The key to any successful relationship is genuine attachment. Obviously you have a different relationship with a housemate or friend than you do with your lover. No matter how close a friend a housemate is, the attachment of a lover is bound to be deeper. It is based on full understanding which leads to a genuine desire for the other person to be happy and fulfilled.
A healthy attachment must not be mistaken for dependency. For one thing, one of the keys to a healthy bond is healthy self-hood. When you have a true emotional relationship with your partner, it is based on heart to heart chemistry — a connection even more fundamental and deep rooted than sexual chemistry.
Emotional intimacy is required if you are going to have a long term, meaningful relationship.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Communication is deep, real, and meaningful. That doesn’t mean you can’t giggle over 30 Rock reruns or tease each other about forgetting to change the toilet paper roll, but when you share, talk, unburden… you feel heard. When you listen… you really do listen. You connect, empathize, and support throughout your communications.
- Feelings are shared. Not just the feelings that you think will be “acceptable” to the other, but all feelings. This requires the communication mentioned above, and it demands openness, vulnerability, authenticity, trust, and true honesty.
- Active listening is a vital part of superb communication. This kind of listening happens when you genuinely care about one another. When that is the case, nothing is too small, too “stupid,” or too silly to be listened to with empathy.
- There is real trust. A basic when it comes to emotional attachment, there are many kinds of trust. You trust that when you express your emotional needs to your partner they will be heard, respected, and met.
- Long term contentment. This is what flows into place after the titillating thrill of a new relationship recedes. A relationship that will stabilize successfully is one in which both partners tap into their emotional intelligence and connect in an authentic way.
- It’s a work in progress – and you accept that. You can “get there” in the end, though you may always want to work at maintaining your intimacy.
There are a few essential keys to achieving emotional intimacy like that described above:
- Communication, both verbal and physical (next week’s blog will be about physical intimacy and how it connects to emotional intimacy and attachment)
- Feeling seen, understood, and valued
- Personal integrity – true knowing how you feel and what you believe to be true for you
- Emotionally connection to yourself and your feelings
- Trust that by expressing your emotional needs that they will be met (heard, respected)
Sometimes we have difficulty creating and maintaining emotional intimacy.
There are some common reasons this might happen:
- Hurt feelings in the past. Whether in this relationship or another from your past, if you have been hurt or if trust was broken, it is often difficult to regain, or gain, emotional intimacy. Doing so will require that both you and your partner reach out.
- Role models. If your parents were emotionally shut down and engaged in limited communication, you have learned unhealthy behavior patterns. You were, in a sense, trained to disregard and minimize your emotional world. You will need to retrain yourself, with the help of an understanding partner.
- Fear of rejection or vulnerability. Being truly intimate with your partner requires great vulnerability. If you think you have difficulty with that, or that you fear rejection, look at the “trust” piece. Ask yourself if you are in a safe relationship with someone who cares about the authentic you. If the answer is yes, you can work towards intimacy and overcoming your fear of rejection.
- Lack of communication skills. Sometimes people just don’t know how to talk about their feelings. Even the most erudite scholar who can lecture to hundreds or the most competent manager who can give assignments and feedback to dozens of employees can have a very different experience when it comes to expressing feelings. This takes practice. Ask for patience from your partner and take it one step at a time. Step one: identify your feelings. If you are not sure what they are, you will not be able to convey them.
Realize that intimacy on an emotional level takes time to develop. You can’t expect to have it within a week or a month of getting together, and maybe after a year or more it will still be a process. That’s okay!
Practice the sharing and listening that characterize emotional intimacy until it becomes second nature. Everyone is different. Some of us are introverts who need a certain amount of space. Others need reassurance and lots of feedback. Still others withdraw when we feel vulnerable and need to be pulled back into the circle of intimacy. Learn about one another and see how you can achieve emotional closeness that works, given your unique, individual characteristics.