What Does Emotional Intimacy Look Like In A Long-Term Relationship? Here's How To Deepen Your Connection With Your Partner
It might seem like common sense to all you seasoned relationship vets, but one thing I've learned over the course of my first-ever long-term relationship that surprised me is just how much a relationship can change for the better over time. Even if you have a super strong connection initially, the more time you spend with someone and the better you get to know them, the deeper your connection can become — and emotional intimacy in a long-term relationship is so much different than emotional intimacy in a brand-new relationship.
"In new relationships we can reflectively listen, spend quality time with our new partner without distractions, and make thoughtful gestures to build closeness," Javanne Golob, LCSW, an expert in cultivating emotional intimacy, tells Bustle. "The longer two people spend together, the longer they have to explore each other's inner worlds. With time we can become highly attuned with one another and be able to understand our partner's motivations instead of misinterpreting their actions. Communication can become clearer and hopefully with time we feel more and more safe to share vulnerable parts of ourselves."
When you first start dating someone new, all the lovey-dovey vibes make it easy to feel a super close bond right away, but after you've spent months (or even years) building trust and getting to know each other, you'll be able to form an even deeper connection with your partner — which makes your relationship as a whole stronger, too.
"Emotional intimacy is the glue which holds a long-term relationship together," Golob says. "In being able to trust our partner and know they are holding us in their heart we continue to make choices that benefit the couple versus the self. When we don't feel safe to share our innermost thoughts and feelings and that our partner deeply cares about us, distance can form in a relationship... Emotional closeness bonds us, satiates us, and fuels the desire to stay committed."
Simply put, the more open and vulnerable you are with your long-term partner, the greater the potential to connect on a super deep level and build amazing emotional intimacy with them. If you want to know what emotional intimacy looks like in a long-term relationship, here are three things that long-term couples with tons of emotional intimacy have in common.
1. They're Physically Intimate
Emotional and physical intimacy might not be one and the same, but there's a lot of overlap between the two — and couples with a strong sense of shared physical intimacy are likely to also be attuned to each other emotionally.
"Couples who prioritize relational intimacy maintain the quality of their connection through their sexual and non-sexual intimate touching," Jodie Slee, a Relationship & Psychosexual Therapist at Sensate Therapy, tells Bustle. "This could be holding hands, a reassuring shoulder squeeze or a night of kink filled BDSM. Physical connection in whatever form it takes causes the brain to release Oxytocin a feel good, attachment neurotransmitter that impacts emotional responses and promotes relaxation, trust and psychological stability. Given that there is a degree of vulnerability involved in emotional intimacy, anything that helps to create a safe and secure attachment only further enhances the possibility of deep emotional connection."
2. They Communicate Well
The strongest, healthiest couples all have one important thing in common: they're able to communicate effectively, no matter the issue. It might not seem especially romantic, but having good communication in your relationship is a very real sign that you have a healthy amount of emotional intimacy.
"Emotional intimacy in a long-term relationship thrives on trust and communication," Slee says. "Adopting a non-judgmental and receptive communication strategy fosters the mutual sharing of each other's innermost selves. It is unbridled mutual self-disclosure. When comfort sets in we can fall into the trap of using humor, sarcasm to distract or avoid the vulnerability experienced in true intimate relationships. Or allowing conflict to trigger fear — fear of rejection, of domination, of abandonment, Intentionally or not, we may 'deflect and protect' in order to avoid the very vulnerability and transparency that we need to thrive as a couple."
3. They Feel Safe
The biggest indicator that a relationship is overflowing with emotional intimacy? Both partners feel safe: safe to open up, safe to be honest, and above all, safe to be their genuine, authentic selves at all times.
"Intimacy flourishes in an atmosphere of safety," Slee says. "We open up when we feel safe. The challenge is, how do we create this safety? In order for couples to successfully retain emotional intimacy throughout the duration of their LTR they need to resist the temptation to resort to reactive and unhelpful patterns of conflict such [as] getting angry or withdrawing... Sharing your concerns and anxieties in a non blaming honest manner will evoke empathy in your partner rather than defense and perpetuate closeness rather than accentuating distance."
How Can Couples Create More Emotional Intimacy?
Obviously, building emotional intimacy in a long-term relationship is a gradual process that will take time — but the good news is that it's also fairly simple: as long as you're willing to be open and receptive to your partner and their emotions, building a super-tight bond will come naturally.
"The gift of your full attention is a way to increase emotional intimacy in your relationship," Slee says. "When your partner is speaking, give them your full attention, put down your smart phone and switch off the TV. Listen as if they were the most important person in your life; because they are. Be conscious of you emotional intelligence and work out how you can improve this by being perceptive of emotions even if they are unspoken, and therefore, increase the emotional intimacy of your relationship."
Truthfully, it's almost impossible to paint a picture of what exactly emotional intimacy looks like in a long-term relationship, because every couple expresses their intimacy in different ways. But no matter what makes you feel emotionally closest to your partner — maybe it's leaving each other encouraging notes before big events, or always making a point to say "I love you" before bed — creating more emotional intimacy is something that all couples should strive toward.