A Guide To Intimacy In Partnerships And Marriage

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines intimacy as an interpersonal state of extreme emotional closeness with those you're in close, loving, or affectionate relationships with. Understanding intimacy, how to grow closer with someone you love, and why these elements matter may help you establish intimacy and experience a more rewarding relationship with your partner.

Experiencing intimacy concerns?

What is intimacy?

Intimacy often has multiple definitions. Many use the term to refer primarily to sexual interactions with their partner. However, intimacy can have many other definitions, and intimacy doesn't only occur in romantic or sexual relationships. It may be possible for couples to experience emotional intimacy or intellectual intimacy without being sexual. Conversely, it can be possible for partners to maintain an intimate sexual relationship together without being emotionally intimate.

The various types of intimacy may include:

Sexual intimacy

Sexual intimacy, also known as physical intimacy, involves a physical connection between two people and is often seen as one of the key building blocks in romantic relationships. It's not just about the act itself but about feeling close and connected. Examples might include holding hands, hugging, or sharing a kiss. It's a moment in which partners may feel safe and strengthen their closeness through physical touch.

Emotional intimacy

Emotional intimacy is when two individuals share their feelings, thoughts, and emotions in a way that makes them feel understood and supported. Romantic partners can often act as best friends, setting aside time to really focus on each other's words and well-being. Sharing fears, joys, and hopes without fear of judgment may help enhance their connection.

Experiential intimacy

Experiential intimacy can develop when people engage in activities together, creating shared experiences. This could be as simple as cooking a meal together, enjoying a date night, or playing a board game. It's about valuing each other's company and building memories from doing something enjoyable or meaningful together.

Spiritual intimacy

Spiritual intimacy can be developed when two individuals share a bond over spiritual or philosophical beliefs. This type of intimacy doesn't necessarily have to involve religion but can also include discussions about the meaning of life, personal values, or the universe. It's a deep connection that goes beyond the physical or emotional.

Intellectual intimacy

Intellectual intimacy happens when two people feel comfortable sharing and exploring ideas, thoughts, and opinions with each other. It can be as engaging as discussing a book, debating societal issues, or even challenging each other with a game of role-play. It's about stimulating each other's minds and appreciating one another's intellectual capabilities.

What causes intimacy issues?

Whether a relationship includes men, women, or people of any gender, there can be many reasons why partners may not experience intimacy together. However, understanding the different contributing factors or "elements" of intimacy and how to leverage them can help resolve some of this tension. A few potential causes of intimacy challenges can include the following:

  • Constant arguments

  • Disagreements

  • A lack of physical affection or attraction

  • One or both partners not meeting the emotional needs of the other

  • Mismatching desires in their physical relationship

  • Mismatching expectations on important things like love languages

  • Insecure attachment styles

  • Past adverse events related to intimacy, sex, or love

  • A lack of communication

  • A lack of commitment 

  • Dishonesty 

  • A lack of trust

  • Divorce

  • Family issues

  • Parenting 

  • Stressful schedules or responsibilities 

  • Being busy 

The three elements of intimacy in marriage

Intimacy often has different, intangible aspects. However, for many, these can be condensed into three main contributing factors or "elements" of intimacy.

Feelings of comfort and familiarity 

Intimacy is a psychosocial concept that can be built if feelings of "closeness" are experienced in the relationship. For many, intimacy with a partner, whether physical or emotional, often starts with a sense of closeness, familiarity, or comfort.

Maintaining true to yourself and communicating your needs can boost confidence and strengthen your relationship. However, if one or both partners have experienced trauma or prior relationship challenges, especially when it comes to self-esteem and body image, finding comfort or confidence in the relationship may be challenging. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for additional resources.

In this case, a spouse can choose to help their partner by being encouraging and expressing their love clearly. These signals may show their partner it is safe to let their guard down and begin to promote feelings of closeness. If this is a continuous experience in your relationships, you may consider speaking to a professional who can help you or your partner learn to feel relaxed, safe, and confident.


Communication is regarded by many as one of the essential skills in partnerships and marriages. There may be times when one or both people in the relationship may not communicate their feelings effectively to their partner. 

Difficulty communicating is a phenomenon that may span across many genders, identities, and personality types, and it may occur whether you are experiencing tension in your relationship or not. However, learning to communicate effectively during the initial stage of the relationship may help set the tone for intimacy throughout the relationship.

Many factors can affect communication, including when one partner may be less responsive due to stress or other challenges in daily life. However, developing healthy communication habits and challenging yourself to connect and communicate well can support your overall quality of life and relationship experience. For example, you may express your opinions more effectively with healthy communication. You may also express your excitement and speak more honestly as needed. 

Sexual intimacy

Sex and sexual attraction can be personal, and many couples find that both can contribute to intimacy in a healthy marriage or partnership. Communicating about sex before, during, and after a sexual encounter can help you understand the role of sexual activities in your relationship and on an individual basis for you and your partner.  

A possible benefit to taking the time to be intentional and communicative about this important aspect of your relationship is that it can help you connect and deepen your level of intimacy with your spouse. 

Science currently suggests that having sex on a regular basis can help either partner feel happier, making it a way to show affection and connect intimately. It has also been linked to emotional satisfaction, as well as beneficial physical effects, such as:

  • Immune support 

  • Decreased symptoms in those with depression and anxiety disorders

  • Enhanced cardiac health 

  • Enhanced resilience to stress

A healthy sex life can be helpful in maintaining intimacy in a strong marriage or partnership. However, there may be times when one or both people in the relationship experience difficulty being sexually intimate. In these cases, pushing the topic of sex or having arguments about sex may worsen intimacy challenges. Sexual consent is essential for all relationships, including between married couples, and sexual coercion can be a form of emotional abuse.

Note that experiencing varying attraction or sexual performance can be normal. You may experience sexual fluctuation based on environmental, psychological, or physical factors at any given time. If you're struggling to communicate about sex healthily with your partner, consider contacting a marriage or sex therapist for further guidance. 

If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.

Experiencing intimacy concerns?

How can you fix intimacy issues?

Various strategies may help improve intimacy. For example, making deliberate efforts to open communication with your spouse could offer value to your relationship. When communicating, you may choose to tell your spouse how you are feeling and what your goals are for the future of your relationship. While it may be a challenging conversation, it could guide you toward the next steps in your relationship.

You may also want to try doing more activities together. When you take the time to nurture your relationship, you may experience a higher level of overall satisfaction and intimacy together. For example, you can practice playfulness by taking nights out, traveling together, creating crafts, going for daily walks, and participating in other common hobbies or passions. 

If you still struggle to connect after having honest conversations or spending more time together, you might consider contacting a therapist. There are a few options for therapy, and you may be surprised to find how many couples benefit from therapy. Around 70% of couples who try couples or marriage counseling find it highly effective in the long term. 

Counseling options 

It can be difficult to improve intimacy and overcome challenges in a relationship or partnership. However, a licensed professional can be a resource for those who are unsure about what might be wrong with their approach to intimacy and the next steps. In many cases, a therapist may help uncover any underlying mental health problems that may be contributing to intimacy problems.

If you and your partner struggle to find ways to get a counselor within your budget, you can also try online therapy. Online therapy sessions can be held from home and may be cheaper than in-therapy options. 

An increasing number of scientific studies suggest that online couples counseling can be an effective method of coping with relationship issues, including intimacy concerns. In one recent study, researchers looked at the effects of online sexual counseling for couples, finding that it improved sexual outcomes comparable to those of in-person counseling.

If you're interested in trying therapy, consider signing up with an online therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Your relationship is worth the effort, and counseling may help you get to the root of your intimacy challenges with long-term and lasting results. 


Intimacy can be a crucial element of a healthy marriage for many couples. While variation in intimate feelings and attraction can occur, addressing these feelings can support you in having a higher overall quality of life and a more intimate relationship. Consider reaching out to an individual or couples therapist for further guidance as you navigate this stage in your partnership.
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