couple holding hands while being physically intimate in a car. image is being used to show one of the many ways couples can achieve intimacy in a relationship and the importance of being intentional.
Written by Michelle N. Ogborne

Building Intimacy in Relationships

When you hear the word intimacy as it refers to relationships, the likelihood is that you think of sex. In reality, though, intimacy is so much more than a sexual connection.

You can have an intimate relationship with someone who’s never even seen you naked. Intimacy is about vulnerability, that connection you make with someone.

Types of Intimacy

Experts distinguish between four different types of intimacy: physical, emotional, cognitive, and experiential.

Physical intimacy is what we often think of first when thinking of intimacy. That’s the touching component and may include sex, but it doesn’t have to. It’s touching as an act of loving and giving, either as romantic partners would do but also the physical connection between a parent and child.

Emotional intimacy is the sharing of feelings with another person. For some people, this requires a higher level of vulnerability than physical intimacy does because it can provide insight into each other’s souls.

Cognitive intimacy is sharing thoughts and ideas in a way that bonds you. Two people who enjoy a discourse on a particular topic of interest are engaged in cognitive intimacy.

Experiential intimacy is when two people are doing things together, perhaps without even speaking. This could be something like dancing, painting, or building something. The experience is shared, bringing the people closer together.

Know How You Define Intimacy

While some people are firing on all cylinders and share love with their partner through all of the four intimacy areas, most people aren’t quite that lucky.

If you’re familiar with the Five Love Languages, you’ll understand that we define love and intimacy in different ways. As author Gary Chapman points out, the ways we connect and build our store of love are through physical touch, quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, and acts of service. The biggest challenge, as he states it, is that many couples don’t speak the same love language, causing for huge bouts of miscommunication.

Let’s say that you are a physical touch person, and you like to be close to your partner, whether that is with sex, a backrub, or just cuddling on the couch. Your partner, on the other hand, is an acts of service person.

She feels loved when you do the dishes, clean the garage, or take care of the children. When she doesn’t get love in the way she expects (acts of service), she is far less likely to give love in the way you want (physical touch), leading to less and less intimacy in the relationship.

Building (or Rebuilding) Intimacy

Knowing your brand of intimacy is a great first step in being able to create a strong intimate bond with your partner. If you are a words of affirmation person and feel comfortable with cognitive intimacy, that can be a good place to start. Likewise, if you are a physical touch person and physical intimacy resonates with you, you’ll gravitate there.

The important thing to know is what your intimacy style is and what your partner’s is so you can work together to help each other feel loved and connected. You can certainly have a strong relationship without covering all aspects of intimacy or all love languages; it’s the commitment you share that makes the difference.

Intentional Intimacy

You’ve heard of conscious uncoupling, so let’s talk about conscious coupling!

It can be hard to find any time to be intimate when you have work, kids, and life pulling you in all different directions. Make the time for yourselves by doing something fun.

Schedule Date Night

You schedule work appointments and gym time; doesn’t your relationship deserve the same amount of forethought and focus? Get a sitter, make a plan, and spend some time together. Maybe it’s not always dinner but a lunch date or even breakfast.

And you don’t have to spend a lot of money. A walk in the park holding hands and talking about life can be a very intimate experience.

Be Kids Together

It’s hard to always be a grown-up. And it’s stressful too! Let go of life for a little bit and get silly. Blow bubbles, read a book to each other, play on the jungle gym, or get into a tickle war. All of the ways you build intimacy with your children are excellent ways to build intimacy with your partner.

And when you act like kids, you let your guard down. Who knows where the adventure will take you.

Plan for Sex

Okay, there’s nothing sexy about putting sex on your calendar, but when the spark has dimmed, it’s really important to intentionally relight it. Spending time together is fun and certainly intimate, but a long-term relationship needs sexual, physical intimacy to thrive.

It might feel robotic at first to have a sex date, but once you have reengaged, you’ll find yourselves finding more and more opportunities to put the kids to bed early and get some alone time.