What Is Emotional Intimacy?

Being close with the one you love has major benefits.
By Mitchell Qualls
June 1, 2022

Cultivating emotional intimacy in marriage makes me think of a road trip. Having a destination is essential, but the journey is where adventure lies. My wife and I love a good road trip. I could tell you countless stories of getting lost, taking detours, traffic jams, and discovering beauty along the way. 

Marriage is a lot like a road trip. Some days are blue skies and sunshine, driving through the countryside with the wind in your hair and music cranked loud. Other days are roadblocks, traffic jams, and detours. When you head out, you never know what lies ahead. The road you travel won’t always be easy, but the journey is where your marriage is strengthened and thrives. 

The journey begins the day you say, “I do.” It won’t always be easy, but all the bumps in the road help the two of you grow closer. When you tackle all those hazards together, hand in hand, it strengthens your connection. 

Researchers at Cornell University found that the most successful marriages involve communication, knowledge, and commitment.¹ Those three components are vital to a happy, healthy marriage. They also contribute to building emotional intimacy in your relationship.

What is emotional intimacy in marriage?

It’s the ongoing, intentional process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse. Intimacy is often equated with sex, but it’s so much more than that. There are actually five types of intimacy: emotional, intellectual, experiential, spiritual and sexual. For right now, let’s focus on emotional intimacy because it’s crucial to the other types. Emotional intimacy is the “glue” of all relationships.²

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s happening inside your spouse (and feeling like they understand you 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 or moves your spouse, what interests and intrigues, and enthralls and enchants that person you’ve committed yourself to. Emotional intimacy is simply growing deeper in your understanding of your mate. 

Emotional intimacy requires couples to take on the role of a compassionate detective – an invested student of each other. Developing emotional intimacy is a continual process of learning, understanding, and empathizing with who your spouse is on the inside. Both men and women view emotional connection as crucial to a long-term, healthy relationship.³

So, what does emotional intimacy look like in marriage?

I’m glad you asked!

Here’s what people in marriages with strong emotional intimacy may say: 

It feels like I’m heard whenever we talk, even if we disagree. 

When we’re together, we’re not just two people in the same room; we really connect. 

They don’t try to fix things when I’m explaining a problem unless I ask for it; they simply listen 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 make time to spend 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 rely on your partner to be on your team. You can feel safe, secure, and accepted just by being yourself.
  • Are more accepting of each other’s faults. Understanding who your spouse is gives you a better appreciation and compassion for them. It’s beautiful when that’s a two-way street in a relationship. 
  • Have a stronger physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy have a substantial effect on each other. 

How do you build emotional intimacy?

Emotional intimacy needs to be foundational to your marriage. All the other types of intimacy need this foundation to thrive. Here are a few ways to build that foundation:

  • Communicate daily.
  • Express appreciation for your spouse.
  • Be curious about your mate.
  • Make yourself emotionally available.
  • Be vulnerable.

Check out this article for some exercises to strengthen emotional intimacy in your marriage.

Marriage is a beautiful journey. One day, you’ll look back and take joy in the detours and roadblocks because those things strengthened your emotional intimacy. Enjoy the journey and take every turn hand in hand with your spouse.

Other resources:

Help! Our Intimacy is Gone – First Things First

7 Questions Every Couple Needs to Ask Each Other to Improve Their Sex Life – First Things First

MARRIAGE COURSE | Discover Deeper Intimacy In Your Marriage

Sources:

¹Cornell University. “Love, factually: Gerontologist finds the formula to a happy marriage.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617134613.htm>

²Gaia, A. Celeste. “Understanding Emotional Intimacy: A Review of Conceptualization, Assessment and the Role of Gender.” International Social Science Review, vol. 77, no. 3/4, 2002, pp. 151–70. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41887101. Accessed 27 May 2022.

³Wade, TJ and Mogilski, J. (2018) Emotional Accessibility Is More Important Than Sexual Accessibility in Evaluating Romantic Relationships – Especially for Women: A Conjoint Analysis. Front. Psychol. 9:632. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00632

***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.***

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  1. Diane
    Diane says:

    My question is how am i suppose to handle a spiuse who is 69,and im 67 weve been married for 5 yrs . I have no rights in conversation . Im told i waste money, my salvation . Im not to talk , sing, or express anything . Is this how im suppose to live . He tells me i waste money only when im asking for aimething . He spends but im not allowed or makes me feel like a prisoner but yet i think im ok with this . Is there something wrong with me . Theres no laughing together. We only watch what he wants like cop shows news and absolutley no movies. he says theres no point in it it only makes me think .(not him)

    Reply
  2. Uwagood
    Uwagood says:

    Hi [ firstthings ],

    I’m a Uwagood and regular reader of your blog posts.

    I also run the blog at (http://Uwagood.com) and today, we published a pretty massive guide on [ lack of intimacy in relationship ] I think it might be a good fit for your roundup posts and thought I’d reach out.

    Here’s the link to the guide: [ https://uwagood.com/2022/07/03/lack-of-intimacy-in-relationshipcommon-intimacy-killers-in-a-relationship/ ]

    No worries if it’s not a good fit – I’ll be a regular reader regardless!

    Thanks,
    [Uwagood]

    Reply