Many things don’t really matter (or at least shouldn’t matter) in marriage. If a dinner gets burned every now and then, it doesn’t matter. One person likes the beach and the other likes the mountains? I can speak from personal experience: doesn’t matter.
One cheers for the Yankees and the other for the Red Sox…well, some conflict resolution may be necessary. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.
But emotional intimacy… boy, does it ever matter. And here’s why.
Intimacy in marriage is the ongoing, intentional process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse. There’s a lot packed in this definition, but what you need to know right now is that emotional intimacy is an ongoing pursuit. Why? Because there’s always more to learn and understand about the person you love the most—plus they are constantly growing and life throws different circumstances at them. (And you, too.)
Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s going on inside your spouse (and being understood in the same way). It’s knowing all their feelings, hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities, fears, motivations, and desires. It’s gaining a better sense of what drives your spouse, what moves your spouse, what interests and intrigues, enthralls and enchants that person you’ve committed yourself to. Emotional intimacy is simply growing deeper in your understanding of your spouse.
Unfortunately, many couples get stuck in a cycle of operating with a severe lack of emotional intimacy.
That’s what happened to Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland. The first two years of their marriage were utter bliss. Intimacy seemed to come naturally: staying up at all hours of the night talking, being in each other’s presence as much as possible, and of course, lots of newly-married sex.
However, real life started to creep in as the busyness of work, the drama of in-laws, the stacking of bills, and the arrival of children took center stage. Emotional intimacy was no longer so natural. There were fewer opportunities to spend time with each other; they no longer spent the weekends enjoying chili dogs at the Tastee Freez like they used to. When Jack and Diane did talk, it was either about their schedule or finances or shuffling the kiddos from one place to another, but never anything deeper. Disagreements quickly grew into all-out fights. It was difficult for Jack or Diane to feel safe in the relationship, and there was often the feeling of walking on eggshells when they were in the same room.
Fortunately, Jack and Diane started reading wonderfully helpful marriage tips from First Things First (shameless plug…) and learned that emotional intimacy can be built up again, but it takes being intentional. Emotional intimacy requires couples to take on the role of a compassionate detective—an invested student of each other. Emotional intimacy is a continual process of learning, understanding, and empathizing with who your spouse is on the inside.
And they figured out, by golly, emotional intimacy matters. Why?
Couples with emotional intimacy experience a greater connection and enhanced communication.
Here’s what people in marriages with strong emotional intimacy may say:
- Whenever we talk, it feels like I’m heard, even if we don’t agree.
- When we’re together, we’re not just two people in the same room; we really connect.
- He doesn’t try to fix things when I’m explaining a problem, unless I ask for it; he simply listens to try and understand what I’m feeling.
- When we have a disagreement, it doesn’t feel like we’re on opposing sides necessarily; it feels like we’re on the same side trying to solve the same problem.
- We’re busy, but we do find time to carve into our schedule to just spend time with each other. That’s important to us.
Couples with emotional intimacy…
- Have a stronger sense of trust and security. Knowing and being known chips away at the need to wonder how much you can really rely on your partner to be on your team. You can feel safe, secure, and accepted just being yourself.
- Are more accepting of each other’s faults. Understanding what goes on on the inside (and why it goes on) gives you a better appreciation and compassion for your spouse, warts and all. When that’s a two-way street in a relationship, it’s a beautiful thing.
- Have a stronger physical intimacy. If you were to look up the research, you’d find that emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy have a strong effect on each other. I like to think of it like pedaling a bicycle. One pedal is emotional intimacy and the other physical intimacy. When you push one pedal forward, it will bring the other around to be pushed. Repeat the cycle (see what I did there?) and you quickly gain momentum and acceleration.
The great thing about understanding more about emotional intimacy in your marriage is you come to understand it’s never too late to make it matter and take it deeper. It’s within your power. And with some work (such as these exercises), you can begin to build a strong emotional intimacy with the one you love the most.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***