How to Understand and Build Intimacy in Every Relationship

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What is intimacy?
Intimacy is closeness between people in personal relationships.

It’s what builds over time as you connect with someone, grow to care about each other, and feel more and more comfortable during your time together.

It can include physical or emotional closeness, or even a mix of the two.

First things first: Intimacy isn’t synonymous with sex
You’ve probably heard of intimacy in the context of sex and romance.

For example, people sometimes use the term “being intimate” to mean sexual activity.

But intimacy isn’t another word for sex.

Sex with a partner can build intimacy, but it’s far from the only indicator of intimacy.

It’s possible to have sex without intimacy as well as intimacy without sex.

And it shouldn’t be reserved purely for sexual or romantic partners
Sex and romance may come to mind first, but intimacy plays a role in other types of relationships too!

For example, if you describe a party with friends as an “intimate gathering,” what are you trying to convey?

You’re probably saying the party was a small group of close friends as opposed to a huge crowd with many strangers.

You might also be referring to the quality of the time you spent together. Maybe you and your friends opened up about personal details and bonded over common interests.

Your relationships with family, friends, and other trusted individuals all include elements of intimacy.

It ultimately means different things to different people
You may feel close to a date while you watch a movie together, while your date can’t wait to take a walk after the movie to feel closer to you.

That’s because intimacy means different things to different people.

Your specific idea of intimacy may be influenced by your interests, communication style, or preferred ways to get to know someone.

And there are different types of intimacy
To figure out what intimacy means to you, consider the types of intimacy.

Intimacy falls into several different categories, including:

Emotional
Emotional intimacy is what allows you to tell your loved ones personal things that you might not necessarily share with strangers.

Think of it as letting your guard down. As you learn that you can trust someone, you feel safe enough to let your walls down.

Do you look forward to coming home from work so you can relax and be yourself with your partner?

Or how you can tell your brother anything without being judged?

This is what it means to have emotional intimacy.

Intellectual
Intellectual intimacy involves getting to know how another person’s mind works and sharing the map to your mind too.

It builds as you exchange ideas and have meaningful conversations.

You know that deep philosophical discussion that helped you realize your classmate wasn’t just a classmate, but also a friend?

Or the first time you stayed up all night talking to your partner and felt that “spark” of connection?

These moments brought you closer because you shared intellectual intimacy.

Physical
Physical intimacy is about touch and closeness between bodies.

In a romantic relationship, it might include holding hands, cuddling, kissing, and sex.

Your relationship doesn’t have to be sexual or romantic to have physical intimacy.

A warm, tight hug is an example of physical intimacy with a friend.

Experiential
You build experiential intimacy by spending quality time with someone and growing closer over common interests and activities.

There’s nothing quite like the way you bond with someone over your mutual love of “Game of Thrones” or during a spirited game of Monopoly.

Spiritual
Spirituality means different things to different people, so spiritual intimacy can vary too.

Generally speaking, spirituality is about belief in something beyond the physical realm of existence.

That belief can be in a higher power, in human souls, or in a greater purpose, for example.

Spiritual intimacy can look like sharing a common value like kindness, being on the same wavelength about organized religion, or feeling like you were meant to be in each other’s lives.

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