Emotional intimacy is a feeling of closeness and connection with someone, a sense of being known and knowing another person deeply. It is a sense of being deeply seen, known, understood and accepted by someone. Whether you are rebuilding the emotional intimacy you once experienced in your relationship or are looking to increase emotional intimacy, there are many strategies that will help build trust and deepen your connection.
Nicole Kleiman-Reck, LMHC, does a great job of summarizing some tips for building emotional intimacy in this video:
What Is Emotional Intimacy?
Are you missing something in your marriage? Do you feel you and your partner are drifting apart? Are you wanting to feel more emotionally connected to your partner? If your answer is yes, you may be missing what is referred to as emotional intimacy. Without emotional intimacy, a marriage can become sterile, distant and unfulfilling for both partners. On the other hand, emotional intimacy can create positive energy between two individuals, deepening the connection between them and encouraging each to become their best selves.
Below are some examples of what emotional intimacy may look like in a marriage:
- There is a feeling of comfort with one another. A couple seems relaxed in each other’s presence and can laugh easily together.
- The couple practices healthy communication in their relationship, including active listening.
- The couple is open and vulnerable with one another. They can share their deepest feelings with one another.
- The couple is honest with each other.
- There is a feeling of trust between partners.
- There is a feeling of safety and security between partners.
- The couple is able to forgive each other for their mistakes and shortcomings.
How Emotional Intimacy Can Be Affected in a Marriage
Even if you have been fortunate enough to achieve emotional intimacy, it can slowly begin to lessen due to daily stressors and busy schedules. Couples can begin to feel more like roommates as they pass each other coming or going. Even positive events, like the birth of a child, can begin to whittle away at the level of emotional intimacy in your relationship.
15 Tips for Building Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage
Emotional intimacy requires vulnerability, empathy, trust, and good communication skills, qualities that are not easy to obtain or practice. Fortunately, by working together, it is possible to create emotional intimacy in a marriage.
The following are 15 tips on how to create emotional intimacy in your marriage.
1. Share Your True Feelings & Thoughts
Instead of simply sharing about your day in a superficial way, try focusing more on sharing how you feel emotionally (i.e., “I’ve been feeling so sad, I’m missing my friend Amy so much since she moved away”). Stop putting on a brave face and pretending that things are okay when they are not.
Take the risk of revealing more about your insecurities and fears with your partner. This doesn’t mean you use your partner as a dumping ground for all your negative thinking. It does mean that you are more honest about how you are actually feeling, especially when you are experiencing a problem. The more you are willing to reveal to your partner, the more emotional intimacy you will experience.
2. Listen to Your Partner
Listen to your partner with presence and compassion. Make it a habit of stopping what you are doing when your partner is sharing something with you—especially if he or she is talking about their feelings. Practice what is referred to as “active listening,” meaning that you give your partner your full attention, look them in the eyes, and really take in what they are saying. The deeper you can listen to one another, the more emotional intimacy you will experience.
3. Validate Your Partner’s Feelings
If your partner is able to open up and share their feelings with you, validate those feelings. Emotional validation is the act of acknowledging and accepting another person’s emotions. It involves actively listening to what your partner has to say and showing them that you understand and care about their feelings. It’s about creating a safe and supportive space where your partner can feel comfortable expressing their feelings without the fear of judgment.
4. Don’t Try to “Fix” Their Problems
If your partner does open up and shares a problem with you, listen to understand, not to fix. Assume your partner has the skills, knowledge, and resources to work out their problems. Your role is to listen and understand what they are feeling. Remember–your partner is coming to you for understanding and connection, not solutions.
5. Respect Your Partner’s Opinions
You don’t have to agree with your partner’s feelings, but you do need to believe they have a right to their way of thinking. Arguing with them to try to change their mind or rolling your eyes when you disagree is not only disrespectful, but hurtful. This can cause your partner to either withdraw from you, become more reluctant to speak freely, or build up a defensive wall.
6. Check In With Your Partner
Actively check in with your partner to discover what is going on with his or her life, especially their emotional life. Such questions as, “How are you feeling about your new position,” “Are you still struggling with your new hire,” or “Have you resolved the conflict with your sister,” can communicate to your partner that you care about them and that you have been following the important events in their life. It also communicates to them that they are not alone with their struggles.
7. Appreciate Them More
Express more appreciation for your partner. Include appreciating things he or she does for you and for others, as well as positive changes they have made. Most importantly, don’t take your partner for granted. You may be used to the fact that your husband is extremely generous, but make a point of acknowledging his generosity from time to time. Your wife may be a wonderful mother, but she needs to hear from you that you recognize this.
8. Remember to Stay Affectionate
Increase the amount of affection you show your partner. It can be as simple as giving him or her a hug when you see them at the end of the day or when you say goodbye in the morning. Or, reach out to hold their hand when the two of you are driving somewhere together. If you have really grown apart and doing either of these things feels too difficult, try simply placing your hand on your partner’s back when you pass them.
Ask yourself why you don’t feel comfortable showing your partner affection. Are you feeling hurt because he or she is not being affectionate with you? By being more affectionate yourself you are, in essence, showing your partner that you would like to share affection toward one another again. This may encourage him or her to begin to do the same.
9. Take Time to Show You Care
Go out of your way to show your partner how much you love them. For example, if you know they love to have their back scratched or feet massaged, offer to do these things from time to time as a way of showing your love.
If you don’t feel love toward your partner, don’t do these things out of obligation. Instead, ask yourself why you are not feeling loving. Are you holding onto old grudges? Are you feeling deprived and don’t feel like giving to your partner? If either of these are true for you, perhaps you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with your partner.
10. Find Out Their Love Language
Provide for your partner the actions and words that you know make him or her feel appreciated, loved, and emotionally safe. This is your love language. If you don’t know what makes your partner feel these things, have a discussion with your partner in which you ask them what these are. Reading The Five Love Languages together can help you both learn the things that make each of you feel loved.
11. Maintain Physical Intimacy
Initiate physical intimacy. This may include joining your partner in the shower; offering to give them a back massage; or suggesting that the two of you spoon before going to sleep. Don’t do these things in order to signal that you want sex, but rather to express your affection and to increase emotional intimacy.
Emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy go hand-in-hand, especially for women who tend to need to feel safe, loved, and appreciated in order to get the juices flowing. The more you share non-sexual physical intimacy, the more likely you will want to share sexual intimacy–even though this is not the goal here.
12. Create New Traditions
Create romantic rituals together. For example, try having a candlelight dinner on Friday nights; having a brunch date on the weekend; cooking your partner’s favorite meal on their birthday; asking your partner intimate questions; or playing your wedding song as a greeting when they come home. These rituals remind each of you of the romantic feelings you felt in the beginning of the relationship, and can prevent you from getting into a rut and taking each other for granted.
13. Look at Your Sex Life
Sex is important in a marriage. If the two of you have grown apart sexually, try spending an afternoon or evening giving each other a sensual massage. Take the pressure off by making it a rule that you won’t have sex, that you will just enjoy your sensuality, each other’s bodies, and the feeling of intimacy the activity will elicit.
If you both seem open to it, buy a book about healing your sexuality that you can read together. This can be a way of opening up a conversation about what has gotten in the way of you being sexual with one another; whether one or both of you have felt too much sexual pressure in the past; whether either of you have a concern about performance; or whether either or both of you have built up resentments toward each other.
14. Don’t Avoid the Tough Discussions
Don’t be afraid to have serious conversations. Set a time or structured conversation to discuss the state of your relationship with your partner. Choose a date that is good for both of you and make sure the conversation doesn’t become an argument.
Examples of questions to ask each other might be:
- Are you getting your needs met in the relationship?
- What’s the best way I can support you right now?
- What do you need in order to feel more trusting and safer in our relationship?
- How would you like our relationship to change?
- What one thing would you like me to change or work on?
- What do you think you need to change in order to help our relationship to improve?
15. Take Responsibility for Your Part
Take some responsibility for your intimacy issues. Take a serious look at yourself and ask, “What is my part in our relationship problems?” For example, if you know you have issues with fears of abandonment or have a tendency to feel smothered, commit to working on these problems instead of constantly accusing your partner of being unfaithful or pushing him or her away.
Can Marriage Counseling Can Help?
If you can afford it, working on your issues in therapy can be beneficial. Depending on the way you were raised and on your childhood experiences, being open and vulnerable in a relationship can feel extremely uncomfortable. If this is your situation, couples counseling can provide a safe place for you to talk about this difficulty with your partner. Let him or her know that you realize you have a problem letting them in and assure them that it is not their fault. If there is a way your partner can help you, take the risk of asking for their support.
Practicing these strategies can help you begin to enjoy more emotional intimacy with your partner. It can take time and energy to put these tips into action, but it will be worth it. Think about the intense love and connection you felt at the beginning of your relationship and know that you can feel that love and connection again
For Further Reading
- The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman.
- Active Listening and Emotional Validation by Emily Wright
- Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
- Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg
- Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment and Building Lasting, Loving Relationships by Michelle Skeen
- Sexual Healing: The Complete Guide to Overcoming Common Sexual Problems by Barbara Keesling
- Healing Sexual Trauma Workbook by Erika Shershun