Seven Ways to Develop Emotional Intimacy
in Your Marriage
Jill Savage, Founder &
CEO of Hearts at Home 12/12/2010
“What do you think the
word “intimacy” means?” asked the marriage retreat leader. After
we all took a miserable stab at defining the word, she responded with,
“In-to-me-see. Intimacy is seeing into each other’s life. It’s knowing
each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s being aware of each other’s fears,
hopes, and dreams.”
Many of us define intimacy in marriage as sex
and while that is certainly a valuable part of the marriage relationship, a
healthy marriage has to have emotional intimacy to go the distance.
What exactly is emotional
intimacy? Emotional intimacy occurs when there is enough trust and
communication between you and your spouse that it allows you both to share your
innermost selves. Deep emotional intimacy is when we feel wholly accepted,
respected, and admired in the eyes of our mate even when they know our
innermost struggles and failures. Emotional intimacy fosters compassion and
support, providing a firm foundation for a marriage to last a lifetime.
Too many marriages today try
to exist without emotional intimacy. Over time a marriage lacking intimacy will
become empty, lifeless, and the husband and wife will find distance in their
relationship. Emotional intimacy is the glue that holds relationships together,
yet it is challenging for many of us to experience.
Why is it hard to develop
emotional intimacy? First, there’s the fear of rejection. (If I share the
essence of who I really am, you might criticize or reject the real me.) Second,
there’s unfamiliarity with our own feelings, needs, or wants. (If I’m not sure
what I feel or need, how can I share it with you?) Third, there’s a lack of
vocabulary to communicate our feelings accurately or to verbalize exactly what
we want or need. (If I don’t know the words to describe what I’m feeling or
needing, then it’s easier to just keep my thoughts to myself.) Fourth, we
expect our spouse to just know. (You can read my mind, can’t you?)
The question we need to ask
is, “Do we have to live this way all of our lives?” And the answer to
that is “Absolutely not!” Even after 23 years of marriage, my husband
and I are discovering that emotional intimacy is a place where we need to grow
and deepen our relationship. We’re taking these steps to strengthen our
•Pay attention to your own
emotions. Many of us have two words to describe our emotions: happy or angry.
But there are dozens of emotions that fall in between those words. Become
familiar with emotions by reading up on the subject and paying attention to
what really goes on inside of you. You might even want to keep a journal of
your thoughts and emotions throughout the day.
•Become familiar with your
“inner self.” What are the messages that run in your mind throughout
the day? Where do you feel you don’t measure up so you fear being vulnerable?
How has your pace of life been a false place of safety for you to keep an
emotional distance from others because there just isn’t time?
•Evaluate your past. Take a walk back to your childhood and
consider the emotional connectedness of the family you grew up in. Was it ok to express feelings in your home? Did your family really know one another or
were they simply operating as roommates living under one roof?
•Determine to be a
“safe” person for your spouse to share his/her emotions, thoughts,
and feelings with. If you are characterized by criticism or trying to fix your
spouse, you will close the door on inviting him/her to share.
•Increase the time you spend
together as a couple. Intimacy can’t be created without spending time talking
not just about the events of the day, but also how you feel about the events of
•Deal with conflict swiftly.
Don’t resort to the silent treatment or snide remarks. Learn to “fight
fair” by getting the issue out on the table and dealing with it with
respect. This will grow trust and deepen
•Get help. You may find that
a marriage counselor is helpful in launching you and your spouse into new
emotional territory. If you struggle with emotional intimacy more than your
spouse, a few private counseling sessions might help you learn some things
about yourself and move from where you are to where you want to be.