How do you define the word intimacy? For most of us, that word refers to romantic and sexual attachment. Sometimes that romantic attachment is also known as emotional intimacy. And these are the two types of intimacy that are normally shown on the "outside" - couples holding hands, sharing a kiss, dancing, caressing, etc. And that intimacy plays itself out in the bedroom too. Ain't love grand?
But is that all there is in a relationship? And are emotional intimacy and physical intimacy the only types that couples have? Hell no. First of all, there are all sorts of intimate relationships - that between parents and their children and between best friends, for example.
And for couples? Well, the emotional and physical intimacy may wane over time, and then what's left to hold that couple together in a long-lasting relationship? Very little, actually. Unless, of course, they have developed other types of intimacy that bond them together.
So, here is a list of all the forms of intimacy. Use it as a checklist of sorts to see if you and your partner have what it takes for a lasting, healthy relationship. And if you find you are lacking? Well, maybe it's time for some work. Remember that mutual respect and intimacy intersect in committed relationships. Also, your mental health truly depends on having mutual feelings that define healthy interactions.
The simplest way to describe intimacy is "closeness." And what is closeness? Well, that is often described as having meaningful connections with someone. And those meaningful connections can go well beyond what we normally consider physical intimacy and even emotional intimacy. How many of these different types of intimacy do you have with your partner?
The physical intimacy of sex pretty much explains itself. In addition to the act itself, it also involves partners communicating about their wants and needs and being willing to accommodate those. It also involves setting boundaries. When two people are able to do this well, they will both get lots of pleasure from their sex, and this does tend to build intimacy in other areas too. Also, this isn't just about carnal desires. It requires vulnerability to really connect with another person in this way.
This is a type of intimacy that no strong relationship can do without. First and foremost, it means that you are able to freely share with your partner all of your thoughts, feelings, goals, and needs without fear of criticism, anger, or put-downs. Your partner is your "safe place" to air everything.
Likewise, being emotionally intimate requires empathy - the ability to put yourself in your partner's shoes and see things from their side of the fence. It will require active listening and words of assurance and validation. And you should expect the same from them.
If there are problems in the area of emotional intimacy, a relationship will not last. If you want to do a bit of a self-check, there is an interesting article that describes "The Four Horsemen" of a relationship apocalypse, developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman. It identifies the four stumbling blocks to a relationship that cause a lack of emotional intimacy and the emotional well-being of one or both partners. It's worth a read, particularly if your mental health is a priority.
If you have true emotional intimacy with your partner, you are able to communicate through the good and bad times in an honest and even vulnerable space. If this is lacking, couples counseling may help.
There are actually two aspects to experiential intimacy in any relationship.
Some couples share experiential intimacy because they have both been through similar experiences in their pasts. Maybe they are both recovered addicts who prioritize mental health in all things; maybe they both had the same majors in college; maybe they have both held similar jobs; perhaps they both suffered a similar poor childhood. These past experiences can form a bond that they can build on as they begin to develop intimate relationships on other levels.
But there is also the bond that builds intimacy as couples have new experiences together. These can be major experiences such as an amazing trip or smaller ones that still serve to bond a couple. As Cliff Poe, a Director with Love Recon, writes, "Don’t discount the power and value of small, everyday tasks done together. Cooking, decorating, cleaning, yard work, etc., done as a team will build experiential intimacy. Making it fun or a competition will help to create an “experience.” If you are both exhausted, you will at least go to bed together when you are done."
This approach also takes a couple out of the headspace that a good relationship must always be full of drama and big feelings. Yes, the mundane can truly be meaningful.
The point is this: every positive experience you have together, big or small, builds a new memory that you can both look back on with happiness.
This may seem a bit complicated, but it really isn't. And don't for a minute think that intellectual intimacy involves both partners sharing the same level of academic achievements. That's bunk. Intellectual intimacy means that both of you can discuss topics of interest, voice your opinions, and even disagree on some things. Sometimes, this is referred to as mental intimacy. It is absolutely important in a relationship where both of you value well-thought-out ideas and opinions.
Mental intimacy involves meaningful conversations about concepts, politics, religion, books, movies, society, etc. as opposed to conversations about such things as people you know. That may be just gossip. You may not agree about how to feed the poor or clean up the environment, but if you are actively listening to each other and feel comfortable discussing such topics, you have an intimate relationship that goes well beyond just sex and has more chance of surviving.
One key here is to have respect for the other's interests. You don't have to become as knowledgeable as they are on a particular topic. However, you should become familiar so you and your partner share as many common discussion points as you can.
If you are truly aroused by intellectual conversation, you may be a sapiosexual. Your relationship will thrive when this need of yours is met. You also get the benefit of being exposed to different perspectives.
Do you both have to be writers, painters, graphic designers, or the like? Oh please! We need to expand into a broader concept of creativity. Creativity is another form of mental intimacy that can include a host of things. It's a type of intimacy that might be shared by those who are asexual, for example, and for whom building intimacy depends on plenty of other things - sharing cool ideas about the future, problem-solving, or even experimenting in the kitchen together, etc. A healthy relationship is thus built with sexual intimacy as a low priority. And even if sexual intimacy plays a vital role in your relationship, if partners spend time in creative thinking together, relationships do strengthen.
Interestingly enough, this is one of the more enjoyable forms of intimacy to build in a relationship. There are so many options to choose. If you and your partner share just a few common creative interests, your relationship is so much more enriched. Work on puzzles together. Ask your partner to take an art class at the local community center. Even roleplaying games that center on creative tasks like world and character building help make that important connection.
A person's spirituality is a very personal thing, but people who are together should share their spiritual beliefs with one another. These may not be the same, but it's important that each partner shares them and does not criticize or dismiss the other's beliefs. There are plenty of couples with different spiritual beliefs who may very well agree on the big picture - that there is a higher being, that there is a deeper meaning to life, that it is right and good to care for others, and such.
It is also a good thing to remember that people are at all different places in their spiritual journeys and couples do not have to be and grow spiritually at the same pace. But if they can continue to be open about their journeys without criticism or judgment, they are in a safe space and their emotional closeness will remain strong. This is largely how a relationship with two different views on faith can thrive despite a lack of shared beliefs.
And it's important to note that spiritual intimacy can also be fostered by engaging in activities that involve giving of themselves to others. This may include such things as volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters or even tutoring or mentoring underprivileged kids. Being of service is a spiritual activity no matter what someone's religion is.
Can you become more spiritually connected in a relationship where neither of you are particularly devout? You absolutely can! As you build your life with that person both of you can commit to walking a spiritual path together whether that means exploring different religions or simply connecting with nature.
Remember this: spiritual intimacy is not really about religion. If you both can define spiritual intimacy in more general and agreed-upon terms, you will be building intimacy. And this type of intimacy is one that is shared by what we often call soul mates.
While spiritual intimacy relates to their inner selves, a couple's intimacy can also be fostered by pursuing hobbies and interests as a couple. When a couple has fun together, a type of physical intimacy is fostered.
And here's a news flash: Partners may have very different recreational interests. One may love outdoor activities, while another prefers travelling or going to museums. Intimacy in your relationship does not mean that you are travelling down the same road, hand in hand at all times. You do have to have your own activities and time to so your own thing. But it's also important to share those outside interests with each other. When you can do that, it's a sign of feeling safe within your partnership.
Rock climbing may not be your idea of a great afternoon, but you can honor that interest of your partner. Likewise, you will want to introduce your partner to your interests too. Spending time together in these kinds of activities will not only give a different kind of physical intimacy but will broaden each partner's life experiences, not to mention make memories that will add to that sense of closeness and connection.
Here is one of those types of intimacy that bleeds over into other forms, especially creative and intellectual intimacy. While commitment to each other is important, commitment to shared goals and plans is just as important. These are the types of long-term forward-looking objectives that keep common interests and a sense of the future in mind - starting a business, saving to buy a home, etc. Each step toward those goals fosters more closeness.
As the word commitment implies, this is also the version of intimacy that requires the most trust. When commitment intimacy is broken, there are often repercussions that go beyond the two of you. If you plan to create something big in the future, honesty and communication are absolutely necessary.
Here's another type of physical intimacy that does not involve the sex of romantic relationships. But it can certainly work to improve physical intimacy in the long run.
This is not the kind of work that you and your partner do together involving your business or careers. It is the kind of work you do together to keep your home life smooth, comfortable, and pleasing to both of you. This means chores - yes chores. There is cleaning, laundry, cooking, and even yard work. When one partner is saddled with more than their share of these things, they can become resentful and frustrated. This situation can hurt romantic relationships among couples.
When both partners work together on these tasks, they do build intimacy of closeness. They have time for conversation, maybe even some humor, and, in the case of larger projects, the shared experience of something accomplished.
Unfortunately, a lack of balance in this area can create more conflict than couples anticipate. So many people bring the best versions of themselves to other areas of a relationship. but will let this one failed miserably. What's the problem? Poor communication and an unfair division of emotional labor. One person may do their share of the chores, but they don't bother to take on any of the household management. Instead, they rely on their partner to direct them and tell them what to do. Another issue is weaponized incompetence. This is where one partner does household work so poorly that they create more labor for the other person.
Here, you create intimacy through honest communication and clear expectations. This ensures that resentment doesn't build up.
No person in a relationship can hope to be free of conflict with their partner. There will be disagreements, and the key is how those are resolved. When emotions are high, it's hard to feel intimate, so it is important that each person takes time to get their emotions in check before any conflict resolution begins. If the conflict is resolved successfully and both emerge with good feelings, intimacy can grow. And a nice next step might be some great sex.
Likewise, no person goes through life without facing a crisis every once in a while. It can be death, loss of job, serious illness, or such. If there is already a strong connection, then a partner will feel safe expressing all that has happened and their feelings about it. And the other partner will immerse themselves in being supportive and going through the crisis as if it is their own. Emerging from that crisis together deepens their connection.
This is one of those blurry areas of intimacy that may be difficult to describe. But in short, it relates to a couple's ability to experience and appreciate beauty together. This can be as simple as marveling at an amazing sunset or being moved by a scene from a movie together. It is at least indirectly related to spiritual intimacy in that the connection is not physical, but rather one of two souls sharing the intimacy of that non-physical experience.
Do you and your partner connect over fashion or home decor? If so, you may share a similar aesthetic.
This is almost self-explanatory. Couples who learn how to communicate openly, honestly, safely, and without judgment have an intimacy that can last a lifetime. They understand that meaningful conversations are two-way streets that involve both talking and active listening. When one partner is disengaged, intimacy takes a hit and must then be recovered. Communication issues are one of the major factors when partners find themselves in need of couples counseling. If they can't connect, everything else collapses.
If you've read this far, you are probably getting the idea that all of these forms of intimacy are at least indirectly related. Think of them as all parts of a woven net, maybe like a fishing net. When any of that woven fabric is broken, there's a gaping hole. And that gaping hole allows fish to escape. When one of the important types of intimacy is broken, other types are set up to fail too.
Let's take an example of conflict intimacy. If there is an issue here, think of all of the other types of intimacy that can bleed through that hole - emotional, communication, commitment, and even spiritual. And all of these will ultimately bleed over into physical intimacy too. Couples with unresolved or poorly resolved conflicts simply won't be "feeling it" anymore.
So, are you in for the long haul with your partner? If this is what you really want, then you will need to use this list as a guide for the different types of intimacy that you and your partner will want to work on.
Remember this: a relationship usually begins with emotional and physical intimacy. But that will fade if there is nothing else to support those from underneath. A healthy relationship that lasts will have those supports built into place.
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