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When you read the words “intimate relationship,” you probably think of sexual intimacy. But there is a lot more to creating an intimate relationship than having intercourse. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “what is intimacy, then?”

Different types of intimate exchanges form the basis for a healthy, close relationship. However, some people have difficulties with intimacy as well. Answering the question “what is intimacy” may help you learn if you have an aversion to forming intimate connections or if your personal relationships are healthy.

Intimacy is a sense of closeness with another person in your life. It is the knowledge that someone loves and accepts you for who you are. Over time and shared experiences, you can establish a sense of intimacy with a partner. 

Types of Intimacy

Not all intimacy is the same. And not all types of intimacy occur with your sexual partner. People also have intimate relationships with friends and even professional colleagues. Four types of intimacy can help you form a stronger connection with another person.

The four types of intimacy are:

  1. Emotional Intimacy. Emotional intimacy allows you to be vulnerable and share your life with other people. It’s the ability to let your guard down, showing part of who you are. You feel safe expressing yourself. You trust that your partner will be empathetic and respectful. Emotional intimacy allows you to share things in confidence and know that they’ll hear you.
  2. Intellectual Intimacy. Intellectual intimacy is when you feel safe sharing your viewpoints and beliefs with another person. You aren’t worried about potential conflict when sharing your opinions. Intellectual intimacy inspires stimulating and thought-provoking conversations. These conversations bring you closer to another person. 
  3. Spiritual Intimacy. Spiritual intimacy doesn’t require a shared sense of religion, although it may. It is about sharing meaningful moments with another person. Spiritual intimacy allows for a kind of transcendent connection. For example, the two of you marveling at the beauty of a sunrise or a mountainous landscape. These moments bring a special kind of closeness and wonder. 
  4. Physical Intimacy. Physical intimacy isn’t always sexual. It is a shared sense of closeness and touch between two people. Physical intimacy is the shared relaxation and joy you get from a hug, holding hands, or cuddling. 

 

An older woman sits on the kitchen counter while an older man embraces her waist. She has her arms over his shoulders and they're heads are pressed together.

Reconnecting and creating renewed intimacy in your relationship can be rewarding.

Signs of Healthy Intimacy

Knowing what intimacy is may help you identify if you’re in a genuinely intimate relationship. You build intimate relationships over time. You cultivate them with your actions, choices, and vulnerability. 

Healthy intimate relationships include:

  • Sex gives a feeling of well-being, safety, connection, and affirmation to your relationship. There is a sense of balance in the amount of sex you have. It’s appropriate to your mutual levels of sexual desire.
  • You feel emotional and physical sensations during sex. It isn’t about chasing an orgasm or “getting it over with.” It’s about a shared emotional and physical vulnerability and allowing yourself to feel. 
  • You feel safe being emotionally vulnerable. Feeling secure knowing that sharing your feelings will bring you and another person closer rather than create conflict.
  • You develop and maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships. Boundaries are crucial for understanding another person’s comfort levels. Your limits are what keep you safe. 

Reasons for Difficulty Creating Intimacy

Forming healthy and intimate attachments to others doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some people may push away anyone who gets too close to them. They may be unaware of why they’re doing so. For others, intimacy seems to dissipate over time. There are many reasons why people struggle with intimacy. 

Common reasons people struggle with intimacy include:

  • Conflict. You can’t expect to have a completely harmonious relationship like you see on television. If you feel hurt, are resentful, angry, or feel unappreciated, intimacy will falter. 
  • Communication Difficulties. Communication is difficult for most people. If you feel like someone is listening, or you’re unable to express yourself, it can feel stifling. The ability to have an honest and level-headed conversation with your partner is critical. But feelings sometimes get in the way of this type of exchange. 
  • Responsibilities. Daily stressors such as finances, children, or work stress can all take a toll on intimacy. Being too busy to spend quality time with your partner happens in many relationships. The idea of carving out time for a date night may feel like an impossible task. Still, if it doesn’t happen, intimacy can dissipate. 
  • Abuse or Violence. If a person in a relationship is violent or threatens abuse, it tarnishes intimacy. Violence can damage that sense of safety and trust, and it may signal that the relationship is in turmoil.

Intimacy Disorders

Some people cannot form intimate relationships because they have an intimacy disorder. Having an intimacy disorder means that they fear vulnerable connections with other people. It can impede the development of intimacy.

If you have an intimacy disorder, the idea of connection may frighten you. It may cause you to push away from another person when they get too close. You may not be aware of why you’re pushing back, but you feel a need to do so. 

Intimacy disorders result from traumatic experiences, often in childhood. Who is a child to trust if a primary caregiver is absent, dies, or makes a child feel unsafe? With no one to trust, their brain is constantly in fight or flight mode. As a result, the child cannot develop a close connection with anyone—this inability to connect carries into adulthood.

Common symptoms of this disorder are:

  • Trust issues
  • Low self-esteem or self-worth
  • Inability or extreme difficulty sharing emotions
  • An insatiable desire for sex
  • Avoiding all non-sexual physical contact
  • Experiencing intense emotional outbursts or episodes
  • Difficulty committing to relationships
  • Sabotaging relationships 

 

Fear of rejection and abandonment make a person with an intimacy disorder unwilling to get close to others.

Treatment for Intimacy Disorders

Having difficulties with intimacy can cause significant pain in your life. At Begin Again Institute, we understand that trauma is behind every intimacy disorder. Our treatment team starts by understanding who you are and learning your story. We want to help you get to the root cause of your disorder, so we can help you cope with it. Not just treating your symptoms but creating long-lasting healing. From there, our team creates an individualized support and rehabilitation program to suit your needs. If you’re ready to start experiencing true intimacy, contact us today to begin your healing journey. 

 

  • Category: Relationships
  • By Dr. Michael Barta
  • September 21, 2021

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