What Is Intimacy in a Relationship?

Couple laughing together on couch

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

What Is Intimacy in a Relationship?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines intimacy as the "inmost thoughts or feelings; proceeding from, concerning, or affecting one’s inmost self: closely personal."

While intimacy can undoubtedly exist outside of romantic relationships, it most commonly pertains to dating and marriage. The word intimacy is derived from the Latin word "intimus," which means 'inner' or 'innermost.' In most romance languages, the word for intimate refers to a person's innermost qualities.

Intimacy allows people to bond with each other on many levels. Therefore, it is a necessary component of healthy relationships.

This article covers the different types of intimacy and how you can create more of it in your relationship.

Types of Intimacy in Relationships

Upon hearing the word, you probably immediately jumped to thinking about physical intimacy, but other forms of intimacy are just as important, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Let's take a look at some different forms of intimacy.

Physical Intimacy

While a hug or holding a hand are both examples of physical intimacy, this type is most commonly used in reference to sex. And while sex is important in relationships, you can also demonstrate physical intimacy through kissing, holding hands, cuddling, and skin-to-skin touching.

While these small physical shows of affection may seem mundane, they can help you and your partner cultivate a feeling of closeness.

In reference to sex, a part of intimacy is feeling safe enough with your partner to share your likes and dislikes. Make sure that you are asking for the same information from your partner. This way, you can facilitate a safe environment where you both feel comfortable sharing your deepest thoughts and desires.

Emotional

Emotional intimacy can be one of the most important factors of a relationship. One journal defined emotional intimacy as involving "a perception of closeness to another that allows sharing of personal feelings, accompanied by expectations of understanding, affirmation, and demonstrations of caring."

To cultivate emotional intimacy, take time to listen to and share with your partner each day. Also, make notes of special moments or things that remind you of your partner so that you can let them know you're thinking about them.

Studies have shown that self-disclosure can build feelings of intimacy in marriages, which will make your bond stronger. A big part of intimacy is sharing your thoughts and feelings honestly, and listening to your partner when they do the same.

Intellectual

Look, you don't have to watch Jeopardy together every single night, but it can be fun to have intellectual conversations with your partner, primarily if you work in different fields. Find new topics to talk about; simple Google searches pull up hundreds of conversation starters.

If you put effort into having conversations outside of the everyday monotony, it can keep things fresh in your relationship.

Experiential

While couples don't have to be joined at the hip, shared experiences are important in healthy relationships. They're also often the way that relationships begin, so experiences can even add an element of nostalgia for long-term partners.

If you're looking to deepen your experiential intimacy, this is an excellent time to book a trip or try out a fun new date spot or activity in your city. Attempt to learn something new about your partner.

Spiritual

While this can be referring to religious ideas and beliefs, it can also mean something more profound, like sharing actual beliefs and values. Your values and beliefs can align with religion or even health and wellness. Regardless, it's important to share these important aspects of your life with your partner.

This can also be a chance for you and your partner to talk about what role you want spirituality to play in your lives if you have a family.

How to Build Intimacy in Relationships

No matter how long you have been together, it's always important to build your intimacy levels. Here are some easy, practical ways to strengthen your levels of intimacy in your relationship:

  • If you're too tired for sex or even talking, cuddle on the couch.
  • Plan a trip to a place neither of you has been. It's fun to experience new things for the first time.
  • Put down the electronics, even if it's just during a meal or while you and your spouse watch a show together. Indeed, make sure to do this if your partner is talking to you about their day or an experience.
  • Speaking of listening to your partner, make yourself emotionally available to them. If you absolutely can't manage to do this when they're talking to you, calmly explain why and then set aside time in the future to listen to what they have to say.
  • Send each other articles so that you have something fun and new to talk about. This also helps build on intellectual intimacy, and it can give you a much-needed mental break if you have kids or are a caregiver to another loved one.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you've just started dating someone or you've been together for years, intimacy plays a vital role in your relationships. Know that it can take time if your relationship is still new, but it's worth the work that it takes to go through new experiences together.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sexton R.E., Sexton V.S. (1982) Intimacy. In: Fischer M., Stricker G. (eds) Intimacy. Springer, Boston, MA.

  2. Sinclair VG, Dowdy SW. Development and Validation of the Emotional Intimacy ScaleJournal of Nursing Measurement . 13(3).

  3. Kardan-Souraki M, Hamzehgardeshi Z, Asadpour I, Mohammadpour RA, Khani S. A Review of Marital Intimacy-Enhancing Interventions among Married Individuals. Glob J Health Sci. 2016;8(8):53109. Published 2016 Aug 1. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v8n8p74

  4. Nabil S. 6 Types of Intimacy. Naya Clinics