What Is Intimacy in a Relationship?

Types of intimacy

Verywell / Laura Porter

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Intimacy is a feeling of closeness and connection in an interpersonal relationship. It is an essential part of intimate relationships, but it also plays an important role in other relatinships with friends, family members, and other acquaintances.

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.

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy can be one of the most critical factors of a relationship. It is characterized by being able to share your deepest, most personal feelings with another person. When people experience this type of intimacy, they feel safe and secure enough to share and know that they will be understood, affirmed, and cared for.

Examples of emotional intimacy include having conversations about what you both want in the future, talking about things that you are worried about, and discussing a stressful event at work and being comforted.

Intellectual Intimacy

This type of intimacy involves being able to share ideas, opinions, questions, and other thoughts with another person. You might not agree on everything, but you enjoy challenging each other and are able to consider the other person's perspective.

Talking about a book you have read and comparing your reactions is an example of intellectual intimacy in a relationship.

Experiential Intimacy

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. Spending time together, pursuing activities together, and participating in hobbies together are just a few ways that people can deepen this type of intimacy.

Spiritual Intimacy

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 critical aspects of your life with your partner.

Examples of spiritual intimacy include participating in religious practices, discussing spiritual topics, or spending time together while marveling at a moving sight.

Recap

Physical intimacy is just one type of intimacy in a relationship. Other types include emotional, intellectual, experiential, and spiritual intimacy.

Obstacles to Intimacy

Every relationship has its ups and downs, but sometimes certain obstacles can make intimacy difficult. Or a previously strong sense of intimacy might gradually fade without proper nourishment.

Some problems that can impair intimacy include:

  • Conflict: It can be challenging to feel intimacy when you are always arguing with the other person. Feelings of resentment, anger, and lack of trust can make it more challenging to feel connected and close to that person.
  • Stress: Life stress caused by work, illness, finances, children, and other issues can also chip away at a couple's intimacy.
  • Communication problems: It's hard to feel close when you struggle to articulate your feelings and needs. Talking to your partner and listening to what they have to say is essential for building and maintaining intimacy.
  • Fear of intimacy: Sometimes, people experience a fear of intimacy, often caused by past experiences or traumas, that make it difficult to form meaningful connections with other people.

Impact of Intimacy


Intimacy is essential in a relationship because it forms a basis for connection and communication. It ensures that each person feels understood, allows them to be themselves, and ensures that each person gets the care and comfort that they need. Other significant effects include:

  • Increased sexual desire: Research has found that in long-term romantic relationships, couples that experience more emotional intimacy also experience higher levels of sexual desire and sexual activity.
  • Greater relationship satisfaction: Couples with greater intimacy tend to be more satisfied with their relationships.
  • Better physical health: People in intimate relationships tend to have better physical well-being. One study found that being in a happy relationship influenced health to the same magnitude as diet and exercise and lowered the risk of chronic illness and death.
  • Improve mental health: Having close, intimate relationships is also pivotal for mental health. These connections provide social support that is imperative for well-being. It can also combat feelings of loneliness and help people better manage the stress they experience in life.

Recap

Intimacy has beneficial effects on many areas of life, including health, relationship satisfaction, sexual desire, and mental well-being.

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:

Improve Physical Intimacy

When it comes 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.

Remember that increasing your physical intimacy isn't always about having more sex. If you're too tired for sex or talking, try cuddling on the couch.

Increase Emotional Intimacy

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.

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.

Deep Experiential Intimacy

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.

Plan a trip to a place neither of you has been. It's fun to experience new things for the first time. It will also give you a sense of shared history and experience. Even something as simple as a weekly date night can be a great way to foster increased experiential intimacy in your relationship.

Boost Intellectual Intimacy

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.

Strengthen Spiritual Intimacy

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. Discuss your values and beliefs and the role that you think these will play in your life, relationship, and family.

Remember that spiritual intimacy doesn't necessarily involve religion. It often comes down to your shared values and ability to bond over experiences you find awe-inspiring, whether that involves a religious practice, meditation, or love of nature.

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.

7 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.
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By Brittany Loggins
Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines.