We crave connection with fellow humans and need warmth, love, and care in all our personal relationships to thrive. That’s why intimacy becomes pivotal to the success of human romantic relationships. With the desire to connect with someone on the deepest of levels comes the fear of intimacy. To get past this fear, a thorough understanding of the types of intimacy is required.
Because, often, other types of intimacy are not given as much importance. When we speak of intimate relationships, sexual intimacy is the first thing that comes to our mind. However, nourishing all facets of a connection are equally important in a relationship to derive maximum fulfillment.
As Alain de Botton said, “Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone – and finding that that’s okay with them.” You feel safe to expose all of yourself. 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.
What Is Intimacy?
What is intimacy in a relationship? 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. An intimate relationship example would be when two people feel close and comfortable enough to show each other their vulnerable sides and share each other’s lives in toto.
Related Reading: 12 Characteristics Of A Successful Marriage
When two partners are young and the relationship is fresh, there is tons of sexual intimacy. You experience everything for the first time again. 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, aging parents, managing a home and finance takes the front seat, a couple’s relationship intimacy gets pushed to the background. This is when couples complain the most about a lack of intimacy in their romantic relationships.
However, that’s because most people confuse the lack of sex as an absence of overall romantic intimacy. Spending a life together takes more than just good sex. Given that there are different types of intimacy in a relationship, this can be considered too narrow a view. While these other examples of intimacy may already be there in your relationship, it is possible that you haven’t recognized them yet owing to societal constructs that equate intimacy with a physical connection alone. Thus, it is firstly important to answer this: Why is intimacy important in relationships?
Importance of intimacy in a relationship
Intimacy is the invisible thread that weaves love’s intricate tapestry, binding two hearts in a unique and profound connection where they feel safe. There are different levels of intimacy in different personal relationships. But in a romantic partnership, the intimacy transcends the physical and delves deep into the emotional domain, making it a cornerstone of any long-term relationship. Before we explore the diverse facets of an intimate relationship, it’s vital to understand why it holds such paramount importance. Here’s why:
- Emotional bonding: Intimacy creates a robust emotional anchor, nurturing trust and empathy at the core of the relationship
- Effective communication: It serves as the fertile ground for open, honest dialogues, enabling partners to freely share their thoughts, fears, and aspirations
- Heightened passion: Intimacy kindles the flames of desire, sustaining the magnetic attraction that fuels physical connection
- Conflict harmony: It equips partners with the tools needed to navigate conflicts gracefully, reducing misunderstandings and nurturing harmony
- Relationship longevity: Intimacy is the linchpin for long-term relationships, ensuring that partners remain engaged, dedicated, and committed to each other’s well-being
- Overall well-being: Having a fulfilling intimate relationship has an extensive positive effect on the emotional and physical health of all the partners involved
Related Reading: 10 Skillful Ways To Deal With An Angry Husband
5 Types Of Intimacy In Relationships
When you develop an understanding of the different types and examples of intimacy, you can gauge your own relationship in this regard. You and your partner might be acing it in some facets while you might be lacking in others. Only when you acknowledge these strengths and weaknesses, can you move toward working on developing a healthy intimacy.
As mentioned before, we somehow tend to focus on the sexual component in romantic relationships but in effect, there are 5 types of intimacy. Just like there is a substantial difference between emotional intimacy definition and sexual intimacy, the other types of intimacy are profoundly different from each other. 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 skin-to-skin contact. Holding hands, cuddling, kissing, hugging – All these are forms of physical intimacy that show that you crave being close to your partner. These physical touches and gestures go a long way in making your beloved feel cherished and nurtured.
These 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 loved one is exhausted, and cuddling when you go to sleep. The right touch can say more than a thousand words. Physical intimacy is important for healthy relationships and you should work toward making it a priority.
Tips to improve physical intimacy
- Show gentle love: The first step is to understand that non-sexual touches are gentle. The idea is to indulge in acts of intimacy that convey how much you love and appreciate your partner, not stake your claim to their body
- Don’t criticize: Both you and your partner have to be willing to give 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
- Introspect: Try exploring the reasons behind the lack of physical intimacy. Spending time and reflecting on it is critical. 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
- Express your concern: 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, let her know that it makes you feel distant from her. Do your best to understand what kind of touch she appreciates and if she is feeling safe while you indulge in physical intimacy
2. Emotional intimacy
The emotional intimacy definition, according to an article in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, refers to the deep and profound connection between individuals in a relationship, characterized by a sense of trust, vulnerability, shared values, and the ability to openly share one’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and fears. 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?
Oftentimes, not being able to establish and nurture emotional intimacy in the relationship can become the cause of other problems. Although all kinds of intimacy are important, if there had to be one highest form of intimacy; this would be it.
Tips to improve emotional intimacy
- Know them first: 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, and what they desire in life
- Start small: Even if you are emotionally distant as a person, put in the effort. It is okay to start small. One way to go about it is by simply asking them about their day and telling them about yours. Gradually, try to build trust and come to more serious subjects. 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
- Be kind on the bad days: You have to be ready to accept your loved one 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 that even you have your bad days
- Accept them fully: Most important here is to bare your soul, share your deepest fears, and trust them with your not-so-pretty sides. Emotional intimacy is about knowing your beloved and loving them because of – and not despite – who they are
3. Spiritual intimacy
Spiritual intimacy not only strengthens their bond but gives a couple the ability to handle life’s crises far better than the ones who have not connected on 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.
What is the spiritual meaning of life for you and your partner? Are you both atheists but want a spiritual relationship? Do you have common spiritual beliefs? Are both of you open to accepting each other’s beliefs if they differ? 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 is a believer, it can lead to a lot of differences in your outlook and approach toward life situations.
Or, 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 beliefs don’t match, try to explore new avenues where you can harness spiritual intimacy as a couple. Feeling safe at a soul level with your partner is what spiritual intimacy is all about.
Tips to improve spiritual intimacy
- Talk freely about your spiritual and religious beliefs with your partner. Creating a safe space for deep conversations is one of the most important acts of intimacy
- Try to pray, meditate, practice deep breathing, or sit 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 five 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
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 on different situations, the causes you feel strongly about, political ideologies, and philosophies are integral elements of this type of intimacy.
Such couples also focus on enhancing each other’s intellectual abilities and supporting a partner’s growth. It is about understanding the concept of mutual respect vis-à-vis each other’s intellectual pursuits and viewpoints. Intellectual intimacy allows you to feel safe and share one’s attitude and behavior, 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, and how to manage finances in a much clearer and effective manner.
Related Reading: 10 Best-Selling Relationship Books Couples Can Read Together
Tips to improve intellectual intimacy
- Inculcate the habit of reading together with each other and share ideas with the different perspectives you bring to the table
- Discuss your favorite genre of music, songs, lyrics, and common interests 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
- Spending time together and indulging in discussions about societal constructs, morality, art, and life philosophies can be immensely helpful
- Be each other’s sounding board for important life decisions
- Recognize and discuss how you can both grow, as individuals and as a couple
5. 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. But sexual intimacy thrives when both partners feel safe in openly communicating about their desires, addressing any areas where satisfaction may be lacking, and collaboratively exploring ways to enhance their sexual connection.
Related Reading: 10 Things To Do When You Are Drifting Apart In Your Relationship
So focus on ensuring that both you and your partner derive pleasure from the act. Remember, the feeling of intimacy is 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 a ‘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 work issue or whether the kid has gone off to sleep since it is a school night. Be in the moment
- Know your sexual desires and what brings you pleasure. Don’t hesitate to guide your partner toward your erogenous zones
- Understand each other’s sexual needs
- Communication is the key to enhancing 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
Creating intimacy — How to get started?
Intimacy is all about connecting on a deeper level with your partner. It is about spending quality time with one another and having those difficult conversations. You can gather all the knowledge about intimacy by memorizing every book on the subject in the national library, but until you both willingly work on building and rebuilding intimacy, the knowledge will be worthless.
Let’s make a plan of action for you:
- Start giving beautiful compliments to your partner, not just about their looks
- Watch a funny movie together (they should find it funny too)
- Take on new adventures and hobbies and small projects together; you don’t even have to leave your home
- Go on a short walk every day
- Go on a date night every week
- It could be something as extreme as going rock climbing or bungee jumping too
Indulge in new experiences together. Simple acts like these have surprisingly profound effects. Do this and thank us later.
- What is intimacy in a relationship? Intimacy in romantic relationships extends beyond just sexual connection, also encompassing physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual dimensions
- These various forms of intimacy are essential for nurturing trust, communication, passion, conflict resolution, long-term commitment, and emotional stimulation in a relationship
- Understanding and embracing these types of intimacy can help couples maintain closeness in a relationship as it evolves over time
- Prioritizing physical intimacy through non-sexual gestures like holding hands, fostering emotional trust by acts like spending quality time together, aligning spiritual beliefs, and engaging in intellectual discussions all contribute to a more fulfilling relationship
- Open communication and a willingness to adapt and grow in each dimension of intimacy are key to creating a lasting and satisfying partnership
- Remember, intimacy can mean differently to different people. So, don’t try and force your partner into your definition of it; instead, try and understand theirs and offer to meet them midway
In our fast-paced lives, it becomes almost impossible to spend time reflecting on these forms of intimacy. Hence, they can easily be overlooked, leading to disconnection and the fear of intimacy with your loved one. However, acknowledging the different types and levels of intimacy, knowing their significance and actively nurturing them, can reignite the flames of love and fortify the bond between partners. So, as you navigate your romantic relationships, remember that intimacy isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept; it’s a mosaic of emotions and experiences that, when cultivated, form a lasting masterpiece of love that caters to the well-being of all the partners involved.
We hope that in this article, we could address the 5 types of intimacy and how can we improve lack of intimacy in each of its facets. We are positive that with this knowledge, you’d be able to bind your relationship into the most healthy and fulfilling cloth of love.
This article has been updated in September 2023.