Intimacy Exercises for Couples: A Complete Guide To Building Physical and Emotional Intimacy in a Relationship

by | Last updated Apr 4, 2024

Think of intimacy as the heartbeat of your relationship. It keeps the connection alive and thriving. But while we all crave that closeness, understanding how to build and sustain it is a common challenge for couples. This guide aims to demystify the process of building intimacy for couples, making intimacy less abstract and more actionable through couples intimacy exercises.

BEFORE STARTING THE EXERCISES: Let’s clarify two important points.

  • Intimacy is more than just physical touch. True closeness means sharing your hearts, stimulating your minds, and building memories together. We’ll review the full spectrum of intimacy building activities to maximize your potential for a more deeply connected relationship.
  • The intimacy exercises in this guide are rooted in science. Understanding the ‘why’ behind them will make your experience even more powerful.

If you’re looking for a quick fix, you can skip ahead to the exercises. But if you want to understand the true nature of intimacy and get the most out of these practices, I recommend learning more about the science of intimacy below.

Are you ready to learn more about how intimacy building exercises can help you build intimacy in your marriage or relationship? Let’s get started!

The Science of Intimacy in Relationships

Intimacy is most often defined as a couple’s overall feeling of closeness and connection. At the heart of intimacy research lies a powerful framework called the Interpersonal Process Model of Intimacy (IPMI). This model reveals how intimacy is built through a dance of vulnerability and connection:

The Process of Building Intimacy

  1. Self-Disclosure: One partner takes a leap of faith, sharing personal thoughts, feelings, or experiences. This act of vulnerability lays the groundwork for intimacy.
  2. Responsive Partner: The other partner’s role is to listen with empathy, offer validation, and show genuine care. This safe space encourages the first partner to continue sharing.
  3. Deepening Connection: Positive responses encourage more open communication, active listening, and mutual responsiveness, enhancing the emotional connection between the partners. Without this nurturing exchange, intimacy fades.

Types of Intimacy

While emotional intimacy is vital, true intimacy goes even deeper. Here are a few different ways you and your partner might connect:

  • Emotional: Sharing your deepest feelings and dreams without fear.
  • Physical: Affection, touch, and sexual connection bring you physically closer.
  • Experiential: Building memories through shared activities and adventures.
  • Intellectual: Enjoying stimulating discussions and appreciating each other’s ideas.
  • Spiritual: Connecting over shared beliefs, values, or spiritual practices.

The different forms of intimacy are interconnected, feeding into each other. Building closeness on one level naturally enhances the others, creating a richer, more fulfilling connection

The Benefits of Intimacy Building Activities for Couples

Research has repeatedly confirmed the benefits of intimacy-building activities for couples. Studies consistently link these activities to a whole host of positive outcomes, including:

The science of building intimacy shows us why the exercises in this guide are designed the way they are. They’re all about prompting those core behaviors of sharing and responsiveness that ultimately cultivate a deep and lasting connection with your partner.

Common Barriers to Intimacy Building Exercises

It’s natural for intimacy to ebb and flow in a relationship, underscoring the importance of dedicating time and effort to intimacy exercises. However, even with a strong desire for closer connections, initiating and sustaining these intimacy exercises can sometimes pose challenges. Here are a few common obstacles:

  • Fear of Vulnerability: Sharing your innermost thoughts or desires can be scary. There might be lingering insecurities or past experiences that make you want to hold back.
  • Busyness: Life gets hectic! Carving out dedicated time for intimacy exercises can feel like a challenge amidst work, family, and other commitments.
  • Unresolved Issues: Past hurts, resentment, unrealistic expectations, or unhealthy patterns of conflict can significantly hinder your ability to be emotionally present and open with your partner.

Overcoming these barriers is possible and begins with recognizing and acknowledging their presence. With this awareness, couples can explore strategies and solutions, ensuring that efforts to build intimacy are both rewarding and effective.

5 daily activities to improve emotional intimacy in a relationship

Emotional Intimacy Exercises for Couples

Emotional intimacy is the cornerstone of a strong relationship. It’s that feeling of being genuinely understood, deeply connected, and free to share your true self with your partner. The emotional intimacy exercises below are designed to help you and your partner strengthen the bond that anchors your love and build healthy emotional intimacy in your relationship.

1. The 36 Questions That Lead to Love

This exercise, popularized by a study by psychologist Arthur Aron, uses a series of increasingly personal questions to create a sense of closeness and vulnerability between partners.

How to Do It:

  1. Get the complete list of questions here
  2. Set aside uninterrupted time: Aim for at least an hour (ideally more) where you won’t be interrupted by phones, kids, or other distractions.
  3. Decide who goes first: Take turns asking and answering each question.
  4. Listen intently: Maintain eye contact and truly listen to your partner’s responses without judgment.
  5. Be honest and open: Share your genuine thoughts and feelings, even if they feel a little scary.
  6. Follow the order: While there’s some flexibility, it’s best to follow the order of the questions as they build on each other.

Why it Works: The 36 questions progressively move from lighthearted conversation starters to more intimate and revealing prompts. This gradual shift encourages self-disclosure and fosters a sense of vulnerability, both key components of emotional intimacy. The act of listening intently validates your partner’s feelings and strengthens your emotional connection.

Why I Recommend It: This intimacy-building exercise is powerful because it provides a structured and safe way to explore deeper aspects of your relationship. It can be especially helpful for couples who struggle to open up or find themselves stuck in superficial conversations.

2. The Emotion Word Game

Often, we rely on vague terms like “good,” “bad,” or “stressed” to describe our emotions. This can leave our partners feeling like they don’t fully grasp what we’re going through. The Emotion Word Game helps expand your emotional vocabulary, giving you the tools to share your inner world with your partner more effectively and foster deeper understanding.

How to Do It:

  • Download Emotion Word Game Worksheet – Follow the instructions on the worksheet. Use the Emotions Wheel Chart in the worksheet for a list of emotions to consider.
  • Take Turns Guessing: One person chooses an emotion and describes a situation in which they have experienced that emotion or feeling and how it feels in their body. Don’t reveal the word!
  • Partner Tries to Guess: Listen attentively and try to identify the emotion.
  • Discuss and Empathize: Once guessed correctly, talk about how the exercise deepened your understanding.

Why It Works: Expanding your emotional vocabulary makes communication more precise. Understanding the nuances of your and your partner’s feelings promotes empathy and deeper emotional intimacy.

Why I Recommend It: This intimacy exercise helps couples move beyond surface-level descriptions to more nuanced communication. It fosters a deeper understanding of each other’s inner worlds. It’s best for couples who want to improve their emotional communication skills and develop a greater sense of empathy for one another.

3. Dreams and Goals Sharing

Our deepest dreams and aspirations reveal a lot about who we are and what we value. Sharing these parts of ourselves with a partner fosters a sense of connection and mutual understanding.

How to Do It:

  1. Create a comfortable setting: Choose a time and place where you feel relaxed and won’t be rushed.
  2. Take turns sharing: Discuss big dreams, little dreams, life goals, and future aspirations. Talk about what excites you, what might scare you, and what support you’d like from your partner.
  3. Practice active listening: Pay close attention to more than just the words – notice body language and emotional tone. Ask clarifying questions and reflect back what you’re hearing.
  4. Avoid judging or giving advice: This isn’t about fixing problems but about understanding on a deeper level.

Why It Works: When you share your dreams and goals, you reveal vulnerable parts of yourself. This vulnerability creates an opening for intimacy. Discussing support and potential obstacles builds a sense of collaboration and reinforces your role as your partner’s champion.

Why I Recommend It: Sharing our dreams reveals our vulnerabilities, passions, and hopes for the future. This intimacy exercise lets couples see each other more fully and provides an opportunity to be each other’s biggest supporters. It’s best for couples who want to deepen their understanding of each other’s aspirations and build a shared sense of purpose and support.

4. Letter Writing

This intimacy exercise helps couples use the power of the written word to express appreciation, gratitude, and love for each other.

How To Do It:

  • Write a love letter: Set aside time to write a letter expressing your appreciation for your partner. Focus on specific qualities, acts of kindness, and how they make you feel.
  • Choose Your Approach: Writing letters can be a shared activity for building intimacy, or a beautiful surprise for your partner. Decide if you’d like to plan a time to exchange letters together, or if one partner will surprise the other.
  • Exchange & Reflect: If planned, choose a time to read your letters aloud. For a more private experience, simply exchange them for silent reading. Afterward, reflect together: What surprised you? How did it feel to receive the letter?

Why It Works: Writing helps us to be more intentional. Taking the time to craft a thoughtful letter can bring unexpressed appreciation to the surface. Reading words of love and gratitude can have a profound impact, strengthening the bonds of intimacy.

Why I Recommend It: Taking the time to express deep appreciation and love can have a profound impact. This exercise reinforces feelings of love and gratitude, which is essential for couples to build intimacy. It’s great for couples who are more reserved about expressing emotions verbally, long-term couples who want to reignite the spark, or for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries.

5. Daily Check-Ins

Life gets busy, and sometimes the small, everyday connections are overlooked in the whirlwind. A relationship check-in is an exercise that makes intentional, quality time a regular practice.

How To Do It:

  1. Schedule your check-ins: Set aside 10-20 minutes of distraction-free time each day (or weekly or monthly check-ins are okay too depending on your needs) distraction-free. Morning coffee, evening cuddle on the couch – timing is less important than consistency.
  2. Use open-ended questions: Instead of a checklist of “How was your day?”, try these questions to build intimacy and spark deeper conversations:
    • What made you smile today?
    • Was there a challenging moment, and how did you handle it?
    • What are you looking forward to?
    • What are you looking forward to tomorrow or in the coming days?
    • Share something you’re grateful for today.
    • Did anything surprise you today?
    • How can I support you in something you’re facing tomorrow?
  3. Listening is KEY: Practice non-judgmental, active listening. Reflect back what you hear: “It sounds like…” or “So you’re feeling…”
  4. Keep it positive: These check-ins work best as a supportive space. Avoid problem-solving or negativity.
  5. Sign a Relationship Check-In Contract: Download my free Relationship Check-In Contract. The contract adds clarity and commitment to your check-ins, creating a structured framework for the exercise. It also has a comprehensive list of over 70 different daily, weekly, and monthly relationship check-in questions to get the conversation going.

Why It Works: Short but consistent connection combats the feeling of drifting apart as life gets in the way. This builds a habit of communicating and demonstrates that understanding your partner’s daily life is a priority.

Why I Recommend It: This intimacy exercise ensures couples carve out dedicated time to connect every day. Making this a habit strengthens communication and reminds partners that they are a priority in each other’s lives. It’s best for busy couples who struggle to find dedicated time, couples who need a reset to improve communication, or anyone wanting a stronger sense of daily connection.

Physical Intimacy Exercises for Couples

Physical intimacy encompasses all the ways we connect through touch, movement, and shared experiences. Nurturing physical intimacy can create greater safety, closeness, and reignite a sense of playfulness within your relationship.

Here are a few exercises to enhance physical intimacy with your partner:

1. Sensate Focus Exercises

Sensate focus is a series of sexual therapy exercises designed to build intimacy and reduce performance anxiety by encouraging partners to explore each other’s bodies through touch, focusing on the sensations rather than on achieving sexual climax.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the Scene: Choose a private, comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted. Dim lighting, soft music, and comfortable clothes can enhance the experience.
  2. Decide on Roles: Choose who will be the “giver” first. The “receiver” will lie down or sit in a relaxed position, fully clothed.
  3. Exploration (First Round):
    • Start on a non-sensitive area: The giver begins exploring one area of the receiver’s body (like their hands, arms, or back).
    • Vary your touch: Experiment with light strokes, gentle pressure, circular motions, etc.
    • Communicate: The receiver offers feedback on what feels good, neutral, or uncomfortable. (“That’s nice,” “Could you try a bit lighter?”). Avoid judgment or explanations – just describe the sensations.
    • Timeframe: Aim for around 10-15 minutes on the first area.
  4. Switch Roles: Repeat steps 2&3 with the other partner as the “giver.”
  5. Progress Gradually (If desired): Over time, you can explore more areas of the body, but avoid genitals and breasts initially. Focus remains on non-sexual pleasure.

Important Notes:

  • Non-Goal Oriented: Sensate Focus is not about arousal or orgasm. Release any pressure to perform.
  • Consent is Key: Check in regularly to ensure both partners are comfortable and enjoying the process.

Why It Works: Sensate Focus helps remove performance pressure and the focus on orgasm, allowing couples to rediscover touch for pleasure alone. It increases body awareness and builds mindful communication around touch.

Why I Recommend It: Focusing on the sensations of touch (rather than sexual goals) helps couples explore intimacy in a safe and pressure-free environment. This can reignite physical passion while teaching partners how their loved one likes to be touched. It can be especially helpful for couples who want to rekindle physical desire or anyone struggling with touch aversion or sexual difficulties.

couples doing playful activity to build intimacy in their relationship

2. Partner Yoga or Couples Stretching

Moving together can increase physical connection and create a sense of playfulness.

How to Do It:

  1. Find resources: Search online for couples stretching exercises and find the resource you like best. It’s best to start with beginner-friendly partner yoga poses or guided stretching videos.
  2. Set a playful atmosphere: Put on some relaxing music, light candles, and have fun with it!
  3. Communication is key: Check in with one another about what feels good and any limitations or modifications needed.
  4. Giggles are welcome: Don’t take it too seriously. Laughter can be a great way to bond.

Why It Works: Assisting with stretches builds trust and a sense of cooperation. Partner yoga encourages syncing your breath and creates a shared physical experience.

Why I Recommend It: Partner yoga/stretching emphasizes teamwork and requires a level of trust, making it a fun way to strengthen your intimate connection. This intimacy exercise is great for light-hearted physical connection and any couple who wants to have fun together while getting in some physical activity.

3. Mutual Massage Sessions

Giving and receiving massage is a powerful physical activity to enhance physical intimacy while nurturing one another and creating a sense of relaxation.

How to Do It:

  1. Create a relaxing ambiance: Dim lights, soft music, and even aromatherapy can set the mood.
  2. Discuss preferences and boundaries: What kind of pressure, areas to focus on, any oils or lotions you prefer? Be specific about which areas of the body are okay to massage and which are not. If you prefer, read up on couples massage techniques beforehand to enhance the experience.
  3. Respect each other’s comfort levels: If your partner indicates discomfort or asks to stop at any point, honor that request immediately.
  4. Take turns: This allows both partners to experience the care and pleasure of giving and receiving.
  5. Keep it simple: You don’t need to be a professional masseuse to provide loving touch.

Why It Works: Massage releases tension, reduces stress, and fosters a feeling of being nurtured. Physical touch releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone.

Why I Recommend It: Massage not only offers physical relaxation but also creates a structured way to explore and build safety with touch. The focus on nurturing rather than sexual expectations fosters a sense of security, and the act of giving and receiving touch helps couples communicate what feels good while reinforcing consent. It’s especially helpful for couples facing high-stress jobs who crave a way to unwind, build intimacy, and physically de-stress.

4. Slow Dancing to Favorite Music

Sometimes, the simplest things are the most meaningful. Slow dancing offers a chance to unwind and physically connect with your partner.

How to Do It:

  1. Choose your soundtrack: Put on a playlist of songs that have meaning to your relationship, or create a slow-jam mix that sets the mood.
  2. Set the space: Dim the lights, clear some space in your living room, and eliminate distractions.
  3. Hold each other close: There’s no right or wrong way. The focus is simply on moving slowly and feeling connected to your partner’s body.
  4. Talk softly or simply enjoy the silence: Share memories associated with the music, whisper sweet nothings in your partner’s ear, or simply relish the moment.

Why It Works: Slow dancing eliminates distractions and encourages focus on your connection. Moving in sync with your partner creates a sense of harmony, and the shared memories evoked by music can enhance closeness.

Why I Recommend It: This intimacy activity fosters physical connection, while the music can transport you to shared memories, making the experience feel even more special and intimate.

5. Controlled Breathing Exercise

Matching your breath with your partner’s can create a profound sense of connection and relaxation.

How to Do It:

  1. Find a comfortable position: Sit facing each other with your legs intertwined, or lie side by side with hands gently touching.
  2. Close your eyes and focus on your inhales and exhales: Notice the rhythm of your breath without trying to change it.
  3. Gradually match your partner’s breath: Subtly lengthen or shorten your own inhales and exhales to find a shared rhythm with your partner.
  4. Maintain contact: Continue the synchronized breathing while holding hands, gently stroking each other’s backs, or simply maintaining eye contact.

Why It Works: Synchronized breathing lowers stress levels and creates a shared physiological experience. This deep relaxation can open the door to greater physical intimacy and connection.

Why I Recommend It: By reducing stress and inducing relaxation, this intimacy exercise can open the door for greater vulnerability and deeper connection. It’s best for couples who want to experience greater present-moment awareness, anyone experiencing anxiety or stress that impacts intimacy, as a prelude to other physical touch or intimacy practices.

6. Kiss Mapping

This playful activity lets you explore which types of kisses your partner enjoys and discover hidden erogenous zones.

How to Do It:

  1. Gather “supplies”: Soft lipstick, flavored lip balm, feather, etc.
  2. Take turns being “mapped”: One person closes their eyes while the other explores different areas of the face, neck, and shoulders with varying types of kisses (light pecks, soft kisses, gentle nibbles, etc.)
  3. Provide feedback: The person being “mapped” gives feedback on what felt most pleasurable.

Why It Works: This creates a safe space to explore and communicate preferences around touch. The playful anticipation can be arousing for both partners.

Why I Recommend It: This intimacy building activity can open up new channels of communication about desire and lead to exciting discoveries. It’s a great intimacy exercise for couples who enjoy playful exploration and want to expand their repertoire of intimate touches.

7. Extended Hugging

Sometimes, the simplest forms of touch carry the most profound impact. Extended hugging offers a sense of security, comfort, and deep connection.

How to Do It:

  1. Find a comfortable position: Standing, sitting, or lying down – the focus is on holding each other closely for an extended period.
  2. Set a timer (optional): Start with 5 minutes and gradually increase the time as it feels comfortable. You might be surprised how long it takes to truly relax into the embrace.
  3. Focus on your breath: Notice the rise and fall of your partner’s chest, and subtly match your breath to theirs.
  4. Allow emotions to flow: Feelings of love, gratitude, or even old wounds might surface. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up without judgment.

Why It Works: Extended hugs release oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” which lowers stress, increases feelings of trust, and promotes a sense of security. Prolonged physical contact also helps regulate the nervous system, leading to an overall feeling of relaxation.

Why I Recommend It: This intimacy exercise offers a simple and accessible way for couples to slow down, reconnect, and find a sense of grounding in the present moment together.

5 daily practices couples can do to build physical intimacy

Activities to Build Intimacy Through Play and Exploration

Sometimes, the best way to deepen your connection is to let loose and have a little fun! Try these ideas to inject some playful energy into your relationship, but don’t be limited by this list! Use your imagination and find experiences that spark joy for both of you.

Remember, intimacy can blossom in everyday tasks. Don’t discount the power of simple shared activities like cooking a meal together, taking a walk in nature, or cuddling on the couch. The key is to be present and connect with your partner on a deeper level. Here are a few more ideas to consider:

  • Trying Something New Together: Whether it’s salsa dancing, learning a language, or tackling a DIY project, stepping into unfamiliar territory together creates a sense of shared adventure.
  • Throwback Date Nights: Recreate memorable early dates! Was your first outing a bowling throwdown? A cheesy rom-com at the drive-in? Relive the magic that brought you together in the first place.
  • Tackle a New Challenge Together: Sign up for a dance class (salsa, anyone?), try a beginner’s language course, or start that DIY project you’ve been eyeing. Learning something new together builds camaraderie and lets you see each other in a fresh light.
  • Play Tourist in Your Own Town: Sometimes the best adventures are right in your backyard! Grab a silly guidebook and explore your city or town with fresh eyes. Visit a museum you’ve never been to, try a new cuisine, or discover hidden gems.
  • Game Nights (with a Twist): Break out the board games, but add your personal spin! Losers have to do silly dares, winners get to pick a “chore pass,” or turn it into a couples tournament with a grand prize.

When to Seek Professional Intimacy Counseling

While intimacy exercises for couples can incredible tools, sometimes deeper rooted issues require the guidance of a professional specialized in intimacy therapy.

  • Intimacy feels like a constant struggle
  • Past trauma impacts your connection
  • Communication breakdowns
  • Life transitions (e.g. new parents) affecting intimacy
  • Betrayals of trust
  • Persistent sexual dysfunction or frustration but you’re not sure why

Final Words

Intimacy exercises for couples offer a tangible way to prioritize your connection, nurture love, and grow closer together. Try to approach them with an open mind and a dash of playful curiosity.

If you feel stuck or need support with activities to build intimacy in your relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out to an intimacy therapist. Sometimes a little expert guidance can illuminate the path toward the fulfilling, intimate relationship you both deserve.

Interested in therapy?

Work with world-class therapists at Holding Hope. Take the first step today by filling out the form below, or click the link to self-schedule a free consultation with Mara, the founder of Holding Hope.

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