How to Develop Intimate Relationships

What keeps someone from forming intimate relationships? Learn how to develop intimacy, intimate relationships, with others.

What is Intimacy?

Intimacy is a process - not a thing. It takes place over time and is not stagnant. In fact, any kind of stagnation in a relationship kills intimacy. Intimacy can also take many forms.

One form of intimacy is cognitive or intellectual intimacy where two people exchange thoughts, share ideas and enjoy similarities and differences between their opinions. If they can do this in an open and comfortable way, they can become quite intimate in an intellectual area.

A second form of intimacy is experiential intimacy or intimacy activity. Examples of this would be where people get together to actively involve themselves with each other, probably saying very little to each other, not sharing any thoughts or many feelings, but being involved in mutual activities with one another. Imagine observing two house painters whose brushstrokes seemed to be playing out a duet on the side of the house. They may be shocked to think that they were engaged in an intimate activity with each other, however from an experiential point of view, they would be very intimately involved.

A third form of intimacy is emotional intimacy where two persons can comfortably share their feelings with each other or when they empathize with the feelings of the other person, really try to understand and try to be aware of the other person's emotional side.

A fourth form of intimacy is sexual intimacy. This is the stereotypical definition of intimacy that most people are familiar with. However, this form of intimacy includes a broad range of sensuous activity and is much more than just sexual intercourse. It's any form of sensual expression with each other. Therefore, intimacy can be many things for different people at different times.

Barriers to Developing and Maintaining Intimacy

  • Communication - one barrier is when a person enters a relationship with some mistaken notions about just what intimacy is, or misjudges the needs or the thoughts of the other person in the relationship. Communication or the lack of communication would be one of the main barriers to the foundation of an intimate relationship.
  • Time - intimacy takes time to develop and a person who is not willing to allow for time for an intimate relationship to occur will not be able to develop that kind of relationship.
  • Awareness - it is necessary for a person to be aware of him or herself and to realize what she/he has to share with another person. People who are not aware of themselves frequently are not able to be aware of other people, at least not in terms of the potentially intimate aspects of the other person.
  • Shyness - reluctance to share oneself with another person can keep an intimate relationship from developing.
  • Game Playing - people who act in stereotypical roles or try to play certain kinds of games, even if they're intimate-appearing games (such as romantic games) cannot develop an intimate relationship with someone else simply because they are not being themselves. Game playing can be a detriment to the development of intimacy and can develop only when two people are being himself or herself in a significant way with another person.

How to Develop Intimate Relationships

  • Awareness - be aware of yourself and start where you are and not try to start some other place. Start with the form of intimacy where you feel most comfort. If a particular form of intimacy is difficult for you, whether that's intellectual, experiential, emotional, or sexual, that's not the place for you to try to start to develop an intimate relationship with another person. If you're more comfortable with intellectual intimacy, start by sharing thoughts, talking with another person about their opinions and ideas. Once comfortable in an intimate relationship on that basis, then other intimate areas can be approached and developed.
  • Knowledge - every intimate relationship does not have to include all the different aspects or types of intimacy that's been mentioned. Many compatible and satisfying intimate relationships can exist in any one of the four areas or any combination of those areas.

Suggested Books

  • The Art of Loving. Eric Frohm - general information for the person interested in developing
  • Intimacy. Allen and Martin - deals with the different forms of intimacy and discusses the specifics of intimacy formation.
  • What Do You Do After You Say Hello?. Eric Bern - a humorous book which directly deals with the initial stages of forming potentially intimate relationships.
  • Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?. Power - beneficial in helping people understand their own internal barriers to forming intimate relationships.

Note: This document is based on an audio tape script developed by the University of Texas, Austin. With their permission, it was revised and edited into its current form by the staff of the University of Florida Counseling Center.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 21). How to Develop Intimate Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Last Updated: February 2, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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