Many people are surprised that there are many ways to be intimate in a relationship. It isn’t just about sex, although that is an important way to connect. Intimacy is being close and sharing experiences with another person. When I work with people who are struggling in their relationship we discuss their intimacy levels. Most couples don’t connect equally on all levels, so if you are struggling in one area maybe you can find another way to build the closeness you want. Below are 10 different ways to build intimacy.
Emotional intimacy. Being able to share your feelings about each other first and foremost, but sharing feelings in general also brings closeness. Some people have a hard time verbalizing how they feel, even to the person they are closest to. Luckily there are other ways you can express your feelings other than talking about them. Some people do things for each other or buy things to show their appreciation. You can always write out your feelings as well. Emotional intimacy is pretty important. Be attuned to what you need, but also realize your partner may need more or less emotional intimacy from you. Do your best to compromise if each others needs are very different.
Sexual intimacy. Many people would say this is the most important way to connect in a relationship. In reality, most people spend more time thinking about sex than they actually spend doing it. Even in a long-term live-in relationship, you don’t spend that many hours a day, week, month, or year having sex. However, the reason it is so important is that you (in an idealistic world) don’t have this kind of intimacy in any other relationship. It is a special way that couples connect. Again, your partner may need sexual intimacy more or less often than you do. Do your best to compromise if each others needs are very different.
Side note: Most men need sexual intimacy to be more emotionally open. Most women need emotional intimacy to be more sexually open. When one side breaks down, it doesn’t take long for the other side to go as well. This causes a lot of resentment in relationships. Again, try to be sensitive to the needs of your partner. I tell many couples “Give to Get”.
Intellectual intimacy. This is the close sharing of ideas. Talking to your partner about what you think in terms of history, politics, current events, or in terms of learning something new. Some couples really connect in this way. You may both be studying pre-med and can talk endlessly about science and the human body or both be heavily involved in politics and can debate for hours. Sharing about your classes, job and daily activities are also a way to grow closer and understand more fully what each other does for many hours a day.
Recreational intimacy. Being able to have fun together. Some couples share a lot of the same interests and others don’t. Try to find at least a couple of things that you enjoy doing together to have fun. This could be going to sporting events, music concerts, going out to eat, going for a walk, traveling or playing board games with each other. Enjoying the time spent usually brings couples closer together and helps them get through the more difficult times better.
Work intimacy. Being able to do certain tasks together. You may help each other study or prepare for presentations together. You could work on the same student organization or volunteer at the same place. People who are married or live together may do chores around the house together. Couples who have children also work on parenting together. Or, you may actually work together in a career. Working together on a task helps couples feel more like a team.
Spiritual intimacy. Being able to connect in your values and beliefs about life, family, the world, and people in general. Couples don’t always have to agree or have the same values and beliefs, but they have to be able to respect one another in order to be close in this way. It is important for some couples to be able to pray and worship God in a like-minded manner, especially when it comes to raising children and passing on their beliefs and values.
Physical intimacy. Being affectionate in non-sexual ways. Touch is a very powerful way to bond and show love. Holding hands, hugging, putting your arm around your partner, giving a back massage or just sitting close to one another builds confidence in the relationship. It shows that you care and want to connect with your partner. Some people complain their partner only touches them when they want to have sex. Remember that it is important to show other types of physical affection in a long term relationship.
Creative intimacy. This is a cross between work and recreational intimacy. It is actually creating something together and it usually something you both enjoy. Some couples play music or sing in a choir together. Some couples like to be involved in a hobby they both enjoy. They may refurbish old houses or even build new houses together. Other couples may garden or cook together to facilitate closeness in their relationship.
The last two types of intimacy can make a relationship stronger and bring a couple closer together but it isn’t something that is usually within the couples control. Usually life throws you a curve ball and some couples will have to deal with these last two types more often than others.
Conflict intimacy. Being able to face and deal with differences. Conflict is inevitable in relationships. Working through a conflict can actually help couples grow closer. While having too many conflicts or fighting dirty can cause many break downs in relationships, talking through an issue and being able to resolve it or agreeing to disagree can actually strengthen the relationship. How couples handle the conflict can make all the difference.
Crisis intimacy. Being able to cope with problems and pain. Life happens. No one usually expects these things to happen, but when they do, being able to support each other brings couples a lot closer together. When my grandmothers both got sick my parents really helped each other through it. My dad came to the hospital for months with my mom when her mom was dying and my mom did the same for him when his mom was dying. I saw this bring my parents closer together because they were able to share each others pain. I’ve also seen couples really pull together if one or the other gets sick or is in an accident. When the chips are down, you really want to know that person is on your side. Be with each other in the bad times can really bond two people together.
I hope this helps you find new ways to connect to the one you love or at least appreciate all the ways you are already connecting.