Physical, emotional, and even spiritual connections are often projected as the cornerstones of a balanced, robust relationship. While that assessment is correct, one essential aspect of the connection between couples is often overlooked – intellectual intimacy. Before we delve into why healthy intellectual intimacy can work wonders for any relationship – and how to achieve it – let’s understand what it means to be intellectually intimate with your partner.
Counseling psychologist Gopa Khan gives us some insights into intellectual intimacy, and how to build it with your partner.
What Is Intellectual Intimacy?
“Intellectual intimacy can be interpreted as being on the same wavelength or on the same page as your spouse or significant other,” says Dr. Khan. “People say they are looking for love or looking for a “perfect relationship” but find it difficult to put in words what they really want from a relationship. In essence, folks looking for companionship are essentially looking for a partner who can be their best friend, partner, lover and soulmate or all rolled into one,” she adds.
Intellectual intimacy or cognitive intimacy is described as the coming together of two people on such a level of comfort that they feel no hesitation in sharing their thoughts and ideas, even when their opinions are divergent.
When two people have intellectual intimacy, they know each other from the inside, much deeper than anyone else does. In romantic relationships, while intimacy is largely perceived to be physical, the fact is that when two people know each other so well that they bond out of that physical sphere they become friends.
A couple who is intellectually intimate would share their hobbies, interests, dreams, and even dark secrets, making theirs’ a successful relationship. And all these intellectual intimacy examples fall outside the sphere of physical intimacy.
At times, intimacy can come from intellectual sharing between a couple. In lay terms, intellectual intimacy can be defined as ‘getting each other’. And we all know how reassuring it is to have even one person in your life who gets you. Now is this person is your partner! Do they look deep inside your mind and truly understand your thoughts? These are the intellectual intimacy questions you need to ask yourself.
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Why You Need Intellectual Intimacy In Your Relationship?
So, you’ve been told that communication is the spine of a healthy relationship. The ability to share your thoughts, ideas, hopes, passions, deepest darkest desires and fears, expectations and goals in life, for hours on end, is the very pinnacle of excellent communication. That’s precisely what intellectual intimacy helps you achieve.
“A couple who takes the time and effort to build intellectual intimacy into their relationship is actually building a strong cohesive structure for their relationship and building commitment to each other for the future. Such relationships can survive storms, ill health, harsh circumstances and over time, become a strong partnership,” Dr. Khan says.
She gives the example of the late actor Christopher Reeve, who played ‘Superman’, and his wife Dana. “After a riding injury left him permanently bedridden, the couple stayed together in a strong marriage. Any other relationship perhaps would have collapsed a long time ago. The fact that the marriage passed the test of time is because their intellectual intimacy was robust. They were the answers to each other’s intellectual intimacy questions,” she says.
This form of intellectual intimacy in marriage or relationships is strengthened when couples build on each other’s thoughts and take conversations to a new high of engagement, without either of them feeling bored or zoning out. Receiving, interpreting and processing your partners’ inputs in the right spirit is one of the critical behaviors of increasing intimacy on an intellectual level.
Do You Enjoy Intellectual Intimacy In Your Relationship?
Knowing that harnessing that a brain-to-brain connection can help your relationship grow might get you to wonder if you enjoy intellectual intimacy with your partner. Like all good things, intellectual intimacy comes with practice. Creating intimacy exercises is important and these intellectual intimacy examples will help you figure it out:
- You always look for new things to do together. From trying new dance forms to horse riding, culinary skills to gardening, you have a no holds barred approach toward stuff you both can do together
- You don’t feel the need to be in a crowd to have a good time. You and your partner can talk about life and plans, and discuss each other’s hopes and dreams for hours together
- You always ask each other’s opinion on even the smallest things. Also if you’re out to buy new curtains for the house or are getting new seat covers installed in the car, you want to know what they think of your choice. Not for validation but because their opinion matters to you
- You can discuss financial matters without either of you feeling edgy or cornered
- You can confide in each other about things you’d be embarrassed or ashamed to share with anyone else
- You can tell if something is weighing on your partner’s mind, but they’re not talking about it, and make them feel comfortable enough to let their guard down and speak
Even if these examples don’t ring true for your relationship, know that it’s never too late to start. Like you exercise physically to stay fit, building intimacy exercises keeps your relationship strong.
How Do You Develop Intellectual Intimacy?
The extent to which a couple can stimulate each other cerebrally and connect on an intellectual level can be governed by a variety of factors such as your core value system, your educational backgrounds, and your ability to vocalise your thoughts. And not every couple can achieve a gold standard of intellectual intimacy, just like not every couple can check all the boxes for emotional, sexual, spiritual or intentional intimacy.
That said, with conscious, persistent efforts, you can indeed get started on the right path of nourishing intellectual intimacy. Here are 12 ways to do it:
1. Share similar attitudes
Attitude is one’s outlook toward life. If you and your partner view things in life differently, trying to find common ground or keeping an open mind toward one another’s approach toward things such as life goals, financial planning, career paths can be a good start point to cultivate intellectual intimacy in the relationship.
“Couples who openly share their financial details and trust each other’s advice share a healthy relationship. Couples encouraging each other to be financially strong, to plan their finances and their future are enhancing their physical, emotional and intellectual intimacy,” Dr. Khan says.
2. Cultivate shared interests to create intellectual intimacy
My uncle and aunt shared love for long walks. Soon, it became their thing. For 23 years of their married life, till he lost her to cancer, they’d set out for that 45-minute evening walk every single day, rain or sunshine. This common interest was their escape from the mundane demands of everyday life, and their marriage was stronger for it.
Cultivating any interest that you can pursue as a couple can transform the connection you feel with your partner on an intellectual level. Focus on these small, but intimate activities for couples and watch your relationship bloom.
3. Read together
A couple that reads together would never need to wonder how do you develop intellectual intimacy? Books are this fantastic treasure trove that keeps your grey cells ticking. So cultivating a habit to read together and then discuss the book can help bring intellectually closer to your partner.
Such rituals also cement your bond and give you a routine. So go ahead and make your little book club of two. You could even join a larger book club where you can discover new authors to read and new worlds to explore together.
4. Align your values
Coming from different families – and perhaps, even different backgrounds or parts of the country/world – it is near impossible for any couple to have the same value system. So, aligning your values over time is crucial for the growth of a relationship, not just on the intellectual but also a sublime level.
“When a couple values similar things such as honesty, fairness, belief in democracy or human rights, it helps increase their intellectual intimacy,” explains Dr. Khan. She adds, “For example, a couple, who is passionate about the environment is more likely to relate to one another and focus on environmental issues such as saving water water, electricity, recycling etc. Compare this to a couple who are not aligned – there may be conflict or poor intellectual intimacy between them.”
Dr. Khan also explained that couples who have aligned values are more likely also to be successful as they encourage, support and help one another as a team. “Many times, one hears a couple say they would not have been able to achieve such success without the support of their partner, that’s when you see the strong bonding between couples,” she says.
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5. Be supportive of each other
You cannot achieve intellectual intimacy without being supportive of your partner, no matter what curve ball life throws at you. This involves harnessing the ability to walk in their shoes and see the situation from their perspective.
“I know a couple, who have invested in keeping a joint journal , complimenting each other, writing their dreams and wishes and having rituals in their relationship that they look forward too. One of their rituals is reading poetry or doing crossword puzzles together. Simple things that give them joy and peace,” Dr. Khan says.
She adds, “So my advice to couples is, forget the expensive gifts and flowers, look for simple things. Does your partner pick up your calls, respond to your messages, like hanging out with you, and make active decisions and plans together. These can be the best, most thoughtful gifts ever.”
6. Find fun activities to do together
Intellectual intimacy in marriage or long-term love means establishing a cerebral connection with your significant other. But it doesn’t necessarily have to involve serious and heavy stuff. You can also keep this process light and effortless by finding fun and intimate activities for couples to do together. It can be anything from going to the movies together or binge-watching a new series on Netflix.
“Couples who challenge each other or share common interests can help nurture each other and keep their interests alive. For instance, a couple who loves to travel will explore new places as a way to add excitement to their relationship. Also, during the lockdown, many couples opted to cook meals together or redecorate the house. Creating activities and engaging one another goes a long way in building intellectual intimacy,” Dr. Khan says.
7. Talk about work to build intellectual intimacy
Yes, you read that right. While a lot of relationship experts advise couples not to bring their work home, work discussions can be a fantastic breeding ground for intellectual intimacy. Of course, this not to suggest that you both talk about work or whine about your bosses all the time. But try to carve that space where you and your partner feel comfortable sharing a thing or two about their work life.
For instance, ask them how their day was over a glass of wine. If you get a guarded response at first, prod them to tell you more. Soon, it’ll become a way of life. The ability to share your work life with your spouse without the fear of judgment or being shot down can improve your engagement level, and hence, your intimacy. It is for this reason that people in high-pressure jobs marry within the occupation.
But even if you’re from vastly different fields of work, it never hurts to lend an ear to your partner’s worktime woes, and share some of your own in return.
8. Discuss past life experiences
A friend of mine was sexually abused in her pre-teen years and hadn’t shared the experience with anyone, except a handful of her closest friends. Five years into her marriage, in a vulnerable moment, she confided in her husband, who hugged her and cried with her. They spoke about it late into the night, and over time, he convinced her to talk to a therapist about the trauma.
That one moment of vulnerability has brought them closer than ever. So, shed that inhibition and talk to your partner about your life before they came along in detail, and encourage them to do the same. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something big or scandalous.
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“Sharing confidences means a couple chooses to protect each other’s personal stories and avoid using the knowledge against each other. This helps build trust and intellectual intimacy. Such couples are less likely to let a third party interfere in their relationship and are also safeguarded from extramarital affairs as the commitment to each another is very high,” Dr. Khan says.
9. Read the newspaper together and share intellectual intimacy
What better way to cultivate a close intellectual bond than sharing your thoughts and views on the happenings around the world. Whenever you can, read the morning newspaper or watch the evening prime time together, and then engaging in a healthy discussion on it.
Remember not to make it personal, even if your political views are divergent.
10. Plan an adventure together
Loading up on new experiences broadens your horizons and stimulates the mind. When a couple enjoys new experiences together, it brings them closer intellectually. Besides, investing your time and energy in planning your new adventure can be a great bonding opportunity.
Sharing an exciting adventure together, whether it’s a physical activity like white water rafting, or something more cerebral like an escape room, will bring you closer together. Plus, who better to have fun with than your partner and best friend!
11. Connect over texts and social media
Virtual interactions between you and your partner – and the ensuing response – can take this intellectual dance to a whole new level, as it allows you to discover new things together. So, keep up the social media dance with those DMs, social media tags, sharing of memes, even if you both live in the same house.
“Couples who invest in great communication and are willing to learn about each other’s interests, go a long way in strengthening their intimacy. Both feel they can openly communicate their doubts, fears and concerns,” Dr. Khan says.
12. Learn a new skill together
Pursuing a new profession can bring out the student in your again and revives that urge to learn. Since you and your partner are in it together, it opens up new avenues to share, discuss and grow together.
Growing up, we had an old couple living next door. The man was a retired professor, the wife an unread woman. I spent many an afternoon playing in their front yard. Thinking back now, I never saw then talk to each other really, besides discussing what groceries to buy, what to cook for the next meal, and whether he wanted to have chai. Honestly, growing old together has to involve more than talking about food for four decades of your life.
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Delving deep into your partner’s mind requires effort and persistence, but it is absolutely worth it at the end.
“The first thing I often notice is the lack of effort put in by couples to strengthen their relationship. Often, couples focus on what they are receiving on their end and how unhappy they are. Such relationships are doomed from the beginning as no effort is made to be on the same wavelength,” Dr. Khan says.
“Is it ever possible to find the right partner? It is if one looks for criteria that will sustain the relationship for a long time. As a relationship counselor, I come across bright, young folk, especially women, who sell themselves short wondering why they cannot hold a relationship down or what is wrong with them?
I tell them to get their relationship list or criteria right, then they will find the deep intellectual and emotional companionship they are looking for,” she concludes