Roy Gilbert

Are You in an ‘Inter-Intimate’ Relationship?

Hugs. Back rubs. Cuddling. Holding hands.

There are many ways in which we show our love for our significant others, and we all need and want different amounts of emotional and physical intimacy. While couples with differing sex drives face hurdles, many couples may also be involved in “inter-intimate” relationships, where each partner has different preferences when it comes to giving and receiving nonsexual affection.

“‘Inter-intimates’ describes the incongruent needs and desires that exist between people in a relationship, which inevitably will be mismatched at various times,” said Damon L. Jacobs, a marriage and family therapist in New York City.

That was the case for Marsia Belle when she met her husband of four years, Adam Brown. “I am a married woman with a lot of affection to give,” said Ms. Belle, a 27-year-old Ph.D. student at Regent’s University London. “When I first met my husband, he was different and didn’t consider nonsexual physical touch or physical affection a necessity.”

The problem plagued her dating history. “Because my past relationships lacked physical closeness and nonsexual intimacy, arguments and problems would more easily break trust, loyalty and other important values,” Ms. Belle said. “Breakups would be easy and unstoppable.”

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Touch is a form of intimacy distinct from sex, with its own set of rules that can threaten to undo romantic entanglements.“Mismatched needs for affection and touch are common in relationships,” said […]