Friday, July 13, 2012

Levels of Intimacy and Relationships - A Guide from Terry Gorski

In general, the following information comes from Terry Gorski's book, Getting Love Right: Learning the Choices of Healthy Intimacy. In this book he shares his point of view on the different types of relationships that people can have with varying levels of intimacy. (Some of it I have paraphrased from a lecture he gave on the same topic that I had the opportunity to listen to many years ago.) As Gorski explains: It is one of the hallmarks of dysfunctional (unhealthy) relating to believe you either have to be totally, intimately involved with someone, from the beginning, and it has to be seen as a serious or potentially long-term relationship, from the beginning, or you have no relationships at all. In other words, there is no "middle ground" - it's "All or Nothing".

One of the things I have come to appreciate about Terry Gorski is that he pretty much sees the realities of relationships for what they are and he addresses those realities as they are rather than making a lot of moral/value judgments about the people having various types of relationships. He basically says, "Look: It's obvious not every relationship is meant to be a serious long-term, committed relationship. People actually relate at a lot of different levels and for different reasons, and for different periods of time, which includes different expectations and different levels of intimacy."

In the original lecture I heard of Terry Gorski speaking on intimacy, he outlined several different levels of relationship as follows:

a) Casual - the type of relationship you have with the cleaning people at your workplace; in this case you'd have a very low level of intimacy, you may or may not even know each other's names, but you may say "Hi" to each other and interact in a very superficial way.

b) Acquaintance – someone you know a little better than a casual relation, but still with very little regular interaction. Maybe you know each other through other closer friends and relationships.

c) Functional Association - this form of relationship includes people that you work with and possibly people that you share housing with, clubs or social organizations of which you are a member. These are "functional associations" in that the individuals share responsibilities to maintain a given circumstance or to accomplish specific goals. Interactions are more task-oriented. Again this usually involves little or no intimacy in the sense of their being discussions about personal matters; although, it is common (though maybe not necessarily healthy) for those lines to be crossed.

d) Companionship - In a companionship, "the activity is more important than the person". In other words, the reason two people get together is to share an activity that they both enjoy. However, if Joe doesn't want to go see the latest Leonardo DiCaprio movie then you call up Steve and see if he wants to go instead since he also likes Leo. If Steve can't go, you move on to Alan, etc. For heterosexuals, it is probably easier to negotiate "companioning" activities with the same sex; however, negotiating motives and expectations can get a little trickier when companioning with the opposite sex. Same goes for homosexuals only in reverse, i.e. it's easier to companion with the opposite sex than it is to companion with the same sex. It is possible, however, in all cases as long as all parties involved understand at what level they are relating. In terms of intimacy, there may be a little more personal interaction between companions, but again, the focus is usually on the activity rather than the person with whom you are sharing the activity.

e) Friendship - Friendship is basically the opposite of companionship. In a friendship, spending time with the person becomes most important and the shared activity becomes secondary. Friendships involve much more focus on interpersonal communication, sharing of feelings, wants, hopes, dreams, desires, fears, etc. Friendships include emotional and psychological intimacy, but not necessarily physical intimacy. I think it is worthwhile noting that I have already discussed three other levels of relationships and we are just now getting to a level where intimacy becomes a more defining element.

f) Although at this point Terry Gorski would have defined the next level of relationship as a "Romantic Relationship" which would be further defined as "having a sexy friend"; I'd rather define this relationship as a Physically Intimate Friendship (especially given the info I shared in these blogs: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part I and Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part II). I'm beginning to feel whenever you throw "romance" into the mix, you open the "Big Romantic Myth Box" (not unlike Pandora's) and the relationship will be undone by all the cultural and archetypal expectations that come spewing forth as a result. For me, at least, at this point in my life, I would rather have a lover who was first and foremost a good friend than anything mythically "more" than that (which would actually end up being less, as far as I have experienced it).

In further consideration of what it means to be a good friend; I would say it involves being able to maintain a balance of giving and receiving of energy and attention and a mutual meeting of love needs (See Also:Understanding Basic Human Love Needs). You can have friends who meet your love needs for togetherness or companionship, and you can have other friends who meet your love needs for communication or talking, and you can have still other friends who meet your love needs for physical intimacy and/or caring. If you happen to find a relationship where one other person can satisfy many or all of your most important love needs and you can satisfy all or most of their most important love needs, then I'd say that is a good basis for a longer-term, committed, relationship; if practical circumstances support that as well.

In Getting Love Right..., Gorski divides "love relationships" into four types: experimental dating, transitional and committed relationships, and intimate encounters. He says:

"Experimental dating, transitional relationships, and intimate encounters are all short-term relationships that last from several days to several months and are generally not expected to grow into long-term committed relationships. These short-term involvements each meet particular relationship needs. Experimental dating relationships give us new experiences that allow us to gain the knowledge we need to make sound relationship choices in the future. Transitional relationships provide valuable support during the difficult period after the end of a long-term committed relationship. Intimate encounters are unique relationships outside the normal context of our lives that meet our here-and-now needs for intimacy." (p. 91)

(This last statement is one that has sold me on Terry Gorski - the fact that he acknowledges a functional, relational place for "one night stands"! Granted, they're not what I'm really "into" anymore, but I've definitely had my share and I think I would have been able to truly enjoy them for what they were if overriding "romantic/all or nothing" expectations had not already been programmed into my brain by both religious and secular elements of society!)

Gorski continues:

"Two essential factors in all healthy relationships are awareness of your own and your partner's expectations and your honesty of motive. You must first be aware of the type of relationship you are or are not looking for and then be willing to discuss your expectations with your partner in the early stages of the relationship. If you are unsure of exactly what type of relationship you want, you can communicate that, too. Your partner also must talk about his or her expectations. This will give both of you an opportunity to decide if involvement, under those terms, will meet your relationship needs. This is especially important in transitional relationships and intimate encounters, when a misunderstanding of expectations and motive can be emotionally devastating." (pp. 91-92).

I can only say - how true, how true?! And here's some more:

"Although you think you know what type of relationship you are ready for, your relationship goals may change when you become involved with a particular person and your feelings toward him or her evolve. You can never be certain at the outset how a relationship will turn out. Don't be afraid to change your expectations as your feelings change, but realize that if they do, you need to let your partner know and renegotiate the terms of the relationship. Remember, just because you change your expectations doesn't mean your partner will change his or hers.

"These relationship categories are not absolute. They are important primarily to help you clarify the essential nature of the short-term relationships so that you can have a way of determining what you are seeking in a particular relationship and talk about it with your partner. There are times these categories will overlap, and you may find they are less definite in practice than in theory." (p. 92)

Okay - that's probably enough to digest for this blog.

My motives in writing: a) reinforcing these definitions/concepts with myself, and b) offering to my friends and "subscribers" what I consider to be some very practical understanding for healthy intimate relationships. My hope is that they will learn from this information as well, thus increasing the chances for them to also have healthy, functional relationships if they are not experiencing them already. And if they realize that what they have is/are already healthy, functional relationship/s - then this will help to reinforce and validate their experience in a way that all our media propaganda about the "romantic myth of love" cannot.

Understanding Basic Human Love Needs

Several years ago in the context of a "" relationship, I asked my partner the following questions: How do people really "know" at the beginning of a long-term relationship that it will actually be a long-term relationship? Barring stories from elder relatives, especially those who have been together for say, 25 years or longer, what references do we have for what one might expect at the beginning of a relationship to indicate the long-term future of the relationship? Furthermore, without those kinds of references for comparison, how did either he or I know how to assess our own feelings, and the long-term potential of our relationship?

Since he was not able to offer satisfying answers to any of my questions, I decided to do some research on the internet with "Love" as my search term.

What follows is a greatly paraphrased version of what I found to be one of the most relevant results of that search. It was originally published on a site called "", and even though that source no longer exists, I still like to give the authors credit. The information takes the form of an "exercise" in which you (and a partner, if you have one) determine what are your Most Important "Love Needs". Once you've got that figured out, then you can have a more rational discussion about whether or not each of you is prepared to meet your partner's most important love needs, especially at the level of a "Physically Intimate Friendship" (See Also: Levels of Intimacy and Relationships)

From my current point of view, just figuring out what Your Most Important Love Needs are is an essential piece of "home" "work" - the "work" you do on your own, at "home", and it is something everyone should know about themselves before they get involved in any kind of serious relationship. Furthermore, once you have a better understanding of "love needs" in general, you are in a better position to have a conversation about this subject with a potential partner; i.e. you might be able to guide them through the consideration process so that they can come to a deeper understanding of themselves while you are also getting to know them.

In addition, it should be recognized from this discussion that Love Needs are Real, they are different for different people, and they vary in their level of importance for different people. To expect your partner to deny their own love needs because you are not comfortable meeting them is irrational, and not truly loving. In other words, understanding each other's Most Important Love Needs, and each person's willingness and capability for meeting the other's love needs should Weigh Heavily as individuals looking to couple go through their Selection Process (See Also: On Sharing What Is Most Meaningful). As Terry Gorski points out in Getting Love Right: Learning the Choices of Healthy Intimacy, most relationships fail due to Selection Errors!

I am all about learning to make better choices myself, and the consideration below has been helping to guide those decisions in my own case for a long-time now. Hopefully, readers of this blog will find this information useful as well.

So, to begin...Everyone has certain things they need from their relationships, and those relationships can have varying levels of intimacy and commitment. (See Again: Levels of Intimacy and Relationships if you haven't already.) Just like food, water and shelter, love needs are not things you only want. You NEED your love needs to be met to feel "comfortable in your own skin" as a human being. The mutual meeting of love needs is what is critical for any truly intimate relationship to survive, whether or not that relationship includes physical intimacy.

Although by no means complete, here is a list of "love needs" to consider:

1) Talking
2) Love Making
3) Caring
4) Togetherness
5) Loyalty
6) Looks
7) Money
8) Help
9) Family
10) Verbal Awe/Expression

While you read the explanations, be thinking of how important each need is to YOU:


Unlike the need for sex, Talk is not a love need that is exclusive to an intimate relationship. Keep this in mind: you can experience the feeling of "falling in love" with someone simply by talking to them, because your love need for talking is being fulfilled. If your significant other is not listening and talking to you, and Talk is one of your biggest love needs…you may very well "fall out of love" with that person!

There is such a thing as bad Talk. This happens when the person you are talking to is angry, shows disrespect, or the conversation in general is negative or controlling. This type of bad Talk will hurt a relationship.

When you first started dating someone you were really attracted to, you probably talked all the time. You were both very curious about each other and were finding out everything you could. If you’re like most couples, after a while the Talk slowed considerably. This obviously becomes a problem for the partner whose love need to Talk is high on their love need priority list.

Love Making

This is a need only your partner can meet if you are married or have a committed, physically intimate, monogamous relationship. The need for sex is important for many reasons. Men usually find it physically satisfying while also enjoying the challenge of bringing pleasure to their partners. Women tend to get more out of the emotional part of the emotional-sexual connection, maybe even feeling emotionally closer to their partners during physical intimacy than they do at any other time. Most people who have sex as a high priority love need, will feel better about themselves when they feel genuinely desired by their partners.

There are many different ways to approach physical intimacy. Some people prefer to keep things completely spontaneous, while others may prefer to practice Tantra and/or engage in "planned intimate occasions". If this is a high-priority love need for either partner, then it is important for it not to be ignored merely as a consequence of "life distractions", like children, and work. Having "planned intimate occasions" creates an opportunity to truly let-go of those other concerns for a while and focus on relating intimately. It can also give partners something to look forward to while they are otherwise handling the daily, maybe less pleasurable, responsibilities of their lives.

As with other love needs, it is important to be able to talk with your partner about your intimate needs, what behaviors and actions from your partner make you feel loved and desired. Therefore, talk often about what each of you like and don't like. Ask specific questions; sometimes one partner may feel shy about bringing an issue up, so it’s important to probe. Try to avoid the tendency to expect your partner to read your mind. You are much more likely to get what you need when you are willing to talk about those needs openly.

Also, if one or the other partner has a major problem with or aversion to physical intimacy, and cannot feel comfortable making themselves available to intimacy with a partner for whom physical intimacy is a high-priority love need, then it may be a "deal breaker" for the relationship. The sooner people are honest about that with one another, the better; i.e. it should be taken into consideration as part of the "selection process" referred to above. This does not deny the opportunity for growth and change, but it is also important sometimes to see realities for what they are and manage levels of relationship and expectations accordingly.


Care is showing someone that you love them via your words and actions. Hugging, holding hands, kissing, massaging, or writing a love note all show Care. Actually listening to your partner, without judgment, being compassionate, recognizing their vulnerability, also expresses care. It is important to care if your partner actually feels loved, understood, and appreciated by you, and to acknowledge the differences between the feeling of loving and the feeling of being loved and cared for, honored, and respected.


Going to the movies together, having dinner at your favorite restaurant, golfing with each other, and ordering in pizza are a few examples of togetherness. Obviously, this is doing things as partners instead of on your own. Maybe at one point you only did what the other partner wanted to do (perhaps you weren’t interested in going to an art show but you both went anyway).

It’s important that you both do things together, whether the other partner is 100% interested or not. Alternate your favorite things to do if you have to, just to be together. While it’s necessary for the both of you to enjoy some alone time, you are likely to deepen your relationship while doing things in tandem. If you love going dancing and your husband does not, then he is probably out at a boat show with his buddies at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster if someone of the opposite sex happens to join either of you. Why? Because if you enjoy yourself most while you do these activities but your partner is not there, you risk falling in love with the person who is with you and therefore satisfying your Togetherness need.

(Note: This ties into the idea of being able to share things that are "most meaningful" to each person. It does not mean that you have to share Everything together, but being able to share the Most Meaningful things is important. See again: On Sharing What Is Most Meaningful).


Being loyal in love means building trust, and the only way to do that is to be truthful and open ALL the time. You need to know that you can trust your partner while you’re not together, and that they uphold you in the same manner they would if you were standing right beside them. Unlike the love need to Talk, which could be about anything, the need for loyalty includes discussing very deep feelings and revealing everything important about you. These range from political views, family history to what you did today, what you’re doing tomorrow and any future plans. If your significant other has this need and it is not met or vice versa, security and trust will fade fast. There shouldn’t be anything that you don’t want the other to know about, and if there is, work it out before you get more involved.


Love at first sight? Only if this is one of your most important love needs. Yes it seems superficial, but the truth is this need can be just as important as the others. Weight, clothing style, and personal hygiene are important factors when thinking about Looks. There is nothing wrong with needing your partner to put effort into their appearance. Perhaps they did when you were first dating and have recently stopped? Regardless of the situation, Looks can be an important issue between two people, and again, it is not something either partner should expect the other to ignore, if it is one of their most important love needs.


Money is another love need that may seem superficial; however the actual money (or lack thereof) is important to the relationship, if it is a need of yours (or your partner’s). It brings the security of knowing that financial stability is there. You might make plenty of money, therefore it is not important to you if your spouse does or does not. If you are not content in the financial department, other areas of the relationship can turn sour quickly. It all depends on what you consider “enough” money. Do you want to be extremely comfortable? Or just get by? People have different expectations of the level of income needed to satisfy their love need for money.


Remember, love needs know no gender. This need has to do with housekeeping, things such as keeping things clean and tidy, cooking and washing dishes. This is often a need that is more important to whichever partner does the majority of these tasks. You may take on a lot of the household responsibility, and feel that your partner does nothing to help you out. If you feel overwhelmed, and are not getting any Help, it can creep up on you and result in bitter feelings towards the other.

If this is a need of yours, you feel happy and comfortable when things are as you want them. When they are not, you feel out of sorts and irritated. Some married couples do these chores together at first but slowly slip into routine of one partner carrying more of the work load. If the most important thing to you is that the house is vacuumed daily and you expect to come into an organized home, often times this can’t be done alone, especially where their are children present.


There are two different parts to the Family need. The first is children. Simply put, you have a love need for your partner to be involved with your children. It could vary anywhere from needing them to take an active role in caring or nurturing, or just needing them to uphold the family values and rules (perhaps you prefer to do most of the day to day parenting). Keep in mind feeding, dressing, or watching the children while you run out to the store is NOT the family love need we are talking about. Teaching and spending quality time helping them grow and learn IS. If this is a love need of yours, you must also agree significantly with your partner on the type and method of parenting, whether or not you will use physical punishment can be a major issue, and a very important one to decide on before you have children.

The second part of the Family love need involves extended family. It could vary anywhere from needing them to take an active role in caring and nurturing, to just needing them to back you up in decision making. Taking trips to see your mother and father, spending Holidays with your brothers or sisters, etc., could be very important matters for you or your partner, especially if either of you experience love deeply in the context of family associations.

Verbal Awe/Expression

The need for verbal awe/expression is important to many. As a human, you naturally want to communicate. Do you love getting compliments? Do you hate to be criticized? If you feel that your partner is not vocal about things they appreciate about you or love about you, then he or she is not expressing themselves in a way that satisfies this love need. Expression is defined as an act, process, or instance of representing or conveying in words. You know your partner loves you, but you want them to TELL you this, or SHOW it to you through actions.

This can be a very easy love need to meet for a lot of people, as many times this is how relationships begin in the first place. But, if this is not done the results can be hazardous and potentially fatal to your relationship.... If you need these compliments and gestures, but your significant other stops doing them after you’ve been together or has a problem doing them from the beginning, it can devastate you. Not only will it make you feel unsure about yourself, but you will begin to question things like their fidelity, their interest in you, your importance to them, and the meaning of the relationship.

The bottom line: People tend to "fall in love" because their love needs are being met. However, if in longer-term relationships, one or the other partner stops meeting the others Most Important Love Needs, then the relationship can suffer and even dissolve entirely as people "fall out of love".

With the information shared here (and in some of my other blogs), people can become more fully conscious of what it means to "love" someone, rather than merely experiencing the feelings of "falling in" or "falling out" of love. In truth, loving is a choice. One of the greatest ways to express love to another person is to actively meet their Love Needs; i.e. to make them Feel Loved by your words and actions, that can actually be targeted in very specific ways as outlined above.

This is what love between ordinary human beings is really all about. And although it may not satisfy all of your needs; i.e. it will not substitute for your need to experience true, personal, spiritual, ecstasy (as I discuss here Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part I), it can certainly go a long way to broadening your capacity to have truly satisfying relationships, with varying levels of intimacy, with many of your other fellow human beings.

Given all of the dysfunction, dissociation, and suffering that is what most people are experiencing these days, being able to work-out our most intimate interpersonal relationships, to be able to find more contentment and satisfaction in those relationships, can go a long way towards making the world a better place, a more peaceful place, for everyone.