Although relationships are rife with potential disappointment and conflict, make no mistake that they’re also our number one source of happiness.
Nothing else comes close.
You can achieve success, wealth, fame, and fortune, but you’ll always feel a sense of longing if you don’t build intimate relationships. Intimacy can be difficult to navigate, however.
Maybe you fear it, worried about getting too close to someone.
Maybe you yearn for it, struggling to come to terms with your own thoughts and feelings without it.
At some level, we all crave, indeed, need intimacy. We’re a social species that’s developed a herd mentality throughout our evolution. We need relationships in the same way we need the air we breathe.
Yet intimacy is often misunderstood.
Maybe that’s why you’re here.
Maybe you want to know what real intimacy looks like.
Maybe you’re trying to figure out if you’re already in an intimate relationship, or would like to add a greater degree of it.
Wherever you currently stand, you must first define intimacy so you no longer misunderstand it.
What is Intimacy?
Intimacy is not sex.
Sex plays a role, yet there are several levels of intimacy that ensure you remain in intimate relationships.
Not just with your significant other, either, but with friends, family, and colleagues.
This is one of the biggest barriers that gets in the way of couples.
When they first get together, there’s an abundance of physical intimacy and sex. It’s new, raw, and exciting.
Yet as time goes by this level of intimacy may begin to fade due to starting a family, managing responsibilities, and running a home.
You may feel like you’re taken for granted and that your relationship is pushed to one side.
This is the period when couples often complain about a lack of intimacy.
It’s not there and they want it back. Yet they don’t necessarily fully appreciate what intimacy is.
So how do you define intimacy?
It isn’t easy.
There are different levels of intimacy that come together to form an intimate relationship. Y
our relationship likely doesn’t lack them all, yet it likely is missing some.
The good news is that you can rebuild and replace what you’ve lost.
Yet you never will until you appreciate what goes into an intimate relationship.
The 7 Levels of Intimacy
Intimacy isn’t exclusive to a romantic relationship.
By understanding the different levels of intimacy you can add more of it to your other relationships: with your children, parents, friends, siblings, colleagues, and any other relationship that you hold dear.
Intimacy helps bring you closer to other people. It’s nothing to fear.
Healthy people thrive in intimate relationships because they can read their social barometer.
It helps you read your own barometer, too.
It teaches you more about yourself than you may ever imagine.
Remember this as you create greater intimacy with those you love.
You’re not just doing it for them or for us, but for your own personal and spiritual growth.
1. Physical Intimacy
Sex does play an important role in an intimate relationship.
At least in your romantic relationships.
Yet sex isn’t the only ingredient.
Other physical aspects come into play.
- Hand holding
- Simply providing a shoulder to cry on…
Some of this will lead to sex, but it doesn’t always have to for you to have a strong intimate relationship.
Remember this as you reflect on your own relationships.
Beyond sex, do you gold hands with your partner and cuddle?
Is there touching, feeling, and lots of physical contact?
A healthy romantic relationship needs physical intimacy that goes beyond sex.
Many of your other relationships require a degree of physical intimacy, too.
2. Emotional Intimacy
As important as physical intimacy is, emotional intimacy may hold greater importance.
This is especially true in a romantic relationship if it’s to last the test of time.
Married couples, in particular, need emotional intimacy to keep the spark alive.
Emotional intimacy is friend, partner, personal cheerleader, and partner in crime all rolled into one. It’s your ability to share deep and meaningful thoughts with the other person.
This requires trust. Beyond trust, it often involves a leap of faith.
You give yourself to the other person and ask them to do the same.
Is this present in your relationship?
Can you tell your partner anything?
Are you willing to listen and understand them as they share the same?
3. Spiritual Intimacy
Spiritual intimacy goes beyond the talk of God or sharing the same religious beliefs as one another.
Maybe you do share these same beliefs. Maybe not. Either way, there has to be an element of respect.
Religion to one side, spiritual intimacy also dives into your soul, worries, fears, and things you hold most sacred.
Do you share these meaningful conversations with your partner?
Do they share them with you?
Does your relationship provide a platform to allow these to exist without judgment?
Being present and in the moment plays a role here, too.
The ability to sit in silence and still enjoy one another’s company. To look at each other and truly see the other person; the person you love.
Spiritual intimacy often exists in between words. It’s what’s felt and expressed.
4. Intellectual Intimacy
Intellectual intimacy involves sharing ideas, thoughts, and skills with one another.
A shared hobby, maybe, or the ability to hold a conversation on a common passion.
Intellectual intimacy is what fuels conversation. It’s how easy it is to talk to one another and enjoy each other’s company.
At the start of a relationship, everything is new. You go places together and see new parts of the world.
After a while, you end up doing the same things and going to the same places. There’s less to explore, and it’s intellectual intimacy that makes this okay.
Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you’re happy in the other person’s presence.
Do you set aside time each week for this in your own relationship?
To sit together and talk?
To read with each other?
To explore new ideas and conversations?
To discuss your beliefs and to listen to theirs?
Intellectual intimacy lays the foundation for so much more.
Conversation breeds closeness, which in turn leads to other levels of intimacy like emotional, physical, and possibly even the spiritual.
5. Experiential Intimacy
As human beings, we love to collect and treasure experiences.
From vacations to a trip to the theater, we yearn to explore and see more of the world. More so, we wish to experience this with those we love.
For married couples, experiential intimacy is often a chance to escape responsibility and unwind a little.
It’s an opportunity to break the normal routine and rediscover the other person.
At home, with the kids, having to clean the house, pay bills, and prepare for work tomorrow, you’re consumed by life.
Having the chance to escape this every now and again, even for a few hours, brings you closer to each other.
As with intellectual intimacy, it lays a platform for more.
You relax and let down your guard.
You feel the freedom to express and explore.
You let go of life’s stresses and begin to see one another again.
Do you currently have this?
How often do you go out for date night, break the routine, or try something new?
When was the last time you saw a new part of the world together, leaving your everyday behind?
6. Conflict Intimacy
No two people are alike.
Even if you marry your ideal partner, you’ll never always see eye-to-eye. You will argue. You will disagree.
Such conflict is a natural part of healthy romantic relationships.
What’s not is when they spiral out of control and become the central theme of your relationship.
This is where conflict intimacy comes in.
It’s the ability to work through these arguments. To do so and respect the other person. To give each other the space to talk and think. To disagree in a civilized manner.
Is it fun to go through this? No. Not always.
Few people enjoy conflict. Yet conflict does teach you a lot about the other person, as well as yourself and your relationship as a whole.
It makes you aware of their pain and any hurt you may have caused.
It gives you an opportunity to share the same.
Conflict ignites growth, so long as both people work together through it.
Is this the case with your relationship?
Do you fear conflict and avoid it all cost?
Do you allow it to build and explode into moments of chaos?
Do you look to resolve issues or simply vent about them?
You may not naturally associate conflict with intimacy, yet it’s something you often only share with the people you love, respect, and admire the most.
7. Creative Intimacy
Finally, a long-lasting relationship requires constant attention.
Without it you can easily lose sight of what you have and take the other person for granted. Days blend into weeks, weeks into months, and all it breeds is resentment.
Creative intimacy helps keep fuel on the fire.
It’s the little things you can do to show the other person you love them.
That you still see them and appreciate them. A surprise bouquet of flowers, a spontaneous trip to your favorite restaurant, a handwritten letter that says I love you… creative intimacy acts as a reminder we all need.
Not just a reminder that the other person loves us, but a reminder to ourselves for what we have.
Intimacy in Marriage
It’s a common cause of conflict between married couples.
When you’re married to someone, you experience everything with them.
The good, of course, but the bad, too.
It’s easy to get consumed by all the responsibilities you have at home and at work.
You love the person you’re married to, yet you also take them for granted. The same is true for them.
Many married couples fear that they’re drifting, or will drift apart from each other. That the spark is lost. That the excitement is gone. That there is no intimacy left in their relationship.
Is there any way back?
Is all hope lost?
No. There is almost always love.
With over 25 years in psychology specializing in relationships, we’ve seen everything.
We’ve seen couples in a terrible state still able to turn it around and rediscover their love and passion for one another.
Sometimes a lack of intimacy has become a real issue.
Sometimes their relationship is lacking those seven layers of intimacy.
But often this is not the case. Some of the areas have dwindled, but not all.
Realizing this gives you hope, as you appreciate there is some intimacy left in your relationship. But that there is also room for improvement, giving you some clear steps to take.
How To Create Intimate Relationships
Maybe you’re reading this, in a long term relationship worried that all intimacy is lost.
Maybe you’re in a new relationship, trying to figure out if it’s going anywhere.
Maybe you just want to know what having an intimate relationship looks like…
These seven layers of intimacy will help you appreciate where you are right now.
It gives you something to measure yourself (and your relationship) against.
What’s lacking the most?
Where do you need to place immediate attention?
Once you know where you are you can start moving toward where you want to get to. Here are a few tips to help you achieve this.
1: Get Physical
This can involve sex. Yet it doesn’t have to.
Remember, physical intimacy includes hand-holding, hugging, touching, and anything else that brings you physically closer to each other.
Have fun with this. Make time for it as often as you can.
It doesn’t have to center around romantic gestures (although it can if you like). You get to choose.
What matters is that you create some physical intimacy between the two of you. Start small and go from there.
Remove any pressure and just have some fun.
2: Set Aside Time For Each Other
It’s amazing what can happen once you make time to talk with one another.
Not just about life and what you got up to that day, but about dreams, aspirations, and the future.
Read a book together and talk about it as you go through the chapters. Watch movies together and analyze it afterward.
Start a hobby and make time where you talk about it.
Conversations can lead to so much more.
Yet you need to intentionally set aside time to make this happen.
3: Tackle a New Project Together
Maybe this involves a long-overdue project at home or learning a new skill. A cooking class, maybe, or dancing.
The point here is to do something new … Together!
Make sure you’re both at the same level.
Ensure it involves lots of time where it involves the two of you have to work with each other.
Maybe you can restore some old furniture or plant a new vegetable garden.
Experience something new. It freshens life up, and your relationship with it.
4: Practice Gratitude and Appreciation
We meet so many couples who are where they are due to a lack of communication and appreciation.
Oftentimes they do appreciate one another. The problem is, they rarely express it.
It leaves the other person feeling like they don’t care.
You can solve this by practicing gratitude and appreciation each day.
You can do this individually as you meditate or go for a walk.
Or you can do it as a couple, journaling with each other and sharing what you love about the other.
Make time for this.
Not only will it help the other person know what you know, but it helps you remind yourself about what you do have in your life.
Your Intimate Relationships Await
We all, on some level desire intimacy. Intimate relationships make life worth living.
Be it intimate relationships with your friends and family, or the person you love the most, you’ll never feel complete until you get to experience them each day.
Yet this begins with you. Not the other person.
If you try to build intimacy with another before you have gotten whole on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself.
You place your own growth in their hands. It doesn’t work like that, and it most certainly isn’t fair on them (or on yourself).
Intimacy begins with you. Even if your relationships do lack intimacy, you cannot fix this until you begin to fix what’s going on inside.
This is why we’ve created a Free Assessment so you can better know yourself and revolutionize your relationships thereafter.
It’s the first step to creating intimate relationships with those you care the most about.