When one hears the word “intimacy,” the mind typically goes straight to the physical aspect of the word. And while a strong sexual connection is absolutely important in a relationship, cultivating emotional intimacy is, too. In fact, the two types of bonds are arguably equal in rank of crucialness. For today, however, the latter is the topic du jour, as are its many layers and manifestations.
“Emotional intimacy does not have one simple definition but regards the way in which we relate to our partners, the level of mutual respect and trust, the feelings of kinship and physical closeness, the way we communicate, how we handle emotional conflict, emotional control and intelligence, and of course, romance and love,” explains Annie Gurton, relationship therapist and love coach for RESCU Me Academy. “Emotional intimacy is the sense that we are safe with this person. We can tell them our most innermost thoughts and feelings and trust that they are not going to judge, not going to criticize. It is the ability to be vulnerable with this person and expose ourselves in every way.”
This offers a better understanding of the notion, but executing it effectively is a different story altogether. So many factors and experiences can act as roadblocks to emotional intimacy and keep you from truly creating a connection with your partner. And while you can absolutely float on a placid emotionally shallow sea with your partner for a while, eventually the lack of depth will rear its ugly head, say pros. “After the high-octane madness of the romantic phase, [a couple] will feel that they have lost touch with one another, that the marriage [or partnership] has become boring or dull, or that they do not have the closeness, affection, or romance that they feel they should have with their spouses,” says Gurton. “Lack of emotional intimacy fuels disconnection, loss of satisfaction, unhappiness, and despair.”
If your current romantic situation is in the emotional red zone, don’t panic. Getting to deeper levels of vulnerability is absolutely possible if you put in the work and effort. Ahead, the pros will show you how it’s done.
Consult With A Professional
Sometime’s a neutral third-party can be key in helping you and your partner get to the root of your lack of connection. In fact, for those in it for the long-term, regular or semi-regular therapy sessions are crucial. “A professional who understands relationships can fast-track a couple into learning how to be emotionally intimate and move from being an unconscious to a conscious couple,” says Gurton. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) is now roughly 75 percent effective, as of 2017.
One of the major components to an emotionally vulnerable relationship is, well, being vulnerable. For many this is a completely foreign concept and not one that they even know how or where to begin executing. According to Gurton, “a therapist can help you to go deeper into expressing your thoughts and fears, and explaining any traumas which you encountered, even if you didn’t see them as traumas at the time.”
Getting to the root of your emotional issues and landmines can inevitably help your partner see you more authentically. “For example, someone who moved around a lot as a child and went to a lot of different schools, whose parents argued or were addicts, or who lost a sibling or parent, will have some kind of wounding which is emerging in their adult relationship,” explains Gurton.
Social psychologist, Susan K. Perry, PhD says lack of emotional intimacy can also stem from a person having a history of being criticized or emotionally abused. “Say your mate mentions something a tiny bit negative about some habit or behavior of yours — you don't want to hear it because you fear it means that don't love you, that they can’t love you if they don't accept every behavior of yours,” she says. “If one or both partners feel they're walking on eggshells a lot of the time, they will lose any chance of emotional intimacy." Your partner (particularly the one you choose to spend your life with) should be a person you can disclose yourself to without the fear of judgement or ridicule. If you feel that this is not the case, it may be time to rethink your relationship.
The road to emotional intimacy is a two-way street, and that means you also need to be a safe place for your partner to land. “Disclose more to feel more intimate,” says Dr. Perry. “Learn to accept your mate's disclosures without criticism. True, some people crave a lot more intimacy than others. So if your partner seems to hold back more than you do, talk about it without accusing them. You may learn what's behind their behavior and whether you can feel close anyway. There is more than one way to love intimately.”
She goes on to explain that emotional intimacy is as close as you can get in adulthood to that unconditional love some may have been lucky enough to experience in childhood. “It's the feeling of being ‘home’ when you're with your mate,” she adds.
Embrace Healthy Conflict
While screaming and shouting is not conducive to a well-balanced relationship, a little healthy conflict absolutely can be. Disagreements and issues are going to happen, and learning how to navigate them well can actually bring you closer as a couple. “Learn how to disagree, even fight, without terminating a conversation,” says Dr. Perry. “Take a break if you need to, but come back. Withdrawing with your hurt feelings and continuing the conversation or argument only in your own head is the opposite of intimacy.”
Getting to the heart of your argument or conflict can help you reach deeper levels of connection and give you better clarity on your partner’s needs and vision for the relationship. “[Emotional intimacy] is not a matter of pretending to love everything about a person so that person feels good,” says Dr. Perry. “It means speaking up, in kind and gentle ways, when something bothers you […] It's all about being — and feeling — fully known by another person. When you feel loved for who you really are, in spite of your flaws, you can relax your guard and be truly emotionally intimate.”