How to Build Emotional Intimacy in Your Relationship
Scientists and psychologists agree that the human species was created for relationship. Relational connections cause us to live longer and experience more happiness and less depression. Emotional isolation, on the other hand, negatively impacts our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and recovery harder. We were created to be connected. Our attachment relationships are the primary safe haven for humans and yet many couples struggle to connect emotionally and wouldn’t describe their marriage as a safe place.
According to psychologist Sue Johnson who developed Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, we can evaluate the emotional safety in a relationship by how we answer the following three questions that everybody is unconsciously or consciously asking of their partner. (Sue Johnson, “Hold Me Tight,” (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008) 47.)
Question 1: Are you there for me?
This question is all about emotional connection. Do you acknowledge the emotional needs of your spouse and are you active in trying to connect with them emotionally? It’s easy for couples to settle into a routine where they are just comfortable living together but operating separately. Sadly, disconnection is the norm for many couples.
Staying connected will require you both to ask and answer this question. The answer to “Are you there for me?” may look different for you and your spouse. You must know your spouse’s top emotional needs if you are going to effectively meet their needs on a regular basis. Being “there” for your spouse to listen, support and serve, is key to emotional connection. We all want to know our spouse is there for us and interested in being present with us.
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Question 2: Do I matter?
Your spouse wants to know their needs matter to you. Conflicts often erupt because one of you feels invisible or invalidated when you try to share and connect. Without actually saying it, couples are wanting the answer to the following questions:
- Do my opinions and ideas matter to you?
- Do you value my perspectives?
- Do I add value to your life?
- Would you miss me if I wasn’t around?
Are you aware of the ways your spouse would like you to show them that they are the most important person in your life? What do you practically do to show them you really care about what they have to say. Do you dismiss their ideas and needs or do you demonstrate how their needs are a high priority to you? I’ll give you a relevant example of how to get this wrong that occurred twenty minutes ago. While on my phone, I walked into the room where my wife was. I asked her a question and then we started talking. While she was talking I got back on my phone and was looking through some stuff while listening to her. She finally paused and said, “Why are you staring at your phone while I’m talking to you?” Looking at my phone while my wife is talking to me is not a way to show she matters. I got the first part wrong but recovered with my response. Instead of my normal reply, which may have been an excuse or justification, I simply put the phone down and said, “That was rude and I’m sorry.”
Question 3: Will you come when I call?
This question is more about physical presence than emotional connection. If your spouse needs you, will you move heaven and earth to get to them? Will you show up physically when they need you most or will you be distracted by and committed to work, hobbies or your family instead? Are you willing to be inconvenienced to show them the relationship matters? Are you so rigid and inflexible with your plans and schedule that pausing or breaking the routine is an annoyance and they know it?
True connection and security in the relationship means we are there for each other even when the other person doesn’t ask quite right, is angry, desperate or insecure. Our willingness to show up isn’t tied to how we are feeling in the moment or what they have done for us lately. Your spouse desires your undivided attention and full focus, at times, in the relationship. They need to know you’ll show up when they call.
Cultivating a safe place in the relationship requires that we ask and then answer these three questions with an emphatic “yes!” Healthy, emotional intimacy is built when couples feel safe and secure. What that “yes” looks like practically will likely be different for you and your spouse, so don’t assume that your spouse will answer yes simply because you are doing for them what you would want done for you. Discover what a yes looks like for them and be intentional with those things. Maintaining emotional connection in your relationship will require intentional and consistent effort in the areas that matter most.
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