Types of personal relationship

People relate to others in many different ways and on different levels. These are called intimate exchanges. Four basic types are: intellectual, emotional, sexual and physical. In some relationships, we have all of these types, in others – one or two types.

Intellectual intimacy

Sharing the most private thoughts, needs and desires. A deep level of trust must exist for this type of sharing. In addition, each individual must be personally able to communicate these thoughts, needs and desires.

In professional environments, often a coworker or mentor becomes an intellectually intimate partner. These relationships can be very important, especially when the work you do may not be easily grasped or understood by people outside your field.

Emotional intimacy

Connecting on a level of feelings rather than thoughts. Communications between emotionally intimate people often cover concepts such as love, fear, anger, happiness, loneliness and sadness. Relationships of many years, like those with best friends, marital partners and family members, people with whom you have a history, have longer periods of emotional intimacy.

In emotionally intimate relationships, each feels free to say in an unguarded way what emotion each is experiencing. Even the occasional negative feelings can be expressed and received constructively. Trust exists because the bond of friendship is strong enough to handle such things. People in this kind of relationship are committed to maintaining the emotional closeness and intimacy they share. An important aspect of these relationships is the willingness to persist in preserving the closeness, even when conflict, serious health matters, or dramatic life transitions occur.

Physical intimacy

Physical intimacy does not denote sxual intimacy, although that could be one of the outcomes. We can be physically close to our children, parents and people that we live with. The willingness to provide a hug or touch that is needed or desired supports physical intimacy.

Sexual intimacy

Final area of closeness. As an intimate act, sex wells up as an expression of deep love for the other person. Sexual intimacy is reserved for those people who are consenting adults, willing to share that bodily experience with each other. Any act that is perceived as sexual in nature should be consented to by both parties.

Adapted from

McKee, S.L. and Walters, B.L., 2002. Transition management: A practical approach to personal and professional development. Prentice Hall.

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