Dr. James Dobson’s Twelve Steps of Intimacy

James C. Dobson, Ph.D., is founder of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization that produced his internationally syndicated radio program. A licensed psychologist and marriage, family, and child counselor, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in the field of child development. The author of more than 30 books, including his most recent bestseller, Bringing Up Boys.

Written extensively about in Love for a Lifetime: Building a Marriage that Will Go the Distance and mentioned specifically during one of his Focus on the Family radio programs, Dr. Dobson recounts the 12 steps of intimacy:

1. Eye to Body. A glance reveals much about a person — sex, size, shape, age, personality, and status. The importance people place on these criteria determines whether or not they will be attracted to each other.

2. Eye to Eye. When the man and woman who are strangers to each other exchange glances, their most natural reaction is to look away, usually with embarrassment. If their eyes meet again, they may smile, which signals that they might like to become better acquainted.

3. Voice to Voice. Their initial conversations are trivial and include questions like “What is your name?” or “What do you do for a living?” During this long stage the two people learn much about each other’s opinions, pastimes, activities, habits, hobbies, likes and dislikes. If they’re compatible, they become friends.

4. Hand to Hand. The first instance of physical contact between the couple is usually a non-romantic occasion such as when the man helps the woman descend a high step or aids her across an obstacle. At this point either of the individuals can withdraw from the relationship without rejecting the other. However, if continued, hand-to-hand contact will eventually become an evidence of the couple’s romantic attachment to each other.

5. Hand to Shoulder. This affectionate embrace is still noncommittal. It is a “buddy” type position in which the man and woman are side by side. They are more concerned with the world in front of them than they are with each other. The hand-to-shoulder contact reveals a relationship that is more than a close friendship, but probably not real love.

6. Hand to Waist. Because this is something two people of the same sex would not ordinarily do, it is clearly romantic. They are close enough to be sharing secrets or intimate language with each other. Yet, as they walk side by side with hand to waist, they are still facing forward.

7. Face to Face. This level of contact involves gazing into one another’s eyes, hugging and kissing. If none of the previous steps were skipped, the man and woman will have developed a special code from experience that enables them to engage in deep communication with very few words. At this point, sexual desire becomes an important factor in the relationship.

8. Hand to Head. This is an extension of the previous stage. The man and woman tend to cradle or stroke each other’s head while kissing or talking. Rarely do individuals in our culture touch the head of another person unless they are either romantically involved or are family members. It is a designation of emotional closeness.

9-12. The Final Steps. The last four levels of involvement are distinctly sexual and private. They are:

  • (9) Hand to Body,
  • (10) Mouth to Breast,
  • (11) Touching Below the Waist, and
  • (12) Intercourse.

Comment (2)

  • bill| November 18, 2015

    i am using this information along with my wife as we counsel young couples for pre-marriage counseling. It has stimulated some great discussions. I also used this information when i preached at the weekly chapel at the christian high school i teach at. I did not go past step 8 but i did have some of the student really squirming as i approached step 8, yet it too was well accepted and all couched around God’s word and his perfect instructions for marriage.

  • Andrew W| May 19, 2016

    Hello, Bill.

    I read [a book] years ago…probably in about 1987, about [the 12] steps of relationship development, which was definitely a Christian-base book, but I recall it having real-world application to the psychological and emotional connotations of “skipping steps”. When I saw Dr Dobson’s name attached to your notes above in my Google search, I was sure it was the same one I had read. However, now I’m not sure.

    A couple things.

    1) Don’t recall it being *quite* as formalized, and in such tiny steps as what you’ve listed, so it may have been another book. On the other hand, I suppose steps 1-9 could happen within the span of a single date or two.

    2) In this age of internet dating, the better part of those steps are slung frightfully out of order, often exchanging several important bits of information days or even weeks before meeting in person – Christian or secular websites. I’m not sure that is something you’d like to apply to your counseling or not, but I thought I’d share my ‘thinking out loud’ comment with you.

    If you happen to know the book I’m discussing, or have a light synopsis of steps 9-12, I’m trying to find it to share with my girlfriend, who is amazingly understanding, but doesn’t entirely understand my earnest request to abstain before marriage.

    Thank you for your time;