Sex Isn't the Only — or Even the Best — Way to Build Intimacy in a Relationship

When many people think of intimacy, they equate it to sex, and though sex can be an intimate activity, the two are not the same thing. Intimacy goes far beyond physical touch, and it's an important factor that helps couples bond together in a relationship. True intimacy is about building and maintaining emotional and mental connections in addition to physical ones. To learn more about how couples can build intimacy beyond physical touch, POPSUGAR spoke to Laurel House, an eharmony relationship expert, who shared ways couples can create and sustain intimacy in their relationships beyond the bedroom.

House, previously a dating coach on "Famously Single" on E!, has coached over 3,000 singles and couples over her career. According to her, intimacy can be experienced in several different ways: physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, cerebral intimacy, and spiritual intimacy.

"Intimacy is a connector, creating a link between people at a deep and rooted level," House tells POPSUGAR. "Within a romantic relationship, each partner needs to feel safe, sexy, and seen. Find the time to build intimacy; make the time to dedicate to each other. The key is to put in the effort and lean into it." Here are House's suggestions on how couples can foster intimacy in their relationships.

Plan Date Nights In

Not all date nights need to be at romantic restaurants or consist of fun excursions. "Make an effort on date night," she says. "Dress up even if you are at home, light the candles, pull out the nice tableware, and show up physically and emotionally." Putting in effort to have special time with your partner will help create an atmosphere where your relationship can grow.

Talk About It

Having interesting and deep conversations with your partner is a great way to build intimacy, according to House. Ask your partner open-ended questions on a variety of topics, and incorporate these inquisitive conversations into your date nights. You can use conversation-starter prompts to bring up topics you haven't discussed before, or you can build on conversations you have previously dipped a toe in by asking further questions. The point is to answer questions openly, unapologetically, confidently, vulnerably, and without fear of judgment. Try to bring the desire to discover you had on your first date alongside the deeper connection and sense of trust you've built so far in your relationship.

Have a Laugh

A couple that truly thrives is one that can joke and laugh with — and at — each other. Though it might seem counterintuitive to make fun of each other, according to House, it's one way to improve your relationship if done strategically.

"It's essential that your personalities and senses of humor mesh, or you might take offense, get defensive, feel hurt, or shut down," she says. "Those quirks you tend to poke fun at are also the things that you most love, find lovable, admire, and appreciate in them. And letting your partner in on those little things is essential."

Explore Shared Activities

While deep conversations are a great way to build intimacy, you can also consider trying a shared activity that doesn't involve talking at all. Being in a shared space and not feeling the need to fill it with words can foster a sense of calm and comfort with your partner. Depending on your interests, you can try reading together — maybe even starting a book club — watching each other's favorite movies, or playing board games. The key to intimacy is putting in effort, because it shows the emotional investment you have in your partner's needs. So regardless of the activity you choose, showing up, being present, and emphasizing through your actions that you value and respect your partner's needs and desires will undoubtedly foster intimacy as you create a space of love, calm, and romance.