Emotional Intimacy and How it Benefits Relationships

Emotional intimacy is the bond that connects people together. It is often a combination of understanding another, understanding oneself, and communicating both to a partner or friend. From a basic survival mode, emotional intimacy establishes a connection so that each member of the relationship so that each is “motivated” to assist the other in a multitude of ways. This increases potential for survival.

We are genetically encoded to develop intimacy, and we feel good when it is established. Relationships “flow” when intimacy develops.

In my work with the bonding affect of humor (social intimacy), I call this process, “Relational Fusion.”

How to boost emotional intimacy:

  1. Be Empathic:
    1. Being empathic is probably the most powerful way of being that builds intimacy in any relationship. Empathy in this context is not “feeling” what the other is feeling, but understanding what the other is feeling and communicating that understanding in a non-critical way to the other.
    2. Ask yourself, “What is this other person feeling?” Be sure to tune into that person’s emotion and not a description of the emotion. For example, say, “You sound anxious” rather than “You feel like there are a lot of things on your plate.” When someone reflects you “feel like” or “feel that,” it is rarely followed by an empathic reflection of feeling.
    3. Ask yourself, in addition to how this person is feeling, what is it that makes them feel this way? Accept how they are feeling and why they feel that way even it seems foreign to you.
  2.  Listen Intently:
    1. Focus on your partner or friend. Be free of distractions both external (phone) or internal (your thoughts). Listen to their words, and try to avoid thinking about what you would do, what they should do, or anything else that distracts you from listening at the moment. Focus on their experience that they are sharing with your. Make consistent eye contact.
      3. Be Self-aware:
      1. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Be sure the response to yourself is an “emotion” and not a description. For example, feeling anxious, depressed, or stressed are all emotions. Feeling “like…” or “that…” is not emotion but is a description. For example, “I feel like my friend should…” or “I feel like it is not fair that…” are NOT the expression of emotions. Identifying one’s feelings is often a question to ask oneself when one is having an interaction with a friend or partner. However, identifying feelings can also be engaged when alone and challenged by a situation. Being in touch with one’s emotions gives one awareness of “data.” For example, feeling anxious is almost always associated with being concerned about a “performance” while being angry is almost always associated with either being treated unfairly or seeing someone else being treated unfairly. Being self-aware adds to one’s capacity to be intimate with others.

        2. Ask yourself, “What is the other person “doing” that triggers me. For example, is the other person not doing what you expect them to do. Be sure to view what the other is doing (behavior) and not judging the behavior. For example, thinking the other person is “lazy, uncaring, etc.” are judgments. Stick to what is this person “doing” that makes you label them. Then try to let go of the judgement and accept that they are doing what is best for them even if you disagree. This builds acceptance and creates intimacy. Ask yourself, “What difference does this other person’s behavior mean to me?” What is this person’s impact on me? This is an attempt to clarify what is it about the other person’s behavior (and my reaction to it) that is blocking intimacy. For example, if my partner/friend does not do what I expect what difference does that make.

      4. Focus on what you want in the relationship

This may seem counterintuitive as we think of bonding by giving to the other. However, expressing wants and allowing the other to know you through your wants and to fulfill or not fulfill those wants, develops closeness. These wants can be simple: e.g. I want to go out to dinner; I want to see a movie; I want us to go on vacation; I want more time together; etc.

How to destroy emotional intimacy:

Avoid expressing depowering language such as “I must… I should… I have to…” or “You must…You should…You have to…”  Avoid absolutes such as “You always or You Never.  Avoid name calling and judgements, “You are a jerk, You are insensitive, You are inconsiderate, etc.”

Make empowering language part of your fabric. Empowering language includes, “I want… I prefer… I wish…” or “What do you want… What do you prefer… What do you wish…” Depowering language depletes emotional, cognitive and physiological energy and creates a wedge between people while empowering language enriches emotional, cognitive, and physiological energy and bonding.