What is intimacy, is it really that important, and how can we fix intimacy issues in our relationships? We answer your top questions about all things intimacy-related (and share how you can find help)
Intimacy generally refers to the closeness between people in a personal relationship. Typically building over time as you feel a deeper sense of connection, grow to care more about each other, and feel more comfortable together, you can be physically and/or emotionally close to someone.
For many people, the more you work on deepening your sense of intimacy within a relationship, the stronger your relationship feels. But what if you struggle to feel those connections? What if your partner avoids intimacy, or it feels like you are growing apart? And can you strengthen intimacy after your connections have begun to fade?
We explain more about your most commonly asked intimacy questions, and share how (and where) you can find help.
Are there different types of intimacy?
There are many different types of intimacy. Fostering a sense of intimacy requires a mixture of openness, trust, and vulnerability. Physical intimacy alone doesn’t guarantee a deeper sense of closeness and connection.
While not all relationships will involve all kinds of intimacy, many romantic relationships, marriages, or long-term partnerships involve a mixture of several different kinds. These can include:
- Emotional intimacy - being open with your feelings, thoughts, and fears (often leading to feeling safe and able to be open without judgement).
- Intellectual/mental intimacy - sharing ideas, life perspectives, and opinions whilst being open to learning, challenging each other, and respecting differing viewpoints to create a sense of mutual respect.
- Physical intimacy - holding hands, hugging, cuddling, kissing, and other physical touches including (but not limited to) those of a sexual nature.
- Spiritual intimacy - feeling safe to share your innermost ideas and beliefs on the purpose of life, your connection with the world and/or divine energies. (You may have differing beliefs, but feel validated in sharing and discussing these, and may share underlying values such as being honest or faithful).
Other types of intimacy can also include experiential, creative, aesthetic, recreational, commitment, communication, and more. There are many different ways to build a sense of intimacy, bringing you closer to each other and strengthening the bonds that create and hold your relationship together.
Why is intimacy so important?
Intimacy isn’t just good for our relationships – it affects our physical and emotional wellbeing, too. Research released in 2017 revealed that having intimacy in our lives (feeling accepted, cared for, and understood) strongly influences our overall physical and emotional wellbeing.
How does intimacy become lost in relationships?
There are many different things that can destroy or cause us to lose feelings of intimacy in our relationships. Some common issues can include:
- Poor or lack of communication, leading to either partner feeling that the other is not listening to them, is holding things back, being cold or secretive, or feeling misunderstood.
- One partner reconnecting with an ex or old crush, risking feelings of jealousy, doubt, bitterness or worries about cheating.
- A lack of openness about sexual desires, needs, wants or fantasies.
- Losing that sense of adventure, spontaneity, or the element of surprise, leading to feelings of stagnation or boredom.
- Growing feelings of resentment, anger or mistrust.
- Big life changes, such as adapting to your life as a couple after having children.
- Career changes resulting in less time together due to long hours, financial pressures, more time commuting or higher stress levels.
What is fear of intimacy (and how can it affect my relationships)?
Fear of intimacy can lead some people to sabotage their relationships and isolate themselves from others. If you have a fear of intimacy, you may avoid intimacy on purpose or without realising it.
Your fear doesn’t necessarily mean you don't want intimate relationships. It can mean that you struggle to allow yourself to be vulnerable, have trust issues, avoid physical contact or commitment, have difficulty sharing your feelings, or have low self-esteem.
Fear of intimacy can be caused by a fear of rejection, abandonment, past abuse or neglect, as well as avoidant personality disorder. Counselling Directory member and Psychotherapist Kate Megase explains more about the signs that you may suffer from fear of intimacy.
Can intimacy be learned?
Intimacy can be rebuilt or developed. It’s important to note that intimacy doesn’t always come naturally, and can take time, effort, and practice to build. Learning how to be more open and vulnerable can help open the way for many couples, as can improving your communication skills.
Creating opportunities for intimacy to be rebuilt can be helpful. This could mean making time to spend together as a couple away from other family members or day-to-day distractions like work or household chores. Planning a regular evening or day just for the two of you to be alone can be a good starting point.
As well as giving yourselves time, it’s good to remember that all relationships have high and low points. Our sense of intimacy can also grow and wane over time. Fostering a deeper sense of connection doesn’t have to mean making grand gestures; taking small moments to make memories together can be just as effective.
Do I avoid intimacy?
Recognising that you are avoiding intimacy can sometimes be tough. You may not realise what you are doing, or may attribute it to other issues, such as high-stress levels. Common signs that you are avoiding intimacy or have a fear of intimacy can include:
- Frequently feeling angry or experiencing episodes of anger.
- Having trust issues.
- Feeling unable to share big things (e.g. feelings, thoughts, opinions).
- Feeling like you have to be secretive, hold back or protect yourself and your true feelings.
- Keeping your partner at arm's length, avoiding making commitments (e.g. labelling your relationship) or big changes (e.g. moving in together).
- Thinking about a different, ‘perfect’ relationship when things get tricky (rather than working on your existing relationship).
Can intimacy be restored in my relationship?
Intimacy can be restored for many couples if you are both prepared to put in the time and effort to work on your relationship. Without commitment and dedication from you both, it can things can risk becoming one-sided, which could further damage your relationship.
While a relationship can survive without intimacy, it can become a struggle for both of you. Over time, you may feel unhappy and insecure. Counselling Directory explains more about what happens when one partner is more intimate, how a lack of intimacy can affect your relationship, and how to improve intimacy.
How do you fix intimacy issues in a relationship?
Over time, we grow and change. So too do our relationships and our needs within those relationships. Being open and acknowledging this can help to lay the foundations for fixing any intimacy issues that may have arisen.
Poor or a lack of communication is a frequent issue in relationships lacking intimacy. Improving your communication skills and doing your best to be open and honest with your partner can help.
Sharing your needs with each other can help you to identify areas which may need work, as well as to focus on helping meet these needs.
If you’re worried that stress may be affecting your ability to foster a sense of intimacy, refocusing on incorporating touch into your day-to-day lives can be a big help. Researchers have found that simple touches, from hand holding to hugging, can release oxytocin (a ‘feel-good’ hormone linked with warm, fuzzy feelings), creating a calming sensation and lowering feelings of stress and anxiety.
Consider working with an expert
If you’re worried about intimacy in your relationship, working with an expert can help you to rebuild your confidence, rekindle feelings of intimacy, and learn healthier ways of communicating together to help you get the most out of your relationship.
Working with a therapist or a coach doesn’t have to be a ‘last resort’. Having an outside, neutral person to help guide the conversation, identify any issues, and introduce new skills and techniques can have a significant impact.
But what experts are out there, and how can they help you to build intimacy?
What is an intimacy coach, what do they do, and how can they help?
Intimacy coaching is about helping you feel safer and more comfortable with your partner. An intimacy coach may be able to help you explore attachment issues, create opportunities for you to open up and be vulnerable, as well as help you to enhance your emotional awareness.
Some intimacy coaches may help with physical and sexual intimacy, while others may focus more on emotional intimacy or a combination of different types. When looking for a coach, it can help to have a clear idea in mind of any specific goals you hope to achieve or areas you want to explore or improve (though many coaches can also help you to define these aims).
Intimacy coaching can involve a wide variety of different things. Your coach may use questions to help you to reflect and build your self-awareness or may introduce you to mindfulness and meditation exercises to help you feel more grounded and present. Intimacy coaches help create a space where you can speak with your partner about what is healthy, what may need to change, and how you will begin to make those changes together.
Discover more about relationship and intimacy coaching, and how to find the right coach for you through Life Coach Directory.
Can therapy really help with intimacy issues?
Working with a therapist can help you to identify relationship problems or issues, learn how to improve your communication skills (as individuals and a couple), as well as creating a safe space to open up.
Couples therapy, relationship counselling, or psychosexual therapy (sex therapy) can all help you to focus on your relationship, improve your intimacy levels, learn how to better understand each other, reflect on how past experiences may be affecting your relationship today, and resolve any conflicts that may arise.
Holistic psychotherapist Priya Tourkow explains more about the benefits of couples counselling, and what to expect from sessions.
As Priya explains, “An intimacy issue in a relationship never belongs to only one person. It belongs to both - it’s a dynamic you create together and it’s foundational to your love and connection.” Talking together – and really listening – is key.
Ready to start working with an expert? To find out more about how therapy can help with intimacy, visit Counselling Directory or to discover more about intimacy coaching, visit Life Coach Directory or enter your postcode below to find coaches near you.