Intimacy, what is it really?

Being intimate is crucial for any relationship. But what is intimacy, how do we achieve it, and how can we keep it alive years down the line.


Having sex doesn’t mean you are intimate.

Being in a relationship or even a marriage, doesn’t mean you are intimate.

Having coffee with a friend could mean you are intimate.

So what is intimacy?


The other night my partner said to me, you never hug me, or snuggle up to me in bed, or just hold my hand.

Sometimes I don’t want sex, I just want to cuddle and feel close with you.

What! But there is nothing more intimate, or important than sex, the very act of sex exposes a great vulnerability between two people, cuddling is for those who don’t like sex.

But of course I know this not to be true.

How do we define intimacy? The dictionary definition is a starting point –

‘a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship’ or ‘ a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.’

But my intimate may not be your intimate. And my intimate may fluctuate on this journey we call life. There is intimate with a best friend, or a work colleague, which is definitely not the same intimate we enjoy with a romantic partner.

Most of us have intimate relationships with many different people who fulfil various roles in our lives.

I focus on intimate in a committed romantic relationship.

In an ideal world the five key areas – 

Physical, Emotional, Psychological, Social and Spiritual should work together to create a balanced harmony of intimacy. But when is the world ideal I ask?

In most relationships there is an ebb and flow that happens. All five spaces are seldom fulfilled and firing at hundred percent all the time, that’s pretty impossible.

How many couples sit down and have an in depth discussion about their version of intimate. We meet as individuals and discover each other with all our delights and foibles along the way; it’s seldom a checklist of things.

Intimacy grows, sometimes slowly, sometimes with a fast intensity which makes us feel inseparable.

The honeymoon phase in a relationship, where we can’t get enough of each other, is a lot to do with the development of intimacy; both physically and emotionally. The hunger to know the other person – intimacy is born.

And not all relationships are destined to tick all the intimate boxes; some have a strong physical quotient, which is as it’s meant to be, and it works on those parameters for as long as it can.

Chandelier swinging sex, that rockets us into a deep physical intimacy, great…  But lying satiated next to your lover could turn into awkward silence. These couples may just want to explore this one element, and I’m all for that, but it is unlikely to last as a solid foundation for a lifelong partnership.

I don’t believe we forget the intimate connections we discover early in our relationship, we can’t unlearn them; but their place of importance gets shifted.


So why does intimacy fade? And how can we keep it alive?


If I said – money, work, children, illness or simply who is washing the dishes, we all recognise the ‘small ball crap’ – (courtesy of the writers of House of Cards) that gnaws away at the core of any relationship. We start to survive, getting through each day, week, month, year and before we know it, our partners are a checklist of practicalities.

We sooner have intimate conversations with our friends or work colleagues than with our partners. Home life is steadfastly saved for all things mundane. It’s why date night was invented I guess.

Always seems a little forced for me. Right it’s Thursday night, we’re going to talk and connect, maybe watch a movie and later have sex. Ready…off we go then.

I think life needs to be a little more mercurial than that. Let’s admit, some of the best times we can remember happened randomly and spontaneously. But if date night works for you, far be it for me to judge.

Our needs change and often our priorities have to change.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, summed it up ‘Change is the only constant in life.’


But what’s not expressed, can’t be fixed.




Catherine and Richard had been together for 17 years, and when they came to see me, Catherine believed there was no intimacy in their relationship anymore. She also believed she was communicating this – very loudly. Richard couldn’t hear any of it. This was because Catherine was using actions and not words. She believed she was signalling, very clearly, the loss of the intimacy she once felt and now yearned for, but Richard did not pick up the cues.


Communication doesn’t only have to be verbal, approaching it from more than one angle is an excellent plan; but don’t imagine that your partner, no matter how long you have known each other, can mind read.


We often communicate by using the negative, highlighting what drives us nuts; try expressing what you like and appreciate, balance the weight. Giggle, be impish.

Appreciate the small things.

Be curious again.

Break your routine.

Be brave.


It’s not always easy to express intimate needs and equally it can be difficult to hear your partners desires and know how to respond. But if rekindling intimacy is important to you, take the plunge.


Don’t shy away from physical intimacy. It’s important, very important. And I don’t just mean sex.


Inevitably there are times when sex is not an option due to illness or stress etc.


By keeping connected through hugging, kissing, cuddling, going to sleep holding each other or lying entwined on the couch, the hormone Oxytocin is released, which is produced in both men and women. It’s been dubbed the love hormone and plays a huge role in intimacy.


If sex is an option… have it, and if you aren’t having it, then talk about why you aren’t.


Shiron believed Johan got more out of cuddling and kissing that he did from having sex. She said they would have a whiskey together and cuddle and she could feel him relax and they would talk intimately about everything. Johan enjoyed these cosy chats, but he admitted that he wanted sex as well. The intimacy he felt when they made love could not be replaced by cuddling. Shiron believed he was happy without sex because he never asked and she wasn’t overly keen herself, so never offered.


Safeguarding intimacy in a relationship is up to both parties…we all know it takes two.


Step away from the small ball crap and take a good look. Chances are it’s time to up the intimacy ante.


Clive’s parents are 80 and 86 respectively. His Dad may not have long to live. His days are empty and he feels depressed, struggles to breathe and says he has no purpose anymore. But the one thing Clive’s Dad looks forward to every evening, is the feeling of his wife snuggling up to him as they hold each other to sleep.

Find your intimate, whatever form it takes, it is important.

Michèle Levin
  • Realign your relationship
  • Explore intimacy
  • Couples counselling
  • Unleash sensuality
  • Tackle the taboo
  • Explore sexual boundaries
  • Attain sexual confidence
  • Learn how to get what you need
  • Attain joy in your relationship
  • Open the imagination

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