An intimate relationship is an interpersonal relationship that involves physical or emotional intimacy. Physical intimacy is characterized by friendship, platonic love, romantic love, or sexual activity. While the term intimate relationship commonly implies the inclusion of a sexual relationship, the term is also used as a euphemism for a relationship that is strictly sexual.
Intimate relationships play a central role in the overall human experience. Humans have a general desire to belong and to love, which is usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. These relationships involve feelings of liking or loving one or more people, romance, physical or sexual attraction, sexual relationships, or emotional and personal support between the members. Intimate relationships allow a social network for people to form strong emotional attachments.
In human relationships, the meaning and level of intimacy varies within and between relationships. In anthropological research, intimacy is considered the product of a successful seduction, a process of rapport building that enables parties to confidently disclose previously hidden thoughts and feelings. Intimate conversations become the basis for “confidences” (secret knowledge) that bind people together.
To sustain intimacy for any length of time requires well-developed emotional and interpersonal awareness. Intimacy requires an ability to be both separate and together participants in an intimate relationship. Murray Bowen called this “self-differentiation”. It results in a connection in which there is an emotional range involving both robust conflict and intense loyalty. Lacking the ability to differentiate oneself from the other is a form of symbiosis, a state that is different from intimacy, even if feelings of closeness are similar.