Is Your Relationship Close, Intimate, Both, or Neither?

Female couple converses intimately on sofa

As an intimacy and sexology scholar, I witness couples painfully share their sense of loneliness in what is supposed to be a happy, fulfilling, shared life.

Couples may not always know how to define intimacy, but they can definitely feel something missing from their relationships. They may sleep in the same bed, shower in the same bathroom, eat similar foods, and raise the same kids, but somehow, they feel lonely and disconnected from each other.

Nancy L. Collins and Brooke C. Feeney, authors of the chapter “An Attachment Theory Perspective on Closeness and Intimacy” in the text Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, cite exclusive definitions for closeness and intimacy. 

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  • Closeness refers to “the degree to which relationship partners are cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally interdependent with one another. By interdependent, we mean the degree to which partners’ lives are deeply intertwined such that partners influence one another’s outcomes and rely on one another for the fulfillment of important social, emotional, and physical needs.”
  • Intimacy refers to “a special class of social interactions in which one partner expresses self-relevant feelings and information and, as a result of the other partner’s responsiveness and positive regard, the individual comes to feel understood, validated, and cared for.” Intimacy includes verbal sharing, physical touch, and sexual engagement.

You may find yourselves managing life together but not necessarily diving into the deeper realm of emotional transparency, physical affection, and sexual pleasure.

When I help people develop healthy levels of intimacy, I remind them that intimacy is not an end goal. Intimacy is a shared moment. It will come and it will go.

Our work is not to hold a death grip on intimacy but simply to create an abundance of intimate moments.

In fact, intimacy can feel so intense at times that I believe we need to step away from deeply intimate moments or else we might not put our best attention toward other important life tasks. Our work is not to hold a death grip on intimacy but simply to create an abundance of intimate moments.

In their definition of intimacy, Collins and Feeney note that a partner’s responsiveness and positive regard are elements of an intimate dynamic. Lack of intimacy may directly connect to a history of poor responsiveness.

Questions you may want to consider about your relationship include:

  1. Do we regard each other as good people?
  2. Do we have each other’s best interests at heart?
  3. Do we trust each other with our innermost thoughts and feelings?
  4. Do we listen to each other attentively?
  5. Do we take care of each other emotionally, physically, and sexually?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may not feel entirely safe and secure in your relationship. You may fear rejection, abandonment, or even a loss of identity or self.

Research tells us our adult romantic relationships are tied to our early primary attachments as infants. When you consider the questions above, how closely do your responses mirror relationships from your early childhood years? With your parents? With caregivers?

Building a solid, stable, loving, long-term, committed relationship takes work. You are a complex human being, comprised of many dimensions that influence how you show up as a romantic partner.

Know that with thoughtful, consistent effort, you can develop a richer, more connected relationship. Start with answering the questions above. Let them guide you into a deeper conversation with your partner.

Reference:

Aron, A., & Mashek, D. (Eds., 2004). Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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  • 6 comments
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  • Wanda

    Wanda

    March 30th, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    There are days when I want to be close and intimate and then there are days when I could not care less of we were neither. That is wrong isn’t it? I just feel like with he and I our relationship is much more about push and pull, who is right and who is wrong, and we let the smallest things come between us and keep us from being close.

  • brent

    brent

    March 30th, 2016 at 6:00 PM

    Mine is neither and i am sorry to say that I want out but never have the courage to just be completely done with it.

  • Laken

    Laken

    March 31st, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    But just like anything else this is one of those things that ebbs and flows.
    there are bound to be good times and bad times, and well, you sometimes just have to hope that you and your partner will be strong enough to get through it all.
    I really don’t think that maintaining a relationship is rocket science but it does take some work and you have to be willing to do that if you want it to last.

  • Levi

    Levi

    March 31st, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    So this is what I don’t understand-
    why do so may of us stay in toxic relationships that are doing nothing for us emotionally? I mean , we are supposed to get something out of a committed relationship with another person, but if you are not close to the person then what is the use of staying?
    I know that for some it could be all financial or it could be for some form of security, but is it really worth it if you are having to give up the things that should really matter in life?

  • andrea

    andrea

    April 5th, 2016 at 2:57 PM

    You might not necessarily be intimate with someone but that doesn’t mean that the two of you are not close. Besides different couples want different things from their relationships, so I would never pass judgement and tell them that they should have this or that to have something good together. You simply have to find what is the perfect balance for the two of you.

  • Cezza

    Cezza

    April 14th, 2016 at 10:13 AM

    i agree that relationships change over time. What has brought it home to me is that I had a dream one night that I fell in love with a man whom I could really talk to, someone I felt connected to. I woke up and felt bereft. I realise that for now that closeness and intimacy doesn’t exist in my relationship. To be honest I doubt it ever has. But we’re together still.

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