For strong relationships, couples’ intimacy matters – and not just physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy is the cornerstone of any lasting, loving relationship, but it isn’t always an easy thing to foster, even for couples that have been married for decades.
If you and your partner can take the time to pursue stronger emotional intimacy, however, the benefits are huge. With just a few simple, everyday efforts, you can bring back intimacy into your relationship and reignite a spark that’ll burn brighter than ever.
What is emotional intimacy and why does it matter?
Emotional intimacy is a complicated thing. The way that it manifests from couple to couple can vary wildly – but the experts agree that it’s important and a few common characteristics.
Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and clinical psychology faculty member at Columbia University, says that emotional intimacy is all about sharing, and sharing deeply.
“Emotional intimacy could be defined as allowing yourself to connect more deeply with your partner through actions that express feelings, vulnerabilities and trust,” he explains.
“Part of a relationship is sharing your secrets, talking about your relationship, and telling your partner important news. A couple is generally happier when both parties can share and understand each other’s feelings.”
By fostering emotional intimacy, you can build a deep sense of security within a relationship, allowing both you and your partner to be authentic without feeling like you’re risking the relationship.
Without this sense of security, the relationship can suffer. Bitterness, resentment, hypersensitivity, paranoia, isolation, even loneliness are all common signs of a lack of emotional intimacy.
“If emotional intimacy is lacking, [one or both of you] may feel a lack of safety, love, support, overall connection, and it also will most likely affect the physical intimacy in a romantic relationship. It’s not sustainable long-term to have a romantic relationship without emotional intimacy,” says Rachel Wright, a marriage counselor and licensed psychotherapist.
“If you think about emotional intimacy as the foundation of any relationship, it really becomes a no-brainer to invest your resources (time, money and energy) into building it and continuing to nurture it.”
4 ways to bring back intimacy into a relationship
Emotional intimacy can take time and effort to foster, but the results are hard to argue with. The best time to start was last year – the second best time is right now. Try some of these tactics to begin the journey towards a stronger connection with your partner.
Even if you’ve been together for years, even if you’re married, even if you have kids, it can be difficult to break down our personal walls. Being vulnerable puts you in the power of somebody else and that’s not a natural thing for a lot of people to do, even if it’s someone you love. That’s why some psychologists preach ‘strategic vulnerability’.
“Instead of trying to be vulnerable in every area of your life, pick one place to start,” says Paul Hokemeyer, a psychotherapist and author of “Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough”.
You can start small, and remember that some is better than none.
Here are a few places to begin:
- Talk about something that happened at work you might not otherwise have discussed.
- Express a feeling you’ve had that you’ve avoided sharing (or sharing fully).
- Reveal something about yourself you’ve been holding onto.
Even if you think it’s something boring or mundane, this act of vulnerability demonstrates to your partner that you trust them – and encourages them to open up as well.
“Don’t take your partner for granted” is such common advice that it’s become cliche. But it’s common for a reason: it’s easy to get complacent about showing your affection for your partner after you’ve been together for many years.
“Making a habit of giving specific compliments and affirmations to your partner can help you keep perspective as to why this person is special to you, and it can help them know you see them. You never want your partner to feel invisible because you forgot to share your appreciation,” says Hafeez.
This is a good opportunity to bring up talking about Love Languages with your partner too. Words of affirmation is one of the five primary Love Languages identified by Dr Gary Chapman; a framework that describes how people say “I love you” in different ways. You might love physical touch, but your partner may prefer you saying it out loud. Learn each other’s love languages, and you’ll connect, communicate and bond more effectively.
For a lot of people, sexual satisfaction is deeply connected with emotional intimacy. A study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that couples reported feeling closer when they were both sexually satisfied.
Note that it’s about satisfaction, not necessarily frequency. We’ve talked before about why sex can slow down after marriage and why you shouldn’t necessarily get too hung up on how often you’re being intimate with your partner. If you have a choice between quality and quantity, quality is a winner every time.
To improve your emotional connection, step up the spice. There are lots of ways to do that, but it all starts with sitting down and taking the time to learn each other’s desires. Be clear about what you like, what you don’t like, what you’d like to explore.
Physical intimacy is key to emotional intimacy. So go get physical!
Break the routine
Life is busy and it’s easy to make your romantic life a part of “business as usual”. You move past each other trying to manage work, kids, parents, friends, family, chores, and all the other endless items on your individual to-do lists.
Routine is easy, but it gets in the way of emotional intimacy.
“This can mean that we have lost sight of the value of doing things for each other that generate joy or intimacy in the other person. We stop trying to impress, we stop trying to understand, and in such environments, vulnerability and feelings can get lost to the routine of the everyday,” says Hafeez.
“It is incredibly important that we make time for each other in a more profound way than just dinner or bedtime together.”
Instead, take inspiration from the early days of your relationship. Be spontaneous, even if it’s something small. Bring home flowers or chocolate or a bottle of wine, head away on a weekend – there are lots of ways to have a fun date night without even leaving the house.
Break the BAU and you’ll build your intimacy back stronger.
Finding time for one another isn’t always easy when both you and your partner live busy lives. Cupla removes the hurdles of making regular time together with automatic calendar syncing, date night reminders and suggestions, and even the ability to book the best restaurants right in the app (geography permitting).