Do you know the different types of intimacy? When people talk about intimacy in relationships, they are often talking about physical intimacy or sex. But there are a lot of other ways to be intimate with another person and using all types of intimacy makes for a healthy and fulfilling relationship.
What is an Intimate Relationship?
An intimate relationship is any relationship that involves closeness and connection. When you are in an intimate relationship, you should feel loved, supported, and cared for by the other person. Intimate relationships are characterised by feelings of understanding, trust and acceptance. People will most commonly be in intimate relationships with a spouse or romantic partner.
Physical intimacy involves touch. This covers the spectrum from sex to small instances of physical contact. Being physically intimate with someone can involve hugging, kissing, holding hands and more. When you are physically intimate with someone, you will feel comfortable reaching out and making contact – whether that is to initiate sex, or to put a reassuring hand on their shoulder.
Although sexual desire can wax and wane in a relationship, the need for touch usually remains. Touch is a basic human need that is good for your mental health, decreasing cortisol in your brain to regulate your emotions and calm you down. Many studies have shown the benefits of being held by someone you trust. All healthy relationships should involve an element of physical intimacy to be successful in the long term.
Do you feel like you can tell your partner anything? Do you share your dreams, fears and emotions? This sort of connection is called emotional intimacy. It can occur in romantic relationships, but can equally be experienced in close friendships.
Emotional intimacy involves truly ‘seeing’ someone else, accepting and loving them for who they are. When you have emotional intimacy, you feel comfortable sharing with the other person, without embarrassment or fear of judgement. Our emotional partners validate our experiences, help us to process difficult emotions, and offer comfort and empathy.
It can take time to develop this kind of emotional bond, but it is vital for a successful relationship.
Intellectual intimacy is similar in some ways to emotional intimacy, but focuses on decisions and values rather than feelings and emotional responses. If you have intellectual intimacy with someone, who can agree on important choices and major life decisions. You can discuss the ‘big topics’ with mutual respect and understanding, seeing the other person’s point of view and acknowledging why they might see something differently to you.
If a couple plans on sharing their life together, such as in a marriage or committed relationship, it’s important that they share intellectual intimacy. This allows them to explore their own values and make mutual decisions on important things like having children and buying property. Couples with intellectual intimacy will form a cohesive unit and a strong team. They respect each other’s intelligence, exchange knowledge, and gain new insights and ideas from each other.
When a couple has intellectual intimacy, they are not concerned that disagreements will lead to conflict. They understand that their opinion is valued, and show similar respect for their partner’s opinion.
Other Types of Intimacy
There are other types of intimacy that play an important role in close relationships. Not all of these types of intimacy will be essential for maintaining a partnership, but they can assist in building connection.
Experiential intimacy is a connection based on shared experiences. For example, many couples will feel they grow closer when they travel to a foreign country together. Some shared experiences may be chosen, such as deciding to train for a fun run together.
Others may be the outcome of daily life, such as both witnessing an incredible natural phenomenon. Some shared experiences will be positive, while others will be negative. Both types can bring a couple closer together, with an understanding that comes from going through the same thing. While it is important that people within a relationship have separate lives and individual experiences, shared experiences can create a new sense of intimacy that helps strengthen the relationship.
Financial intimacy refers to alignment in a couple regarding how they want to spend their money. It is important that people in trusting relationships are open and honest about money. Many of us are taught from a young age not to discuss finances, but it is something that can cause tension in a relationship if not talked about openly.
Couples with financial intimacy will be able to discuss money, spending and financial goals, such as buying a house or saving for their children’s school fees. They will also be aligned on things like giving money to charity and saving versus investing.
Spiritual intimacy is a connection on a religious or spiritual level. For people who believe in a higher power or a specific faith, sharing this can build a strong bond and closeness. This may include going to the same place of worship and praying together, or it could be sharing a quiet moment of reflection or meditation. Sharing a faith or a sense of purpose and ethical direction can deepen a relationship and create a closer connection.