreciate or enjoy about the people around you and then tell them. It will help the people around you feel closer to you. This could sound like: “I really appreciated what you said during the meeting, you always have good insight,” or “You’re really good at picking new places for us to eat.” Again, the important thing here is to be specific, naming actions or qualities you appreciate in the moment, rather than coming up with generic compliments.

Day 3: Assume the best intentions when you are feeling disappointed or frustrated by others, and then get curious.

When we assume that people who disappoint or hurt us meant to do it, we lose an opportunity to build intimacy. More often, your pain is caused by miscommunication, carelessness, or misunderstanding. On day 3 of the 7 Day Intimacy Challenge, allow for this possibility and get curious - if they didn’t mean to impact you negatively, how did that happen? Build your listening muscles by seeking out the other person’s side of the story. Allow the people you care about to share with you instead of writing them off or shutting down the conversation. This could sound like “are you trying to be hurtful?” or “what’s going on?”

Day 4: Vocalize when you are feeling vulnerable or could use support.

How close can you really be to the people around you if they feel like they are not allowed to help you? Worse, how close can you be if they never even know when you need support? On day 4 of the 7 Day Intimacy Challenge, build your vulnerability muscle by practicing inviting people into your world. Ask for support when you need it! This could sound like “I’m feeling overwhelmed by life, would you keep me company while I do my laundry?” or “I’m sad today, I could use some cute animal videos to distract me.”

Day 5: Ask questions

See how long you can go in a conversation by asking only questions. One of the best ways to show people you’re interested in them and care about them is to listen. Obviously, you have permission to avoid being rude and answer any questions you are asked directly, but if conversation is lagging, see how long you can ask them questions. On day 5 of the 7 Day Intimacy Challenge, build your listening muscle by giving yourself opportunities to listen. Use open-ended questions such as “what was that like for you?” or “What did you like about that?” versus closed-ended questions (i.e. “did you like that?”) to open up conversation.

Day 6: Ask for time with someone you care about or appreciate.

Challenge yourself to initiate quality time with people you care for. A great way to build the muscle of “showing appreciation and affection” is to actively seek out time with the people you care about. Ask them to coffee, ask them to take a walk with you, ask them to cowork, or go to the gym, or stay in with the kids with you. Show them you enjoy time with them!

Day 7: Make more eye contact

Challenge yourself to make and hold eye contact for as long as is comfortable during conversation. Eye contact is a form of physical intimacy, and can help people build all three muscles: it can help you feel seen, supported, and appreciated. This is because human beings are social creatures and (most) human brains have adapted to seek out various forms of physical intimacy for comfort. For some folks, eye contact is an excruciating form of physical intimacy. That’s ok! Find your own adaptation. Physical intimacy can include: a hand on the shoulder, standing next to someone and leaning into them briefly, mimicking someone’s posture or body language, nudging a sneaker with your sneaker, etc.

You can do these challenges on your own, or challenge a friend (or relative, or partner) to join you. Pay attention to which challenges are most “challenging”, and in turn, which components of intimacy are more difficult for you. Just like our physical muscles, these emotional muscles will get stronger with continued use! Come back to this 7 Day Intimacy Challenge, or make an appointment with a therapist to deepen your intimacy work.

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