You have just come back from a really hard day at work. A lot of difficult thoughts and feelings boiling up inside you.
“How’s your day?” Your partner asks you.
“It’s alright…just tired.” You reply.
If you partner says “Ok sorry to hear that” and then leaves you alone, how would you feel? If they ask more, “Ok…tell me what happened?” What would you do? Would you be actually willing to go beyond and share your stress, struggles, fear, insecurity, flaws, and darkness behind?
The mini scenario above is not uncommon in their daily interactions of couples, and yet it can indicate quite a lot about themselves and their relationships. It can also reveal the level of emotional intimacy they have with each other.
Emotional intimacy is an experience of feeling safe and secure to share our innermost self with another person, without the fear of judgement and rejection (Neel, B. 2020; Linda B & Charlie B, 2013). It is a mutual process of understanding each other’s inner world with love and support. For a lot of us, however, this could sound risky, scary, and vulnerable, as it would require us to reveal some of the most private parts about ourselves. But realizing it or not, all of us wants to be fully seen, heard, understood, and accepted, because that’s a core part of being a human being.
Emotional intimacy helps to fulfill our innate need to connect with others in a truly deep and meaningful way. It leads us to build trust and authenticity with one another.
When we’re able to openly and honestly share our innermost thoughts and feelings with our partners, whom we not only receive their empathy and support but also offer ours in return, it could really strengthen the bonding and deepen the communication between us as couples.
Take a moment to imagine how it is like to feel emotionally intimate with our partners, to feel genuinely connected with them, to feel loved and to love them for who they are, to hold each other with a strong sense of commitment.
What’s more, emotional intimacy allows us to enrich our relationships, to grow more individually and collectively, and to ultimately nurture our overall well-being. Indeed, if safety is our primal survival goal, when we truly feel safe and loved in our relationships, we are helping not only our mental health but also our physical health. Our nervous system would be more regulated and calmer, and we would be able to better deal with various stress and difficulties in life (Salovey P et al, 2000).
Lastly, in contrast to what is often described in mass media about intimacy, emotional intimacy does not necessarily involve sex. It could be just one of, or a mix of everything verbal, nonverbal, physical, and non-physical. But as we explore this daunting and yet beautiful journey with our partners, one of the wholesome outcomes is that it does help to enhance the sexual experiences for us. Again imagine, wouldn’t sex be more pleasant if we already feel so securely and lovingly embraced by our partners for just who we are?
Despite sounding wonderful, building emotional intimacy in a relationship doesn’t come easily and is a learning process that requires a lot of mutual effort, patience, practice, and commitment. Here are few tips to get you started:
- Show genuine curiosity in, and care for, each other and ask questions that can help to build emotional intimacy in your relationships. Currently there are a lot of questions online that could prompt us for deeper conversations. There are even boardgames cards that make these questions fun to play!
- Spend quality time together – do things that you both like, or try new things that neither of you has done before. But principally, be present and enjoy each other’s company.
- Show gratitude regularly, even just for little things, and if you can, say why you appreciate/thank them for doing/saying such and such. It also helps you to be more self-reflective of your own needs and desires.
- Learn to appreciate the power of silence. Sometimes wordless moments in the presence of physical closeness, such as a hug or a gentle stroke/touch, are all we need.
- I put this at last because it’s probably the hardest and yet the most essential one – be vulnerable. Learn to be vulnerable and share your inner world with your partners. You don’t have to jump from zero to a hundred, but you can always try in small steps and gradually train yourself to be more comfortable with opening up. So perhaps, instead of brushing off or hiding yourself with “I am just tired,” you could try expanding with just a little more courage: “I am pretty upset today as my boss didn’t value the time and effort I put into this project,” for example. And, of course, if you’re on the receiving end of vulnerability, make sure to practice active listening with support and validation!
Emotional intimacy is something we need to nurture with our partners if we truly want a deeply connected, supportive, loving and caring relationship with each other. It is an intentional act of loving, and a highly rewarding journey that takes us to ultimately, live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.