What Is Intimacy in a Relationship?

Simply defined, intimacy is the degree of closeness and the bond that exists between you and your partner. But intimacy is not as simple as physical touch. In addition to closeness, intimacy exists where there is mutual vulnerability, openness, and sharing.


What is Intimacy in a Relationship and Why is It Important?

A strong sense of intimacy can help couples build trust, strengthen their emotional bond, and increase their overall satisfaction with the relationship.

Intimacy is the foundation upon which couples bond and build their relationship. Therefore, it’s important to nurture intimacy each day. We often think of Intimacy as something connected to sex. “Being intimate together.” But physical forms of affection like sex are only one type of intimacy. There are five different types of intimacy, all of which can be strengthened to improve your relationship. 


Benefits of Intimacy in a Relationship:

  • Increased Sexual Desire: Research has found that couples in long-term relationships, who experience more emotional intimacy also experience higher levels of sexual desire and sexual activity. For women especially, emotional intimacy can lead to more positive sexual experiences and greater sexual satisfaction. And it works the other way too. Physical intimacy, whether it involves sex or not, can help you feel more connected with your partner in other ways, like increasing emotional intimacy.
  • Greater Relationship Satisfaction: Couples with greater intimacy tend to be more satisfied overall with their relationships, according to research. This confirms people’s shared desire for connection. And strong intimacy of one type can also positively impact another. 
  • Better Physical Health: People in intimate relationships tend to have better physical health. One study found that being in a happy intimate relationship influenced health to the same extent as diet and exercise. Additionally, the study found that healthy intimate relationships can lower the risk of chronic illness and death.
  • Improved Mental Health: Being in a close, intimate relationship can also be beneficial when it comes to mental health. Close connections such as one with a romantic partner provide strong social support that is critical for mental and emotional well-being. It can also combat feelings of loneliness and help people better manage big stressors and those of everyday life. 

Healthy, intimate relationships have also been found to protect against depression, anxiety, and stress disorders. MRI technology showed that Intimate couples had more activity in the region of the brain that caused pleasure and less activity in the region that initiated symptoms of anxiety, according to a study cited by the University of Texas, Austin

Another study revealed that words of affection from a romantic partner lowered stress hormone levels. A third study found that hand-holding between long-term committed romantic partners lowered stress significantly more than hand-holding between pairs with other relationship dynamics.


The Five Types of Intimacy

Intimacy is an important component of any close relationship. However, different types of relationships require different types of intimacy. Platonic friendships, family relationships, and those with coworkers need some but not all types of intimacy to be successful. Healthy romantic relationships will involve a mixture of several different kinds. These can include the following:

1. Physical Intimacy

This is the type of intimacy that usually comes to mind, specifically sexual intimacy, an essential part of a romantic relationship. But physical intimacy also includes affectionate touching: holding hands, kissing, and cuddling. Affectionate touch is closely tied to higher romantic relationship satisfaction. While a healthy intimate relationship can survive without sex, touch is a basic human need and therefore some form of physical intimacy is necessary. 

2. Emotional Intimacy

Do you feel comfortable expressing your innermost thoughts, dreams, and fears? Can you share your feelings and emotions without the fear of judgment from your partner? Emotional intimacy means your partner validates your experiences, helps you to process difficult emotions, and offers comfort and empathy. Emotional intimacy requires that you feel safe and secure with your partner. 

3. Intellectual Intimacy

This type of intimacy is about values and decision-making. Intellectual intimacy allows you to make big decisions together by discussing important topics and seeing your partner’s point of view.

Intellectual intimacy exists by expressing curiosity in the other person and learning from them. Intellectual intimacy relies on respect. Partners may have very different perspectives but mutual respect allows them to connect despite disagreement. It’s okay to disagree and challenge each other, that’s healthy as long as there is mutual respect. 

4. Spiritual Intimacy

Spiritual intimacy is more subjective because spirituality is personal. But generally speaking, it’s about sharing your ideas and beliefs on the meaning of life and your connection with something bigger than yourself. Spiritual intimacy can mean praying together or going to the same place of worship. But it doesn’t have to be a religious connection. It could mean meditating together or sharing a quiet moment in nature. 

5. Experiential Intimacy

Experiential intimacy is about experiencing life together by doing things together. While going on exciting trips together can be great, your bond can be improved through little everyday things like cooking together, working on a house project together, or exercising together. Experiential intimacy is found in couples who actively engage in the relationship through hobbies, social activities, community service opportunities, and recreational activities. The activity itself might not be that enjoyable but they are able to find joy in being with their partner. 


Examples of Intimacy in a Relationship

An intimate relationship is characterized by feelings of trust, understanding, and acceptance, all of which take time. Maybe you’re not sure if your relationship is there yet.

Signs of Intimacy in a Relationship:

1. You can be Vulnerable 

One of the truest signs of intimacy is feeling comfortable to share your thoughts, feelings, and emotions without the fear of being judged or criticized. In intimate relationships, you can open up and reveal yourself while being loved unconditionally.

2. You Practice Honesty

Similarly, you both value raw honesty. You can have hard conversations. For example, you let them know when they did something to upset you. You’re willing to disappoint them initially, but in the end, it brings you closer as you both adjust and grow to understand the other person more fully. 

3. You Respect Boundaries 

Part of being open and honest is sharing your personal boundaries. True intimacy means both communicating your boundaries and respecting those of your partner. Boundaries are created from individual values that you should feel comfortable sharing when in an intimate relationship. 

4. Your Relationship is Prioritized 

You have your own lives with friends, work, and hobbies but you still manage to make time for one another. You see the importance of one-on-one time. Date nights are regular occurrences that you each look forward to. When you come together at the end of a long day, you listen, ask questions, and avoid distractions.

5. You can Share Silence 

You and your partner can enjoy each other’s company without speaking. You can share a meal without constant conversation. You can speak your own language through facial expressions, gestures, and touch. 

6. You can Rely on them, Regardless 

Life is bound to hand you the unexpected. And sometimes you’re not your best you. Your partner has supported you through tough times. Their love hasn’t waned when you’ve shown a less favorable side of you. You’ve forgiven each other after taking responsibility. 

 7. You Enjoy Nonsexual Touch

You enjoy sex with your partner but you’ve also come to value nonsexual affection. You get pleasure from holding hands, a spontaneous kiss, or a gentle massage at the end of the day. 


How to Build Intimacy in Your Relationship

Intimacy doesn’t appear overnight, nor does it exist with time alone. It takes effort, attention, and genuine care for the other person. How you do it is simply about prioritizing your partner, communicating, being trustworthy, and spending quality time together. 

Tips for Building Intimacy:

1. Share More.

Couples should never stop learning about their partner. More importantly, each person should remain curious and want to continue discovering their significant other. So don’t be afraid to open up and share your thoughts, ideas, and feelings. As important as it is to share yourself, it’s just as important to ask questions and pick your partner’s brain. 

2. Engage in Acts of Love and Kindness.

Randomly remind your partner you love them. Do it in words, written or otherwise. Bring home their favorite treat or surprise them with a small gift. Offer them a foot rub or massage. Do a chore that they usually do, or offer to do all the chores that day. Ask your partner to teach you a hobby or skill of theirs. Tailor your act of love to what speaks more to them by finding out their love language.

3. Shake Things Up.

Doing things that are out of routine is not only fun, but it shows your partner you care about keeping things new and exciting. In other words, you value your relationship. New or adventurous things will of course boost experiential intimacy but intimacy can grow in other areas too, depending on what it is. For example, just the time together can give you the opportunity to speak about the things that matter. A shared experience bonds people and can increase your physical intimacy as well. 


Couples Counseling

Many of us need assistance getting on the path towards greater intimacy. Often it’s about knowing where to start. Couples counseling can help you and your partner build intimacy. You can learn to be a better listener, communicate more effectively, and find new and creative ways to spend time together. Counseling can help you build the practical skills necessary for improving your connection. 

Your relationship may be rich in one area but lacking in another. For example, the signs of physical and experiential intimacy might be there but there’s room to improve when it comes to emotional and spiritual intimacy. Couples counseling can help you increase all types of intimacy so that you and your partner are fulfilled in all aspects. 


Couples Workshops

Couples workshops are opportunities for you and your partner to put in the work to break down the barriers holding you back from experiencing true intimacy on multiple levels. Our workshops are focused on increasing connection ensuring you feel more satisfied in your relationship. Workshops are a helpful supplement to therapy or a more cost-effective alternative. 


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