“Take the risk not to protect yourself. You can’t simultaneously protect yourself and be emotionally intimate. Let your heart be seen.” —psychologist Helene Brenner, PhD.
People often relate intimacy in a relationship to sex. True intimacy is the key to great sex, however, the two are not connected for everyone. Some people can have sex without the need for “intimacy” and some cannot. However, the best sex includes genuine intimacy. Authentic intimacy includes four types – Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual intimacy.
We tend to think of sex and intimacy as one and the same. Of the four types of intimacy, only one involves touch – Physical Intimacy. In truth, one can engage in sex while only engaging in Physical Intimacy. However, how truly fulfilling this type of sex is for a person?
Furthermore, complete and total intimacy requires Trust and Commitment. These are the two load bearing walls that hold up the Sound Relationship House on which the Gottman Method for Couples Therapy developed. Fostering trust and commitment relies on a couple’s ability to nurture these four types of intimacy.
Physical Intimacy is the only form that involves touch. As a result, it is also the one that most people relate to sex. This involves not only physical attraction, but is also an understanding of how your partner enjoys touch, both sexually and non-sexually. Such touch includes affectionate touch, sensual touch, erotic touch, and intercourse. Although, physical intimacy involves more than a focus on orgasm or sexual intercourse.
This is where two minds meld. Mental Intimacy involves a couple sharing ideas and having stimulating conversations. A couple who has strong mental intimacy enjoys conversing with one another. They turn toward one another to seek opinions and have meaningful discussions. Furthermore, those with a strength in this area of intimacy are most likely those who accept influence in their relationship as well. Dr. Gottman’s research finds that accepting influence is a key component to longstanding and happy relationships.
Building trust and commitment rely on all four types of intimacy. However, emotional intimacy plays an important role in a couple’s ability to develop trust and commitment. Couples who are competent in sharing their most inner thoughts, feelings, fears, and insecurities nurture these. As a result, trust and commitment are increased. Success in this area relies heavily on safety. Partners must feel safe enough to share these vulnerable parts of themselves. Validation and the use of reflective listening skills create a safe environment for intimate sharing.
Spiritual Intimacy can be more easily defined for some than for others. This type of intimacy is not only in reference to those who are religious or who identify as having “faith.” Spiritual intimacy is disclosing your spirituality to your partner. Moreover, this includes listening and supporting your partner’s disclosures without judgment. Spirituality in relationships is the focus on existential questions and beliefs. What is the meaning of life? Do I or we have a purpose in the world? What legacy do we want to leave as an individual or couple? Many of these questions are the culmination of the Sound Relationship House. At the top of the Sound Relationship House we find Life Dreams and Shared Meaning. In conclusion, importance is placed on a couples willingness to have these conversations while feeling respected and supported.
The question remains. What makes for great sex? Learn to cultivate the four types of intimacies within a relationship and increase connection with one another in mind, body, and soul.
To learn more about sex and intimacy, visit our Facebook page. Keep an eye out for our video series Relationship Remedies: Bringing Couples Closer. Here our clinicians share tips on promoting these critical components of a relationship.