These days, when most of us are at home, either all alone or crammed in with family members 24/7, with each of us having different work or school demands on our time and space, differing intimacy styles can create a lot of discomfort, and we may not even realize that it’s intimacy styles that we are fighting about.


Privacy is your personal power to determine your own internal boundaries, and how much of yourself you will share with others. Your private thoughts, your feelings, your personal correspondence, your sexuality, even bathroom time and your clothing are all areas in which you may have different comfort levels than other people. As with personal space, people have differing needs for privacy because of past history. For example, if you grew up with many siblings or a close extended family, which valued sharing, your needs for personal privacy are not nearly as great as someone who grew up as an only child, or in an emotionally distant family. You have developed a lot of space sharing skills. In some families and cultures, respect for privacy and emotional reticence are highly valued. In others, crowding and sharing are common.

These differences are matters of style-not of right or wrong. Either style, carried to extremes, can become dysfunctional, as when warmth, closeness and interest become overbearing and smothering; or, on the other hand, when respect for privacy and emotional reticence become cold and stifling.

Knowing how to move between the two modes, and having a choice of when and with whom to use each one, is one of the skills that make the difference between relationships that work and people who are in constant conflict.


We all have different categories of people in our lives. There are family members, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and acquaintances. And within each of these categories, there are levels of closeness. In your family, for example, you may feel closer and more comfortable with one sister or cousin than you are with another. Or, in your circle of friends, some may be much more reliable and warm than others. Even in business, some colleagues may be true friends, while others are more distant.

The differences in these relationships determine how much distance or closeness will work in them. Knowing how to exercise your power of privacy will make a big difference in your couple relationship, and with your friends, extended family, and even business associates. The following exercise can help you understand your own style and make it easier to understand others.

Self This exercise is to help you understand your own degree of intimacy.

Exercise: Intimacy Inventory

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I prefer to be with other people or alone?

2. If someone else borrowed my clothing, would it feel good, like sharing, or intrusive, as if they were taking advantage of me?

3. Do I like to be with one person at a time, or do I prefer a group?

4. Would I rather talk to someone, listen to him or her, or read to myself?

5. Do I like to talk about my spouse to my friends?

6. Do I like it when my spouse tells friends about me?

7. What limits do I want to set about talking to friends about relationships?

Asking yourself questions of this nature will help you get in touch with how much privacy or closeness you need. Once you know your personal privacy needs, you will be much more aware of what kind of intimacy feels good, and when it doesn’t, in your various kinds of relationships.


To learn about the intimacy needs of your mate and other people you know, observe them carefully:

• Who sits or stands closer to you at a party, and who keeps some distance?

• Who shares a lot of personal information, and who keeps personal details secret?

• Who is curious about you, who never asks?

• Who tends to touch people on the shoulder or arm, who hugs, and who never touches except for a handshake?

• Of your co-workers, who is all business, and who likes to have friendly chats?

• Do you know of siblings who share clothing, and are always talking about feelings?

• Do you know other siblings who hardly talk?

All these details are clues to the privacy needs of the people around you. If you pay attention, people will demonstrate their tolerance level for intimacy. Once you understand your own needs for privacy, and the difference between your needs and the needs of others, you will find that you can work out privacy issues much more easily in all your relationships. Discussing the power of privacy will make you and your partner more comfortable with each other, and with other people.

© 2020 Tina B. Tessina

adapted from: It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction

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