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Fostering Emotional Intimacy

If I asked you what an important key to a satisfying relationship is, what would you say? Different people would probably give different answers, such as aligned goals, common interests, or sexual compatibility. When picturing a happy marriage, some people may think of going on romantic dates, holding hands on a walk, or snuggling on the sofa after putting the kids to bed. While all of these contribute to a healthy relationship, there is something underlying it all that is foundational for any successful couple. What is it?

The Key 

The answer is emotional intimacy. The best way to define emotional intimacy is the way you feel with your partner - do you feel that you can be vulnerable about your struggles and flaws and be supported and validated through it? If so, you are emotionally intimate with your partner! When both individuals have this sense of security with each other, it opens the relationship to deeper trust, understanding, and connection.

Walk Through The Door

While the key to a satisfying relationship is emotional intimacy, it still requires both partners to use the key and open that door of opportunity. In other words, emotional intimacy is never due to chance or chemistry alone. It may start that way, especially early in a relationship, but it takes intentionality and work to continue nurturing and growing that intimacy. Whether you’re looking to start a new pattern in an existing relationship or wanting to start a new relationship on the right foot, there are simple ways a couple can welcome emotional intimacy into their relationship.  

1. Verbal Tennis

Sharing thoughts, feelings, and desires without fear of judgment is crucial for building emotional intimacy. If you think this is lacking in your relationship, try playing a game of verbal tennis. Tell your partner about your desire to try sharing more of your deeper thoughts and concerns and, if they are open to it, for them to do the same in return. Then take the lead and share something that happened during your day, or a feeling or thought that you haven’t shared before. Afterwards, ask your partner to return serve. Listen with empathy. One by one, these exchanges can build your trust and sense of safety with each other.

2. Small Acts

In our busy lives, it is vital to find ways to notice and appreciate your partner. Many couples go above and beyond for each other early in the relationship, only to find themselves expending a lot of effort on other things in the hustle and bustle of life. This can result in couples taking each other for granted or seeing each other less as lovers and more as roommates. Think of small ways to continue showing that you value your partner; this could

mean reaching out for a hug or kiss, putting your phone down when your partner is speaking to you, or complimenting your partner about something that you admire or appreciate about them. Review your schedules and build in time to spend together without distractions or responsibilities. These small but impactful acts will continue to strengthen and build up your relationship.

3. Better Conflict

Couples should expect conflicts in their relationships. When unresolved and accumulated over time, they can sow seeds of hurt, resentment, and negativity towards each other. When done right, however, they can deepen understanding and connection for couples. One of the best ways to have healthy conflict is to understand and regulate your own emotions while it’s happening. When you sense that you are getting heated, step back and inspect what you’re feeling; then, see if you can communicate this to your partner. The goal is to replace combativeness with vulnerability, which keeps both sides connected despite the difficulty of the conflict. 

If you think you’re struggling with emotional intimacy in your relationship, know that you are not alone. With endless to-do lists and constant distractions, it is common for couples to feel the need to re-prioritize their relationship. If you are not sure where to start, consider getting guidance from a couples therapist to help navigate the challenges in your relationship. By learning to embrace vulnerability, show appreciation, and understand our triggers during conflict, couples can enjoy a fulfilling, resilient relationship founded on emotional intimacy. 

Written by: Gloria Huang, AMFT

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