Humans are social creatures. We crave connection with fellow humans and need warmth, love and care to thrive. That’s why intimacy becomes pivotal to the success of human relationships. But when we speak of romantic relationship, sexual intimacy is the first thing that comes to our mind. However, nourishing other types of intimacy is equally important in a relationship to derive maximum satisfaction. Often, other types of intimacy are not given as much importance, and couples lack the connect that would make their relationship fulfilling by all means. As Alain de Botton said, “Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone – and finding that that’s okay with them.” The closeness you feel with a significant other isn’t just physical or emotional, there are different types of intimacy in a relationship. Each equally important in its own right. So, let’s take a close look at how intimacy manifests in its many forms and why couples must work at embracing it all for long-term togetherness.
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What Is Intimacy?
The Cambridge dictionary defines intimacy as ‘the state of having a close personal relationship with someone’. It is the feeling of being connected with another person from the heart, mind, and soul. Two people can be said to be intimate when they feel close and comfortable enough to show each other their vulnerable sides and share each other’s lives in Toto.
“They share common dreams and aspirations and become each other’s safety nets.”
When two partners are young and the relationship fresh, there is tons of sexual intimacy. With time, sex begins to take a backseat, and with that, distance begins to creep in. A feeling of being ‘taken for granted’ takes hold in the relationship. As the responsibilities of kids, ageing parents, managing a home and finance takes the front seat, a couple’s relationship gets pushed to the background. This is when couples complain the most about a lack of intimacy in their relationships.
However, that’s because most couples confused lack of sex as an absence of closeness. Given that there are different types of intimacy in a relationship, this can be considered too narrow a view. While these other forms of closeness may already be there in your relationship, it is possible that you haven’t recognised them yet owing to societal constructs that equate intimacy with a physical connection alone.
8 Types Of Intimacy in Relationships
As mentioned before, we somehow tend to focus on the sexual component in romantic relationships whereas but there are actually 8 different types of intimacy. Let’s understand what they are to help you evaluate how well you are faring on these fronts and what you can do to make your relationship a more intimate one:
1. Physical intimacy
Physical intimacy is different than the sexual act. It revolves around a display of affection toward each other through means of physical touch and contact. Holding hands, cuddling, kissing, hugging – all these are forms of physical intimacy that show that you crave being close to your partner. These gestures go a long way in making your beloved feel cherished and nurtured.
These physical touches are typically not laden with any sexual overtones. A peck on the cheek before you leave for work, a hug when you see each other at the end of the day, a gentle shoulder rub when your partner is exhausted, cuddling when you go to sleep. The right touch can say more than a thousand words. Physical intimacy is important for a healthy relationship and you should work toward making it a priority.
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Tips to improve physical intimacy
- First and foremost, non-sexual physical intimacy is gentle. The idea is to convey how much you love and appreciate your partner, not stake your claim to their body.
- Both you and your partner have to be giving to cultivate this type of intimacy in your relationship. Instead of thinking about where your partner lacks in being physically intimate, focus on how you can express your feelings and emotions through a simple touch.
- Try exploring the reasons behind a lack of physical intimacy. For this, you have to observe your reactions to your loved one’s touch and understand why you are reacting in a particular way. If you’re unable to make sense of why either one of you is unable to reciprocate intimate touch, consider seeking help. We have a panel of experts you can reach out to online, and it is completely confidential.
- If your partner is physically distant from you, then have an honest, straightforward discussion with them about it. For instance, if your wife avoids intimacy, letting her know that it makes you feel distant from her. Do your best to understand what kind of touch does she appreciates and work on using those convey your love and affection.
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2. Emotional intimacy
Emotional intimacy is what makes a marriage last. It is what makes two people each other’s friend, confidant, and support system. Do you both share your deepest, darkest desires and innermost thoughts with each other? Is your partner your go-to person both in happy and sad times?
Are they the first person you think of when you want to share that big news? Do both of you know each other’s innermost feelings? Often times, not being able to establish and nurture emotional intimacy in the relationship can become the cause of other problems.
Tips to improve emotional intimacy
- You must make an effort to understand your partner’s psychological makeup. Know what makes them happy, what are their sources of joy, what triggers their fears and worries, what they desire in life.
- Even if you are emotionally distant as a person, put in the effort. It is okay to start small by asking them about their day, tell them about yours. Gradually, try to build upon the conversation. If they seem irritated or stressed, go the extra mile. Make a cup of tea, then sit down with your significant other and try to understand what’s bothering them.
- You have to be ready to accept your partner even on their worst days. Someday they may be cranky and less patient, learn to take that in your stride. Maybe give them space to get over the mood but do not attack them for it. Remember even you have your bad days.
- Most important here is to bare your soul, share your fears, and trust them with your not-so-pretty sides. Remember emotional intimacy is about knowing your beloved and loving them because of – and not despite – who they are.
3. Spiritual intimacy
Spiritual intimacy not just strengthens a relationship but gives a couple the ability to handle life’s crises far better than the ones who have not connected at this deep and existential level. Have you shared your belief about God with your significant other? Some people believe that we carve our own destiny while others believe that there is a higher power that controls the course of our lives.
Where are the two of you on this? Are you both believers? Do you have common spiritual beliefs?
If not, this can put you and your partner on very divergent paths in life. For instance, if you’re an agnostic or atheist and your partner a believer, it can lead to a lot of differences in your outlook and approach toward life situations.
It may also allow you to appreciate each other’s take on life more and help cut back the differences and squabbles. If your original spiritual beliefs don’t match, try to explore new avenues where you can harness spiritual intimacy as a couple.
Tips to improve spiritual intimacy
- Talk freely about your spiritual and religious beliefs with your partner.
- Try to pray, meditate, practice deep breathing or sitting in silence together.
- You can plan a spiritual retreat or a getaway that allows you to connect with nature to begin your shared spiritual journey.
- Practice being in the now for at least 5 minutes every day when both of you focus on just each other and listen to the sounds around you.
- Cleanse yourself from past experience, forgive and let go.
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4. Intellectual intimacy
Intellectual intimacy is about sharing ideas and thoughts, skills, and hobbies, and connecting with each other on a cerebral level. Free-flowing discussions about what you pine for in life, your perspective of different situations, the causes you feel strongly about, political ideologies and philosophies are integral elements of this type of intimacy.
“When a couple is intellectually intimate, they can debate and argue, share, and understand divergent views without taking these differences personally.“
They also focus on enhancing each other’s intellectual abilities and supporting a partner’s growth. It is about understanding the concept of respect vis-a-vis each other’s intellectual pursuits and viewpoints.
Intellectual intimacy allows you to share each one’s attitude and behaviour, offer constructive criticism and yet create enough space in the relationship to allow individual growth. Once a couple is intellectually intimate, they can both discuss important aspects of the relationship such as how to raise children, how to manage finances in a much clearer and effective manner.
Tips to improve intellectual intimacy
- Inculcate the habit of reading together with each other.
- Discuss your favourite genre of music, songs, and lyrics with your partner.
- Make plans to do things together and collaborate on executing the plan. This will help improve your understanding of how the other’s mind functions.
- Indulge in discussions about societal constructs, morality, art, life philosophies.
- Be each other’s sounding board for important life decisions.
- Recognise and discuss how you can both grow, as individuals and as a couple.
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5. Experiential intimacy
When we talk about different types of intimacy, the experiential dimension is perhaps the least discussed. Simply put, it is about collecting experiences together as a couple. While it is neither advisable nor possible for any couple to spend all their time together, you must prioritise scheduling some time to do things together.
Be it weekly date nights, going out on the weekends, taking trips or doing things together around the house, these experiences help you create memories that strengthen your bond. Experiential intimacy is all about connecting with each other via shared experiences.
Tips to improve experiential intimacy
- Create a list of things that you can do together and individually. The lists will help maintain a balance between your personal and shared space.
- Try to find things that you both enjoy and do them together. For example, if you and your partner enjoy experimenting with food, cooking together can be a great way to cultivate experiential intimacy.
- Take a walk with your partner, watch a movie together or try your hand at gardening as a couple.
- Try to pursue a new hobby together. It can be anything from dancing to pottery, hiking, treks, or whatever else that you both fancy.
- Working out together is another great way to cultivate experiential intimacy in your relationship.
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6. Conflict intimacy
When two people come together to share their life journey, it is impossible to avoid conflicts. This is where conflict intimacy comes to play. This type of intimacy is about a couple’s ability to work their way disagreements in a civilized and respectful manner.
While most couples find a way to settle fights, do they really resolve their differences? Are there times when you believe you’ve sorted out a conflict yet continue to experience negative emotional residue from it? Does an old issue keep coming up as an irritant again and again?
Resolving arguments and fights by brushing your issues under the carpet leads to resentment in the relationship. The focus of this type of intimacy is to equip a couple with the ability to resolve conflicts sensibly. Once that is achieved, your relationship can weather the roughest storms and be stronger for it.
Tips to improve conflict intimacy
- You must wait out the heightened emotional phase before you attempt conflict resolution. Discuss your issues with a calm mind.
- Learn to share your thoughts and opinions freely with your partner. While you should be firm in conveying your perspective, do not be aggressive.
- Respect your partner even during the most volatile and difficult phases of your relationship.
- Change the mindset that arguments and fights are bad for marriage. Accept the fact that conflicts and difference are a part of a relationship. The way a couple negotiates through these complicated phases is what defines your strength as a couple.
7. Creative intimacy
Creative intimacy means looking for creative ways to remind each other of the love, affection and bond that you share. This cute aspect of making each other feel loved and appreciated often gets ignored as a relationship progresses. That’s why you hear so many couples complain that the romance is gone from their life.
Among all the different types of intimacy, the creative aspect can make a huge impact and quickly add more flavour into your relationship. No matter how long you have been together, find ways to romantically flirt with your spouse. Shower them with attention and enjoy it when they return the favour.
Tips to improve creative intimacy
- Hand-written notes about the things you appreciate about your significant other are a classic that rarely fails to impress. Hide these at strategic places like their office bag or closet, so that they can chance upon them and be surprised.
- Write letters to each other.
- Send flowers just because.
- Pamper them with the right gifts from time to time.
- Plan romantic date nights often.
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8. Sexual intimacy
Sexual intimacy is perhaps the most discussed of all the types of intimacy. So much emphasis is placed on this connection in a romantic relationship that the minute the sex drive takes a dip, couples freak out about distance creeping in. The key to keeping this spark alive is to not let the pressure get to you.
Sex can be a deeply satisfying experience when it is all about raw passion and carnal urges.
So focus on ensuring that both you and your partner derive pleasure from the act. Remember, the feeling of intimacy is as important as the act itself. When you do get down to it, let your bodies express and experience the love and passion you feel for each other rather than approach it as ‘chore’ that you need to get done with.
Tips to improve sexual intimacy
- Avoid any kind of distraction while having sex with your partner. Take your mind off that office issue or whether the kid has gone off to sleep since it is a school night. Be in the moment.
- Understand each other’s sexual needs.
- Know your sexual desires and what brings you pleasure. Don’t hesitate to guide your partner toward your erogenous zones.
- Communication is the key to enhance sexual intimacy in a relationship. Share your likes and dislikes about sex honestly with your partner.
- If you want to spice things up, you can get experimental with things like tantric sex.
To make true sense of your existence, find happiness and ensure that your relationship survives the test of time – you have to take heed of these different types of intimacy and work on nourishing them effectively.