How important is emotional intimacy to you and your partner?
How can you deepen the emotional connection in your relationship and what gets in the way of this happening?
Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, we are continuously regulating levels of closeness and distance in our relationship.
Couples do this all the time in a myriad of ways. This can be done directly and openly negotiated in the space of the relationship (“I’ve missed you; can we spend some quality time together?”; “I need some down time; I’m just going to relax and read in the other room for a little while”); or this occurs indirectly and covertly (working late to avoid each other; or, the converse, anxiously pursuing your partner without clearly naming what it is that you’re needing).
Relationship Help: Emotional Intimacy Basics
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to intimacy.
What leads you to feel emotionally close to your spouse/partner might look very different from what makes him/her feel close to you—there are different pathways to finding emotional connection. The goal is to understand each other’s intimacy pathways and to use this knowledge to strengthen your relationship.
For instance, a walk after work with your wife might be all you need to feel connected to her. However, she may enjoy this shared activity but not necessarily experience it as an intimacy builder. In this example, she might be anticipating that after the walk you’ll both sit together and talk about your day (her intimacy builder) in order to feel closer to you.
Couples need to expand their mindfulness of each other’s desire for emotional closeness, how this is accomplished for each, as well as when one of you needs a bit more space rather than togetherness. While it’s easy to misinterpret and personalize your partner’s need for additional space or “me-time” as a form of rejection, this desire isn’t necessarily a sign of a marital or relationship problem. It may simply have to do with your (or your partner’s) particular temperament and biological rhythm. For example, if you’re more introverted compared to your partner, you may require more quiet and alone time then him/her—this is in no way a reflection that something is amiss, nor does it represent an avoidance of intimacy.
The Motion of Intimacy
Emotional intimacy is never a constant experience.
Frequently we vacillate between desiring greater togetherness/connection and then inching back in the direction of needing more separateness/individuation (this might involve needing more alone time or space from your mate; or it may involve a laid-back togetherness that involves less emotional intensity). In these instances, intimacy fluctuations are influenced by your and your partner’s differing needs—needs that intensify and lessen depending on circumstance (e.g., your need for connection may intensify when you’re faced with greater stress).
However, shifts in emotional intimacy can also be an indication that your relationship needs some attention (see Relationship Checkup). Breakdowns in communication, empathetic failures, misunderstandings that don’t get fully resolved, and betrayals that crack the foundation of trust all directly impact a couple’s level of emotional intimacy. Obviously it is difficult to feel or want to be emotionally close to someone you’re not getting along with or who doesn’t seem to be sympathetic to your experiences. In these instances, I often encourage couples to be aware of increased feelings of disconnection as a result of communication problems and to speak about “missing” the emotional closeness they once shared, rather than getting caught up in the minutia of a particular disagreement.
It’s very powerful and healing whenever one partner is able to turn to the other and say, “I know we can’t seem to agree on this issue, but I want you to know that I miss feeling emotionally close to you…”
Relationship Help Self-Reflection
- What makes you feel emotionally close to your spouse or partner? (List up to 5 pathways that lead you to feeling deeper emotional intimacy.)
- What makes your partner feel emotionally close to you? (List up to 5 of your partner’s intimacy pathways.)
- How can you and your partner foster an ongoing, shared awareness of each other’s need for emotional closeness and separateness?
Couples Communication and Intimacy Resources
Meaningful intimacy and effective communication of one another’s needs go hand-in-hand.
If you’re interested in building up your communication toolbox, click communication workbook for more information about my popular Communication Breakthrough.
Here’s to deeper emotional connections!
Dr. Rich Nicastro