Widely undiscussed, intimacy isn't explicitly sexual by nature. It's easy to get caught up in one, but could all five help your relationship be the healthiest it can be?

“Intimacy is defined as close familiarity or friendship,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr. Sandeep Singh-Dernevik, who agrees that sexual intimacy isn’t the only form of intimacy. “It develops by a sense of exclusiveness and confidence, for example, sharing your thoughts or issues that you don’t want others to know about or be involved in.” 

What are the forms of Intimacy?

Intimacy at its most basic level can be broken into 5 categories. Emotional Intimacy, Intellectual Intimacy, Physical Intimacy, Experiential Intimacy, and Spiritual Intimacy. Intimacy in all of its forms are crucial, they’re requisite for human growth. 

“The research has shown that there are three clusters of neurochemicals related to relationships,” says Juliet Grayson, a psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues. “One is romantic love, one is lust, and one is pair bonding. And they’re completely discrete formulations of neurochemicals.” These kinds of chemicals are responsible for the release of our natural uppers like Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, and Oxytocin; and they happen regardless of the type of Intimacy.

Research suggests that a lack of intimacy, connection and communication reduces the production of these chemicals. Mental health specialists believe that prolonged lengths of intimacy deprivation can lead to an actual atrophy of these neural pathways.

So let’s talk about sex. Finally!

Physical Intimacy

Let’s address the elephant in the room and get Physical Intimacy out of the way. Typically, people go straight to thoughts of fun nights and “Salt-n-Peppa” songs. While the most popular (and probably the most fun) form of Physical Intimacy is often sexual intercourse, it’s not the only one. 

Often couples get so locked into the false rhetoric that to build intimacy, you must participate in some form of sexual activity. Physical Intimacy can exist in holding hands, cuddling, and even a date night of dancing. In fact, a series of recent case studies found that dancing helped reduce jealousy in relationships, and helped clarify the line of intimacy against sexuality in new relationships. While Physical Intimacy is often seen as the highest form of intimate interaction, many also see it as the most reserved. 

Explore ways in which you and your partner can build trust through Physical Intimacy without relying on sex. Even hugs have been proven to build trust and even your immune system. Also try:

  • Couples Workouts
  • Dancing
  • Couples Massages
  • Talking about it
  • Stargazing

Any act that gets you and partner close, and thinking on the same page is beneficial – and of course… sex.

Emotional Intimacy

People’s biggest fear of intimacy is often the emotional aspect. When we talk Emotional Intimacy the most important thing to remember is, time. Of all the forms of intimacy, becoming emotionally intimate takes the most time, most vulnerability, and most communication. It requires that you and your partner make active and conscious choices to speak, confide, and trust in one another through “emotional bids” or “emotional calls.”

Emotional Calls are the thousands of tiny attempts for partners to connect with each other. They can be attempts to get attention, affirmation, affection, or any other emotional need. Decades of research show that partners in happy marriages engage with a majority (86%) of each other’s emotional calls, while partners in unhappy marriages (heading for divorce) engage with a minority (33%) of them.

Emotional intimacy is so vital to a relationship because it’s a constant effort. While you can’t always match your partners intelligence, spirituality, or even be in physical contact with them at all times – you can constantly strive to improve and sustain your emotional bids and calls with them regardless of time, distance, or difference. According to Lasting Marriage Counseling, on average, most couples don’t seek counseling for 6 years after noticing an issue. And by then, there’s often times a great deal of resentment built up, putting you in the “Repair” group.

According to Liz Colizza, a seasoned psychotherapist and Head of Research for Lasting, couples can be placed into three categories dependant on their own perception of their currently emotional intimacy standards:

  • Repair (35% of America’s couples)
  • Things Can Improve (40% of America’s couples.)
  • Feeling Good (25% of America’s couples.)

“Regardless of how big or small,” she says, “when an attachment injury takes place, the emotional bond is damaged and the relationship begins to feel unsafe, insecure, or unreliable—because basic trust has been broken.” 

Feeling disconnected from your partner, at its foundation is a result of lack of safety in communication, and an inability to be vulnerable. Both, according to family therapists, are the leading causes in a decrease of the level of intimacy that a couple can experience.

“This is especially true of conflicts,” she continues, “where partners feel stuck and unable to move past certain events. For example, disagreements about how to load the dishwasher can turn into fights over who’s to blame for financial debt.”

As you and your partner look to actively build intimacy in your relationships, remember to:

  • Be Respectful and Trustworthy
  • Be Supportive
  • Be Genuinely Curious
  • Stay Informed on your Partners Interests
  • Accept Yourself (Brene Brown is my recommendation here: The Gifts of Imperfection)
  • Trust Yourself

Intellectual Intimacy

This can be the trickier portion of the types of intimacy. Often couples reduce the idea of Intellectual Intimacy to simply, “getting each other.” With a little more elevation that can sound like, being able to share thoughts and ideas, hopes and fears, wishes and desires. Unlike Emotional Intimacy, these aren’t necessarily “bids” but rather interests.

Most forms of Physical and Emotional Intimacy require strict boundaries of safety and communication. Intellectual Intimacy thrives on the opportunity to be challenged. When entering intellectual discussions and topics, it’s vital that couples learn to listen, accept, and challenge points of view. This moves this form of intimacy away from a passive constant of growth and application, and closer to a more recreational intimacy.

The greatest form of Intellectual Intimacy? Monopoly. Okay, not just Monopoly. Studies do – however – indicate that couples who play games together (anything from Charades and word association games, to complex puzzle and board games like Risk and Monopoly) are more inclined to outside opinions, reconcile arguments and discussions in a safe and productive manner, and accept loss more easily. These studies find that couples with the ability to challenge each other more frequently, make deeper emotional bids more often than couples who don’t.

Married couples who are able to complement and validate the thoughts and ideas of their partners on a more frequent basis were found to have a statistically lower chance of entering marriage counseling as a repairative measure. Those that were surveyed that did enter counseling were there as a way to maintain healthy relationship standards and continue mutually beneficial growth.

So go play a game, ask questions about your partner’s day, feel comfortable asking for detailed information about your partner’s thoughts, ideas, hopes, and wishes. Continue to grow your intimate relationship even during the fun and simple times.

Experiential Intimacy

A growing trend in Millennial culture is the ism, “catch flights, not feelings.” It refers to spending your time, experience, money, and growth on personal development and self-awareness recognition rather than on “someone else’s spouse.” But, what if you could catch flights and feelings?

Although Experiential Intimacy doesn’t refer exclusively to travel, it’s an opportunity for you and your loved one to share common goals, hopes, and endeavors together. These can be simple things like volunteering at a local food bank, or yes, even as lavish as vacationing in Bali for 2 weeks.

There’s an opportunity to slay several proverbial birds with one stone through shared experiences. For example, while you and yours cuddle up and watch your favorite episode of “Game of Thrones,” you not only get to spend physically intimate time together, but you have an experience of shared interests through a common activity.

Although less common, experiential intimacy can be deepened through burdens as well. Showing your commitment and time during the passing of a loved one bonds you through a shared experience of loss and pain and help subside major symptoms of anxiety disorder. Showing comfort and aid during sickness or injury can help eliminate fears of abandonment. 

It doesn’t always have to be a trip to Disneyland, but sharing as much as you can with your partner, as often as you can, provides a strong foundation of trust and communication. Get active, get out, and get intimate.

Spiritual Intimacy

While there are very few studies to back the Spiritual Intimacy of partners, the Atlanta Couples Therapy Clinics suggests that this level of intimacy is less about your partner and the science, and more about inviting your partner into your sense of self.

Spirituality is highly personal, and while it may revolve around a religious theology, it might also be centered in growth habits or meditative practices. Since spirituality looks to better the sense of self on the whole, inviting your partner to share these ideals and practices promotes a sense of spiritual growth as a couple, regardless of foundational belief.

When a couple is spiritually intimate they tend to:

  • Be More Accepting of Their Partner
  • Reconcile, or “Meet In The Middle,” More Easily
  • Commit Time to Understanding Differences
  • Respect and Understand Values that Don’t Align with Their Own
  • Allow Their Partner to Engage in Their Comfort Zone.

When you and your partner find yourselves in conflict with one another, stressing over finances, or in a bad place in general; invite your spirituality to comfort you. Church every Sunday may work for you but not for them. Set realistic expectations and learn how to compromise. Understand that you and your partner may be at different stages in your spiritual journey. This will not cause conflict if you do not allow it to. Growth is a journey and not an objective. Couples that allow themselves to grow spiritually inside of their relationship are prone to healthier, happier, more comfortable relationships.

Instamacy

The 5 Types of Intimacy are good guideposts to checking into your relationship at any phase. Remember that relationships, intimacy, love, and growth are about effort and time; something no amount of swiping left and right can offer you instantly.

As humans we’re drawn to connection and validation. Often we mistake intimacy for intensity, and passion for pleasure. It’s good to be passionate, but instant, intense, passion can often lead us down the short-lived path of “instamacy.” When we take off our rose-tinted glasses and evaluate effort, time, commitment, and interest we find “instamacy” tells a different story. It takes time.

How do you connect with someone on a deeper level?

  • Create a Common Goal
  • Learn Each Other’s Love Languages
  • Go On A Trip
  • Create a Meal Together
  • Devote 10 minutes a day to real talk.
  • Do something new.
  • Laugh. A lot.
  • Learn to accept, love, comfort, give, and provide.

Intimacy is the story of two people giving 100% to each other, not combining their halves to make a whole. Don’t be afraid of your spirituality, invite your partner to experience your world and passions, engage in challenging conversations and games, be open and vulnerable – and above all, have fun. Whether you’re in the bedroom or not.