Intimacy may seem to be something we are all familiar with–most of us associate it with physical touch. However, it actually comes in many different forms. And knowing what they are can be the secret to improving your relationship with your significant other and making it last.

Kim Woods, an intuitive business mentor identifies that “there are 3 levels to intimacy even through there are many types.” You’ll click with different types based on your personality, likes and skills, but you will also notice if you don’t relate to any particular level.

This will be a telling sign of your availability for lasting intimacy between you and another person.

Level 1: Circumstantial intimacy

The first level, circumstantial intimacy, is the most spontaneous form of intimacy. You don’t have to work at being intimate, it just happens through a set of circumstances that force you to develop intimacy with others.

These intimacy types start quickly and are easy on the surface but can end just as quickly as they begin.

Kim Woods

These forms of intimacy are typically the first ones you enter into outside of the home, as they are generally a result of the following contexts.

1. Recreational Intimacy

This one’s so fun because it takes form in the context of play, in any shape or form. Have you ever wondered at how fast you connected with someone while playing a game?

You have an exhilarating experience of fun and play, so feel connected through laughter and joy.

Kim Woods

Think of your childhood and you probably can recall many times you connected with a friend. Even now, thinking about the moments might bring a smile to your face. 

2. Work Intimacy

Workplace intimacy can be very useful. Now, we’re not talking about office romances or having affairs with coworkers. Here, intimacy with your colleagues can create strong professional bonds that will allow you to thrive all together.

Work intimacy involves having common bond of shared tasks, duties and responsibilities. This type of intimacy can develop fairly easily, if we mesh well with our coworkers, of course. You also feel that you’re part of doing something together.

With co-workers, you bond over your daily routine of similar tasks, so you feel comfortable with each other. Often this type of intimacy ends when you leave your job as that’s the only thing holding this relationship together.

Kim Woods

3. Conflict Intimacy

Conflict intimacy is another common intimacy type enabling you to get close. “You have a shared adversary – someone or something to square off against. Facing and struggling with differences together makes you feel closer and forges a strong bond. The only downside is when your adversary goes away making this bond unnecessary,” said Woods.

Perhaps, you can recall a moment where you bonded with somebody solely because you were faced with the same issue or problematic person. Think of your friendships with classmates–often, these lasted only throughout the length of the semester as you battled the school assignments together.

4. Crisis Intimacy

This specific form of intimacy develops when an overwhelming situation that affects more than one person occurs. As you have to work together to solve the problem or relieve the pain, a closeness inevitably develops.

For example, think of developing a bond at a support group, with someone who has gone through a similar traumatic experience.

It’s a moment in time and the only downside occurs when the crisis has passed.

Kim Woods

Once the problem is resolved or the pain’s alleviated, that intimacy that you have formed may not be viable anymore. Now that you’ve forged this strong bond, what are you doing to do?

“If the intimate connection no longer serves a purpose, you have a choice, you can allow the connection to wither or you can extend the relationship to other shared interests,” said Woods.

Sometimes, the crisis tying two people together may be the only thing they have in common. Other times, the bond can last beyond the trauma, as the two discover other shared interests.

The blockages of circumstantial intimacy

The only thing hampering these various types of circumstantial intimacy are stopping the shared circumstances of fun, work, conflict or crisis.

“Circumstances start the bond-making intimacy easily accessible. However, if you want it to continue, you have to put in work to broaden or deepen the bond,” said Woods.

You can easily stay at this level your entire life. However, you might be dissatisfied with the lack of true connection.  

Level 2: Shared interest

This next level is a bit more intricate but than the first one. Your bond develops over a shared interest and in that sense, is easily entered into. However, it’ll stay superficial if you don’t take action to deepen it. Your shared interest may be intellectual, aesthetic, spiritual or creative.

1. Intellectual Intimacy

“This is a meeting of the minds as you extrapolate ideas, run ‘what-if’ scenarios and talk about resolving complex problems,” said Woods.

For this type of intimacy to develop, you need mutual respect and confidence in your own intelligence. You also want to be mentally facile and intellectually nimble. You need to let go of being right and relish the possibility of learning just for the sake of it. 

2. Aesthetic Intimacy

This form of intimacy involves being on the same page about what you find aesthetically pleasing–that is, you both have a similar notion of beauty. For example, you share an appreciation for 19th century paintings, or the beauty of a walk through a forest.

Right from the get-go, you know you have something in common that moved your heart. If you open yourself to each other, instead of just the shared reverence for the beauty, there’s a possibility of deeper engagement. 

3. Spiritual Intimacy

This type involves sharing similar spiritual or religious beliefs, which can be a good basis to form a stronger relationship.

“Your shared bond begins with a faith-based belief that drives the meaning of your life, so it feels deep,” said Woods. 

However, while your values may be based on similar teachings, the way you incorporate them in your life may not. That’s the catch of spiritual intimacy and why it’s important to make sure not to ignore other aspects that inform a healthy relationship.

4. Creative Intimacy

This type involves creating or building something together. You need to share a common goal, accept each other’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities to make your creation a success (or at least to complete it.)

This leads to the next category of intimacy as it involves personality and an ability to connect on other levels. 

Level 3: Personal Intimacy

These intimacy types have the possibility of becoming long-lasting and deeply engaging, but you have to be willing to extend yourself beyond circumstance or shared interest.

To become truly intimate with another, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Most blocks occur at this final layer of intimacy as being vulnerable is scary.

Kim Woods

You may feel uncomfortable or unsafe and therefore, may do almost anything to avoid it. The most common avoidance tactics are to throw yourself into work or make sure you keep things superficial. Don’t. These are easy to see through and horribly predictable. 

If you’re willing to break through, deeper commitment is possible. The third level is the most engaging and, in escalating order, involves: 

1. Communication Intimacy

Being able to understand and relate to another person is crucial for any effective communication.

“This intimacy type involves talking and listening, which sounds easy, but you need to be present and interested,” said Woods.

Your mind and your heart are required to engage this other person and you feel vulnerable as you want them to be into you just as much.

You may want to avoid the uncomfortable layers and keep it on the surface. Or you may lean on the other person too much and become smothering. One thing to remember though:

This type of intimacy is an intricate dance of giving and receiving. Notice if you’re talking too much or too little and make adjustments in the other direction.

Kim Woods

2. Sexual Intimacy

Sex may make you think of passion and physical pleasure, but there’s so much more available to you. Indeed, “it’s another form of communication – one of your senses, body and emotions,” said Woods.

“With sexual intimacy, you have the opportunity of sharing mutually satisfying ecstasy. You have the possibility of taking your pleasure to new heights, beyond just the physical pleasuring,” Woods continues.

What are you willing to do to achieve this? Or better yet, what aren’t you willing to do to achieve this? These two questions are both valid in determining whether or not you want to establish lasting intimacy with another person.

3. Commitment Intimacy

If you both want to enter into commitment, you may think, “Great. We want to be together, so this is the end. Intimacy de facto.”

But, it’s not. In fact, it has just begun. You will be tasked beyond imagining. As Marianne Williamson states in her book, Enchanted Love, “Can the purpose of a relationship be to trigger our wounds? In a way, yes, because that is how healing happens; darkness must be exposed before it can be transformed.”

The purpose of an intimate relationship is not that it be a place where we can hide from our weaknesses, but rather where we can safely let them go.

Kim Woods

When you make the commitment to grow together, you make the commitment to break through all barriers. Only those brave enough to look deeply inside make it to lasting commitment.   

4. Emotional Intimacy

This is the big one – the intimacy type that, if not achieved in a relationship, usually means the end or at least the absence of satisfaction.

“If you’ve ever seen an older couple sharing a moment, you know they’ve probably weathered the ups and downs inherent in a deep lasting relationship. They’ve done the work to achieve true emotional connection,” said Woods.

There’s such exposure with emotional intimacy, it’s often overlooked, avoided or stamped out. “This is a risk-reward equation as the greatest risk offers the greatest reward,” said Woods. 

Do everything you can to achieve emotional intimacy. “Avoid blame, withdrawal and the expectation that it should come easily,” said Woods.

A lot of emotional intimacy involves looking inward more than looking outward. It involves being brutally honest yourself and what your part is in your relationship. This type of intimacy is everything. The risk is definitely worth the reward. 

Here are a few helpful tips to achieve it:

1. Letting go of the words “You Always and You Never” in an argument.

“All that does is put your partner on the defense and ultimately the conversation spirals into an attack on each other,” said Mia Mor, LCSW, CEC, licensed psychotherapist and empowerment coach.

What is missed is the meaning behind what you really meant. Instead, stick to the facts, be clear and ask for what you need. For example, “I felt hurt and ignored when I asked you to help with the dishes and you didn’t. Next time it would mean a lot to me if you helped me.”

2. Focus on the problem – not the person

There is no need to character assassinate or name call, said Mor.  Statements like, “you are just like your mother” or “you’re pathetic” will only put your partner on the defensive creating a circular argument that never addresses your initial concern.

3. Validate and acknowledge 

“Validate that you understand where they are coming from and acknowledge their experience before you ask for what you need,” said Mor.

For example, “I know that you had a long day of work and you are exhausted and it would mean a lot to me if you helped me put the kids to bed and then settle down to relax.”

Keep in mind that this only works if you truly can get to a place of understanding, otherwise you risk sounding condescending.

4. Practice honesty with integrity

“In any relationship, honesty is only the best policy if it includes care,” said Mor. There is no need to share that you don’t like your spouse’s dinner when you know they worked hard at making the meal. Or, if they gained weight, they know. Be compassionate with your partner. 

5. Humor can go a long way

Don’t take every situation as a personal affront – know when to laugh at yourself and the situation, advises Mor. Remember, both of you want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Give the care that you want to receive and the bedrock of your relationship will remain firm. 

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