Emotional intimacy is not the same as sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy can take place with or without emotional intimacy, and emotional intimacy often does not occur within any kind of sexual context.
Emotional intimacy is a psychological event that occurs when the trust level and communication between two people is such that it fosters the mutual sharing of each other’s innermost selves. It is unbridled mutual self disclosure.
Sadly, a lacking of emotional intimacy in relationships is common, and as a result we pay a heavy a price. Its absence can easily be witnessed by way of strained and failed relationships of those all around us, and in a larger context, reflected within the staggering divorce rates.
In our most intimate relationships, we seek to feel wholly accepted, respected, worthy, and even admired in the eyes of our mate. We would like our relationship to be a comfortable place for us when we are weary. A place of compassion and support.
Emotional intimacy is needed for these feelings to develop and continue, and when there is a lacking of it the relationship breaks down. One or both parties might even seek to have these needs filled outside of the relationship, and this of course only makes matters much worse.
Why is this quality so often missing from our relationships?
If emotional intimacy is the glue that holds our unions together, why do we seem to avoid it like the plague?
The majority of people have difficulty practicing openness and allowing themselves to be vulnerable with someone. Due to gender socialization, this might be a more trying process for men. However, both genders can struggle immensely with divulging how they really think and feel, for fear of the ultimate rejection, the rejection of our true selves.
We can especially be afraid to expose our real selves to someone who’s opinion really matters to us. What if we were criticized, laughed at, or seen as undesirable for our expression of who we authentically are, by someone very close and important to us? Though these are the people that it is hardest to reveal our inner truths to, ironically these are the very people that we need most to do it with.
Since we have shied away from emotional intimacy for so long we have not developed adequate communication skills in the area of intimate disclosure. We lack the ability to verbalize what our true emotional wants and needs are to our partner. It might be difficult to find exactly the right words to communicate our feelings accurately. In fact, it might even be difficult for us to formulate our wants and needs to our own selves. We might struggle to get in touch with such an truthful place within, when we are not used to dwelling there.
So, if we add the fear factor to lack of experience and skill deficits we have in this area, the non presence of emotional intimacy in our relationships is really no surprise.
What can we do about it?
If we want to develop more emotional intimacy with someone, we ourselves need to become familiar with how we truly feel. How can we share our authentic feelings, wants and needs if even we are not aware of what they are?
The solution is to become consciously connected to the feelings we have pushed down and buried for so long, and to explore them more completely until they are well known to us.
We can begin by stepping away from the hectic world, finding a quiet place and just sitting with ourselves. At first you might notice that it is hard to switch off the mind’s chattering and get quiet within. But the mind’s chatter might be a valuable aid at this beginning point, in that its content can give us our first insights into our deeper self.
The mind’s commentaries that can inform us, the ones we ordinarily disregard or hardly even notice, can go something like: “I can’t let the softer side of me show or I might be seen as a pushover and may not be respected, or might be taken advantage of”. Or, “if I voice my true opinion and it’s very different than my mate’s, I’m afraid they will judge me, or maybe it means we are not right for each other”. A very common one is “I don’t feel good/deserving/smart enough for xyz”.
What are some of your familiar running self commentaries related to you partner and your relationship?
We start by observing these statements neutrally, without self judgment. We just let them teach us about what has been going on inside. As we continue to take advantage of this wonderful source of information during our quiet times, we become more familiar with how we truly feel underneath of the layers. We begin to see connections that have eluded us before. We might realize for instance, that we became a workaholic to avoid getting close. Perhaps we used inappropriate anger or other damaging non cooperative attitudes to create distance within our relationship, out of the fear of emotional intimacy.
Eventually we will want to move beyond the thoughts of the mind into a more deeper place where we can address our feelings without mental interference. We can sit quietly, and still the mind by closing our eyes and focusing mentally on a peaceful image, or repeating a soothing phrase. We quiet the thoughts and focus solely on the feelings we have. We allow ourselves to experience all of our emotions fully, without retreat. This can be a very powerful and yet a difficult experience because our feelings of fear, anger, frustration, pain, sadness etc., might be very intense. In fact, we might only be able to remain engaged in this state for short periods of time at first.
It is an exercise that takes practice and patience, but is crucial to the knowledge and growth of our inner selves, which is crucial to our intimate relationships.
Something else that many find helpful with the process of inner connection is keeping a daily journal. Not a journal in the sense of the circumstances of daily events, but one that places emphasis upon the feelings or emotional elements of the situations.
Practicing emotional intimacy in relationships:
Once we have begun to know our inner selves, how does this translate into emotional intimacy within our relationships?
We need to consciously create the environments and opportunities for emotional intimacy to be present:
The most common way that emotional intimacy, and even general communication is lost, is by not spending enough time with our partners. She works days, he works nights, and they pass one another in the hallway between shifts. Classes on the weekends for her, playing on the local sports team for him. In a typical family household, it is often taking the children to umpteen activities and trying to run a household on top of two partners working full time.
Many of these things that keep that us so preoccupied with everything else but our partners, are unnecessary to the degree we engage in them and are sometimes set up by us(may be unconscious) as a strategic way of avoiding closeness. On the other hand some things may just be poor planning.
It is essential that changes are made in the necessary areas to allow for the development of bonding time with our partners. As we become more aware, we can make changes accordingly. Without emotional intimacy you are walking a path of probability. One of being added to the disturbing statistics of failed relationships.
Spend time alone together each day. Set aside at least half an hour daily and begin to talk from the place of your authentic selves. As you do so, you begin to experience being more vulnerable with each other. At times you may wish to be in each other’s company in complete silence. This nourishes a more profound connection at the level of the soul, and is an incredibly powerful builder of intimacy.
- Deal with relationship issues immediately, as they arise.
Do not drag out issues by ignoring them, outright denying them, giving silent treatment, or holding grudges. This only creates resentment and further emotional distance. Be emotionally present and prepared to share your true feelings. Encourage your partner to do the same by listening well, and accepting and understanding their truth(though it might not be the same as yours) when they do.
Rather than having conflict tear down your relationship as is so commonly the case, allow the working out of these issues to become a tool for actually building emotional intimacy!
-Be a person of honesty, character and integrity in daily life.
Having these character qualities makes it much easier to open the door for trust and authentic sharing to begin to take place at the outset, as it renders emotional intimacy a less risky behavior for your partner.
-Express your appreciation for your partner with simple, kind gestures.
Small acts of affection and thoughtfulness can mean the world, and are one of the easiest ways to build strong emotional bonds. An extra effort to listen when you are overtired means so much, and does not go unnoticed. A willingness to see their favorite movie with them(which they know you do not like at all!) The possibilities are infinite, and can be personalized to your partner.
- Strive to make this way of communication routine.
Deep sharing from one partner encourages the same kind of disclosures from the other. Trust and emotional intimacy builds gradually over time as we slowly reveal our true selves and are consistently met with acceptance. As you are learning better ways to communicate and build intimacy, make the effort to have it be the root mode of interaction you go to.
Of course, on occasions things may not go as smoothly as we would wish, and we might find ourselves or our partners not acting in a manner that contributes to emotional intimacy. Stay the course if there are setbacks. Return to a quiet space for some peace and calm if you need to. Begin basic exercises that allow you to get information from thoughts about the situation, and let go of the mental noise and allow yourself to fully feel your emotions.
Especially at a time of misunderstanding an turmoil, remember above all that your partner loves and cares deeply about you, and you them. That is the inner authenticity to act on underneath of the surface layers of hurt being expressed.
Keep practicing, and when feel tempted to withdraw to old ways, remember that the ongoing happiness and longevity of your relationship and family unit is possible.
Remember that it is a choice you continually make, moment to moment.