As I sat across the table from him, I wanted to know his thoughts, ones I hadn’t heard before. An undeniable thirst to know him better washed over me in the moment. Not even the perspiring glass of water in front of me could satisfy the feeling.
What I was craving was emotional intimacy, which is defined as “a perception of closeness to another person that allows sharing of feelings, accompanied by expectations of understanding, affirmation and demonstrations of caring.” The longer I have been married, the more I have come to value emotional intimacy as a tool to know my husband better and to be truly seen and known by him. In our culture of hustle and busyness, this could not be more important.
Here are a few ways I have learned to cultivate emotional intimacy in relationships:
Get creative in conversation.
There’s something about getting outside of the house and looking the man I love in the eyes that sparks a sense of that first date fondness. In an effort to recreate those early moments, I began asking him “what if” scenarios.
What if you had to have a job that was dangerous? What would you choose? What if you had to live on an island? Where would you live? If you could only change one thing at your current job, what would it be?
Similar to dreaming up make-believe worlds as a child, I created scenarios that took my husband to a state of imagination and daydreaming. Those abstract questions sparked conversations that related to our current lives, our ever-developing feelings for each other and our future. By speaking my seemingly odd trains of thoughts into existence, it created emotional intimacy with my otherwise quiet-natured partner. It opened the door for laughter, connection and ultimately, reinforcement of our relationship.
It opened the door for laughter, connection and ultimately, reinforcement of our relationship.
Lean into their interests.
When you’re no longer in the early stages of a relationship, you have to get crafty when it comes to discovering new things about your partner. Sometimes, I feel like I couldn’t possibly find out anything I don’t already know about my husband, but he continues to surprise me.
When I give my spouse my full attention as he tells me something he’s discovered, it creates another avenue for emotional connection. He could share anything from a new band, a YouTube show or an author who he has unexpectedly unearthed. Ironically, he typically picks times to reveal these things whenever I’m busy, but what I’ve noticed is that when I put aside what I’m doing and lean into a conversation, he feels seen and heard. His excitement only grows.
What I’ve noticed is that when I put aside what I’m doing and lean into a conversation, he feels seen and heard.
When I’m at work the next day, if I listen to the song he’s become obsessed with or read an article about an author he loves, I have something to “report back” when we come together for dinner that night. It shows that I’ve taken the time to care for his interests, even if they are not my interests. He does the same for me. It takes a little work on both of our parts since we have vastly different tastes, but the work makes us feel well-rounded in our relationship.
Take time away from your devices and connect through intentional dialogue.
Most weekday evenings, my husband and I sit down on our living room couch, exhausted after everything we’ve done that day. We binge-watch our favorite shows, and after an hour or so, we go to bed. It hit me, as we were turning out the lights one night, that while we sit together almost every day and while we’re close in proximity, our conversations are minimal.
Our dinners are pretty quick with small talk about our days. Then, it’s on to the next thing until we can’t possibly get anything else done that day and collapse together on the couch.
Recently, we’ve taken this into account and instead of zoning out (which is totally acceptable to do occasionally), we lie next to each other rather than at opposite ends of the couch. We lie in silence and let whatever thoughts that are top-of-mind surface. We have intentional talks in these quiet moments, making them some of my favorite times. When the silence is broken, it’s only because one of us is telling the other what we observe in them—the good, the areas of needed growth, the unique talents, the beautiful truths and ultimately, the reasons our love grows for the other daily.
We have intentional talks in these quiet moments, making them some of my favorite times.
When my head hits the pillow on nights like this, my emotional tank overflows. If I haven’t connected with my favorite person in the entire world on any particular day, it hurts my inner being. It’s so easy for us to fall into our daily routines that we don’t realize the damage until it begins to hurt.
Throughout the span of our marriage, we have both intentionally sought connection. Because of this, we now can quickly discern when it’s been too long since we’ve had a night of talking and getting to know each other again. While our mind-numbing TV binging habit can be fun at times, we consciously choose to take a few nights away from the screen. We intentionally choose to rekindle our love for one another.
If your emotional tank is running on empty in your relationships, it is possible to cultivate emotional intimacy. It requires effort, energy and a little TLC. You and your partner’s relationship will only be better for it!
How do you and your partner cultivate emotional intimacy? What, if anything, might be getting in the way of you connecting on a deeper level?
Image via Prakash Shroff, Darling Issue No. 17