Emotional intimacy is the bedrock of an amazing marriage or relationship. Couples who are able to achieve secure attachment and stay emotionally connected are able to risk being vulnerable.
Erik, 42, and Amanda, 40, a couple who I counseled recently came to my office looking to deepen their connection due a experiencing stress following the sudden death of Amanda’s mother and Erik being away for work and not being able to support her during her period of intense grief.
Amanda put it like this, “The last six months were very challenging after my mom died and Erik was away a lot and we grew apart. He wasn’t around when I needed him and I built up resentment and developed mistrust in him, fearing that he met someone else or fell out of love with me.”
Erik responded, “Amanda is right and I feel awful about this. I just want a chance to make it up to her. The project I was working on involved travel out of state and I couldn’t refuse it. It was bad timing and I love Amanda and want to prove it to her.”
Cultivating intimacy involves allowing yourself to be vulnerable and trusting your partner. All relationships have tension at times, but it is important for partners to use that tension to become more emotionally attuned, physically affectionate, and open about their thoughts, feelings, and desires.
Happy couples are able to identify whether their trust issues stem from their present relationship or are “emotional baggage” from past betrayals. If you understand your own history, and strive to understand your partner’s past, you will stop repeating the past. It is possible to deal effectively with ghosts from the past by extending trust to each other through words and actions that are consistent with a loving, long-term view of marriage.
For instance, Amanda was able to identify in couples’ therapy that her trust issues started with her own childhood since her dad betrayed her mother for years when he was a truck driver and drove to Florida for an extended period of time. As a result, Amanda told Erik that she now realized that some of her mistrust came from her past and her feelings became more intense when he travelled out of state.
In other words, since all couples come with baggage, it’s essential to openly discuss emotional triggers, past experiences, and trust issues early on in your relationship. This open dialogue will serve to strengthen your bond when inevitable doubts or breeches of trust arise.
Ways Couples Can Deepen Their Emotional Connection
Emotional intimacy and trust go hand in hand, and securely attached couples can express their needs and preferences. Likewise, daily rituals such as touching, good eye contact, listening, and talking about your experiences, will allow you to be emotionally close and to express more sensuality in your relationship. According to Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Swartz Gottman, even a brief ten-minute check-in daily (in the morning or at night when you are not rushed) is an effective way to stay connected. In their book, The Love Prescription, they explain that when you turn toward your partner and ask an open-ended question such as “Is there anything that you need from me today?” it can enhance intimacy. This ritual is a great trust builder and shows curiosity and interest in your partner. A few small gestures of love and can go a long way to transform your relationship for the better.
Sensuality is the pleasant feeling couples experience when they touch, see, taste, and feel – such as walking holding hands on the beach. It involves a lot more than sexual intercourse. Sensuality is a way of connecting with your partner in the moment, according to Howard J. Markman, Ph.D., and reflects feelings of being in love and attracted to your partner.
Instead of defaulting to the coping strategies you developed in your families of origin, it’s important to make a commitment nurture positive emotional connections. One way to do this is by incorporating more positive comments, phrases, or questions into your conversations with your partner.
The following dialogue illustrates some ways Amanda and Erik were able to do this when they reunited at the end of the day.
Erik: “Can you tell me more about your day?” These words express love curiosity while helping your partner get more comfortable with being vulnerable.
Amanda: “Something I’m challenged with right now is my principal’s attitude toward me. It feels like I can’t do anything right.” Amanda’s response shows Erik that she trusts him enough to be transparent about her negative feelings about her supervisor.
Erik: “I’m trying to understand what you’re dealing with. Since I don’t work in a school, can you give me an example of what you’re dealing with? Erik’s response shows empathy and a desire to connect more deeply with Amanda.
Amanda: “It means a lot to me that you care enough to ask. I’m too tired to go into details right now but let’s just say, it really feels like you’re here for me and that makes me happy.”
A new relationship is often exhilarating, intense, and exciting, but what sustains couples is fostering emotional intimacy by being vulnerable and building trust day by day. Once the daily stressors of living together set in, it can be a challenge for couples to extend good will to each other and to remain committed to achieving emotional attunement daily. The primary way couples can do this is by deepening their attachment though a daily dialogue that is transparent without fear of abandonment or loss of love.
Follow Terry on Twitter and Facebook. Her award-winning book, Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship, is available on her website. Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.
**Terry offers coaching to individuals and couples about divorce, marriage, remarriage, or relationship issues. She is also an expert on matters related to children of divorce and the challenges facing adult children of divorce. You can sign up for low-cost coaching here. In most cases you will be able to meet with her within a week.