People have habitual patterns of intimacy, including how much they touch each other, how much they share, and how much they want to know other people and be known. While we assume that everyone wants to be known deeply, and this may be an ideal of psychological health, for some people this level of closeness is uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst.
Ultimately we are primates, and primates are social animals. We thrive in the context of relationships: social connections. What makes us feel connected may vary culture to culture or person to person, but overall, connecting is necessary. It is lack of connection that makes us despairing, bitter, and destructive. Our means of connecting with each other—knowing and being known—are as unique as our fingerprints. We cannot assume that just because another person’s intimacy print is different from our own that that person is abnormal, or that we are abnormal. We are just different.
The art in relating comes in learning how to connect with the unique authenticity of the specific person with whom we are connecting. And in learning how to teach that person how to connect with us. The true problems–when there are any–lie in the obstacles to intimacy, the avoidance of connection or the use of connections for destructive purposes. For example, sometimes I meet a couple who have very different intimacy fingerprints. Perhaps the woman uses words to connect and the man uses touch. Each may feel as if the other is avoiding connection, but it may be that each is connecting in his or her own way. Or perhaps it is not that simple. In any case, it can be helpful to distinguish unhealthy relationship patterns from healthy but different ones.
We yearn for depth in our interactions with the people closest to us, but sometimes we don’t recognize it when we get it. Sometimes we are known but we don’t feel known. Or sometimes it is one-sided or, worse, mutually unsatisfying. It can be challenging to distinguish conflicted from unconflicted connection. It may not be obvious and some reflection and processing might be needed. But sometimes she just needs to give him a hug and he just needs to give her a few words of reassurance.