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9 Tips for Emotional Intimacy

By Paul Dunion

When I ask a couple in couples counseling, "So, tell me about the current status of your intimacy,” they inevitably start talking about their sex life. When I proceed to explain I am interested in their emotional intimacy, the male quickly turns his gaze toward his wife and the female typically speaks of the loneliness and isolation she experiences in the marriage. She may not know exactly what, but she does know something is missing in the marriage.

They likely love each other, believed that somehow love would engender a relationship characterized by depth, meaning and growth. Depth can be characterized as a boundless receptivity to how giving, receiving, planning, collaborating, loving and desiring might live in the relationship. A relationship has meaning when we cherish how these energies are living in our relationships. Growth happens when we live close to the question, What is our relationship asking for?

When dreams of love¹s promises begin to unravel, a couple likely turns to blaming, criticizing and/or avoiding each other. The truth is they were never given the skills necessary to transform love into a deep, emotionally intimate connection. In a way, they were set up to be significantly disillusioned. If trust has become significantly eroded, they either settle in to emotional mediocrity and alienation or get divorced.

It appears that we emerge from the womb with strong needs for emotional and physical attachment. These needs quickly translate into a natural inclination to experience deep heartfelt sentiments characteristic of loving and being loved. However, these feelings, regardless of their strength, are not enough to engender emotional intimacy, which is a learned competency.

Some emotional intimacy skills might include:

1.  Prioritizing our responsibility to love ourselves, and not asking significant others to do it for us. (This means we need to grow enough mindfulness to be aware of being plagued by self-loathing and committed to learn how to interrupt it. People who love us can support this interruption process.)

 2.  The ability to identify our own emotional needs, which may include: the need to be seen, heard, encouraged, considered, included, nurtured, understood, accepted, engaged, touched, held, desired, forgiven, collaboratively joined in problem solving and decision making and the recipient of affection. (This skill can be especially challenging for men since male acculturation mandates that males should not have emotional needs.)