Matthew Kelly wrote the classic relationship book The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved. The book is simply written, easy to read, and has some really interesting ways to begin thinking differently about some of your closest relationships.
Kelly believes that the purpose of the healthiest close relationships is to help you become your best self, and encouraging people that you love to evolve, develop, and become their best selves as well. If you are in the right primary relationship, it should be challenging you some. We want to spur each other's development along to become the best version of ourselves.
Intimacy isn't needed in all relationships. We all do better, though, if we have real intimacy in some of our relationships. Intimacy takes mutual disclosure and self-revelation. Lower levels of intimacy are fine with people you don't know well or want to get close to, but with people you want to go deeper with the lower levels of intimacy are just a warm-up.
Here are Kelly's seven levels of intimacy:
1. Cliches: at this level, we are having flat, brief conversations with others, with very little disclosure or significance. Think of how most people interact with the grocery clerk. It's boring, monotonous, and repetitive. An example would be asking how work was and getting the reply "fine." These are fine conversation starters and may be appropriate with strangers, but are unsatisfying if this is the level your closest relationships stay at. If you hang out in clichés, it's a sure fire way to avoid intimacy.
2. Just the Facts: We discuss sports, current events, the stock market, weather, celebrity gossip,and what we did today. It's safe to discuss facts. It pretty much guarantees that there won't be conflict. Facts are usually impersonal.
3. Opinion: You don't have to make yourself vulnerable at all to announce your opinions. It can lead to conflict. Arguments can occur here which reveal a lack of maturity, inability to transcend self and empathize with another's view, and a shortage of self-awareness. Getting stuck on this level can cause disagreements, demonstrate a lack of a common goal, and cause people to downshift back into clichés and facts. As we mature, we should be able to agree to disagree and to accept differences.
4. Hopes and Dreams: Sharing our vision for our life, what we are hoping to accomplish and experience is far more personal, and takes us deeper with the other person. We need to feel fairly safe to do this. I can't imagine sharing my hopes and dreams with anyone who I experience as critical and judgmental. Revealing your dreams and learning about those of the other person charges the relationship with energy. Building a dream together with an intimate other is a powerful connection between you. Dreams give our lives focus and purpose.
5. Feelings: Going beyond facts and events to share the more personal elements of how you feel about your life, your day, your work, your relationships, will take you still deeper into knowing and being known. One catch is that you have to be able to identify your own feelings before you can share them. You can deepen a close relationship by asking about how the other person feels. Listen intently from the heart. It takes being willing to be vulnerable to share feelings, but that's where all the good stuff is in relationships. It's a risk, but what is life without a little risk?
6. Faults, Fears and Failures: You don't have to be perfect to be loved or loving. It is in sharing our misadventures, mistakes and mess-ups that people often feel closer to us. These flaws make us real. Kelly describes this level of intimacy as emotional nakedness. if we can take down our guard at this level with those we are closest to, we help them also feel safe to reveal more. It's a mutual thing. Asking for help also comes in here. Being able to put down your pride and admit mistakes also allows the other person to be imperfect. We all have fears and a shadow self. It's normal.
7. Legitimate Needs/Dynamic Collaboration: We all have legitimate needs in the four aspects of life: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Expressing your legitimate needs and asking to understand those of the other person leads you into a thriving relationship. The highest level of relationships require that you also have the heart to try to help meet the other person's needs. There shouldbe both people giving and receiving. The needs must be legitimate, not superficial, manipulative or unrealistic.
Kelly also has a lot of valuable tools to suggest to making relationships intentionally closer. He suggests creating unstructured time together, which he calls carefree timelessness. It might just be spending a day with someone you love and doing whatever you both feel like. He encourages giving up criticizing others, and avoiding gossip. He suggests we be mindful of the words we choose and that we practice self-discipline and forgiveness.
The Seven Levels of Intimacy is a wonderful gem of a book. It will inspire you to be better, love more, go deeper, and be more aware of what you are co-creating with others. Not only will it help you learn how to develop more meaningful relationships, but it will also inspire those of you who are parents about how to help teach your children to creating intimate relationships in a healthy way.