January 3, 2019 |Gideon Hanekom

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If you want to see your relationship thrive, it’s important to know how to build emotional intimacy, because the degree of emotional intimacy is an excellent barometer for evaluating the health of a relationship. 

But what is it exactly?

Emotional intimacy is a special level of closeness that goes beyond the ordinary fondness felt for friends and family.

It is a deep connection that makes everything in a relationship come together and work well.

And at the end of the day, it is very difficult to have 1) a good relationship with poor emotional intimacy or 2) a poor relationship with a high degree of emotional intimacy.

Healthy, happy, and intimate relationships are built on emotional intimacy because it strengthens the love bond between couples.

Without it, a happy and fulfilling love life cannot exist, let alone grow.

An emotional connection that is strong between two people generates emotions of comfort, security, shelter, and mutual support, whereas a lack of emotional intimacy in a relationship leads to communication problems, feelings of powerlessness, and loneliness.

So, if I had to give anyone a single piece of advice on how to build emotional intimacy this year, it would be this:

Grow your emotional intimacy and strengthen your bonds of love.

Now, the natural question becomes – how to build emotional intimacy?

Good question.

So let me share with you 9 simple things you can do together as a couple to build emotional intimacy in your relationship.

how to build emotional intimacy

These are very simple and practical, and practically anyone can start doing them right away.

Now, of course, you don’t have to do all of them at once.

Simply consider which ones might work in your situation, and commit to at least one before adding another.

How to build emotional intimacy: 9 effective actions

Exercise together.

We maintain intimate relationships with those with whom we share challenging times, whether it be surviving a horrible boss or training for a marathon.

So aim to spend more time training together at the gym, outdoors, or at home.

The principle here is to sweat and suffer together.

In doing so, your bond will grow.

Plus, it’s really good for your health as well as self-esteem – both of which are also vitally important for a long-term healthy relationship.

Not to mention your sex life.

Let go of your past.

Most of the obstacles to being more intimately connected (emotional intimacy) are rooted in the past.

When people struggle to let go of the past, while actively keeping it alive in the present, it becomes increasingly more difficult to truly appreciate what you have right now.

Many people don’t want to hear this, but, the past only exists in your mind and inasmuch you are choosing to carry it around in the present.

But, you can also choose to let it go.

I’ve always loved Oprah’s saying to “turn wounds into wisdom.”

That’s the most powerful way to deal with a difficult past.

Rather than carry it around like a big bag of bricks, instead, choose to learn from the past but then be done with it.

Everyone has been hurt at some point.

You are not unique.

And like many others, you can also choose to move on from it.

It is really as simple as a choice.

Because, right now, you’re choosing not to move on.

So, let it go.

Move on.

Share your appreciation for each other.

For example, before turning off the light for the night, share what you each appreciate about each other.

List something specific you appreciated about them that day.

It could be something small like folding your clean pants or stopping by the store for milk.

You’ll be amazed by what happens.

You’ll actually end up spending your days looking for things to appreciate about your partner, rather than be annoyed about.

You might even eventually start thinking that your partner has changed into an even more amazing person.

But the truth is that you’re the one who’s changed.

You’ve chosen to change your perspective.

And perspective changes everything.

Perception is our reality.

Subjective perhaps but still.

Touch each other daily.

Physical touch is a hugely important part of how to build emotional intimacy in a relationship.

Now, sex is a huge part of that, but not exclusively.

It’s important to also focus on other types of touch, too.

And the list of examples is endless.

Give each other a massage or snuggle together on the couch.

Hold hands.

Just kiss.

I’m sure you know what to do.

Be a positive experience for your spouse.

This is something I actually see quite a bit in my relationship coaching work with couples.

Many of them overlook the fact that in order to have a positive experience in our relationships, we, as individuals, need to be a positive experience for our partners.

In order for our relationships to be a positive experience, we need to create it rather than wait for it to happen.

Now, what’s really interesting is that relation experts have actually researched this, and they have found that we’re more sensitive to negative experiences than we are to positive ones. 

How to build emotional intimacy as a couple is not a balanced equation.

The ratio is roughly 5:1.

This means is that it takes five positive experiences to negate the impact of one negative experience.

Think about that for a moment.

One positive experience doesn’t make up for one negative experience.

We often want it to work that way, but unfortunately, it doesn’t.

Also, the more negative experiences we have on a daily basis, the more the pressure mounts to create positive experiences.

This is why it becomes increasingly difficult for a couple whose relationship has fallen into a trap of perpetual negative experiences.

If you have 5 negative experiences per day, which isn’t that uncommon for many couples, you have to negate that with at least 25 positive experiences.

At some stage, you reach a point where you simply run out of time in a day and it becomes a tough ask.

Furthermore, 5:1 is just the base standard.

When it comes to creating emotional intimacy, we have to up the ante.

We will most likely have to aim for 10:1 in order to truly build emotional intimacy long-term.

So the challenge here is to try and deliver at least 10 positive experiences for each negative experience so that your bond is ever-growing.

Truth be told, you don’t have any time for negative experiences – so just skip them.

Be a better listener.

Here’s a great rule of thumb for how to build emotional intimacy in a relationship,

We adore the people in our lives who take the time to listen intently to what we have to say.

And being a good listener starts with intent.

It ultimately comes down to truly being curious, and wanting to know, about your partner.

You’re actually interested in what they have to say and share.

Now, we also often overlook all the subtle ways you can communicate genuine interest.

But these subtle gestures go a long way in making you come across as a good listener.

For example,

  • Look your partner in the eye when they’re speaking to you.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Put your cell phone away.
  • Avoid interrupting.

Give it a try and see what happens.

Explore something new together.

To build emotional intimacy in a relationship, we need to grow as people.

And one of the most powerful ways to do that is to explore and experience new things together.

Again, the examples are endless …

  • Take a class or course together.
  • Go tramping in a new location.
  • Go on a cruise (if you can afford it).
  • Start a new sport together.
  • Read the same book and share your thoughts.
  • Attend a concert or live show together.
  • Take a trip to someplace new.

Honestly, your imagination is your limitation.

Be creative and share new experiences together on a regular basis.

This will do so much for building emotional intimacy in your relationship.

Be the best possible version of yourself.

You probably knew this one was coming.

At the end of the day, in order to improve anything, at some stage, we need to look at ourselves to see how we can improve ourselves first.

How to build emotional intimacy in a relationship is as much about personal growth and development as it’s about you as a couple.

When you show up as a better version of yourself, your environment has to respond to you differently than before.

It’s a natural consequence and byproduct of personal growth.

Your environment, i.e. your partner, friends, family, other people, etc., cannot respond to the “new you” the same way they did the “old you.”

Furthermore, in the context of your relationship, by being at your best, you’ll have more to give.

It is impossible to give beyond your current capacity to give.

The only way to give more is to increase your capacity to give.

It always fascinates me to see mothers, especially, who run themselves into the ground for their kids believing that that’s what’s needed to show their unconditional love.

The issue with that is that you cannot give what you don’t have.

So, if in the process of giving, you lose yourself, your health, your energy, and your motivation – how will that help you to keep on giving?

No, a better way is to prioritise self-care and personal development.

Have a few goals to take care of and improve yourself, and spend time each day striving to achieve them.

Take care of yourself physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

You will thank me, in the long run.

How to build emotional intimacy requires healthy individuals to work on it.

Show an interest in your partner’s life.

This goes beyond just being a good listener.

This is about being genuinely interested in everything about your partner.

Now, this is a lot easier when your relationship is fresh, but it gets increasingly more difficult the longer we’re together.

It’s so easy to reach a point after many years where you simply take your partner for granted.

But that’s a slippery slope to relationship decay.

The longer we are together, the harder we need to work on remaining incessantly interested in our partners.

Enhancing emotional intimacy demands it.

So be inquisitive and ask your partner about her day.

If he just got home from playing golf, ask him about his game.

And show genuine interest because you actually are.

Take away …

It’s easy to be emotionally intimate at the beginning of a love relationship.

The other person is just so perfect and interesting!

You remember those days, don’t you?

But, emotional intimacy can be more challenging after 10, 15, or 30 years have taken their toll.

So here’s the important takeaway today,

How to build emotional intimacy is a consistent ongoing process that never ends, unless you want a relationship to end.

And the only way to do that is to make emotional intimacy a priority in your relationship.

But fortunately, you don’t have to figure it out all by yourself.

Simply start with the nine effective actions for how to build emotional intimacy I shared here today.

And let me know how you get on.

Live and love fully my Friend!

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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