Emotional intimacy is the closeness and connection between two people who feel safe and secure with one another. However, it goes far deeper than simple “closeness.” It encompasses the idea of being seen, known, and understood by someone else. It involves getting to know each other deeply.
What Is Emotional Intimacy?
We hear more and more about emotional intimacy nowadays, but what is it exactly? With emotional intimacy, you strive to know your partner or friends on a deep level—you want to know about their struggles, what they are celebrating, and how they feel about the events in their life.
But, emotional intimacy is not a one-way street. We all yearn to be seen and known by those closest to us. Thus, emotional intimacy also involves allowing another person to see you for who you truly are. To build this connection, you have to let your guard down and trust another person with your private feelings, which is not an easy thing to do.
Emotional Intimacy Vs. Sexual Intimacy
The level of your emotional and sexual intimacy with a person can go hand-in-hand. Emotional intimacy doesn’t necessarily include sexual intimacy, but being physically intimate with your partner can increase it. On the other hand, without emotional intimacy, sex can be rather empty and disconnected.
When you are emotionally intimate with a romantic partner, sex is usually better. It can lead to more intense feelings and a deeper connection. A sense of emotional intimacy means that you have established trust and safety in this person. This allows you to be more spontaneous instead of worrying about how your body looks and your level of performance.
The key distinction between sexual and emotional intimacy is that sexual intimacy typically requires some form of physical contact or engagement. However, it is important to remember that emotional intimacy is just as important in a partnership. For example, women especially need emotional intimacy in order to physically and emotionally feel receptive to sex. Men also need to feel safe—the safer they feel, the less they worry about performance, size, or any other factors that may impact the experience.
Signs of Emotional Intimacy
Emotional intimacy can look different for everyone and every relationship, whether romantic or platonic. For some, it may mean turning to a friend or partner for support when they feel angry or upset. It could include making time to sit down with another person to discuss what is causing distress or disconnect in their relationship. Yes, it is a risk to tell someone the absolute truth about how one is feeling (including how they are feeling about the other person), but it is necessary in order to reach emotional intimacy.
Signs of emotional intimacy in a relationship may include:
- You feel safe sharing your private issues and concerns with the other person.
- You don’t feel alone, you feel supported—like someone has your back.
- You know your lover or friend will listen to you without judgment (at least most of the time)
- If something is bothering you about the way your partner or friend is treating you, you are usually able to talk about it.
- You always have someone to share both your ups and downs with—and you know they really want to listen.
- You care deeply about them and know they feel the same about you.
- You can easily shift from light to deeper conversation.
- You are able to feel empathy for your partner or friend.
- You are genuinely interested in the other person and welcome them sharing their feelings and experiences with you
- You are able to be present without being distracted by other people, your phone, etc.
- When your partner or friend is suffering, your heart opens up and you feel deep compassion for them.
Signs of a Lack of Emotional Intimacy
There are many clear signs indicating that a relationship is missing emotional intimacy. For romantic partners, this may look like a lack of communication about important topics or conflicts. Without emotional intimacy, friendships can feel superficial or one-sided. Regardless, not developing this connection with another person can greatly affect the future of the relationship.
A lack of emotional intimacy might look like:
- You are afraid to share your most vulnerable feelings or embarrassing experiences.
- Your relationship tends to feel superficial.
- You don’t feel seen, heard, or understood by the other person.
- You often don’t know where you stand with the other person, and you may either feel or fear that you are being judged or criticized by them.
- You often feel disappointed or let down by the other person.
- Conversations tend to be one sided—with one person consistently dominating the discussion.
- You run out of things to talk about and interest in each other wanes.
- You feel lonely in the relationship.
7 Ways to Build Emotional Intimacy
Whether you’re interested in working to rebuild emotional intimacy in your current or new relationships, there are many steps you can take to foster a deeper connection with another person. This means first having the desire to become uncomfortable with vulnerability and openness. Mutual trust is important, so focus on encouraging the other person to be forthcoming, as well.
Below are seven tips for building emotional intimacy in your relationships:
1. Come From a Place of Intention
Emotional intimacy starts with willingness and intention. A person may say they want to connect more deeply with important people in their life, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to put in the work. The key here is that building emotional intimacy begins with you.
For example, even if you decide as a couple that you want to deepen your relationship, it still requires each of you to do your part and to commit to this–especially when things become difficult. In other words, you can’t wait for your partner or friend to reach out to you. You have to accept the risk of taking the initiative, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel. Many of us have a tendency to shut down during challenging times, but be sure to remind yourself of your intention and commitment in order to pass these obstacles.
2. Be Willing to Communicate
You can’t reach emotional intimacy without good communication. This includes breaking through any fear and resistance you might have to sharing your feelings with another person. Having regular structured conversations about important topics is an important element of this. These discussions may include addressing any problems you are having, particularly if there is something in the relationship that needs work or changing. Be sure to cover areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and ask the person how you can better support them.
Try going through a list of intimate questions to ask your partner to help build emotional intimacy through communication.
3. Be Vulnerable
In order to share your innermost feelings with another person, you need to become vulnerable. This means putting yourself in a position where other people can emotionally hurt you. You may need to show parts of yourself that you have the least confidence or certainty about–even exposing aspects of yourself that you are ashamed of. In other words, being vulnerable includes letting your guard down.
4. Focus on Maintaining Trust
In order to allow yourself to be vulnerable with another person, you need to feel safe. You need to trust your openness will not be taken advantage of or used against you. Otherwise, why would you risk it?
This necessary step includes identifying your own personal issues surrounding trust. Try journaling about past negative experiences that may have contributed to your unwillingness to trust others. Allow yourself to feel the sadness, anger, and shame connected to them.
Additionally, if you aren’t sure you can trust a particular person, consider whether they have appeared to be reliable in the past. For example, have you witnessed this person gossiping about other people? Does this person seem to be compassionate? Choose the people you open up to carefully, but don’t let your fears stop you from doing so.
5. Practice Empathy
Creating emotional intimacy is as much about your behavior as it is the other person’s. Can the other person trust you? Can they feel safe opening up with you? In order for others to trust you, you need to possess the skill of empathy.
Not everyone is born with empathy. Rather, it is a skill people need to practice and develop over time. As you no doubt have heard before, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—to imagine how the other person must feel. Unless you have this skill, you are actually not a safe person to open up with.
6. Find Balance
Good communication means equal communication. In an emotionally intimate relationship, each person feels free to share their innermost feelings; neither party consistently dominates the conversation. So, if you consistently use your relationships as dumping grounds for your problems, you are not being emotionally intimate. The same holds true if your partner or friends constantly burden you with their issues.
7. Remain Open
Openness is another trait you may need to practice. You can’t just “decide” that you are going to become more open–although you can set it as an intention. This mainly involves looking closely at the reasons why you aren’t ready to be honest. Have you been hurt in the past and aren’t over it yet? Did you grow up in a home where people didn’t share their emotions? Did you get punished when you did open up? Examining your communication obstacles can help you break down barriers, especially if you want to share yourself entirely with a partner or friends.
When to Seek Professional Support
If you and your partner continue to have difficulty opening up with one another, couples or marital therapy can be beneficial. There are many online marriage counseling options that can help you learn how to open up to each other in a safe environment. It can also help you discover and heal any wounds that may affect how you trust one another.
Additionally, many people struggle with being vulnerable or trusting, regardless of how close they feel to someone else. If this sounds like you, consider psychotherapy, preferably in-person. Developing a relationship with your therapist will provide the powerful experience of learning to trust another person with your deepest self.
In My Experience
I hope this article has helped you understand emotional intimacy and given you some ideas about how to increase it in your relationships. Remember, it is an ongoing process—it doesn’t happen overnight. But with continued practice, you will reach your goal of deepening both your romantic and platonic relationships.
And check out this video by Nicole Kleiman-Reck, LMHC, about building emotional intimacy: