Emotional Intimacy – What is It?

Emotional Intimacy - What is It?

As the social creatures we are, humans crave and thrive on close relationships. We all want the feeling of being close to another human being. Thus, we seek intimate relationships to meet this basic human craving. For the most part, the heart yearns to experience true emotional intimacy.

When you first meet someone, you’re undoubtedly likely to love some of their quirks and how they make you feel.

Early phases of new relationships are characterized by feelings of intense physical attraction. This is what mostly drives the relationship at this point.

However, after some time, physical and emotional intimacies develop. Both of them start to feed the growth of the relationship. These are the major components of intimacy on which any long-term loving relationship thrives.

And this is very important despite them being just two of about five different types of intimacy. They practically determine the long-term sustainability of any love relationship.

Understanding Intimacy

First, by intimacy we mean a process and an experience that has a sort of dynamism attached to it. It optimally happens in a caring and committed relationship.

According to experts, there are many ways to define intimacy. As a result, this suggests that intimacy is an elusive concept to measure.

Furthermore, what most people regard as intimacy is basically one aspect of intimacy. For most people, this has to do with physical intimacy. Besides it, there are emotional, intellectual, social, and recreational intimacies.1 This is based on the PAIR model as there are other classifications of intimacy.

On hearing this word, the minds of many run through the kissing, caressing, holding of hands, hugging, heavy petting, and sexual activities that so often connote intimacy for many.

Yet, intimacy in and of itself is way more than sex. Thus, a couple can have a high degree of intimacy without engaging in sexual activities.

Yet, both are essential to having a healthy and fulfilling long-term relationship. The debate about which is more important of the two will be a discussion for another day.

This post will hereby take a diversion here. It will focus a bit more on emotional intimacy and its role in a long-term relationship.

What is Emotional Intimacy?

Couple in face-to-face gaze

Emotional intimacy is more of a “feeling” thing. It involves a perception of being close to someone. This often creates feelings of being supported, comforted, and loved by that individual.

Emotional intimacy evolves over time. This is after reaching a certain level of trust and establishing personal bonds.1 Its growth is also dependent on creating positive ways to sustain the relationship.

Thus, how couples communicate, manage stressors, and resolve conflicts becomes very important. Building and maintaining emotional intimacy thus requires intentional focus and active effort.

The Process of Building Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy derives from the openness and acceptance of couples. This happens as they share their deepest vulnerabilities without the fear of judgment.

For true emotionally intimate interactions to occur, couples must exhibit certain traits. This involves self-revealing behaviors, positive involvement with spouse, and signs of shared understanding.

Self-Revealing Behavior

The self-revealing aspect refers to the couples’ willingness to drop their defenses. This invites another person to witness and know private, personal aspects of themselves.

In essence, this means inviting their spouse into their zone of privacy. Also, both verbal and non-verbal behaviors can often be self-revealing in a relationship.

Emotional intimacy thus entails an individual’s willing expression of emotions. Often, these are “vulnerable emotions” such as guilt, hurt, or sadness. This is despite the fact that it can expose their “innermost self”.

This is done with an expectation of being understood, affirmed, and cared for by the other person.

Positive Involvement

This means the spouses should be positively involved with each other during interactions. In simple terms, both spouses must give each other uninterrupted focus when interacting.

One person is a friend to another if he is friendly to the other and the other is friendly to him in return.

Aristotle 330 BC

They can communicate their positive involvement through both nonverbal and verbal cues. Being positively present in the interaction encourages more open interactions.

Spouses can show positive involvement in their interactions through more direct body orientation, relational gestures, increased postural openness, frequent head nods, increased gaze, greater facial expression, amongst other body languages.

Shared Understanding

This involves knowing or understanding aspects of the other spouse’s inner experiences. It also involves knowledge of their private thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

Also, it entails a knowledge of their characteristic rhythms, habits, and routines. This can also involve a knowledge of their private sexual fantasies and preferences. Thus, emotional intimacy is, at core, two selves knowing one another.

In fact, becoming emotionally intimate with someone does take a lot of courage. This is because you have to shed the persona you’ve thus far put on to protect yourself from being visible to others.

Thus, emotional intimacy entails your willingness to take down all your personal defenses. The implication is that you’re ready to expose your inner self to the possibility of being hurt.

This potential vulnerability often makes a lot of people to feel uncomfortable. For most people this can be an anxiety-producing feeling. But these feelings tend to diminish and even disappear over time and with practice.

But the degree and quality of the emotional intimacy enjoyed in an interaction varies a lot. This is dependent on the presence and degrees of the three factors highlighted above.

Also, it’s dependent on a couple’s degree of shared perceptions in the relationship. The more the similarities, the more significant the intimacies the relationship derives.

Additionally, sharing a similar sense of inclusion or commitment is important. This often allows the couples to make communication a priority. With this, it would be much easier for couples to work as equal partners when faced with any challenges.

The Effects of Emotional Intimacy

Emotional Intimacy - Lady resting on spouse's shoulder

Shared emotional intimacy is an indicator of many positive qualities in your relationship.

Intimacy, in and of itself, is a process and as such it normally creates a sense of shared reality. This reality is more focused on what is working well in the relationship.

Through it, as a couple, you’re able to identity your strengths and thereby become more connected. This helps to build a foundation from which new strengths can emerge. Thus, creating emotional intimacy results in an accumulation of strengths in your relationship.

Thus, emotional intimacy measures levels of the shared positive perceptions in a relationship. It’s also a sign that the spouses are in close agreement about their strengths as a couple.

Thus, couples with high emotional intimacy can see more positives in their relationship. Also, they see these positives from multiple areas of their relationship. This is in high contrast to couples who share less emotional intimacy.

Building a communication style that promotes intimacy can be both assertive and respectful. Being assertive first implies that you know what you want and need in the relationship. Next, it implies that you’re not afraid to take the risk of disclosing it.

To be respectful means that you actively listen to your spouse’s needs and concerns. You do this with the intention of understanding and validating them. Respect also means having no form of avoidance or partner dominance behaviors.

Flexibility and Closeness

Couples with high emotional intimacy function at optimal levels of flexibility and closeness. They develop and make use of good communication skills to maintain these levels.

Optimal flexibility refers to how couples balance stability and change in the relationship. In difficult situations, couples become flexible by shifting roles and responsibilities as needed.

With optimal closeness, the couples share a fine balance between togetherness and separateness. They’re emotionally connected and rely on each other for support. Yet, they accept and respect each other’s individuality in the relationship.

Emotional Intimacy in Men and Women

Emotional Intimacy - Couple in soulful head connection

In general, women have greater levels of emotional intimacy based on self-disclosure.

Yet, there are times when some women will opt for less intimate topics of conversation. Then again, they usually tend to express more feelings for longer periods of time.

But the “amount” of self-disclosure itself does not differ that much between men and women. The disparity is because women have a “higher frequency” of self-disclosure than men.

Many experts suggest that the inability of most men to express emotional intimacy is due to lack of role models, social stress on competition, and an aversion to emotional vulnerability and openness.

The Emotional Intimacy Scale

The Emotional Intimacy Scale (EIS) is a 5-item scale. The scale is based on some fundamental intimacy concepts. It’s a tool used to measure the amount of emotional intimacy of couples in a relationship.

The scale consists of the following five statements:

  • This person completely accepts me as I am
  • I can openly share my deepest thoughts and feelings with this person
  • This person cares deeply for me
  • This person would willingly help me in any way
  • My thoughts and feelings are understood and affirmed by this person

So, how do you stack up on the Emotional Intimacy Scale?