Relationship Help: 3 Conditions for Deeper Emotional Intimacy

When you feel “close” to your spouse/partner, you are experiencing an emotional connection that is the essence of a loving relationship. For so many of us, this special bond brings a sense of emotional completeness and vitality to our lives.

But the gift of emotional intimacy, the emotional bond that sustains a loving union, is fragile and can easily be undone.

While it’s natural for the emotional connection you feel with your spouse/partner to change throughout the life of your marriage/relationship (so one shouldn’t expect that feeling a deep emotional connection will be a constant), there are certain conditions couples should be aware of that can nurture emotional intimacy.

The goal is to create and maintain certain relationship conditions that will allow emotional intimacy to germinate. These conditions are created by the mindsets, behaviors and interactions that occur between you and your spouse/partner.

Conditions Needed for Emotional Intimacy

1. The Role of Acceptance

Mutual acceptance allows for the development of relationship trust that is so important to the development of emotional intimacy.

When your spouse/partner reacts negatively to you in some way, when s/he seems bothered or uneasy about something you did or shared about yourself, this lack of acceptance gets mentally tagged by you with a warning sign. The sign would read, “If I share this again, I will be rejected/judged.” This lack of acceptance might motivate you to pull back emotionally or conceal parts of yourself from him/her.

However, when your partner accepts who you are without judgment, conditions of emotional safety are put into place that lead to greater openness, emotional sharing and ultimately, deeper intimacy.

Self-Reflection Action Step:

In what ways do you try to communicate acceptance in your marriage/relationship? How would you like your spouse/partner to show acceptance of you and your experiences?

2. The Role of Validation

Your spouse’s/partner’s ability to validate what you share is important in the development of trust.

For instance, when you disclose something important about your life, or when you share an experience important to you, you hope that your partner will understand your point of view. If you receive the verbal and nonverbal message, “Yeah, it would have been painful for me too…I’m so sorry you had to experience that,” you come away feeling understood and validated.

Validation makes people feel sane. It tells us that we’re justified in having our reactions, that we’re not alone in how we think and feel.

Self-Reflection Action Step:

In what ways are you validated by your partner?

What happens to the level of trust and intimacy in your marriage/relationship when your partner validates your reactions and experiences?

3. The Ability to Take a Risk

Let’s assume for the moment that the first two ingredients needed for intimacy, acceptance and validation, are in place—that for the most part, you and your spouse/partner have been working on the acceptance/validation part of your relationship.

Is this enough for emotional intimacy to flourish?

The simple answer is no. Something more is needed, something important, and this something can only come from you. It’s the willingness to be daring, to have the courage to give of yourself and let yourself be fully seen by another person—to share yourself and hand over your feelings and experiences to your spouse/partner.

It’s often our past emotional wounds (and fears of further wounding) that prevent us from taking this risk. The truth is that emotional intimacy is risky business– what you have to decide is whether or not you are willing to take the risk.

Self-Reflection Action Step:

What holds you back from opening yourself up more fully to the gifts of intimacy?

Is there a way you can take calculated risks that would allow you to gradually move into the realm of greater connection and intimacy?

Couples who seek marriage and relationship help often struggle with disconnection from each other. There are many different paths to intimacy, and the paths that work best for you might vary from how your spouse/partner finds connection. The conditions discussed above will keep these paths open if you decide to travel them.

Thank you for the opportunity to be of service to you and your relationship,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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