5 Best Exercises For Couples To Build Emotional Intimacy, Which You Can Start Today
As an Intimate Marriage Expert and a Relationship and Intimacy Coach, I mostly work with couples who already have good marriages. However, they also know that there is always room for growth and they want to learn how to enjoy one another even more! Rather than settling with the good relationship they have, they want to figure out how to have a truly “great” marriage. Here are five ways to accomplish that.
Before we get into the details, let’s start with some definitions. “Good” vs “great”. This is far easier to feel than to clearly articulate the distinctions, but a few things are certain. In a good relationship, everything is as you imagined it would be but it’s just not as thrilling as you would wish for. In a good relationship there can be a lot of secrets, all shrouded in shame. There are “shoulds” and expectations, both your own and those you project onto your partner–all of which leads to some internal tension. In contrast, in a “great” relationship there is a far deeper, mutual understanding, acceptance of self and other, an attitude of growth, and the conviction that one another’s truth, freedom, and connection never take a back seat to anything else. Ever. It’s an expansive and spacious way to live.
When you’re in the presence of a couple with a “great” relationship, you can feel it. You are uplifted in their presence. They have light shining in their eyes. They behave in wonderful ways that are unexpected and also very consistent in their care for one another.
I’m writing this article both to clarify what a great relationship is and invite you to consider upleveling yours, and also to convince you that it is entirely plausible for you to get there, with concerted effort, a willingness to grow, and the right education.
The best way to enhance your marriage, to make it great, satisfying, and delicious, is to deepen your emotional intimacy. That is the key, and will naturally lead to more nourishing sensual and erotic intimacy as well.
Emotional intimacy happens when trust levels deepen and both verbal and non-verbal communication fosters the mutual sharing of your deepest selves with one another. This might look like expressing thoughts, feelings and emotions. It might look like listening deeply in order to reach an understanding, offer mutual support or build a sense of community. It also might look like feeling free enough to be silly together. The point is that with emotional intimacy comes more aliveness, more engagement, and more expression of parts of your selves that might otherwise remain hidden.
Here are five great ways to increase the emotional intimacy in your relationship, and shift your marriage from good to great.
Simple physical contact brings closeness when the touch is welcome. It’s an embodied way of conveying, “I see you. I care about you.” It’s important not to withold your touch because you are concerned it might lead to sexual intimacy; it’s very important to be able to express affection with no strings attached. So make sure the one isn’t a prelude to the other.
Sit with your partner when you watch a movie. Hold hands when walking together. Embrace at the beginning of the day and the end of the day. Yes, you may be on your side of the bed, but consider spooning before you fall asleep. (You don’t have to cuddle all night, but doing so before you shut your eyes will wordlessly say how much you care and contribute to building more emotional intimacy with one another.)
Your love-language may not be physical touch, but that is not a good reason to hold back. If you want to be intimate – either physically or emotionally – cuddling is an effective place to start.
Why this is important: Many scientific studies show physical closeness is one of the most important aspects of the bond between human beings. Between the pheromones, energy, and various chemical reactions that take place, cuddling and connecting with your bodies truly lubricates your connection and contributes to feeling happy and solid in your relationship.
2. We Know You Are Thankful For Your Partner But They May Not – So Tell Them. Often.
Life is busy. We all have responsibilities and hold ourselves and our partners to high standards while navigating our overloaded, very busy lives. When your partner drops the ball and lets a task slip by, or exhibits priorities different than your own, it is natural to feel frustrated. You might even take it personally as you feel disappointed and wish your partner would be a more reliable teammate in life. Chances are, you make it known how you feel, either saying so explicitly or by having your negative mood infiltrate communications.
But what about when your partner meets your expectations? He takes out the trash without being reminded, or she parks in the area of the driveway you requested? Or the new box of cereal is on the shelf the day before the current one is empty? Or when the bed is made every single day? What happens when your partner’s actions are exactly what you want them to be? Do you say so? Do you express the positive impact it makes? Do you acknowledge your partner for the good they do? Better yet, do you ever just thank your partner for sharing their life with you? Honestly. When was the last time you praised your partner in a meaningful way?
It is ok if you cannot remember the last time. Frankly, that is true of most people. We’re just so quick to criticize, yet unlikely to wholeheartedly thank our partners for the good they bring to our lives. You get to change that, starting today!
Why this is important: If you aren’t in the habit of acknowledging and appreciating your partner on a regular basis, make a point of expressing your gratitude every single day. You’ll notice how your partner is nourished by it, and probably will drop the ball less often. But also, you’ll feel so much better. What you focus on expands, and the more you orient to your partner with gratitude and gladness, the closer you both will feel to one another. Thanking your partner is a small action that will bring you very big results.
3. The Magic of Relationship Check-Ins
Each relationship has a lot of moving parts, including emotional, financial, physical, and often spiritual, parenting, and more. Between work, being a good partner, social life, self-care, and everything else in between, it can become too hard to keep track of it all. Online calendars can certainly organize your daily activities and make logistical communications simpler, but what about communicating about the needs of your relationship?
It is essential to take some time to consider how you feel in your relationship, on your own. What do you love about the two of you? What would you like to improve on? Do you want to spend more time together? Less? Do you want to expand what happens in the bedroom? Do you want to take a cooking class together? Give your relationship the attention it deserves in a proactive way. So many people only give this kind of attention to their relationship in times of significant challenge but ideally you consider the state of your relationship when all is well.
Once you are clear on your own needs, wants, and desires, what you love and enjoy about your relationship and how you want to improve it, schedule a time to discuss it with your partner. Entrepreneurs and others in business can relate to a weekly, monthly, or quarterly review at work and I’m suggesting something equivalent for your relationship.
Hear what your partner has to say, and share what is true for you. Make a point of doing so with kindness, and in a proactive way. (If you need help with this, or any other exercise I am writing about, please reach out to me and I will support you.)
It can be challenging at first, and a bit awkward to have such a check in on a regular basis. You might hold back on some of the things that are important to you until you both become comfortable speaking so directly. That’s just fine. Better to get started and grow through the conversations you have over time.
Why this is important: Set aside at least a half hour once per week, or as often as you both decide. At that time, do a check in on the state of your relationship. What is going well these days? Was there an argument that happened which did not quite get resolved? What parts of your relationship are feeling neglected? Better yet, what parts of your relationship are making you feel supported? Use this time to develop a plan that will address anything important to at least one of you and see how meeting regularly will truly set your relationship on a course for mutual success and greatness.
4. Curiosity is King
The beginning of any relationship is filled with questions. Will they like this perfume? Which restaurant should I choose? Do they like baseball, basketball, or football?. Where have they lived before? Do they want kids? As you spend more time together, the questions naturally taper off.
After all, you already know their favorite food, their favorite movie, their taste in music. Once you know all the important, and a lot of unimportant details, it’s common to have diminished curiosity and start making assumptions. This becomes most glaring if you fail to consider that people grow and change. If you stop asking, your answers won’t be current. And you’ll miss out on the juiciness of your partner’s growth and evolution.
To keep things fresh, current, and engaging, make a point of asking your partner 3 questions every time you spend time together. It doesn’t even matter what they are. All that matters is that the questions are about them, so that you get to know them better.
Just because their favorite color was green, does not mean it hasn’t changed to black. Just because their favorite dessert was once Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough that does not mean it has not changed to Phish Food! Maybe their dream was to visit Positano, Italy? But now, it could be that they really want to go visit Inverness, Scotland! The only way you will find out is by asking.
Why this is important: Wants, likes, and interests change over time. Communicating about those changes contribute to the vitality and emotional intimacy in your relationship. Obviously, you want to know what your partner is interested in or how they are changing – but the most important aspect of being curious is to know the “why” behind the change. Maybe your partner switched from Positano, Italy to Inverness, Scotland because they fell in love with the show Outlander and they cannot consume enough of all things Jamie and Claire Fraser. Maybe they get bloated with too much dairy and you’ll choose to have more sorbet in the freezer going forward. The details may be minor, or quite major, but either way the key is to see your partner as they are today and give them the gift of being seen and known. That’s what building emotional intimacy is all about.
5. Choose Your Listening Style Well
Sometimes your partner just needs to vent. Sometimes they need to talk something through to brainstorm and figure it out. Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes it’s intense. It can be about someone at work, the lady down the street who refuses to look both ways before she pulls out of her driveway, or one of your children. And maybe they need to be direct about their frustration with you.
Just because your partner is speaking does not mean you should listen in the same way every time. Make a list of the different kinds of communication the two of you have, and then make another list where you identify the best listening style for each kind of communication.
Some options are to just listen. Nod your head to indicate you are paying attention. Don’t say anything. Another option is to listen and respond in ways that are helpful. Another is to comfort and validate what your partner is saying.
If you aren’t sure which kind of listening is called for, ask your partner before they speak, to tell you what kind of response they are hoping to receive. If you get a clear answer, that is so helpful! But if you don’t, just ask if they are looking for a specific kind of response.
Why this is important: Communication is a beautiful way to enhance emotional intimacy. We often think the main issue with communication is that the speaker isn’t being clear or collaborative or helpful in what is being said. That certainly is a factor, however, when it comes to emotional intimacy in a relationship, the manner and style of listening is at least as important. When you focus on how you listen, you will find your conversations more productive and more satisfying.
I want more emotional intimacy for all couples, including you. I hope you try out these five exercises–just start with whichever one seems easiest to implement. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions and tell me how it goes. I can help you create the deliciousness & joy of a growth-oriented, passionate relationship.
In the meantime, if you want to know more about how to stoke the passion in your relationship, read my book Uncompromising Intimacy.