5 ways to improve emotional intimacy in your relationship
Fostering emotional intimacy with a partner can help to nurture the three most important foundations in a relationship: trust, empathy, and vulnerability. Relationships thrive on shared experiences and points of connection. Actively working on emotional intimacy, therefore, can help to create a resilient bond.
Emotional intimacy is more than just talking about how we feel. The real magic happens when we cultivate that one-of-a-kind closeness with a partner. One study from the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy revealed that emotional intimacy is just as important as sex in a relationship. Not only does emotional intimacy help with communication skills, but it also boosts the overall happiness meter.
Here, we chat to Heather Garbutt, a psychotherapist and relationship coach, who explains how to improve emotional intimacy with a romantic partner.
5 ways to improve emotional intimacy
Figure out your love language
One of the most important things we can do to improve our relationships is to figure out what makes the other person feel loved.
“It’s so important for us to feel loved and understanding how to love people in the way that they like is the first step to that,” says Heather. “Understanding each other’s primary love languages will help you express love to them in a way that they can receive and vice versa.”
The five main love languages include:
- acts of service
- quality time
- physical touch
- words of appreciation
- gift giving
“Often if our love languages are different, we don’t understand the needs of the other person,” says Heather. “If you love words of appreciation and your partner is an act of service person, they’re not likely to see the point of words, and perhaps even find them empty or meaningless.
“They might perform acts of service, but their thoughtfulness won’t touch you unless they express some words. Understanding this can be liberating and generate new possibilities for closeness.”
Address points of conflict
It’s not uncommon for partners to be on the receiving end of irritation, snappiness, criticism, shaming and blaming – what matters is how we work on grievances together.
“Whatever it is, talk to each other about it and see if there are ways that you can handle it differently,” says Heather. “It might even be that your partner doesn’t understand the effects of their actions.
“Being open and vulnerable about your feelings allows your partner to do things differently. Most of us aren’t mind readers. Without understanding why something is upsetting you, there is no room for improvement.”
Try a gratitude exercise
“One of the techniques I use with couples to foster emotional intimacy is to work on gratitude,” says Heather. “Sit together and tell each other three things that you’re grateful for, three things that you pat yourself on the back for today and three things you appreciate about them. By knowing what they’re grateful for, you will know what matters to them.”
Not only does this exercise help us to understand what the other person values, but it allows us to express what we admire and respect about our partners.
“This can be done on your date night as a regular weekly thing or daily over dinner,” says Heather. “It can also be done slowly and gently if you or your partner is nervous about opening up about these things.”
Reaffirm your aspirations
It’s natural in a long-term relationship to desire different things at certain stages of life. So, it’s important to take stock of our wishes for the future, not just individually, but as a couple.
“Some of the conversations on your date night could include things that you want out of life, activities, you might want to do together, or separately, places you might like to visit, things you might want to learn about, dreams you want to fulfil,” says Heather. “This will lift your spirits and improve intimacy as you plan these activities together.”
Find talking dates
“Choose something like a dinner or a walk together, just make sure, that whatever it is, it leaves room for conversation and discussion,” says Heather. “Conversations starters, such as ‘What do you think is your best quality?’ can be a great way for you to get your partner to open up about themselves if they’re a little hesitant. Be curious about their thoughts and feelings and try to avoid judgment or negative points of view. This is part of getting to know what makes them tick.”