Every relationship is based on a certain level of intimacy. In romantic relationships, intimacy helps build closeness and compatibility, and is linked to greater relationship satisfaction.
Intimacy is a hard concept to understand. It can be defined as the mutual willingness to be vulnerable, open and honest with one another. Intimacy requires a high level of transparency – the only way you can be intimate with someone is by being open about yourself and connecting with them at a deeper level.
Intimacy is often considered to just mean physical intimacy. However, just having physical or sexual intimacy is not enough in a relationship. Other types of intimacy are important, too. For instance, experiential intimacy occurs when people have similar interests and hobbies, and spend time engaging in them together. Intellectual intimacy exists when two people can mentally challenge each other.
Emotional intimacy is crucial for any romantic relationship to survive and thrive. When partners are willing to express their flaws, failures and insecurities with each other, along with their hopes, dreams and accomplishments, they are likely to be happier together.
A couple that is able to maintain healthy intimacy understands that every relationship has trouble. They are able to recognise that having problems or issues in a relationship is inevitable. This helps them be more open-minded and non-defensive when it comes to overcoming the problem. They are willing to communicate with each other more openly and will work collaboratively to find a solution.
Does your relationship lack intimacy?
There may be times when a certain kind of intimacy is lacking in your relationship. You may not even be aware of it, so here are some signs that you can look out for.
You feel distant
If intimacy is lacking, you may at times feel disconnected or distant from your partner. You may feel like your partner is keeping secrets from you and there is an invisible barrier or wall between you and your partner. This could be due to a lack of transparency, security or confidence in sharing your feelings or being vulnerable.
You don’t pay attention to each other
There may be times when both you and your partner try to express your thoughts, feelings and opinions. However, when intimacy is absent or lacking, the other person may not pay attention or listen. You may also notice this when you or your partner keep forgetting birthdays and anniversaries, or do not understand when to apologise in a conflict. This could also result in you and your partner not performing small gestures of love for each other.
You don’t ask each other for help or support
A healthy relationship is one where both partners are mutually respected and valued. You and your partner should be able to support each other. However, this can be difficult to achieve if intimacy is absent and nobody is asking for help. This could involve help in tangible terms such as asking your partner to pick up groceries on the way home, or intangible help such as asking for your partner’s opinion about a potential change of job. Not asking each other for help can lead to frequent conflicts as both you and your partner may be trying to manage too many things alone.
You don’t talk about your lives
Lack of emotional intimacy can not only lead one or both partners to hide their emotions, but can also make it a struggle for you to involve your partner in your life. This could mean not spending time with each other, not talking much to each other or even not keeping up with each other’s lives. If your partner often avoids telling you about important updates regarding their life, then it is possible that your relationship needs attention and care.
You are the only one who shares
When emotional intimacy is lacking, you may find that only you are being emotionally vulnerable and communicative with your partner. It may also work the other way – where only your partner is attempting to be vulnerable and open with you. A relationship is a two-way street; it involves give and take. If you find that only one of you is making an effort to communicate with the other, it can signal a lack of intimacy.
There may be times when the people involved in the relationship may want to make the relationship work but may not realise that their relationship lacks intimacy. Many times, one or both people in a relationship might experience what is known as a fear of intimacy.
Even though intimacy is important in a relationship, it can be frightening. After all, it involves a lot of vulnerability and trust. This fear of intimacy could be brought about by a person’s beliefs and insecurities. A person may have abandonment issues and might be afraid of forming an emotional connection with someone, as they might always anticipate that the other person will eventually leave. They may also have a fear of rejection and may worry about opening up about their flaws or imperfections with their partner. A person who has control issues may find it difficult to be vulnerable or to let go of control. Someone who has been hurt in the past or has a history of abuse can also struggle with being emotionally intimate with another person.
Sometimes, even when a relationship is going well, a person with a fear of intimacy may find it difficult to connect with their partner. This could be because the positive way their partner sees them conflicts with the negative image they have of themselves. Or it may also be related to feelings of unworthiness. If you are facing such concerns, you might benefit from speaking to a professional. However, if you’re not ready for therapy, that’s okay, too. There are a number of strategies that you can try on your own to build emotional intimacy with your partner.
How to build emotional intimacy
Do something meaningful together
Try to find ways in which you can spend more time with one another. Do something that makes you and your partner feel relaxed, comfortable and entertained and also equally involves the both of you. Try out a hobby that you both enjoy, play games or cook a meal together. When you schedule some time to spend with each other, make sure that you and your partner turn off notifications and keep away your electronics. This can allow you to spend quality time together.
Try something new
It is possible that when some time has passed in a relationship, you get stuck in a monotonous routine. You can try doing something new to bring about some change, fun and excitement. This could involve taking a class together. Or it could mean doing something your partner has talked about in the past, but you have avoided. Maybe your partner has mentioned that they would appreciate your support in keeping the house clean. Start doing a few chores around the house regularly and consistently to help your relationship.
Invest in yourself
Even though you are in a relationship, you are still an individual. It is important that you also find time for yourself and focus on the things that matter to you. This could involve your career, personal growth, friendships, familial relationships, health and well-being. Unless you are able to tend to these other aspects of your life, you might not be able to be your best self in your relationship.
Sometimes, even though there are problems in a relationship, neither partner may be willing to acknowledge the concerns. It is important that you learn how to communicate and express your thoughts without being aggressive or passive. This also involves listening to one another before jumping in with ideas or advice. Once you are able to identify and acknowledge the problem, you can work together to resolve it. Remember that in a relationship, it is never you against your partner; instead, it is always your partner and you vs. the problem.
Express emotions openly
To develop emotional intimacy, it is important that you identify and label your own emotions while also developing empathy towards your partner. This will help you be more attuned not just to how you are doing, but also to how your partner feels. Spend some time every day talking about what made you laugh that day. It is also important that you feel vulnerable enough to express negative emotions – such as anger, jealousy, sadness or grief – to your partner. Talk to your partner about your feelings and ask them for what you need from them. This can build a deep sense of vulnerability, trust and bonding.
Identify their positives
There can be times, especially during an argument or conflict, that everything about your partner starts to bother you. Make a conscious attempt during such times to list out all the positive qualities about your partner and the things that you like about them. You can physically write this down or say it out loud to your partner. This will immediately help you feel more connected to them and can bring emotional intimacy to the forefront.
At the end of the day, no relationship is perfect. You and your partner may not agree about everything, you may fight with one another, and sometimes, you may even hurt each other’s feelings. This is part and parcel of being in a relationship. But by making your relationship a priority and being committed to making things work, you and your partner can together build emotional intimacy with each other.
Remember that the foundation of any good relationship is trust, vulnerability and communication.
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