Do you and your partner feel like ships in the night? Do you “function” well together but always get the sense that there’s something missing?
Your relationship may be lacking in emotional intimacy.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw the towel in just yet. That’s because emotional intimacy can be cultivated. It’s an ongoing practice and one you can start fostering today.
What is emotional intimacy in a relationship?
Emotional intimacy is the foundation of all healthy relationships. It’s the sense of closeness and connection you feel with another person. The feeling of being truly seen, heard and appreciated by your partner. In turn, this helps create trust and security in a relationship.
At the beginning of a new relationship, there are all kinds of different feelings in the mix. There’s the rush and excitement of meeting someone new and that ever elusive spark… But these feelings can sometimes lead us to bypass the more important stuff, like:
Do we have the same values?
Do we want the same things in life?
Are we both willing to be vulnerable with each other?
Can we both share our hopes, dreams and fears with each other, without fear of judgement?
Emotional intimacy is something that is built gradually over time. It develops as we begin to share all the different parts of ourselves – and especially the parts we struggle with most. The more we are able to (safely) share our inner world with another person, the more we allow each person to truly be themselves.
Sharing our vulnerability with another person can feel scary – especially if it’s something we’re not used to. However, without it, we stand to risk much more. Because without emotional intimacy, our relationships are going to feel empty.
Lack of emotional intimacy – what are the signs to look out for?
Things appear OK on the surface level but the relationship is devoid of any real depth – you rarely talk about how you’re feeling and when you do, you worry a lot about how your partner will take it.
You don’t feel like your partner “gets” you – if you don’t feel understood by your partner, you’re probably lacking an emotional connection.
You’re not very touchy feely – physical closeness (like holding hands, kissing etc.) requires emotional closeness. If you and your partner are not very tactile with each other, your relationship may be more functional than it is deep.
You don’t talk about the important stuff – open and honest communication is the basis of all healthy relationships. Even though difficult conversations can feel hard, they often end up strengthening the bond we have with our partner.
How to build emotional intimacy
It’s true that emotional intimacy is a two-way street. That said, in order to feel connected to another person you must first feel connected to yourself. How comfortable are you with your own emotions? Are you the kind of person who wears their heart on their sleeve or do you have a tendency to brush things under the carpet? If it’s the latter, it’s time to start connecting to your own inner world. Therapy is a great place to start this process. The more you are able to be vulnerable and authentic with yourself, the more you’ll be able to extend this outwards to a partner.
Here are some steps you can take to create the opportunity for greater intimacy in your relationship:
Try and gradually start sharing deeper emotions with your partner – Share your hopes and dreams for the future, as well as the things you are afraid of.
Be curious – ask your partner intentional questions. For example, “what makes you feel most loved?” Or “what’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?”
Offer thoughtful gestures – surprise them by bringing them tea in bed (if that’s something you don’t usually do) or give them a spontaneous hug and tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life.
Share memories – if you’ve been together a while, get out some old photos and share happy stories and memories.
Do meaningful activities together – instead of going to the same old restaurant on “date night”, try switching it up instead. Take an evening class in something you’re both interested in, listen to a new podcast or go to an exhibition.
Emotional intimacy doesn’t appear overnight. But the more you invest in truly being yourself – and allowing the space for your partner to do the same – the closer your bond will become. Connection is a basic human need and, fundamentally, it’s something we all want. It’s worth fighting for!