How To Tell If You Have An Intimate Relationship

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated July 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In general, there are three types of relationships: surface-level interactions, casual bonds, and intimate relationships. The differences between these types of relationships usually involve the amount of time spent interacting, the depth of the bond, and the level of commitment between the people in the relationship. If you’d like to construct and maintain an intimate relationship, it can be important to be genuine, practice active listening, invest time and energy into the relationship, exercise patience and understanding, and show gratitude and appreciation. If you’d like to grow closer to your partner, consider attending couples therapy together.

Surface-level interactions

Surface-level interactions can refer to relationships that are relatively shallow and limited in scope. These relationships are often formed quickly and easily, and they tend to center around common interests, experiences, or casual conversation. Examples of surface-level interactions might include acquaintances, colleagues, or classmates. Characteristics of surface-level relationships may include the following:

  • Limited interaction: Surface-level interactions may be recognized by little interaction and participation. This generally means that there may be a minimal investment of time, energy, or emotional resources in the relationship.

  • Limited intimacy: These relationships may also be marked by having little intimacy or vulnerability. An individual may be unlikely to discuss sensitive information or emotions, and they may also be unlikely to offer support or comfort when needed.

While surface-level interactions can be enjoyable, they tend to be unlikely to provide the depth and significance many people seek from their relationships. Hence, developing more profound, intimate connections with others can be crucial to experiencing the full range of benefits relationships can offer.

Casual bonds

Casual bonds can be considered a step up from surface-level interactions, as they tend to involve more interaction and intimacy. Casual bonds are often formed through common experiences, interests, or mutual friends. Examples of casual bonds could include friends with benefits, casual dating partners, or individuals who spend time together regularly but are not committed to one another. Defining characteristics of casual bonds can involve:

  • Increased interaction: Casual bonds tend to involve more interaction and participation than surface-level interactions. Individuals may be more likely to spend time together, discuss sensitive information, and offer support and comfort to one another.

  • Increased intimacy: Another characteristic of casual bonds may be increased intimacy and vulnerability. Individuals may feel comfortable discussing more sensitive information, feelings, and experiences.

  • Lack of commitment: Individuals are usually not committed to one another formally in casual bonds. They may choose to end the relationship at any time without feeling obligated to remain in it.

Casual bonds may be an excellent way to build deeper connections with others and experience the benefits of intimacy and support. However, it may be essential to approach these relationships cautiously, as they can lead to confusion, heartache, and disappointment if not managed carefully.

Intimate relationships

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Intimate relationships can be recognized by deep connections and high levels of participation and intimacy. These relationships are typically formed through the mutual investment of time, energy, and emotional resources, and they tend to endure over time. Examples of intimate connections can include romantic partners, close friends, and family members. The defining characteristics of intimate connections generally include:

  • Deep connection: Intimate connections are typically built on a deep connection and understanding between partners. Individuals in these relationships tend to know each other well and confer their lives and experiences in meaningful ways.

  • High levels of intimacy: Intimate connections are usually characterized by high levels of intimacy and vulnerability. Individuals in these relationships are likely to discuss sensitive information, emotions, and experiences, and they may frequently offer support, comfort, and encouragement to one another.

  • Commitment: People in this type of relationship are typically committed, meaning partners are dedicated to maintaining the relationship over time. They may plan and work together to overcome challenges and obstacles.

  • Interdependence: This may mean that partners rely on one another for emotional and practical support. They may make decisions together, handle responsibilities together, and support each other in their personal and professional goals.

Intimate connections can be highly fulfilling and provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life. However, they may also require considerable effort and investment to maintain. It’s usually best to approach intimate connections with care and to communicate openly and honestly with partners to build and maintain a healthy and satisfying connection.

How to construct and sustain a relationship

Regardless of the degree of the relationship, try to approach all connections with care and intention. Constructing and sustaining relationships normally requires effort, communication, and mutual investment. Below are a few tips for healthy relationships.

  • Be genuine: Try to be yourself in relationships and communicate openly and honestly with others. Doing this can build trust and intimacy, as well as prevent misunderstandings and conflicts from arising.

  • Be a good listener: Listening can be crucial to constructing and sustaining relationships. Try to pay attention to what others say and be present in the moment. 

  • Invest time and energy: Relationships usually require effort and investment to flourish. It can be best to make time for your relationships to maintain and strengthen them. 

  • Be patient and understanding: Relationships can be challenging at times, and it can be ideal to approach them with patience and understanding. Try to be willing to work through conflicts and challenges, as well as to remain open to change and growth in your relationships.

  • Practice gratitude and appreciation: Gratitude and appreciation can strengthen relationships and build deeper connections. Try to express gratitude for your relationships and the people in your life, and take the time to appreciate the good things in your relationships.

Benefits of online therapy

It can be challenging to foster a more intimate relationship on your own. Working with an online mental health professional or couples therapist can be a convenient way to address any challenges that may be standing in your way with an objective mediator. Plus, online therapy platforms typically allow for flexible scheduling, potentially making it simple to set appointments at times that work for you and your partner.

Effectiveness of online therapy

A 2022 study investigated the efficacy of couples therapy delivered through videoconferencing and found that it was typically just as effective as traditional in-office couples therapy. Participants generally experienced improvements in relationship satisfaction and mental health after treatment.

Therapist reviews

“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I discuss. He’s not only supported me but insight and encouragement to let me know I’m on a good path to self-improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight into my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship.”

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“Stephanie is a gem! She's very thoughtful, thorough, honest, insightful but most of all helpful. This is coming from a person that never wanted to do counseling and just "knew" I didn't need it. She's been key in helping my wife and I find our better place. She made us grow as a couple and individually. Thanks, Steph!”


The distinctions between surface-level interactions, casual bonds, and intimate relationships generally have to do with the level of commitment to the relationship, the depth of the bond, and the amount of time spent interacting with each other. Active listening, being genuine, investing time and energy into the relationship, showing gratitude and appreciation, and exercising understanding and patience can help you construct and maintain an intimate relationship. For further guidance in cultivating intimacy, consider trying couples therapy online or in person.
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