Shades of Grey, Shades of Love – 5 Levels of Intimacy


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What is intimacy? One definition of intimacy is that it is an act of a familiar expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, and love.I believe as a culture we have lost some of the important components of intimacy by limiting it to just a physical response.

There has been some breakthrough research that shows which there are at least five different areas of intimacy! Take a moment and grade yourself in each area, and then ask you partner to do the same.

The first is intellectual intimacy. On this level couples are able to talk about current events, share ideas and thoughts, even debate political and religious topics. They are able to participate jointly in the exchange of thoughts and ideas.

The second area of intimacy is recreational intimacy. This means that there are some recreational activities that a couple enjoys together. It does not mean that they do everything together.

The third area of intimacy is social intimacy. After decades of marriage, my wife and I realized that its completely okay for her to have her friends and me to have my friends as long as we share some “we” friends. Couple friendships can be a bonus to the relationship by being a sounding board, providing feedback, and accountability.

Spiritual intimacy is the fourth level of growing deeper together as a couple. While this area of intimacy is the most subjective, due to the various religious backgrounds & practices a couple may have, it is still a crucial component. In my opinion, one of the most important because a growing relationship is at its core spiritual in nature. Spiritual intimacy is also an important factor when and if children become a part of the family.

The fifth and final level of intimacy is physical intimacy.  Sexual expression is part of our hard wiring and can be both exhilarating and invigorating for a couple, in the right context. In recent years, a major focus has been primarily on physical intimacy. We have reduced physical intimacy into a series of positions and practices based more on applied physics than on building relationships.

Could it be that one of the reasons we see so many relationships falling apart is that we have failed to understand that intimacy works on several levels? If a relationship is based primarily on sexual expression, it is doomed to fail in the long run. However, if a couple can grow in their understanding of these different levels of intimacy their relationship will experience growth in all areas. As you grow in these other areas then, sexual expression within your relationship will become more intense and meaningful. This is because it is based on getting to know your partner and being known by them.

So how can you have a better sex life? Be mindful of the five levels of intimacy and how interconnected they are.

I’d love to hear your opinion. What are some ways that you have increased intimacy in your relationship?

This list is adapted from my workshop: Get a Grip on Your Relationship, a half-day or whole day workshop for churches, ministr

Shades of Grey, Shades of Love: 10 Skills to Build Up Your Marriage

Shades of Grey or Shades of Love Part 2

John Thurman

“It is a luxury to be understood.”      Ralph Waldo Emerson

Building a relationship and being married is a team sport; you either win together or lose together.

One of the keys to building intimacy is communication. Two-way communication that is based on respect, honor, and grace is essential for two people sharing a life together.

Drs. David Olson and Peter Larson have invested their careers studying relationships. They have identified 10 Communication Skills that will enhance your intimacy.

1.     Give full attention to your partner when talking.  My wife gets very annoyed when I think I am listening, but am distracted. My suggestion turn off the phone, Ipad™, computer, or television and turn towards your partner.

2.     Focus on the good qualities and be intentional about catching them doing good.  People tend to rise or fall on our expectations, when you are intentional about finding the good in someone they rarely disappoint.

3.     Be assertive, not aggressive or passive. Share your thoughts, feeling, and needs.  One way to do this is to the old therapist standby of using “I” statements versus “you” statements. (e.g. “I worry when you don’t let me know you’ll be late” rather than “You are always late.”)

4.     Avoid criticism. It is a relationship killer.  I think William Arthur Ward hit the nail on the head when he said, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I may not forget you.”  You can never share too much encouragement.

5.     If you must criticize, sandwich it with a least two positive comments. (e.g. “I appreciate it when you help out by cooking, the food is excellent. It would mean a lot to me if you could straighten up a little after you are done. Thanks again for dinner.)

6.     Listen to understand, not to judge.  Two eyes, two ears, one mouth. Listening is all about trying to understand.

7.     Use active listening. Summarize your partner’s comments before sharing your own reactions of feelings.

8.     Avoid blaming each other at all costs. Instead, work together for a solution.  There is energy when we accept responsibility and decide to work towards a mutually beneficial solution.

9.     Manage your conflict.  (I will give you ten steps for resolving conflict in a few weeks.)

10.  Seek counseling.  If you are not able to have better results with your communication as a couple. Then take action.  Enroll in marriage/relationship class, read a book together, see your pastor, priest, or get counseling if you need to.

One of the best ways to increase the frequency of physical intimacy is through reliable communication. When men and women feel heard, they usually are open to more intimacy.


Next week I will be writing about the five levels of intimacy.

To spice up your love life check out my talk on the 5 Phases of Marriage