Happily married couples like to say that the top two greatest things about being in a good marriage are great sex and the close emotional bond they have with their spouse. Marriage experts will confirm: these two elements go hand and hand; it is difficult to have one without the other.
Humans have an innate need for intimacy and connection
We are social beings and do not thrive in isolation. We like to feel included, appreciated, seen and listened to. We like to feel like we are important to others. So it is natural for us to strive for intimacy with our partner; it is hard-wired into our brains.
Intimacy, even more than sex, is our greatest emotional need
Emotional intimacy in a relationship is not linear. It ebbs and flows, depending on life’s circumstances. Traditionally, emotional intimacy is quite high when couples decide to wed; after all, who would marry someone with whom they did not feel a deep emotional connection? The years before having children, when newlyweds continue to discover each other, are also years that are rich with emotional intimacy. With the arrival of children, emotional intimacy somewhat drops, for reasons all parents can guess: attention is focused on the children, and the parents are too fatigued to invest much in their own intimacy bank account. These are the years where it is important to tend to the emotional bond that links the couple, even with the energy the children require, and the inevitable fights that all couples have, to make sure you don’t forget each other’s needs, both sexual and emotional. Failure to do so can put the relationship at risk.
Want to strengthen your emotional intimacy with your partner?
When you were first dating, you unconsciously used techniques to build emotional intimacy with your partner. Remember the first time you saw them? And you smiled, hoping that smile would be returned? That’s a first brick in the foundation of emotional intimacy. From there, you probably exchanged a few questions, questions whose goals were to learn more about this person that had attracted you. That’s another brick in laying the foundation of emotional intimacy. As your relationship took off, more bricks were put into place: first touch, first kiss, first “I love you”. These are all expressions of the desire to connect.
In the early, heady days of love, fulfilling this need for emotional intimacy seems smooth and easy. But the tides shift as your relationship ages, and many couples end up losing their sense of connection. This is a shame because if you keep in touch with this need to connect physically and mentally, you can keep nourishing the vital parts of your relationship.
Here are some ways to create it, renew and maintain emotional intimacy for you-
1. Make daily check-ins part of who you are
Even if you don’t have time for a long, meaningful exchange with your partner, take a moment to look them in the eye and ask them how their day is going. Pose a specific question related to something going on in their life: “Did you hear back from your boss about the project you pitched last week?” shows them you are engaged in their life much more than a simple “How are things at work?” Of course scheduling longer quality time together is important, but when you can’t fit that in, these daily mini-moments of intimacy remind your partner that they are important to you.
2. Be each other’s best cheerleader
One of the benefits about being emotionally connected is that when one of you is feeling low, you (usually) can count on your partner to be your sounding board and get you back to feeling positive. And when roles switch, you can do it for them. To rekindle your emotional connection, be your partner’s cheerleader the next time you sense they are feeling down. Clear your evening to sit with them and let them vent. Listen, don’t offer any solutions unless they ask you for them. When appropriate, ask your partner what you can do to help with the situation. And remind them how capable and talented they are, by bringing up specific examples of what you’ve seen them do in previous situations. This caregiving is all part of meeting the other’s emotional needs, and something truly intimate partners can offer each other.
3. Always be a safe haven for each other
To maintain your emotional intimacy, remember to give your partner a sense of safety, of feeling like you are “home” for them. Without this, the need for emotional intimacy goes unfilled. Feeling safe from life’s outside forces is part of the recipe for a happy marriage. You know that feeling you get when you show your spouse a part of you that you secretly don’t like. And your spouse tells you that it’s all ok. That’s another benefit of emotional intimacy: the space to reveal all your vulnerabilities without these being judged.
4. A checklist of emotional needs
Want to see how you and your spouse are doing in meeting each other’s emotional needs? Here’s a list that you might want to use to spark the conversation:
- How’s your eye contact? Do you keep one eye on the TV/your cell phone/your computer screen while talking with your spouse?
- How do you show your spouse you have heard what they are saying?
- How do you show your spouse you understand what they are saying?
- How do you show your spouse you accept them 100%?
- What are some ways you show your spouse they are always safe with you?
- What are the words you use to encourage your spouse when they are feeling low?
- What are some ways you can show your spouse you appreciate/love/desire them?
- What are some non-sexual ways you can show your spouse you find them sexy?
Working on meeting the need for emotional intimacy is an on-going process in a relationship. But it is not really “work”. For those who are committed to keeping emotional intimacy high, the journey is a pleasurable and enriching one. As we give, we receive, and marital happiness is increased tremendously.