Emotional intimacy as depicted by GoodTherapy is, “When people feel safe sharing their feelings with each other, even uncomfortable ones. Example, a woman confides in her sister about her body image issues. She trusts her sibling to offer comfort rather than using her insecurities against her.”
Emotional intimacy is important in our relationships as it aides in allowing one to feel safe and loved. When a level of trust is built in relationships, closeness and connectedness is often the result. Likewise, the lack of emotional intimacy in our close relationships can leave us feeling disconnected.
More than ever we are in need of emotional intimacy, but equally we are in a collective burnout of sorts which can create a barrier to achieving emotional intimacy. It is important to also note that emotional intimacy is key in all of our relationships. The emotional connectedness one receives from their romantic partner as well as their friendships are equally as profound on one’s emotional well-being.
What does emotional intimacy look like?
Emotional intimacy in our relationships can present in a variety of different ways.
· You are able to engage in deep meaningful conversations.
· You feel safe to share your fears, insecurities, and struggles.
· You feel safe to share your hopes and dreams.
· You feel safe to show up where you are. On the good days and the bad days.
· You feel seen and understood.
· You feel accepted regardless of your strengths and difficulties.
· You feel encouraged and supported in your growth.
· You feel celebrated to be your own person.
· You aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and imperfect in your relationship.
· You have shared experiences, shared jokes, and shared hardships.
· You are comfortable when there is silence.
· You are able to give each other space.
· You are able to touch one another in different ways.
· You hold each other accountable.
· You have space to share your highs and lows and all of the emotions that encompass the human experience.
· You have deep respect for one another.
Emotional intimacy can also fluctuate throughout the relationship. It may require intentional steps to maintaining and meeting the other person’s emotional needs in order to preserve a healthy and fruitful relationship for both parties.
Some ways we can build emotional intimacy in our relationships are by:
· Do an activity together. Share a meaningful experience with one another.
· Have intentional conversations. Be mindful that you aren’t only talking about the kids and the to-do list. Connect on a deeper level. Check in about your hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities.
· Thoughtful gestures. Maybe you know your partner is overwhelmed with a big work project and you also know they struggle with asking for help. You could pick up some of the slack around the home or with the kids because you know it will benefit their well-being.
· Provide emotional support. Create space for check ins regarding your emotions. What’s going on at work, in the home, with their other relationships? How are they feeling? Validate their feelings and offer support.
· Share thoughts and feelings. In relationships one often feels comfortable sharing their own thoughts and feelings with another person who is equally comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings. Having a person to share the good and the bad feelings with creates closeness.
· Non-judgmental listening. So often we listen to respond and especially with our loved ones we listen to solve. Allowing space for the other person’s experiences and feelings in a safe environment is emotional intimacy.
· Apologize when wrong or when hurt was caused. A sincere apology includes the ownership of actions and the acknowledgement of the other person and the harm that may have caused them.
· Be curious. Maybe your partner is starting a new project at work and is excited about it. Get curious, ask questions, and be engaging in their experience.
· Validate their experience. The human experience is different for every individual. Two people in a relationship may have completely different perspectives on a shared experience. It is important to note that while our perspective may be different, they are both valid and should be welcome in the relationship.
· Conflict is met with empathy and openness. Conflict arises in every relationship. Being open to the other person’s experience as stated above and empathizing with one another can be extremely beneficial in the connected relationship.
· Compliments. Complementing our loved ones, especially in non-physical ways helps build intimacy and aides is helping the other person feel seen in the relationship.
· Try something new together. Sharing a new experience together recreates the newness of a relationship as well as creates space for closeness.
· Give space. A relationship that is respectful and observant of another person’s need for space as well as closeness has a great level of emotional intimacy. On the contrary, a relationship that is suffocating and does not allow for space can be toxic and unhealthy.
· Be honest. Honesty is the best policy. Be clear with your needs, your feelings, your boundaries, and all the pieces that make you, you. A relationship that is healthy and has emotional intimacy will honor you and your needs. Safety in a relationship is equally important and feeling safe to speak freely is a gift.
Emotional intimacy can be easier to achieve at the beginning of a relationship when things are new, there is more time dedicated to meeting the emotional needs of our partner, and the additional things that are added onto your relationship have not come into play yet. You may be sitting in your relationship a couple year in, may you have started a family, you have a home, and you are both working thinking, “what the heck happened to our emotional intimacy? We use to talk all the time and now we feel like roommates.”
So how can we rebuild our emotional intimacy during these seasons of life?
According to Gottman, “A good sexual relationship is built on emotional intimacy and closeness. In other words, if you’re hoping to improve your physical relationship, you need to first work on your emotional connection. Focus on meeting your partner’s needs and communicating your own needs in a loving, respectful way. In The Science of Trust, Dr. Gottman explains that couples who want to rekindle their passion and love need to turn towards each other. Practicing emotional attunement can help you stay connected even when you disagree. This means turning toward one another by showing empathy, instead of being defensive. Both partners need to talk about their feelings in terms of positive need, instead of what they do not need. According to Dr. Gottman, expressing a positive need is a recipe for success for both the listener and the speaker because it conveys complaints and requests without criticism and blame. Dr. Gottman says, “This requires a mental transformation from what is wrong with one’s partner to what one’s partner can do that would work. The speaker is really saying, ‘Here’s what I feel, and what I need from you.’”
Emotional intimacy is an important ingredient in our relationships. Be intentional with how you are showing up in your relationships and what relationships are healthy and positive for you to be in.