If someone asks if you're intimate with another person, you’ll probably think they're asking about your sex life. You're not alone. In the romance department, it's common to interchange "intimacy" with "sex." However, while the sexual act is a beautiful and integral part of it, intimacy has other aspects that can also deepen bonds.
Intimacy can be traced back to the Latin word "intimus," which means inmost. An intimate friend is a close confidante who knows much of your innermost feelings, while an intimate setting is a place that's private and personal where you can be comfortable. In the context of a romantic relationship, intimacy refers to the feeling of closeness or a deep connection.
Although a relationship can initially exist without intimacy, it will be a struggle to sustain it in the long term, and you may find yourselves drifting further and further apart. Learning more about intimacy can help you build a deeper foundation on which to grow your love and affection for each other.
What are the 4 Types of Intimacy?
1. Emotional intimacy
Let's first talk about emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is based on trust and respect. In an emotionally intimate relationship, you can let your guard down and freely share your innermost feelings without fear of being judged. You know you can be open because you're in a safe space where you can simply be yourself. You are secure knowing that your significant other has your best interests in mind when they speak up.
At the same time, you are also protective of them and are careful not to have offensive manners, even as you are able to express your emotions.
2. Experiential or physical intimacy
While sex can make you more comfortable with each other, deepen your connection, and allow yourselves to be more affectionate, it's only one component of physical intimacy.
Physical or experiential intimacy is built on shared experiences. It can involve spending time with each other and doing things together, such as taking vacations, watching movies, or going for walks in the park. Or it can refer to the use of the sense of touch to draw closer, like when you snuggle or kiss. One study shows that more touching can build a stronger relationship. And it doesn't have to be a prelude to sex (nor a replacement of it). For instance, holding hands with your partner is a non-sexual physical act that can help you feel like you're in better harmony with that person.
3. Spiritual intimacy
Spiritual intimacy means being familiar and having an understanding of your partner’s spiritual beliefs. Although sharing common religious beliefs can make it easier for both of you to discuss spiritual questions and be transparent about your struggles, divergent beliefs should not keep you from developing spiritual intimacy.
Similar to other kinds of intimacy, respect plays a crucial role in spiritual intimacy. When you value your partner’s individuality, you also respect their right to choose their religious beliefs. This also means listening more and being more considerate in speaking.
4. Intellectual intimacy
Whereas emotional intimacy involves being able to freely share one's emotions, intellectual intimacy is having the confidence to express one's ideas or thoughts with your significant other. This, too, is hinged on mutual respect, where both parties in a relationship won't cancel each other out over differing views. Instead, you hold your significant other’s opinions highly. You can also amiably discuss with them despite your contrasting positions. You can even use your opposing views to enrich each other's knowledge and stimulate critical and creative thinking.
Intellectual intimacy will get increasingly important as people age and become less physically capable or energetic to connect with their partners through sex. You may one day find your conversations to be the highlight of your day.
The Benefits of Intimacy
There is also a strong connection between intimacy and mental health. Being intimate with your partner can raise self-esteem. Being fully accepted by another human being, regardless of how you feel or what you believe in, can make you feel better and more secure about yourself. Enhanced self-acceptance, in turn, boosts your confidence to reveal more of who you are, further deepening your connection with your partner. Greater self-esteem can also reduce stress and relieve anxiety, improving your overall psychological wellbeing and enhancing your quality of life.
How to Build Deeper Connections
Building intimacy takes patience, effort, and time. However, the emotional, mental, and physical health rewards are well worth it. Here are a few practical ways to help you boost your intimacy and nourish your relationship.
1. Set aside time with your significant other
Carve out time, such as date nights, from your busy schedules, to get closer to your partner. It's easy to say, "be more vulnerable, be less guarded," but this doesn't happen overnight. You need to spend more time together, have more conversations, and do things together so that, little by little, the emotional layers are peeled off. Only then can you become more comfortable opening up and becoming more vulnerable. Don’t forget to mute your gadgets to avoid distractions.
2. Don't be afraid to be physically affectionate
Discover what physically pleases your partner, both sexually and non-sexually. For example, if they love extended periods of snuggling before sex, then prolong that bit.
Holding their hands as you walk side by side or leaning slightly on them as you sit together lets them know that you like being physically close and that you appreciate them.
3. Keep on learning more about your partner
Be observant about your significant other's likes and dislikes and needs and wants. Although you may learn about them from your conversations, you can discover much more just by paying attention. For example, you can take note of their favorite dishes whenever you go out or what particular movies they like. They will surely appreciate your efforts to know what makes them happy.
4. Consistently share joyful experiences
Build intimacy by making regular deposits into your relationship's memory bank. Whether it's bonding over yoga or volunteering for a non-profit organization together, shared experiences can strengthen your bond by associating happy and positive emotions with your relationship. .
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