A Guide to Emotional Intimacy – What It Is; What It Isn’t & What You Need to Know
Emotional intimacy is the glue that holds a relationship together once the rose-tinted glasses come off, and it’s the most beautiful thing about falling in love. To see another person fully and be seen in return is up there as one of the heights of human experience.
Nothing quite compares to this deep fulfilling connection.
How do we define emotional intimacy?
For many, intimacy begins and ends with what happens in the bedroom, but the language of touch is one of many ways to be intimate with your partner.
You know what emotional intimacy is deep down.
It’s those long nights drunk on more than wine where you don’t want the conversation to end. It’s the impulse to share random thoughts. It’s wanting to spend time together even if you don’t utter a single word to each other. Just sharing your space is enough.
The thing about emotional intimacy is that no relationship can survive without it, but it’s very easy to lose, if you let life distract you.
How does a relationship lose emotional intimacy?
So you might not necessarily know how to define emotional intimacy, but you know how it feels to lose it.
You feel distant from your partner. You become nervous when talking about sensitive topics. You have trouble sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings. Or you go to other people for advice, and vice versa. These are just some tell-tale signs your relationship lacks emotional intimacy.
Now this could be, because you fear letting your guard down and being vulnerable. It’s terrifying to bare your soul to another person, and open yourself to judgement. What if they don’t see your problems as a big deal? Or think that your feelings are silly. We often worry that our true selves are unworthy of love, but without vulnerability emotional intimacy cannot thrive.
Your partner wouldn’t be with you unless they appreciated and accepted who you are. Keep this in mind when you hesitate to speak about your feelings. You can’t be fulfilled in your relationship, if you lack self-esteem. It’s an issue a lot of us face at some point or another that should be addressed.
Getting your groove back can look like different things – going out on mental health walks, picking up a favourite hobby again, paying attention to how you present yourself, journaling, going to therapy, or signing up for the gym.
Boosting your confidence and self-esteem makes it easier to open up to other people, and be more comfortable with vulnerability. You’re also clear minded about what your emotional needs are and how to meet them through emotional intimacy.
Falling into the trap of day-to-day routines
The other pitfall here, which catches many couples unaware, is not paying attention to each other and mistaking your habits as a couple for emotional intimacy and closeness. This goes double for couples that live together and married couples with children.
When you’re in a relationship that has moved from the whirlwind romance of the early days, you naturally fall into a daily rhythm with your significant other. It’s a good thing! It means you’re comfortable sharing your life, not just your heart.
Living together naturally amplifies these daily habits from the division of chores to syncing your schedules. You might handle groceries, while your partner does the cooking. You wash the dishes and they take out the trash. Then together you cosy up on the couch to binge whatever true crime docuseries has hit Netflix.
The daily dance, when you’re in step with each other, is a beautiful thing, but can turn monotonous as both parties go through the motions. Many loveless marriages start off as comfortable routines. Bit by bit, you get preoccupied with deadlines at work, family emergencies, health issues, house repairs… and the closeness you have with each other slowly takes a back seat.
But as with anything in life, emotional intimacy is a muscle. If you’ve lost it, all you have to do is take a step and put in the time to restore that initial warmth that told you ‘yes, this is my person.’
So what are effective ways to repair emotional intimacy?
Show your partner that you see them.
Taking your partner for granted is the first symptom of dissolving emotional intimacy. Everyone wants to be cherished and affirmed every now and then. Remind your partner that you appreciate them for being in your life.
Words of affirmation can be anything from saying ‘I love you’ more often and giving compliments and words of encouragement, to singing along to a love song on the radio for them. Since texting is not going anywhere, make use of it. Send cute videos, memes, voice messages or tag them in your stories.
Small gestures go a long way.
When was the last time you went out of your way to do something thoughtful for your partner? We often lose track of the little things, but they make such a difference in the long run.
Are you the cook in the relationship? A nice way to show appreciation for your partner is to cook their favourite meal. Even simpler, surprise them with their favourite snacks. Flowers are a classic move for a good reason. Maybe your partner is an avid reader. Why not surprise them with a new book by their favourite author?
Gifts are only one type of gesture. You don’t need to spend money to make your partner’s day and repair emotional intimacy. It can be as simple as waking up a little earlier to greet them with coffee or breakfast. Pack a nutritious lunch or slip a love note in their jacket’s pocket.
Gift giving and acts of services are two powerful love languages that make your partner feel seen and cared for.
You should start dating your partner again.
As relationships mature, many couples gradually stop going out on dates. Courting is seen as part of the chase and the thrill of young love, but that’s not the case.
Dates are essential as a way to stay connected. Cohabitating couples, whether married or not, tend to forget to carve time explicitly for each other. Once children enter the equation time becomes a scarce resource. It’s so easy to lose the drive to impress and surprise your partner. You have to remember there’s always going to be stress, chores and long days at work. Those should not be excuses to neglect your relationship.
Before you know it, it’s been months since you’ve done something fun together for the sake of it. Little by little inattentiveness to one’s relationship builds resentment or drives partners apart. If the best time you’ve had with your partner is in the past, it’s time to start making memories again. Invite excitement back into your relationship.
Look back to the best highlights from those early days for inspiration. Maybe get a reservation to that new restaurant you’ve been meaning to check out together, have a nice picnic, pack up overnight bags for an impromptu weekend trip, or enjoy a movie marathon from a cosy blanket fort in your ugliest pаjamas. Your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
Be in the moment. No electronics in sight.
Phones are designed to keep your attention for hours, but this has a negative impact on maintaining emotional intimacy. Screen time should not eat into time spent with your partner. To truly repair emotional intimacy, you have to remove all distractions and be present.
It doesn’t matter that you’ve gone out on a date night, if you keep checking your phone. Texts can wait. Whenever you’re out on a date or have decided to spend meaningful time with your partner, it’s best to switch off your phones and put them away for a few hours. Ideally, all electronics need to be off so that it’s just you and them.
Another tip here is to make it a habit to put away your phone when talking to your partner at home. It takes only a few minutes to close the screen and fully engage in a brief conversation. Giving your full attention sends a clear signal – ‘you are important to me.’
Now it’s time to put everything into practice
A healthy mix of these four practices – words of affirmation, gestures, regular dates and sustained attention – will repair emotional intimacy you’ve lost over the years.
You have to remember that love is not a state we’re in. Love is an action. It’s doing and committing yourself to your partner again and again.
Emotional intimacy doesn’t happen in a day. It requires practice, patience and self-reflection.
Turn your gaze towards yourself first to figure out what an emotionally fulfilling relationship looks like to you, and then work towards it. You won’t regret it.