How To Tell If You Have An Intimate Relationship

Updated October 4, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

From reality TV and film to dating sites and classic novels, we have seen the idea of an intimate relationship for centuries. But are intimate relationships real? Is there more to love than long walks on the beach, celebrating "Share A Hug Day", and gazing deeply into each other's eyes? You bet! Intimacy is much more than what we have been led to believe, and it doesn’t always have anything to do with sex. Do you have intimate relationships with family members, friends, or a romantic partner?

We’ll explore what romantic relationships are and are not, and help you discover the path to improving intimacy. Oftentimes, it might take effort, patience, compromise, as well as chemistry, attraction, or compatibility. Having shared values or a shared sense of humor is a great way to honestly find an intimate friendship, and grow that over time.

What Is Intimacy?

Do you find yourself asking, "What does being intimate even mean?" The word comes from the Latin word ‘Intimate,’ which means “make known” or “make familiar.” It is an act of love that goes far beyond the physical realm of relationships. It is a mental and emotional sense of well-being in a relationship. It is a deep connection we have with someone else that requires us to have a firm understanding and appreciation of our partner. Healthy social and personal relationships with family members or friends can also be intimate.

In romantic relationships, intimacy involves a certain level of comfort. It seeks to meet the needs of both partners on a fundamental level. It requires partners to be open and honest with one another and relies on a couple's utmost respect for each other. If you need help getting to this level of comfort in relationships, an online therapist can help whether that be individual counseling or couple's therapy. Therapy allows both partners to explore their feelings about what constitutes intimate relationships, how sex relates to these relationships, and how to resolve conflict in relationships.

It is much more than sex or a single act. It is a day-to-day conscious commitment. It exists whether the day is good or bad and is found in the highs and lows of relationships over time. Most importantly, both physical and emotional intimacy is reserved for those who want to find it and work hard to make it the foundation of their relationship.

Romance can be a big part of developing this close-knit connection. Unfortunately, both partners don’t always share the same definition of romance or what it means to be intimate which can create conflict. One partner may view romance as getting dressed up, going out to a candlelit dinner, and staying up half the night to talk. The other partner may have romantic feelings while having a beer together and watching sports. Seek a happy medium when working to build intimacy. Both partners have to give and take reasonably.

What It Is Not

As it pertains to relationships, there are a lot of things that it is not. It does not always involve sexual activities which is why it’s possible to have intimacy with close friends of the same sex where no sexual relationship is involved. We often confuse intimacy with the material parts of relationships because that is how it is often presented to us. Intimacy is not always associated with body contact- often it has to do with safety, common topics, caring for each other, sharing emotions, putting effort in, expressing vulnerability, and just doing life together with honesty and attention.

When deciding if you have a sense of intimacy in your relationship, keep this in mind:

  • Physical intimacy is not just sex. While physical aspects of a relationship can enhance it, intimacy itself does not usually survive in a relationship that lacks a deeper connection. Because sex and being intimate go hand in hand, it is easy to confuse their purpose. Remember, sex can fulfill a physical need, but intimacy fulfills physical, emotional, and mental ones too.
  • Intimacy is not a gift. While meeting our partners' needs is a crucial aspect of healthy relationships, and while doing things for someone we love can be fulfilling, it is not something that is bought or sold. Relationships between partners that are based on gift giving, lavish trips, and expensive dates are not a solid foundation for intimacy.
  • It is not a fairytale. All relationships have their ups and downs, and in truly intimate couples, this closeness will exist despite the ups and downs. Falling in love is nice and getting caught up in a whirlwind romance is exciting. But if those feelings of butterflies eventually start to fade, and the relationship begins to fade with them, chances are intimacy was not playing as big of a role as it should have.

Types of Intimacy in a Relationship

While we tend to think of physical contact and sexuality when we’re talking about intimacy, it can take many different forms. Experts in psychological science have identified at least four types of intimacy:

Physical intimacy: as the name suggests, this type of intimacy is about physical touch with two people, be it kissing, holding hands, or other forms of contact. Things don’t have to advance to sex to have physical intimacy. However, you don’t have to have a romantic or sexual relationship with that person to have physical intimacy.

Emotional intimacy is sometimes referred to as emotional closeness: two people sharing their deepest thoughts and innermost feelings without fear of being judged or looked down on. When you have emotional intimacy, you feel deeply respected, seen, and valued. As with physical intimacy, sex does not have to be part of the equation to have emotional intimacy with someone. Notably, emotional intimacy is not reserved for romantic relationships only. You can develop this type of intimacy with anyone you have close relationships with, including friends and family members or any other personal relationships.

Sexual intimacy:just like you don’t need to have sex to have an intimate connection with a person, many people have sexual intimacy with one partner or more without a romantic connection. In simple terms, sexual intimacy involves engaging in sexual activity with someone else. Healthy, satisfying romantic relationships for both partners involve intimacy, and when the time is right, adding sex to the equation.

Intellectual intimacy: intellectual intimacy involves being able to share your thoughts and viewpoints respectfully but freely with another person without worrying about engaging in conflict or offending them. Like other types of intimacy in human relationships, many relationship research experts believe that intellection closeness is essential for a fulfilling relationship.

For some partners, spiritual intimacy is also a necessity in romantic relationships.

Identifying And Categorizing Your Partnership

A sense of Intimacy looks different in each relationship because no two people are the same. However, being able to answer "yes" to the following questions is a good sign that your relationship is on the right path:

  • Do you and your partner spend time exploring each other's interests?
  • Does the opinion of both you and your partner matter when making decisions?
  • Do you and your partner support one another in your goals?
  • Do you and your partner accept each other as you are?
  • Do you and your partner make it a priority to communicate?
  • Do you and your partner discuss dreams, goals, and fears together?
  • Do you and your partner prioritize a physical relationship?
  • Do you and your partner show one another affection regularly?
  • Do you and your partner treat one another with respect?
  • Do you encourage each other to maintain individuality?
  • Are you and your partner each other's "go-to" when things get tough?
  • Do you and your partner have inside jokes?
  • Do you and your partner understand each other's "nonverbal" communication?
  • Do you and your partner make time for each other without distractions?
  • Do you and your partner take advantage of opportunities throughout the day to talk or spend time with one another?
  • Do you engage in other forms of closeness that don’t involve physical touch?

Answering "yes" to most of these questions is a sure sign that your intimate relationship is thriving. Couples who have high levels of intimacy in their intimate relationship achieve it because they have open lines of communication, respect, and understanding with one another which help to develop closeness. 

These couples support one another despite what is going on outside of the relationship, and actively encourage one another to pursue what is important to them. Highly intimate couples do not just prioritize the needs of the partner but allow for individuals to advocate for their own needs in the relationship too.

Relationships based on real intimacy create a safe space for both people, who actively try to maintain that sense of security for one another. Remember, all of this happens consistently physically, mentally, and emotionally. There can be other factors at play, such as children, religion, expectations, and huge changes in your lives, but to maintain intimacy you communicate through the stages, families, parties, etc. A huge element is sharing moments, whether that be going on a trip to New York or Chicago, showing each other content from your life as adults, or hidden expressions across the table once the day has run its course. Parents have to put in extra effort to find pleasure together, be a good example, aid each other in their development regardless of external factors, and make sure they are each other's #1.

Keep in Mind

If you found yourself answering these questions with more "no’s" than you would have liked, then maybe it is time for you and your partner to reevaluate your needs. Do not worry though, answering "no" to any of the above questions does not mean that your relationship is destined to fail. Building intimate relationships can occur at any stage of a relationship.

Rarely is a marriage or relationship perfect all the time. The questions you answered "no" can serve as starting points for a conversation with your partner and can guide you to a decision about what you want your relationship to look like in the future.

Keep in mind that the definition of "intimate" is different in every relationship. If you and your partner do not answer "yes" to all these questions but are otherwise happy in your relationship, it may mean all of your intimacy needs are already being met.

Do not forget: it is possible in a relationship for one person to feel as though their needs are being met, while their partner does not feel the same. This is where communication with your partner is key. If you find there is an area of your relationship that you are not being fulfilled by, you must advocate for yourself and your own needs. Often, when one partner starts to open up and talk about their feelings, it helps to develop a closeness between partners which creates a foundation where they can build intimacy.

How Can You Get Closer To Your Partner Emotionally?

Just because you feel your relationship lacks this closeness, that does not mean you and your partner are doomed. Building intimacy in a relationship is a process, and while some relationships create that foundation quickly, others take time. There are many things you can do to increase intimacy in your relationship, including the following

Explore Your Partner

Challenge yourself to find out more about your partner. Sure, you may know their favorite food and movie, but do you know who they are at their core? Do you know if you are on the same page with spiritual intimacy?

Discuss big issues with your partner to generate a sense of closeness. Find out their hopes, dreams, and deeply held beliefs about anything important to them. Many couples discover this is a chance to talk about the feelings connected with their hopes and dreams and what happened to cause those feelings to develop.

Relationships based on trust are more successful. Do not shy away from talking about negative experiences too—the more you can share the closer you will become.

Make Intimacy a Priority

Learning more about your partner requires communication and time. It is hard to build intimacy when racing between work and errands and dealing with everyday issues. Carve out interrupted time for developing intimacy, whether it be physical, emotional, or mental. This does not have to be restricted to a long date on the weekends but can happen throughout the day in short bursts when possible.

Learn more about intimate relationships.


Intimate relationships require active listening. A major part of communication and learning about one another is listening with intention. Ensure your partner knows that their thoughts and ideas are important to you. Actively participate in conversations with them by asking them for details. Encourage them to communicate everything on their mind, and don’t be afraid to share intimate information. Remember, what they share with you is most likely closely guarded, especially when it comes to sex. Listen without judgment and strive to be their "go-to" person when they need support.

Put Away Distractions

It is easy not to realize how often we are distracted by technology in today's world. It’s a real deterrent to developing intimate relationships. We tune into our favorite television shows each night, pop in headphones while we are exercising, and spend our downtime scrolling away on social media. All these activities force us to turn inwards and draw us into our world.

Unplug the electronics, especially when spending time alone with your partner. Instead of sitting side by side on the couch with your technology in hand, seek intimacy by spending time actively interacting with each other.

Be Physical

While intimacy is not the same thing as sex, couples who are physically intimate may have an easier time connecting on deeper levels. Simple acts such as holding hands, cuddling, and other forms of physical closeness can build a relationship of trust that is key to intimacy.

Exploring Your Relationship With BetterHelp

Studies have shown that online therapy is an effective way of helping couples and individuals confront concerns about intimacy and other aspects of their relationships. A study published by the Australian Association of Family Therapy found that online platforms are a useful way of providing guided therapy to distressed couples. The study concluded that online therapy can help improve relationship satisfaction, communication, and the mental health of those individuals in the couple. Researchers noted the ability to receive resources from the comfort of home—and elimination of concerns about privacy, cost, and stigma—as primary reasons for the effectiveness of online therapy platforms in helping couples.

Sometimes, two people want more physical or spiritual intimacy in their relationship but have a difficult time tapping into it on their own. If this is the case, and you are uncomfortable reaching out due to privacy concerns, know that online therapy through BetterHelp can be completely anonymous.

Also, unlike with most traditional therapy, you will have the opportunity to contact your counselor or family therapist outside of sessions. You and/or your partner can simply message your therapist, and they will get back to you as soon as possible. If you want to create more intimacy with your partner, consider speaking with a couples therapist—one with the proven ability to identify the areas where a relationship may need some additional support. Read below for reviews of BetterHelp therapists, from those who have experienced similar issues.

Therapist Reviews

“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I disclose. 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.”
Learn more about intimate relationships.
“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!”


As you can see, a truly intimate relationship is a complicated thing. It is not always what books and television want us to believe. Building an intimate relationship takes time, and is an ongoing process, but the time you spend investing in intimacy will result in a stronger partnership that will last. If you are looking to strengthen your bond or develop intimacy but don’t know where to start, reach out today.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What intimate relationship means?
What is an example of an intimate relationship?
What are the 4 types of intimacy?
What are the 5 stages of an intimate relationship?
Do guys like intimacy?
How can I be intimate with a guy?
What are the signs of intimacy?
What does intimacy feel like?
What is the most intimate act?
What lack of intimacy does to a woman?

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