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How would you define emotional intimacy with your partner?
Take a moment and write out your definition for what you think it is. Clearly describe the behaviours that are required for you to know that you’re experiencing emotional intimacy.
Sounds like an easy task, but taking a concept such as this and putting it into words without using Google may be challenging.
After you do it, ask your partner to write out their definition, using the same instructions, and then compare your definitions and behaviours. This can be a helpful way to reinforce what’s working well and perhaps highlight where you both could put more focus.
Now if you don’t feel comfortable doing this with your partner or you don’t have a partner, then emotional intimacy is likely a gap for you.
This microskill explores emotional intimacy, which can support mental health.
Interestingly, emotional intimacy is not just a psychological need, it’s a biological need. People with normal psychological needs crave emotional intimacy. It trumps physical intimacy.
Sadly, people can fall in love and because they don’t learn and grow with each other they fail to mature in their emotional intimacy, which can result in one or both parties feeling regret, alone and yearning for more.
Perhaps this is why – at least according to some estimates – 45 to 50 per cent of married women and 50 to 60 per cent of married men engage in extramarital affairs. In Canada, the average marriage duration is 14 years, according to Statistics Canada. These statistics suggest that many couples struggle with emotional intimacy.
One reason why this is a challenge for many is the lack of self-awareness on how to articulate emotional intimacy gaps, as well as not having the skills to facilitate it. Not many of us have taken a course on demonstrating or receiving emotional intimacy. Without oxygen, we die biologically. Perhaps emotional intimacy is the oxygen that allows two people in a loving relationship to live long and healthy lives.
Lack of knowledge, skills and self-awareness of emotional intimacy results in couples feeling lost and not knowing how to find their emotional intimacy GPS to correct course and get life on the right track so their loving relationship can evolve and flourish.
Emotional intimacy includes, but is not limited to, the following kinds of behaviours.
- Receiving and giving unconditional support and affection on a regular basis.
- Having a safe space to express what you’re thinking and feeling, without fear of judgment.
- Having your partner open to providing you genuine empathy and concerns for your feelings at any moment in time.
- Doing things to support your partner because you want to, as opposed to feeling you have to.
- Feeling a deep emotional connection with your partner.
- Giving unconditional trust to your partner.
- Being comfortable at any moment to express your disappointments without fear of reprisal.
- Feeling you can count on what your partner says they will do – that they will follow through for you.
The evolution of emotional intimacy begins with self-acceptance. Accepting and providing emotional intimacy can happen only when we’re able to be kind to ourselves.
Self-acceptance begins with self-compassion, where we accept that we’re not perfect, and we can be kind to ourselves by paying attention to self-talk and action. When we’re able to do this, we’ve put in the foundation to support and facilitate emotional intimacy with a partner.
Emotional intimacy evolves from a combination of being able to have a healthy relationship with ourselves and engaging in a relationship where we’re open to receiving and giving emotional intimacy.
Developing and sustaining emotional intimacy requires two willing partners committed to learning and growing together.
Talk openly without editing: Create the conditions that you both can just talk openly to process what you’re thinking, without fearing you’ll be judged for a thought that may pop up from either your conscious or unconscious mind. Couples who stay together learn that many times we use words first as an expression without fully understanding the meaning. Allowing space for safe talking to move past just words to the core and meaning is where learning and growth happen. By focusing energy more on the message behind the words, a couple can discover each other’s true wants and learn why the wants are important.
Be aware of balance: Pay attention to emotional intimacy balance. If one person is always looking for emotional intimacy and craves it, this craving may become such a focus and priority they fail to reciprocate because they’re so focused on their own needs. Narcissism appears to be growing in our society, where Western culture is putting more emphasis on “I” and “me,” rather than “we.” The balance doesn’t need to be 50-50. It needs to be what both parties need to know to feel emotional intimacy from each other.
Timing: Discover each other’s response time. This is important. Two people could be in the same relationship and require different levels of frequency with respect to reinforcement, sense of connectivity and need for emotional check-ins. Keep in mind that it’s not what you want, it’s what your partner wants. It doesn’t take much to learn what lowers your partner’s anxiety and helps them feel connected to you emotionally. Sometimes a six-second text is all it takes. If that’s the case, making the person wait 18 hours is unnecessary. If you care about another person, you’ll care to help them feel emotionally secure, which is a pillar for emotional intimacy.
Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.
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