What does the word intimacy mean to you? In the context of romantic relationships, intimacy is oftentimes associated with sex or physical closeness. In our couples therapy sessions and at our premarital couples retreats, we frequently ask couples what comes to mind when they hear the word intimacy. The most common thing we hear is, “Sex!” When pressed further, we hear things like closeness, connection, knowing one another, trust, openness, private, and sacred.
So what is this intimacy thing all about? The word may mean different things to different people, but it definitely goes beyond sex! Consider each of the following three dimensions of intimacy in relationships.
This is the friendship part of your relationship. It’s things like how well you know your partner’s inner world, the time you spend together doing things you enjoy, or knowing each other’s dreams and fears. In Gottman Method Couples Therapy, you spend time building your love maps. The idea behind building love maps is, at its core, to improve emotional intimacy. Knowing the little things about your partner’s life creates a strong foundation for your friendship and is an important factor in a couple’s level of closeness. In couples therapy, you work with a therapist to build more a detailed love map of your partner’s world. The emotional intimacy of love maps prepares you to cope better when a stressful event or conflict arises.
The spiritual dimension of intimacy refers to shared values and spiritual beliefs in your relationship. This includes the shared vision of your relationship. In other words, it’s how connected you feel on things like, your philosophy of marriage and relationships, religious beliefs, parenting styles, and family values. While spiritual intimacy can relate to religion, the word spiritual in this sense really refers to your connection with the intangible forces that drive our relationships. This dimension looks very different for each couple based on what connects them. It’s based on what bonded them together in the first place and where they see their relationship going in the future. Creating this shared meaning is another focus of Gottman Method Couples Therapy, as the therapist helps the couple build and maintain a system of shared meaning. Couples who are spiritually intimate find purpose and meaning in their relationships.
Physical intimacy extends beyond just sex. While sex is an important part of a relationship, this dimension also includes affection and physical touch like eye contact, kissing, cuddling, hand holding, hugs, and massages. Physical intimacy is an important way partners show their love for one another. People differ when it comes to how much physical affection they need to feel connected. It’s an important conversation to have with your partner, especially during certain life transitions such as moving in together or having children. Connecting with your partner on a physical level helps you each feel cared for.