When people think of intimacy, most are probably more familiar with physical and sexual intimacy. This kind of intimacy can include affectionate touching such as kissing, cuddling and hugging, as well as different forms of sexual activity. Physical intimacy is an integral part of many couple relationships, and is closely linked to high levels of relationship satisfaction. However, it is important to note that there is more to intimacy than just sex, and that other types of intimacy are vital in helping to foster a healthy intimate relationship with your partner.
Intimacy is defined as the degree of closeness and connection that people feel when they are in a relationship together. There are five different types of intimacy, which include physical intimacy, intellectual intimacy, emotional intimacy, experiential intimacy and spiritual intimacy. These different types of intimacy allow people to bond on various levels and in unique ways. Let’s take a closer and more practical look as to what each kind of intimacy may look like in a relationship:
As explained earlier, physical intimacy involves more than just sex. If you are too tired to engage in sexual activity with your partner, you can take some time in the day to hold your partner’s hand or cuddle with them on the sofa. It may be helpful to ask your partner what they need in terms of physical intimacy, as each person’s needs may vary.
Being curious about your partner and wanting to learn from them is a sign of intellectual intimacy. Practice this in your relationship by having discussions outside of your usual topics of conversation. Listen to your partner’s viewpoints, acknowledge your differences, and see the ways in which you can connect intellectually to your partner.
This kind of intimacy involves connecting to your partner on a deep, emotional level. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable in sharing your innermost thoughts, feelings and needs with your partner. To improve emotional intimacy in relationships, make sure to listen attentively when a partner is telling you about their day or sharing a difficult experience that they have been through.
Also referred to as social intimacy, experiential intimacy is the way that a couple spends time together and shares experiences that build memories over time. This can include doing activities together, such as planning a trip or finding a hobby to enjoy together. This kind of intimacy allows you to learn new things about your partner and find new ways that you might enjoy spending time together.
Spirituality is a very personal experience for every individual, and does not necessarily have to include religious beliefs and practices. It generally means the connection one has to life and a person’s search for meaning. The goal behind being spiritually intimate with your partner does not necessarily mean sharing the same beliefs. It means feeling safe enough to express your beliefs and respecting those of your partner. Watch a documentary about spirituality as a way to open up this channel of intimacy in your relationship, and gradually work your way up to more complex topics.
Every relationship can face its own challenges when it comes to maintaining a healthy level of intimacy. Conflict, stress and communication problems are some of the issues that can impair the level of intimacy present in a relationship. Some individuals may also have a fear of intimacy that may make it more challenging for them to be able to develop deeper and more intimate connections with others. This usually stems from past experiences or traumas which may have left a significantly negative impact on the individual. Unfortunately, a lack of intimacy in relationships is more likely to cause distress in the couple relationship, and is often reported to be one of the primary reasons for relationships to end.
There are various benefits to having a healthy intimate relationship with your partner, ranging from improved physical and mental health, an increase in sexual desire, as well as greater relationship stability and satisfaction. Whether you are in the initial stages of a relationship or you have been with your partner for years, it is never too late to put effort into improving you and your partner’s intimacy. Intimacy does not happen overnight, but is gradually built over time through the sharing of experiences and meaningful interactions between two people. It is the glue that holds people together as individuals go through the relationship building respect, trust and safety, resulting in relationships where individuals feel seen, supported, accepted and loved.
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Pamela Borg is a counsellor who enjoys working therapeutically with adults experiencing various issues. These include general mental health and wellbeing, gender, sexuality, relationship issues.
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All Points North (2022). The Five Types of Intimacy Every Healthy Relationship Needs. Retrieved from: https://apn.com/resources/5-types-of-intimacy/
Heston-Davis, R. (2022). Characteristics of a Healthy Intimate Relationship. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/relationships/intimate-relationship-tips#how-to-build-an-intimate-relationship
Loggins, B. (2022). What Is Intimacy in a Relationship? Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-intimacy-in-a-relationship-5199766