Intensity vs. Intimacy and Pacing in Dating

Article by: Bridgehaven Team

In the book The Addictive Personality author Craig Nakken notes one feature of the addictive personality that compounds the difficulty in freeing oneself from addiction. He said that addicts typically make the mistake of confusing intensity with intimacy; that the intensity one experiences emotionally during the addictive process is wrongly perceived as intimacy or closeness.  To feel good or euphoric is comparable to feeling loved and accepted.  He goes on to give an apt illustration of how this same phenomena plays out with his teenage niece.  He talked about her being “in love” with a boy whom she has not known very long but her feelings toward him were very pronounced and intense.  And so began to make long-term, future oriented plans with this young man in mind.  She was certain they would marry and had already begun to plan the wedding and how many children they were going to have and fantasizing about what life together with him could potentially look like.  He went on to say that it would be an exercise in futility for any adult who loves and knows her to talk her out off her feelings.  She, like most adolescents, was still learning, often the hard way that intensity of emotion is not synonymous with intimacy in relationship.  The criteria for real intimacy is much more in-depth, robust, and requires a certain length of time to be developed.

In dating from my own past experience, and in counseling those who describe their dating experience the theme of intensity not only gets confused with intimacy but as a consequence of this error, attempts to rush commitment before true intimacy has been cultivated tends to follow. It is hard to slow things down in a developing romance where emotions often outpace the reality of where the relationship actually is and can realistically exist given the amount of time spent with a person.  There is only so much one can know about another’s character, values, and functional beliefs in a few weeks as opposed to several months and even years where those embedded qualities are revealed.

Proper pacing is huge in determining the long-term health of relationships. When couples move too fast by spending too much time or spending the wrong kind of time with each other they accelerate the intensity of their feelings while intimacy lags behind because it has no choice.  You just can’t know a person well enough in such a short amount of time to justify such strong feelings. I was guilty of rushing relationships along much too fast in my former dating experiences based upon how strong my emotions were for that woman at the time.  As a consequence I asked more of the person than what she was willing or capable of giving. I also expected too much of myself as well.  I unwittingly sabotaged those relationships because I came on too strong and that ultimately lead to their dissolution.  I had to be honest with myself that the break-ups had less to do with incompatibility and more to do with how the intensity of my feelings overrode my ability to steward the relationship on the merits of patience and pacing that would have potentially extended the relationship and allowed for a much healthier exit for me as well as for her should it peter out.

So what can you do to slow things down and put your relationship in a better position to be healthy, last longer, and avoid unnecessary heartache?

  • A little less is more: Don’t seek to spend every waking hour with your dating interest.  It is normal to want to be around your romantic partner more but you also need the time between meetings to allow your feelings to settle and adjust to the firestorm of emotions that occurs during the nascent stages of a burgeoning relationship.  Force yourself to not be so distracted by your emotions that the rest of life begins to feel like a necessary inconvenience.  Your new relationship should add to an already established and full life and not become the prevailing thing that is good about your life.


  • Apportion your words, energy, and interactions. Be slow with the kinds of activities, events, and conversations you have early.  Too often couples share their deepest thoughts and feelings, travel to picturesque destinations, vacation together with each other’s families—you get the idea—before commitment based upon tried and tested character and compatibility have been assessed.  Try not to pile on every fantasy you would like to experience in a condensed time frame because these kinds of interactions are earned not given hastily or haphazardly.  These experiences and conversations are meant to enhance an already established relationship not become the basis for one. Invite others into your relationship to help manage the choices driven by your feelings by asking questions like, “Is this too much information to share too soon,” “Should I go with him/her to this event now or later?” “Am I spending too much time with ‘X’ or not enough?”


  • Understand your feelings young padawan. Remind yourself that although your feelings are real they are not completely trustworthy.  Meaning we don’t have to just go with our feelings because they are strong and allow our emotions to drive our decisions and choices entirely. Take some time to understand the role your emotions play in determining your decisions. We want our emotions to be used as assets not liabilities in our relationships.  Attached is an excerpt of a great article on understanding the role of our emotions.


  • Where’s lies the source of my worth? Watch out for temptation toward co-dependency; needing a relationship in an unhealthy manner to answer questions around identity and self-worth.  If we know we struggle with being tempted to turn a potentially good and healthy relationship into one necessary to confer upon us the dignity and inherent value given by God, we probably want to refrain from pursuing a romantic relationship for the time being until we’re more grounded and firm in whom we are.