Episodic Intimacy vs. Committed Intimacy

Dr. Paul Dunion

There are at least two expressions of emotional intimacy, with one gaining increasing popularity. Episodic Intimacy is the one becoming more and more in vogue. It can offer some advantages that don’t come with the territory of Committed Intimacy. It allows participants the chance to avoid the inevitable messy conditions of Committed Intimacy. The mess refers to conflict, diverse beliefs and values, the need to develop agreements that support the employment of non-blameful accountability, and the need to competently employ boundaries that support an individual’s autonomy while not fracturing rapport with the other. Let’s look more closely at these two different expressions of intimacy.

Episodic Intimacy

*There is typically a large number of folks referred to as “friends.” This is easily accomplished since the work, time, and,the energy needed to support Committed Intimacy isn’t needed.
*Episodes or events constitute the basic medium of connection. Taking initiative can occur, but even then, participants are clear that the meeting does not reflect a commitment to build something.

*Participants employ time elapsing and physical distance as needed boundaries. There is no need to develop boundaries that truly serve the deepening of the relationship.

*The episode is often comprised of accounts of experiences with third parties and events tangential to the relationship.

*Positive feelings constitute the connective tissue for the participants. These feelings evolve from shared beliefs and values. Diverse beliefs and values are not typically addressed.

*There is little or no focus or communication about what participants actually want from one another.

*Conflict is not typically engaged in by the participants.
*The relationship is not typically defined as a container for individual or collective growth.

*Participants focus upon offering historical updates rather than current life experiences.

Committed Intimacy

*The relationship is defined as a container for the growth of the participants as well as the relationship.

*There is mutual initiation guiding times to gather.

*There is ongoing invitation to actively participate in one another’s lives.

*One has a small handful of folks defined as true friends due to the work, time, and energy required to support each commitment.

*There are ongoing requests regarding what participants want from one another.

*Participants are committed to engaging in conflict by avoiding dynamics of
Win – Lose and Right – Wrong, and continuing to learn to refine their confrontational skills.

*Participants welcome both shared beliefs and diverse ones.

*Participants commit to employing boundaries that support each person’s individuation as well as the quality of depth and meaning of the relationship.

Relationships might reflect a bit from each paradigm. Episodic connections certainly can serve folks living at a great distance from one another. They provide an opportunity to catch-up, reminisce, and remain in one another’s life. Committed Intimacy provides an opportunity for growth, relational skill-building, and creating a bond lending itself to depth and meaning. What is important is to be clear and intentional about what kind of relationship is desired.
Here are some questions that can help guide the decision-making process. Do I enjoy giving to this person? Do I want to know this person better? Does this person appear to make desirable offerings to me? Is this person curious about me? Do we appear to a strong level of compatibility? Do I have the time and energy to build a committed intimacy with this person? Do I want to explore something more episodic with this person?
If these questions raise some level of longing for you, then you may be ready to explore a connection that is more committedly intimate. Even if they raise fear, you may simply be identifying a developmental edge that has been waiting for you.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Paul Dunio has been in private practice as a Counseling Psychologist for nearly forty years. He has published five books and is a Senior Faculty Member of the Mobius Leadership Training Organization.