Dr. Lily Zehner, MFT-C is a therapist who specializes in sex, intimacy, and relationships in Denver, Colorado with individuals, couples, and moresomes. She helps others connect emotionally. sexually. intimately.
Intimacy is a delicate and powerful force in all aspects of our lives - not just in the bedroom and not just with your romantic partner. Intimacy can be experienced in all relationships - even with your in-laws!
Intimacy is knowing we will be seen, heard, and accepted exactly as we are. It’s about trusting that you can show up - vulnerably, authentically, and wholeheartedly.
And yet, it can be terrifying.
This is a story about how I figured out how to intentionally create ideal intimacy with my in-laws and aligned our relationship with my needs and values.
There was a disconnect with my in-laws, and it was starting to weigh heavily on my marriage - a relationship built on deep and sacred intimacy.
I craved a relationship with my in-laws that felt safe, reciprocal, and fulfilling.I love and care for them. They are generous, kind, and light-hearted. Yet, whenever we would all spend time together, I would leave feeling unfulfilled. For years, I couldn’t figure it out.
Every time I spent time with them, I hoped “this time it may be different.” That it would be nourishing on a deep level. That it would be reciprocal. That it would leave me feeling loved and received exactly as I am.
But then it all became clear to me. One of the things that draws me to my in-laws is the way they value humor and play. And yet, I was struggling to meet them there. I was afraid that they would laugh at the real me or take something important about me too lightly. In my childhood it wasn’t safe to play and laughter was seldom kind.
Suddenly I got it: we had a culture clash. It wasn’t that they didn’t love me, it was that they showed love differently and I didn’t know how to receive it. It was like a language barrier.
And so, I needed to ask for what I wanted. What I craved were open-ended questions that went deeper than the moments we shared together. I wanted to reveal something more of myself, but they just didn’t seem to care.
Turns out, they did care.
I found out when I took a leap: I wrote a heartfelt letter. And I actually sent it. It felt like a brave thing to do. Even more important, it felt necessary. Yes, I was scared to do it, but I reminded myself that my husband and I had created a safe world together and this was the right thing to do for our relationship and for our relationship with his parents.
When they wrote back, they told me exactly what I had hoped to hear. Turns out, they wanted to create a relationship where everyone felt seen and truly comfortable too.
They felt like it was an act of love to avoid asking questions. I am the kind of person who feels loved when people want to know more about me.
Months later, I continue to see proof in words and actions from my in-laws that shows that we can feel safe even when we’re being vulnerable. Now, I feel like I can show up authentically in every one of our phone calls, emails, and days spent together.
It Begins With You
Here’s the thing about intimacy: you have to first know what you need and desire. Once you are clear, it is up to you to communicate your needs with others. Often you have expectations of others’ love and are left wondering why they can’t provide you with what you want. The question is, have you ever shared this with them?
I didn’t realize that the reason my in-laws weren’t loving me as I needed was because I never told them. They loved me as they knew how and I loved them how I knew how. None of us were wrong. We were just missing each other’s attempts to connect, doing the best we knew how.
Don’t Wait for Intimacy. Ask for It.
If you are feeling a disconnect from those you love, please take the time to get clear with your desires and needs. Find a way to share them whether in a dialogue, a letter, or otherwise.
In the end, the sweetness of intimacy is worth putting yourself out there, taking a risk, and being vulnerable. Know yourself. Build trust. Show up as yourself and allow yourself to be seen, heard, and accepted while offering the same to others - that’s what all the deep, nourishing connections in life are made of.