CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership

Let's Talk About Intimacy

Posted 2/14/17 via Capstone e-Newsletter
By Mary Kay Rizzolo | CQL President & CEO

CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership defines intimate relationships as: “sharing ourselves with another person in a way we would not share with others. Intimate relationships include intellectual, social, emotional and physical components. Intimacy is present when people care and feel deeply about each other… Sometimes intimate relationships result in physical affection and sexuality.”

It's readily apparent why intimate relationships are important in our lives. The connectedness, trust and bonds we form with those who mean so much to us, is a critical component of the human experience. Despite this truth, the reality is that for people who receive supports and services, this outcome is not very present in their lives. According to CQL Personal Outcome Measures® data, 54% of people receiving services do not have this outcome present, with only 53% of people having the support present.

Data about intimacy outcomes and supports

Due to the sometimes uncomfortable nature of this topic, human services organizations often have a difficult time introducing issues related to intimacy, into the breadth of conversations they have with those supported. Agencies regularly raise complications they face, including concerns over risk, liability and privacy. There can also be uncertainty regarding exactly how to support someone to develop, nurture and maintain intimate relationships. Another issue that organizations confront, is where to even start.

STARTING UP DISCUSSION

By Katherine Dunbar | CQL Director of Accreditation

First, we need to have the conversation, but there is often discomfort in breaching this sensitive topic with people. When you are responsible for providing supports for the person, you may have additional concerns about striking the right balance between a professional approach and a personal connection. Part of the solution, is embracing a mindset that is conducive to a fruitful conversation.

BEFORE THE CONVERSATION

Keep an open mind
Your outlook will set the tone for the entire conversation, and influence your preconceived notions about issues involving relationships, intimacy and sexuality. Keeping an open mind helps ensure that you will be responsive to the conversation you are about to have.

Do not enforce your own values or allow them to sway the conversation
The success of this conversation is contingent on you maintaining an objective attitude. If the discussion is distorted by your unique mores, your subconscious will become a barrier to understanding what really matters to the person receiving supports.

Be non-judgmental and always respectful
Again, your approach can set the tone for your conversation, and your own biases will obstruct the person from being open about the relationships in their life. The discussion is predicated on respect.

Ensure that the space is comfortable and private
These conversations are confidential, where people will share the most personal information about their life. Ask the person what environment would make them most comfortable. Beyond physical space, the person should also share who else, if anyone, should be present.

Be attentive to body language and follow their cues
As in any conversation, there is so much to be learned by non-verbal communication. It is important to consider when a person appears uncomfortable or does not maintain eye contact, that they could be sending messages to you without using words. You need to understand the way that this can influence how you move forward with the conversation, adjust your questions and actions, or end the discussion entirely.

Monitor your own expressions and body language
On the flip side, your own non-verbal communication can send messages to the other person. They can affect the comfort level of the conversation, encouraging or discouraging others from being open about their life.

Listen
As stated above, you need to ensure that you are not influencing responses from the person receiving supports. You are there to learn about the person’s unique perspective concerning friendships, relationships, connections, intimacy and sexuality. Your sole role is to listen.

DEFINING INTIMACY

Since intimacy is defined by the person, it is important that we discover and understand that definition. Below, are a few questions to get you started:

  • When you have good news to share, who is the first person you want to tell? What about bad news?
  • Who do you talk to when you want to share your secrets?
  • Who is the person closest to you in your life?
  • When you want to share private concerns and feelings, who do you trust?
  • Have you ever been married or in a long-term relationship?

Remember that a person may define intimacy in different ways. Some may define intimacy as emotional support, in terms of spirituality, or physical intimacy such as touching, holding hands, kissing, hugging, or sexual intercourse. Remember that intimacy does not necessarily liken to a sexual relationship, however; we are all sexual beings, so be prepared to discuss this.

SUPPORTING INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS

It is also important that you know the supports the person needs to have an intimate relationship based on their definition. Regardless of intensity of support needs, people have choices about intimate relationships and the support to form and maintain them.

  • Does the person need supports to initiate and sustain intimate relationships? If so, what kind?
  • For people who may lack experience, have opportunities for education and support in expressing intimacy been provided?
  • Does the person have the privacy they need?
  • Are any barriers, including physical, psychological, and/or emotional, being addressed?
  • Have the scope and type of intimate relationships been explored?

In 2016, CQL published an article 'Friendships, Relationships & Intimacy' which explores how to better support people in relationship-building. You can read that article for more in-depth information on enhancing your supports, and confronting barriers that people receiving supports face in achieving this outcome. 

For people supported, there are various resources that provide valuable information about these issues. One resource comes from a 2010 edition of The Riot! Newsletter, where its editors and authors discuss issues about Valentine's Day, romance, dating, intimacy and more. CLICK HERE to download the PDF version of the newsletter edition.

LEARNING MORE ABOUT INTIMACY THROUGH DATA

By Carli Friedman | CQL Director of Technical Assistance and Data Analysis

To look further at the factors that can influence people developing intimate relationships, CQL analyzed data from approximately 1,425 people with disabilities, through CQL's Personal Outcome Measures®. We explore the organizational impact on intimate relationships of people with disabilities.

According to our findings, a number of different factors, including support needs, residence type, behavioral support needs, and number of housemates with disabilities all impact the odds of people with disabilities having intimate relationship outcomes present.

Intimacy Relationships Data About Support Hours

For example, people with support as needed (on call) are more likely to have intimate relationships than those with higher support needs. Another example is that those who live with family or on their own are more likely to have intimate relationship outcomes present than those who live with host families, or in provider operated homes.

CQL outcomes data about intimacy and residency type

Despite some of the barriers that exist for people with disabilities, our analysis revealed organizations can play a vital role in supporting the intimate relationships of people with disabilities.

When the organization knows and understands the person's preferences for intimate relationships, the person with disabilities is:

  • 6 times more likely to have intimate relationships
  • 6 times more likely to be satisfied with their intimate relationships
  • 11 times more likely to have intimate relationship outcomes present

When the organization assists the person to explore and evaluate experiences in order to make choices about intimate relationships, the person with disabilities is:

  • 6 times more likely to have an intimate relationship
  • 6 times more likely to be satisfied with their intimate relationships
  • 10 times more likely to have intimate relationship outcomes present

When the organization provides support for the person to pursue, form, and maintain intimate relationships, the person with disabilities is:

  • 6 times more likely to have an intimate relationship
  • 8 times more likely to be satisfied with their intimate relationships
  • 11 times more likely to have intimate relationship outcomes present

When the organization addresses any barriers to the person having intimate relationships, the person with disabilities is:

  • 4 times more likely to have an intimate relationship
  • 8 times more likely to be satisfied with their intimate relationships
  • 8 times more likely to have intimate relationship outcomes present

When individualized supports are in place to facilitate intimate relationships, the person with disabilities is:

  • 6 times more likely to have an intimate relationship
  • 12 times more likely to be satisfied with their intimate relationships
  • 20 times more likely to have intimate relationship outcomes present

Organizations play a crucial role in facilitating the intimate relationships of people with disabilities. Agencies must ensure individualized supports are in place in order to maximize access to intimate relationships for all people with disabilities that want them.

 

Share This Article