How To Build Emotional Intimacy For A Deeply Gratifying And Joyful Marriage – Starting Today
I often ask my clients what “intimacy” means to them. Most people are confronted by the question, even though they clearly state that they want more intimacy in their lives. When it comes down to it, there’s a tendency for women to aspire to touchy-feely forms of intimacy and for men to identify the physical aspects, though this is a broad generalization and there are always exceptions. What most people don’t realize, however, is the importance that one kind of intimacy has in influencing the other kinds. For when it comes to the various expressions of intimacy, they definitely are not all distinct from one another.
Physical intimacy (cuddling, holding hands, and even sex itself) is definitely important. So too is the subtle, nuanced, energetic reality of emotional intimacy.
Both are needed for a thriving passionate relationship, and one without the other is singularly unsatisfying.In fact, depth in emotional connection contributes to the finer textures and flavors which are part of the tapestry of intimacy, which then leads to more physical, erotic intimacy.
Simply put, emotional intimacy is your ability to be present with your partner emotionally, and in all sorts of delicious, intangible ways.
Do you know each other’s secrets? How often do you chat about the nature of your relationship? How much trust and vulnerability are you allowing your partner to experience within the greater context of your relationship? These are all key questions which must be answered to achieve greater emotional intimacy in your marriage.
Here’s the catch, with emotional intimacy, the feelings you explore and then share with one another must be genuine. Superficial communications that fill the air but don’t come from deeper in your soul won’t contribute to emotional intimacy.
The key to a fantastic relationship is each partner being fully self-expressed, sharing the truth of who they are with authenticity, and learning to welcome the truth of their partner.
Being true to not only who you once were, but especially to who you are now and who you are becoming, is an essential part of being fully-expressed.
You may have been a different person when you first started dating your partner and that is totally ok–it’s actually normal! After all, people, like their relationships, grow over time and their needs, interests, dreams and desires, evolve with life events and the natural process of maturing. While it may require an abundance of honest self-awareness and courage to share what you discover to start this journey, emotional intimacy begins and ends with an acceptance of everything which makes you who you are right now.
Being forthcoming to your partner about your current feelings contributes to a larger sense of security and wellness which then permeates every aspect of your marriage. With a strong foundation of trust, both of you will feel confident about the numerous interactions you experience on a daily basis. You will experience that both of you are primarily focused on the health of your relationship, and enjoy the spaciousness and playfulness this encourages.
Most concerns, and indeed most problems, in marriage stem from a lack of communication and the subsequent lack of emotional intimacy.
Do you ever, or have you ever wondered if your partner might leave you, or if they are seeing someone on the side? Those fears all come from a lack of emotional intimacy.
Feel like your partner is not supporting your desires enough? That your partner isn’t present and attentive? Lack of emotional intimacy.
Don’t see eye-to-eye on what actually makes you happy? Lack of emotional intimacy.
Feeling sluggish in the sexual realm due to a sex being infrequent or not as satisfying as you wish? You guessed it – it’s a lack of emotional intimacy.
As marriages grow, the initial excitement shared between partners wanes. With vibrant emotional intimacy, however, it just means that the quality and depth of excitement evolves and transforms. There is no reason for sexual intimacy to wane or disappear and, while common, it is not “normal.” What we see is that, over time, sexual intimacy is directly tied to the presence and depthof emotional intimacy. Rather than simply being attracted to the physical aspects of a partner (as happensin the initial stages of a relationship) the emotional intimacy that safety, love, adventure and compassion is what fuels the sexual connection in real and glorious ways.
Raw physiological attraction wanes over time, but the erotic intimacy fueled by emotional intimacy never wanes–it only deepens and expands.
Differently put, we cannot sustain a long-term intimate marriage without the presence of fully realized emotional intimacy. And this is wonderful news!! Because we don’t have control over our raw, physiological responses but we do have control over the cultivation and enjoyment of emotional intimacy. Plus, emotional intimacy is a learnable skill and anyone can learn it! Consequently, if you truly desire a long lasting romantic relationship, you need to invest the time, as well as the emotional bandwidth, to nurture your individual and shared emotional intimacy.
Immediate actions to improve your emotional intimacy right now
The good news is that your journey to experience emotional intimacy does not necessitate a grand gesture or a specific set of plans. You simply need to make a choice. Do you want what is best for your marriage? Yes? Good – that’s your first step! Honestly, that is usually the hardest step. It can be the hardest because everything after is about learning ways of communicating and practicing them, and once you decide to do it, you are set up for success!
Truthfully, accepting your marriage is not where you want it to be at this moment requires a lot of emotional awareness and a lot of vulnerability which many people are just not willing to embrace.
Since you are willing, here are two considerations to keep you focused and inspired.
- Everyone who has a great marriage has been through times of challenge and struggle. If that’s where you are now, that just means it’s time to put attention on your marriage and do what it takes to enhance the emotional intimacy between the two of you.
- Every marriage should treat emotional intimacy like a “value”. It’s both a destination and a process, meaning you will reap the rewards of the process, without ever arriving and feeling complete. That is to say, there is no limit to the degree of emotional intimacy you can experience in your relationship, and, as soon as you begin your journey you will immediately experience the benefits of doing so.
Do not be afraid to ask your partner to begin the journey with you
While you are clear about moving forward to improve your marriage, that does not mean your partner feels the same way–about the need to improve things or how to go about it.
When you bring up the topic, focusing on feeling connected with one another. This is not a time to become argumentative or demanding, or transactional (meaning making a bargain to get them to participate). The more kind and emotionally present you are when you discuss the topic, the more likely your partner will be to respond affirmatively.
If they get angry, or shut down, focus on reconnecting before you go any further in requesting they join you in rebuilding your emotional connection. Share vulnerably how you want to connect at a deeper level, and resist the temptation to force them into it. If you want some suggestions about how to do this, be sure to listen to my podcast on the topic here. While this is focused on couples coaching specifically, you can use what I say for anything related to improving your relationship.
Remember, the “value” is emotional intimacy and the “goal” is being on the same page to begin your journey so stay focused on getting on the same page.
The journey is long and delicious, but each step along the way is gratifying
You don’t need a complex multi-year plan to start your emotional intimacy process and have it last the rest of your lives, but you do need to take small steps now, to set yourselves up for success. Essentially, you need to make sure the trajectory of your relationship is pointing in the right direction. You need to do things that will create the outcome you desire and that is going to involve cultivating curiosity and being more vulnerable.
It is neither your partner’s “fault” that there is a lack of emotional intimacy, nor is it yours. It is, however, your responsibility to accept where you are, and learn to be more present, more vulnerable, and more emotionally connected with your partner.
Start small. Aim for one communication to be more meaningful. Listen more attentively to the next story they tell. For this is just the beginning, and if you want to run a marathon, you start by taking a walk around the block and building from there.
Another thing to keep in mind, is to keep things genuine and positive. When you share something meaningful, with more vulnerability, let it be about you and something in your life. Don’t make it about an inadequacy of your partner. You will get there, but not if you start with that. Remember, emotional intimacy is about trust and the only way to gain trust is to be trustworthy.
What is a fact about yourself that you have been withholding consciously or subconsciously? What is a small area of vulnerability that you have had a hard time expressing to your partner in the past?? Has something happened at work that bothered you? Do you have a secret worry about your children that you’ve never expressed?
Whatever fact it is, make it small. Keep in mind that you are both building your muscles and the trust and ease will grow with practice.
Don’t take your partner for granted
It’s easy to understand why people take their partners for granted. You’ve agreed to be there for one another and don’t need to put on a good face all the time. It’s common to focus on work deadlines and children’s needs and let your partner be kept on the back burner when it comes to time, attention, and care. But this attitude is dangerous. After all, people feel when they are taken for granted and it becomes a barrier for building emotional intimacy.
So consider the shifts you want to make to change this behavior. Do you want to send flirty texts? Do you want to do something you know will make a difference in the care of your home? Do you want to arrange a babysitter and plan a date? Do you want to make a point of expressing gratitude for your partner, one thing every day? Do you want to give gifts, or plan to give one another massages? Make time to take turns sleeping in on Saturday mornings? Wear something you used to wear when you were dating and let your partner know you’ve done so. Throw a surprise party or plan a picnic in your living room after the house is quiet. You get the idea–it doesn’t need to be grand, it just needs to be meaningful.
Explore each other again
A study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that couples reported a greater emotional connection when they were sexually satisfied. Anecdotally, however, I find that greater emotional intimacy leads to more sexual satisfaction.
One clear advantage to emotional intimacy is that is sets up a foundation for frank and affirming conversations about sex, which in turn has been shown to correlate with better sex. In other words, married couples who discuss sex have better sex. Emotional intimacy has many benefits, and just one of them is being able to have such conversations with the kindness and courage required for it to go well.
So take the time to explore your partner’s sexual wants and desires, once you’ve become comfortable with less confronting matters as detailed above. One more thing to consider: having a fantastic relationship is a learnable skill. Emotional intimacy and erotic communion can be learned and in this article I have shared how to get started, namely with small steps that deepen emotional intimacy.
Once you get comfortable with emotional intimacy, you will have laid the foundation for a lifetime of passion, sensual gratification, and ongoing growth and loving expansion.
I want this for all couples, including you. I hope you try out my suggestions and then feel free to reach out with 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.