The Meaning of Intimacy in Relationships

While we leave the 3rd and 6th years to their exams, we return to our series looking at what makes healthy relationships and how to build and maintain them. You might want to start with the article on the impact of early attachment from our London-based therapist, Teyhou Smyth, or read an even older post on the primary intimacy need of children based on an excerpt from a book by Centre founder Owen Connolly. Or why not just read on and learn a little bit about the meaning of intimacy in adult relationships, as a lead in to our upcoming article on rebuilding intimacy.

happy couple

Intimacy means different things to different people.

You may have an intimate relationship that is sexual, or a non-sexual intimate relationship. You may have a sexual relationship that is not intimate, or a non-intimate, non-sexual relationship.

Platonic relationships can be emotionally intimate without sexual involvement. To make a long story short, there are endless combinations of intimacy between people.

And that is why intimacy can be complicated and confusing, even when both people are on the same page with the type of relationship it represents.


Relationship norms are changing. An estimated 25% of millennials are predicted to abstain from marriage throughout their lifespan.

Open relationships (an agreement that both people in the relationship are free to have sexual interactions with people outside of the relationship) constitutes about 4-9% of the population, although some put it much lower.

The broadening understanding of gender identity and increased acceptance of varied sexual preferences is part of a larger, more complex theme.

As we begin to understand that gender, sexuality and intimacy is multi-faceted, it opens our eyes to the spectrum that exists.

A lifelong commitment to intimacy with one person may feel like the norm for one couple, while the same circumstance may cause another couple to feel dissatisfied and stuck.

There is no specific ‘right answer’ to a successful intimate relationship.

It is a deeply personal journey two people need to take; first individually, to explore one’s own needs, and then with one’s partner to be sure that the needs line up.


For a couple to sustain a relationship and remain satisfied with intimacy, communication must be a priority. Communicating about intimacy needs requires a willingness to be vulnerable with your partner.

Ask and answer the following questions to determine whether you are at a similar place regarding intimacy:

  • How can I best show you affection and intimacy so that you feel loved?
  • What do I need from my partner to feel intimately connected?
  • Can we name some physically intimate behaviors I can provide to make you feel connected to me?
  • What will help us become more emotionally intimate and connected?


One of the important tasks in recognizing your intimacy style is paying attention to the cues you are receiving in daily life. Are there aspects of your partner’s needs that you can easily attend to?

Simple gestures such as hand holding or a backrub can increase emotional intimacy.

Try to get in-tune with the way your partner responds to your physical touch and ask what your partner likes or needs in the moment.

Pay attention to the way your partner’s physical and emotional presence impacts you and express that openly.

Rather than assume your partner understands what you think or feel, try to be more expressive.

Physical and emotional intimacy can be nurtured in loving relationships.

Improved intimacy levels can change the quality of a relationship when both people are able to express their needs with honesty and vulnerability.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website]

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