Sophie Watson, 17.10.2016

How to encourage emotional intimacy and build a strong relationship

Emotional intimacy. At first glance, it’s a phrase that sounds a little hippy-dippy, a little new-age, and more than a little earnest. Yet, to dismiss emotional intimacy as cuddly nonsense is to do it a disservice, especially as it can create the kind of closeness that is vital for a happy relationship.

What is emotional intimacy?

So what emotional intimacy, really? Essentially, it is the non-physical connection between two people that allows them to let their guards down and be their real selves around one another without fear of rejection.

However, it’s also the process which creates this connection, an on-going exchange of empathy, support, and conversation that stitches two people into a committed unit.1 This of course means that you can't just expect it to arrive your life: it takes effort and patience to get to a state of true emotional intimacy. But getting there is vital for lasting love.

Why is it so important?

That's because such a connection is vital for a happy relationship and ongoing contentment. It's not dramatic, kissing-in-the-rain, rom-com love, intead it's the kind best summed up by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros when they say ‘’home is wherever I’m with you.’’

Indeed, true emotional intimacy gives a couple a sense of simply belonging, and, as psychologist and marriage counselor Dr Rich Nicastro puts it ‘’it is intimacy in marriage (or the intimacy in a committed relationship) that has the potential to elevate the relationship above all others.’’2 In other words, if you want a bond that is going to last, happily, intimacy is the key.

Three things that can encourage emotional intimacy

What’s the best way, then, to ensure that you and your partner are encouraging emotional intimacy in your relationship? There are, of course, many factors that go into creating a happy, healthy bond; but below you can find three of the most important:

1. Vulnerability

What happens when people open their hearts?"
"They get better.

 - Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

Author and professor Brené Brown says that people often don't have enough intimacy in their lives, and that ‘’one of the reasons...is because we don’t know how to be vulnerable.’’3 This can cause issues as, if emotional intimacy is about loving each other’s real selves, then we have to let those real selves show – and that requires no small amount of vulnerability. 

Yet, being vulnerable can feel uncomfortable at first. Brown says this is because, although ‘’vulnerability is a glue that holds intimate relationships together,’’4 society often conditions us to see this openness as weakness. Happily, there are ways to encourage it and, by extension, intimacy. According to Brown ’’it’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need.’'5

Of course, it's easier to have the courage to be vulnerable when you find a partner who accepts you as you are and who you can accept as they are in return.

2. Acceptance

Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone - and finding that that's ok with them.

- Alain de Botton

If vulnerability is the leap that invites in emotional intimacy, then acceptance is the safety net that makes the leap less scary. If you accept and adore your partner as they are, and they do the same for you, then you remove the pressure to present yourselves as flawless individuals. Instead, you get to be real together, choosing to embrace all the weird and wonderful quirks that ‘real’ entails.  

This isn’t to say that accepting, emotionally intimate relationships never involve arguments. Indeed, a large part of acceptance means accepting that you will disagree from time to time – and that that’s ok. In fact it may even be welcome, for, when dealt with maturely, a little friction can ultimately help you to know each other more intimately.6

For many, the road to acceptance starts with oneself. If you can know that you’re worthy just as you are then it is easier to relax around a partner and let them love the real you.7 The next step is to demonstrate to your partner that you feel the same way about them – and that’s something that’s more easily achieved when you make time for the two of you to connect.

3. Quality time

This morning, with her, having coffee.

– Johnny Cash, when asked for his definition of paradise.

Life can be hectic, with busy work schedules taking up more leisure time than we might like. This can be problematic for those seeking true emotional intimacy, as so much of it is rooted in comfort, ease and familiarity – and achieving those things requires spending time together.

The good news is that, as writer Shannon Christie points out, this kind of quality time can ''be [a] custom fit.''8 It doesn't have to be all grand gestures; not as long as you make the most of the small moments you have together. In fact, sometimes it’s these little moments that matter most (much like it can be the little things that say ‘I love you’).

If you’re like Johnny Cash, it might be enough to have coffee together each morning. For others, it might be that you cook dinner together once a week, or leave time before bed to fill each other in about your respective days. Whatever you choose, the main requirement to foster intimacy is that you give each other your full attention: no phones, no TV, just time spent luxuriating in each other’s company, strengthening that emotional connection.9

EliteSingles editorial October 2016

Emotional connections are easier to build when two people are on the same wavelength. If you want to meet someone who gets you, then join EliteSingles today

If you have questions or comments about encouraging emotional intimacy in your relationships, then comment below or email us at editorial@elitesingles.co.nz

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