When you think of intimacy in a relationship, it's possible that your thoughts jump first to the physical. But building emotional intimacy is, without a doubt, equally important. When partners lack emotional intimacy, it can be difficult to empathize with each other and build trust. Luckily, if you're unsure whether you're there yet, relationship experts can help you look for signs.
Emotional intimacy is a skill, but it eventually becomes a way of being in a relationship. "I would describe emotional intimacy as the experience of being emotionally connected and in tune with our partners," Lisa Olivera, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, tells Bustle. "It involves a level of openness and vulnerability from both people, and increases the overall sense of closeness we feel with our partners in day-to-day life." Without emotional intimacy, it can be hard for couples to weather the storms of life together.
"Emotional intimacy is ultimately the glue that holds a relationship together, after the initial excitement fizzles," health and wellness coach Caleb Backe tells Bustle. "Couples who are emotionally intimate can overcome conflict more easily because they understand each other better and are able to communicate their feelings to each other." Luckily, there are ways to build emotional intimacy if you haven't quite tapped into it yet. First, you need to check in on your relationship.
Here are eight signs your relationship may be lacking in emotional intimacy, according to experts.
1. You Feel Oddly Distant
Without emotional intimacy, your relationship might have a distance to it that you can't quite pinpoint, almost as if your partner's true feelings are always at arms' length.
"[It's a sign of a lack of emotional intimacy if] you might not know why, but you’re feeling distant and isolated from your partner, [or if] you aren’t talking as much or spending as much time together," Olivera says. "This distance in relationships can often signal a lack of emotional intimacy, and a need to nourish and nurture the emotional connection that fuels togetherness and connection." Try asking your partner some questions about the relationship, and see how things grow from there.
2. Neither Of You Talk About Your Emotions
A lack of transparency is another big sign that you and your partner haven't build a solid foundation of emotional intimacy yet in your relationship. You need to be able to talk about your feelings and emotions with one another. "These things are hard to talk about because they require that we practice being vulnerable and transparent," Olivera say. "[But] when feelings and emotions don’t get talked about, they often come out in different and more problematic ways." This can build to a habit over arguing over small things, or even stonewalling one another.
"Lacking the security and confidence to share your feelings or fearing that your partner will invalidate your feelings is a sign that your relationship is probably lacking emotional intimacy," Backe says. So start out small, opening up to them about your daily anxieties, and see how they respond.
3. Or One Of You Shares Way More Than The Other
If one partner shares more than the other, it can be hard to notice that emotional intimacy is lacking. It may just seem like someone's a good listener. But, experts agree, it offten means that there's an imbalance.
"This can be a sign that a partner doesn’t feel safe or comfortable expressing themselves openly in the relationship; conversely, it could also mean a partner isn’t creating space for their partner to be open and vulnerable with them," Olivera explains. So whether you realize that you're opening up more, or not quite enough, bring up this issue with your partner. It may be possible to resolve on its own.
4. You Don't Really Share Your Lives With One Another
More than emotional distance, keeping distance from your partner in a more physical sense is also a sign that you two might lack emotional intimacy. Whether it means you don't text much, don't really go on dates, or don't share experiences with one another, leading absolutely separate lives can become harmful.
"[Without emotional intimacy,] you might experience very little communication about life," licensed mental health counselor Erika Miley, M.Ed., tells Bustle. "For example, often in new relationships there is long text conversations, or long phone conversations, or long dates connecting [and] getting to know each other on a deeper level. If there is an absence of these patterns it is cause for concern." You should want to share a fair amount of your life with your loved one. If you aren't comfortable doing so, it may be a sign that there's an emotional distance between you.
5. You Don't Touch Much (Outside The Bedroom)
When it comes to physical touch, there actually is a pretty clear parallel between emotional and physical intimacy. It just might not be in the ways you think. "[It's not a good sign if] when you and your person are alone there is very little physical connection like sitting close, holding hands, those small ways we express emotional intimacy," Miley explains.
Comfortable physical closeness requires a degree of emotional closeness, experts say. So your physical distance might really be symbolic. "Emotional intimacy is the foundation for physical intimacy," Rori Sassoon, relationship expert and CEO of Platinum Poire, tells Bustle. "When you’re emotionally connected, you’re physically connected and it makes your physical connection better!" This means that, if you realize you don't touch much, the solution isn't to just start holding hands and nothing else. Like all other areas of emotional intimacy, it's a sign that you might need to open up more as a couple.
6. You Don't Share Hobbies Like You Used To
Another aspect of balance and emotional intimacy is the ability to share hobbies and interests with your partner. "When a couple stops doing things together — and sharing in couples' 'things,' you can see the emotional intimacy start to dissipate," certified relationship coach and author of Love Is A Business, J.L. Kirkwood tells Bustle. "For example, many couples find television shows they can enjoy together, and sometimes, one person takes one for the team, just to share the connection with their partner ... Once the couple stops paying attention to what their partner likes or enjoys, you can then check the emotional intimacy box as 'checked out.'" So try to build yourselves back up by starting a new TV show together again, or even just doing a puzzle. It can help create the space you might need to open up emotionally.
7. You Have Trouble Listening To One Another
Even if you and your partner are sharing your thoughts and feelings with one another, emotional intimacy can't really build unless you are both listening to each other as well. "One of the most significant signs of 'lack' of emotional intimacy is the inability to listen ... When emotional intimacy begins to fade, you can see a person mentioning things that bother them, and the other person is tuned-out," Kirkwood says. This can show up both in conversation and in other parts of your life as a couple, like forgetting birthdays or anniversaries, or not apologizing when they've done something wrong.
"We can establish emotional intimacy by truly listening, by practicing vulnerability, by being curious about our partner’s feelings and experiences ... and intentionally connecting with our partner with empathy, compassion, and presence," Olivera says. So it's vital to try to get back on track with active listening and loving communication.
8. You Aren't Asking Each Other For Advice
In a relationship, you and your partner should be able to support each other no matter what. Unfortunately, that's hard to accomplish if neither of you are actually asking the other for help when you need it. No one's life should be dictated by their partner, but your relationship should be a place you can go for guidance. "[It's a sign you don't have emotional intimacy if] you don’t ask for each other’s opinion or advice. This could indicate that you aren’t emotionally secure enough in your relationship to ask for each other’s support," Backe says. So assess whether the trepidation is on your end or theirs, and start to open up about it when you feel you can.
Emotional intimacy is a hallmark of a good relationship, but lacking it doesn't mean you, as a couple, are doomed. With a little hard work, you and your partner can pinpoint the places where you need help, and start to fix things from there. Whether it means going on more dates, having a few heart-to-hearts, or heading to couples counseling, there are ways to protect a good thing. If it's meant to be, it'll all work out.