The 6 Types of Intimacy
Intimacy. It’s the heart of marriage, and is arguably the very purpose for why God created this divine reflection in the first place - it’s a clue that perhaps our desire for closeness mirrors God’s desire as well.
And to be perfectly honest, intimacy in marriage is a non-negotiable. You simply can’t have a fulfilling lifetime relationship with someone you have no emotional or intimate connection with.
Personally, this has been a recurring discussion and point of consideration in our marriage this week and I thought it would be appropriate to reach out to you guys and discuss this as well since we’re all in the business of trying to make our good relationships great.
For some, the word “intimacy” may seem synonymous with sex, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
(Well that’s not the ONLY thing… 😉)
Part of the reason why discussions and definitions of intimacy can be so frustrating and hard to get clarity on is because there are actually different dimensions of intimacy. These can be thought of as types of intimacy, or just different qualities of intimacy in general.
So what that means is that you can talk about intimacy and "prioritizing intimacy in your marriage" until you're blue in the face, and STILL be missing each other.
So what can we do to enhance the intimacy in our own relationships? Or even enhance our discussions of the topic?
This comes from a lesson I taught during my time as a university professor/instructor but I’ve since tweaked it a bit. I hope it helps shed some light on this often over-simplified area of our relationships.
The 6 Types (Dimensions) of Intimacy:
1. Emotional Intimacy
This is the emotional closeness or connectedness you feel with someone, the freedom and comfort you feel in sharing deep feelings, and being emotionally honest and vulnerable. Do you experience a warm wash of emotions when you are with them, and when you communicate and interact with them? If so, then your emotional intimacy is probably quite healthy.
Emotional intimacy is incredibly important in marriage, and generally speaking, is the biggest relationship must-have for women. For some, they may need to feel emotionally connected before experiencing feelings of intimate connection in other dimensions. (This is widely true for women and sexual intimacy. It’s not uncommon for us to need a little bit of emotional “runway” to get up to speed and feel ready to “go there” physically!) Emotional intimacy also acts as a fairly reliable barometer for overall relationship satisfaction.
2. Intellectual Intimacy
This one might strike you as a little unusual, but intimacy extends beyond just warm fuzzy feelings and emotional expressions. You can also experience warmth, intimacy, and closeness in the sharing of your mind, opinion, thoughts, and ideas. This kind of intimacy can be powerful! Intellectual intimacy is a climate where you can both rationalize together, swap points of view, and analyze things with mutual respect, collaboration, thoughtfulness, and safety. If you can’t share your modes of thinking, your honest opinions, or even simple things like your plans for the day, your intellectual intimacy may be on the low side. If you long for your companion to be your sounding board, your intellectual counterpart, and your mind-mate, you are searching for intellectual intimacy.
3. Physical Intimacy
I’ve broken up physical and sexual intimacy here because there are all kinds of ways to express and explore physical intimacy that do not necessarily involve sex. Hugs, holding hands, sitting close to one another, back rubs, tickling, etc. are all examples and expressions of physical intimacy. They also help to build a climate of physical intimacy in your relationship without being explicitly sexual. For instance, a mother and baby experience physical intimacy through 9 months of gestation, birth, and breastfeeding. This non-sexual closeness produces feelings of profound connection in both of them! This is why you may feel physically connected to someone, but not necessarily sexually connected to them.
4. Sexual Intimacy
Your sexual connection in marriage bonds you in a unique way, and this intimacy can’t quite be replicated anywhere else in your relationship. It requires you not only to become quite emotionally vulnerable, but it also requires you to become physically exposed. Sexual intimacy is like physical intimacy on steroids. It requires you be comfortable enough with one another to surrender to the experience, and allow a little-known side of yourself to be seen - embarrassing and awkward bodily functions and all. It’s quite literally two bodies joining together as one. And it has similar emotional repercussions that make you feel one. Totally united. In a relationship with a healthy dose of sexual intimacy, your sexual thoughts, feelings, and desires are welcomed and are safely shared. It’s simultaneously the pursuit of, and surrender to, the other person that makes you feel intimately connected. Sex is physical, emotional, and spiritual so it has a critical role to play in amplifying these other areas of intimacy as well.
5. Spiritual Intimacy
Spiritual intimacy is a feeling of being one, or being united in a sacred and spiritual way. Spiritual intimacy and feelings of closeness can be generated by praying together, worshipping together, sharing spiritual experiences, reflections, and thoughts, and generally welcoming another into our spiritual existence and experience. This togetherness transcends physical and emotional unity and is a deep kind of intimacy. Since we as humans have been created as the intersection of the physical and spiritual, we occupy both spaces. Experiencing spiritual unity, then, is acknowledging and sharing in this spiritual reality together, and attending to one another’s spiritual needs.
6. Shared Activities
Believe it or not, doing things together and finding commonality and closeness through activities is a great way to build intimacy. Shared experiences can cement bonds stronger than any - just ask anyone who has gone through combat together, or who has endured a traumatic event together. In an instant, you become brothers, sisters... family. The magic of these shared experiences is that they dive deep into the heart, beyond where words can reach. Doing things together, making memories, and partaking in shared activities knits your souls together in a unique way! (And they don’t have to be terrible experiences, either!) Going on a trip together, seeing a movie, going for a hike, learning a new skill, all of these experiences and more can cultivate deep feelings of belonging and intimacy.
For men, this is usually where they LIVE. To feel connected they do things together. They don’t even need to talk to one another while they’re doing it! Generally speaking, they would rather do something fun (or even challenging) together than talk about their feelings because they want the sense of camaraderie that comes with the activity - which to them, IS emotionally fulfilling.
The Divine Reflection:
God wants intimacy with us. With you and me.
Think about that for a minute….
The God of the universe - Love itself - had the desire to love and be in community with something other than himself, so he created a completely different kind of being that he could direct his love to, and that could have the capacity to love him back.
He desired intimacy with us, but we broke that intimacy. As a result, he’s spent the rest of our linear timeline rescuing us from certain death, and trying to captivate our individual hearts so that we may be united with him after all.
When people say the Bible is a love story, THIS is what they mean.
Jesus himself prays that we would be one with one another, and one in unity with Him
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:22-23
And there’s also an explicit parallel drawn between Jesus and his people, and between a man and his wife becoming “one flesh”.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:31-32
Clearly, God doesn’t just want a surface relationship with us - he wants us to experience genuine connection and intimacy with him.
He doesn’t just want you, he wants the raw, unedited, unfiltered, imperfect version of you.
He wants ALL of you.
Yes, even all your flaws.
That's the version of you that he died to save.
(doesn't that just make the romantic part of your heart come alive?!)
But what does intimacy with God even look like?
God desires the kind of relationship where you have complete intimacy, holding nothing back. He wants to share activities with you, talk with you, share thoughts with you, and he wants you to do the same with him!
These dimensions of intimacy can help guide us in our understanding of God.
And although I don’t believe God is interested in actually having sexual intimacy with you, (let's just clear that up right now!) consider for a moment the wonderful metaphor that sex provides for how God desires you.
He desires you passionately, intimately, and he longs to love you (and for you to love him) with joyful abandon - where you are simultaneously in pursuit, and in complete surrender to him.
That’s the kind of intimacy he’s after, and that's the kind of love God wants to share with you.
Food for thought, huh?
So now that you know a little more about the dimensions of intimacy...
how can you cultivate a deeper intimacy in your relationship with God?
What kind of intimacy do you long for with your husband and in your relationships?
As always, let me know what you think!
*Also, if you liked this post (especially the Divine Reflection portion) I would highly recommend reading this book. It is one of my all time favorite books that turned my relationship with God around and helped me to understand him in a new, more personal way. I LOVE it, and I can't say enough good things about it!
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