“Intimacy transcends the physical. It is a feeling of closeness that isn’t about proximity, but of belonging. It is a beautiful emotional space in which two become one.” – Steve Maraboli
What comes to mind when you think of intimacy? Sex? Cuddling? The capacity to openly disclose your vulnerabilities to your partner? All of these things and more are intimate. One aspect of intimacy may be more straightforward for some people than others. Most of the time, it depends on the dynamics of the relationship, the backgrounds and experiences of both people concerned, and the degree to which they nurture the relationship.
Though emotional intimacy is not just something for romantic relationships – fostering emotional intimacy is just as, if not more, crucial to any romantic relationship than physical intimacy, which is essential and one of the main characteristics that distinguishes it from other types of relationships.
Intimacy can deteriorate over time, particularly if life stressors interfere. Intimacy is frequently the first thing to go when a couple becomes painfully estranged from one another due to work pressures, financial difficulties, and interactions that erode trust. Despite the fact that a number of demanding circumstances have stood in the way, couples can reestablish intimacy and meet their needs.
What Is Emotional Intimacy?
According to Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City and professor in the clinical psychology Ph.D. programme at Columbia University, “Emotional intimacy could be defined as allowing yourself to connect more deeply with your partner through actions that express feelings, vulnerabilities and trust.” Sharing your secrets, talking about your relationship, and breaking important news to your partner are all parts of a relationship. When both parties can communicate and understand each other’s feelings, relationships are generally happier.
For developing romantic and platonic relationships, Jessica Stern, PhD, a psychologist who teaches courses at the University of Virginia on emotion and close relationships, compares emotional intimacy to water and sunlight. In addition to fostering the relationship’s growth and fortifying the emotional bond so that it can withstand the winds of change, stress, and time apart, she says that this action “helps deepen the roots of the relationship by grounding it in mutual trust and understanding.”
Emotional intimacy, in the end, fosters a strong sense of security within your relationship and the freedom to be authentically you, flaws and all, without worrying that you might endanger the relationship (be it platonic or romantic). A relationship can struggle in many ways without intimacy. For instance, you might experience hypersensitivity, bitterness or resentment, worry about the other person’s loyalty, or your own loneliness or isolation.
Here today are 10 proven ways you can use to build your emotional intimacy within any kind of relationship.
Many couples eventually stop complimenting each other because they believe that they have said everything. Consider letting your partner or other person know how much you appreciate and value them. Don’t be shy about expressing your affection for those who are closest to you. A psychologist advises that you should try to offer five compliments or words of praise for each criticism or pushback. Particularly with romantic partners, it can be simple to overlook showing appreciation for all the little things and only speak up when something goes wrong, such as clearing the table after breakfast or folding the laundry in your preferred manner. You need to thank yourself for doing things like taking out the rubbish and working so hard for your family on a daily basis, she advises. According to relationship expert John Gottman, “There’s a habit of mind that the masters have… They are scanning their social environment for things they can appreciate and say ‘thank you’ for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.”
The person who talks freely can learn to acknowledge and value the other person’s preferred modes of expression. Some people mistake communication for intimacy; in one study, more than two-thirds of divorced couples reported that their marriages lacked the level of conversation they’d anticipated. The women, in particular, complained that they wanted to talk about both the positives and the negatives, and that they wanted to talk about work in particular. But there was no “give and take,” no emotional exchange that they were looking for.
- Contemplate their Death
It might be shocking to you but contemplating the death of your loved ones can increase emotional intimacy with them. A long-standing Stoic practise that also goes all the way back to Socrates is thinking about your mortality as a way to be more present and appreciative. Applying this idea to the context of your relationships is possible. We’re not suggesting that you should be concerned about losing your partner or yourself. That undoubtedly isn’t beneficial. We are just advising you to consider the emotional impact their absence would have on you. Make the fact that they are mortal a potent reminder that having a partner in your life is a gift and is important.
You might like to read this article for more on this type of process: The Stoic Practice of Negative Visualisation.
- Be Present for Your Partner
A two-way street exists in emotional intimacy. In order to show that you are there for a partner, friend, or family member when they share something sensitive or challenging with you, be compassionate or supportive in your response. One of the best ways to do that, according to Stern, is to “simply be present and listen.” After that, you can either ask them if they’d like to tell you more or validate their feelings by saying something like, “I can understand why you’d feel that way.” If it feels appropriate, she advises, “you can share a little of your own similar experience to show them you’re not alone, or ask how you can help.”
- Learn to Handle your Conflicts Better
We know that it is easier said than done. However, there are ways to strengthen your communication and conflict resolution abilities so that trying conversations instead bring you closer together. Don’t make the error of avoiding or improperly handling conflict. Everyone can become more skilled in conflict. And developing emotional intimacy is one of the most important skills you can learn.
- Don’t Mistake Intimacy for Sex or Words
Only a third of the divorcing men in a study reported not being able to achieve the emotional intimacy they desired. However, some of them regretted not having their wives support them “in much fuller ways.” They desired tangible signs of intimacy, such as being kissed, having their needs acknowledged at the end of the day, and being welcomed with open arms. They merit praise for their considerate behaviour as well as extra tolerance and understanding from the talk-deprived, as long as the less verbal shows their love in their own unique ways.
- Consider whether you are a better match than you believe
The amount of intimacy needed to prevent loneliness and the amount a person can handle before becoming overstimulated varies from person to person. Those who have more intense needs will exert more effort to maintain intimate contact with their partners, paying closer attention and encouraging their partners to express themselves more. There will be a weaker correlation between intimacy and relationship satisfaction if the need is lower. In other words, you probably won’t mind if your partner isn’t that interested in sharing his or her own inner life either, if you don’t crave the level of total closeness I’m talking about here.
- Make it Hard to Walk Away
When Susan Tyler Hitchcock and her husband’s marriage began to sputter, they decided to embark on a year-long sailing trip in the Caribbean as a family project. According to Susan, they felt “pulled together” as soon as they decided to go and started making plans for the lengthy journey. Their pattern of him withdrawing and her expressing anger or disappointment was broken. Additionally, she had a tendency to abruptly end a conversation when she felt threatened by a confrontation or thought she had pushed too far. Because neither of them could leave the sailboat, they developed more honest and in-depth conversations.
- Shake Up Your Routine
According to some relationship experts we frequently follow scripts in our interactions in close relationships. Most feelings are the result of a script interruption. You experience no emotion if you keep doing the same old thing. But if you stop doing what you’ve always done, someone may start to feel more. According to the expert, you can tell if a relationship is “live” by inciting an unexpected event, like one of you traveling alone or the two of you taking a trip to a new location. However, sometimes realising how intimate a relationship is or was requires taking drastic measures. Why not prepare for sporadic minor disruptions—instead of waiting for a major one to wake you up?
- Routine isn’t always Bad
When we first meet, everything we learn is unexpected, which causes strong emotions. We become more predictable to one another over time. An observational study revealed that a benefit to this predictability is that the result of predictability is intimacy, where “the partners are so connected to each other that the one doesn’t recognise the other is there, just as the air we breathe can be taken for granted despite being essential to life,” according to the author.
- Be More Transparent and Vulnerable
Sometimes it can be difficult for us to recognise our own defense mechanisms because of blind spots. For instance, one might choose to suppress their emotions and try to ignore them rather than talk about them and run the risk of appearing vulnerable if talking about sadness and not wanting to cry is a barrier. This may be an automatic pattern that has been in place for a while and does not necessarily come to mind as a barrier. Ask your partner, closest friends, and members of your family what they think of your ability to be vulnerable and transparent if you’re having trouble coming up with ideas. Request their frank opinions regarding what they have seen over the years. Their observations may provide a wealth of useful information on how to lower your guard and interact with your partner more openly. It takes a lot of courage to let your partner see you fully, but doing so may also open up a level of intimacy that is not possible to achieve in any other way. As you work on being more transparent, think about how you can encourage your partner to follow suit. Find out how you can help them feel comfortable being completely honest and open with you. It might entail finding different ways to express yourself, changing your tone of voice at particular moments, or even just enquiring about how you can help.
Your relationship with your partner may well be a long-term commitment. To keep the bond strong, you both need to take care of your relationship.
Simple, everyday behaviours are often what keep couples together. It’s crucial to keep in mind that verbal and physical expressions of love are both important. On a basic level, even the small actions of smiling, making eye contact, and paying close attention to what your partner is saying are acts of intimacy. These are actions that will strengthen your relationship with your partner and that can greatly contribute to developing intimacy at a deeper level.
Because we are with our partners so frequently, we frequently start to see them as an extension of ourselves. That, sadly, can lead to us taking our partners for granted, assuming they know that you love them and assuming they know what you need and want. Recognising your partner’s uniqueness apart from yourself, expressing your love in explicit ways, and working on your vulnerability and openness with them are all essential components of developing intimacy. These initiatives demand time and focus, and they are only successful when both partners are actively engaged. Relationship intimacy can grow and shrink depending on the amount of vulnerability and effort a couple is willing to put forth.
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