The name of the game
When we think of intimacy, we generally associate it with physical expressions of closeness—think happy couples embracing, kissing, or slipping away to a candlelit room behind closed doors. But that is only one type of intimacy. Without the accompanying inner connection, outward expressions of physical love can become a matter of going through the motions, like two automatons or animals in heat.
Emotional intimacy, on the other hand, is a feeling of intense closeness. It’s a sense of being seen, known, and understood—loved for who we are, not for random body parts or moments of primal pleasure. It requires vulnerability, trust, and strong communication skills.
Without emotional intimacy, one or both partners may feel a lack of safety, love, or support, which will ultimately have a negative impact on physical intimacy. No matter how good your sexual chemistry, when the emotional connection is weak, the relationship will suffer. The good news is that as we build emotional intimacy, our sex lives tend to become more satisfying. And who doesn’t want that?
So, if you and your significant other find yourself going through life on autopilot and wondering why that loving feeling is not quite what it used to be, this is your wake-up call.
I got my own wake-up call recently when I looked across the dinner table and realized that after 19 years (two of courtship and 17 of marriage), I had lost connection with the most important person in my life: my husband. Years of the daily grind had taken a toll, most of our spare time eaten up with errands, home improvement projects, and social obligations, not to mention the lure of our electronic devices and online relationships.
From the outside looking in, our marriage was good—not perfect, but whose is? We were getting along most of the time, enjoying weekly date nights, and making time for physical intimacy. But what fell by the wayside was quality conversation. With exchanges revolving around to-do lists, the weather forecast, and what to have for dinner, a quiet disconnect pervaded—a feeling, on my part, of no longer being seen.
Oh, sure, he might compliment me on my outfit, but I longed for my husband to peer beneath the surface: to inquire about my day and really care to hear the details; to ask my opinion and value it; to listen to my heartbeat and hear music. I craved his undivided attention.
In my mate’s defense, he was busy making a living—running a company, serving on multiple boards, and putting out fires at every turn—traveling five days a week, swooping in on Friday evening, juggling household chores and a mountain of mail on the weekend before boarding another plane on Monday morning. This grueling schedule, while providing a comfortable lifestyle, was slowly eroding the foundation of our marriage and eating away at our happiness.
Of course, it takes two to sink the ship, and I bear my share of the blame for overlooking the iceberg that nearly brought us down. I had fallen into a pattern of complacency myself, often opting to scroll my Facebook feed or exchange texts with friends instead of instigating a meaningful conversation with the person right in front of me.
Can we talk?
After the awakening, the first step toward restoring our connection was to talk. Our plan of action began at Christmas when we elected to spend the holiday week alone as a couple. We retreated to our Atlanta condo and went about the business of excavating the love that was buried in a pile of rubble—the fallout of excessive busyness and general inattentiveness. Once we got relaxed, with few distractions and nothing but time on our hands, we found ourselves in deep conversations that lasted late in the night and often continued in the dawning hours of the next day. We shared stories, memories, laughter and tears until something magical happened. Electricity began to flow again, as if the storm ended and the lights suddenly came back on. With our emotions in tune, our love life has improved exponentially, and today, I’m happy to report that we are the closest we’ve ever been.
Are you and your significant other drifting apart? Is communication a struggle? Are you walking on eggshells or feeling like ships passing in the night? To regain love and friendship in your relationship, it is time to reboot and refresh. Here are six tips to help you get started:
- Silence the electronics. Emotional intimacy depends on quality interaction. While texting and emailing are practical ways to stay in touch, electronic communication can be a barrier to emotional intimacy. Emails, social media, and entertainment can become habits that draw you away from your partner and interfere with your face-to-face communications. So, do yourself and your partner a favor and dedicate daily device-free time to talk, share, and look each other in the eye.
- Initiate meaningful conversation. It’s common to get trapped in the same conversation each day: What’s for lunch? Can you pick up the dry cleaning? What time is your meeting? Did you feed Fido? Please pick up Johnny from school. These are necessary topics, but they are not the ones that lead to strong connection. When the daily tasks are divided and settled, take a few moments to ask an open-ended question that lends itself to deeper discussion: What is your top priority today? Is there something I can do for you to ease your burden or free up your time? What was the most significant thing that happened at work? What surprised you or made you happy today? What do you need to get off your chest? What would make you feel most loved right now?
- Spend more time together. We all have the same number of hours and minutes in the day, and when it comes down to it, we somehow manage to carve out time for what is important. When you make your partner a priority, you will be surprised where you can find pockets of time to connect even within your existing routines. Hit the snooze button and snuggle for five minutes; take a quick walk around the neighborhood after dinner—bonus if you hold hands; sit on the sofa together and listen to music you both enjoy; find a cozy spot to watch the sunset or the moon rise. Remember that small moments of just being together can add up to deep emotional intimacy.
- Express appreciation. It’s easy to take our partners for granted, and sometimes we forget to express how much we honor, respect and cherish them. Saying I love you can become rote and less meaningful without some confirmation of what you love about your special person. Make a habit of giving specific compliments and affirmations to your partner so they know you see them, appreciate them and value them.
- Sprinkle in some fun. In long-term relationships, it’s not uncommon to settle into a comfort zone where we stop planning special experiences. What you choose to do for fun is immaterial, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. What matters is that you find joy in each other’s company. Set up a game of horseshoes or cornhole in the backyard; go play a round of mini-golf or attend an outdoor concert; take a spin on your bikes; hunt for shells or build a sandcastle on the beach. It is by enjoying activities together that we create shared memories and strengthen emotional intimacy.
- Let your guard down. Ultimately, emotional intimacy creates a sense of security and safety within your relationship and the freedom to be wholly yourself. To achieve this requires a degree of vulnerability. This might translate to sharing an embarrassing mistake you made, expressing an emotion that eats at you secretly, revealing a deep-seated fear, discussing a painful topic, or divulging a fact about yourself that you’ve been withholding. When you open your heart, you invite your significant other to do the same. Take the chance and watch your relationship rise to a new level of connection and closeness you never dreamed possible. This is the greatest gift you can give to your partner and the most powerful love potion in existence.