Emotional Intimacy

What is Intimacy?
People often use the word intimacy when they really mean intercourse or other sexual experiences.  Intimacy, or emotional closeness, actually can be experienced with or without sexual contact, although passion and sex are components of an intimate marriage.  Couples who report high degrees of emotional intimacy feel that their spouse is a source of comfort, security, and safety, and that the relationship contributes to each other’s growth and well-being.  Emotional intimacy is something that couples must work at maintaining over the whole lifespan of their relationship, and the following information can help you assess the degree of intimacy you experience in your relationship:

Couples often question how to know when it’s appropriate to seek an outside party’s consultation.  The average couple comes to counseling after having struggled with problems for 5-7 years, and that is a lot more complicated than an earlier intervention.  So, a good rule of thumb is that no problem is ever “too small” to warrant the help of a qualified marriage counselor.  Smart couples know that hiring a relationship “coach” is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather a proactive and protective approach to building a successful life together.


The following are some questions that you can ask yourselves to determine if your relationship is healthful and intimate.  Print this list, check the boxes you agree with and write down your comments.  Then, set aside some time to sit down and share your reactions with each other.  If you get stuck, turn to a third party for help.

  • Can you talk openly, honestly, and respectfully?
  • Are you able to control angry feelings and impulses?
  • Do you genuinely try to understand each other’s point of view?
  • Do you have an optimistic view of the future?
  • Do you take a problem-solving approach to situations that are stressful?
  • Have you learned from past experiences, leading you to have the “vision” to be able to see problems on the horizon and head them off?
  • Can you individually recognize the impact of your behavior on each other?
  • Are you in tune with each other’s wants, needs, and concerns?
  • Do you have some sense of a separate “self”?
  • Are you individually aware of your own feelings?
  • Are you heard when you do express feelings to each other?
  • Can you meet your own needs when necessary and postpone getting them met if your partner is not “available”?
  • Does each person in the marriage feel that their partner makes them and the marriage a high priority?
  • Do you have resources to lean on (supportive people in our lives), individually and as a couple?
  • Do you express physical warmth and affection daily?
  • Do you enjoy your sexual experiences?

Here are 4 areas of family functioning.  Use them as a tool for assessing your early (family-of-origin) experiences and as a map for the future of your marriage/family life.  Make a concrete plan to develop those areas you need to build strength in.  If you get stuck, turn to a third party for help.

1) Safe Environment

  • Basic needs are met: enough money for food and shelter.
  • Physical health is cared for: children are protected and dressed appropriately, people exercise, go to the doctor and dentist, eat healthfully.
  • Rules exist about appropriate behavior and boundaries.
  • Emotional security:  there is a felt sense of trust and predictability, and if someone is sick or hurt, the adults respond (to each other or the children) with love and care.

2) Affections, Support and Affirmation – people feel that they count, that what they think counts, and that they’re important.

  • Positive strokes are given when things go right.
  • People are supported, not pressured.
  • There is acceptance of people, even when they make mistakes, and a felt sense of unconditional love.
  • People take time to communicate clearly and are “present”.
  • People feel valued for their uniqueness.

3) Positive Individual & Family Identity - A sense of history.  (Whereas in troubled families people see themselves as alone and without outside resources.)

  • There is an understanding of your affiliation and family origins.  People have developed traditions, save mementos, and tell stories about ancestors.
  • Family is viewed as part of a larger community.
  • Enjoyment of each other on holidays, vacations, and celebrations such as birthdays, graduations, weddings, etc.

4) Solving Problems - All families have crises, how they are handled is what makes a difference.

  • There is acknowledgment of what is problematic and people are free to express their frustrations, concerns, and general experiences without attacking each other.
  • Constructive strategies are used to change what is problematic, options are discussed.
  • Parents are in the leadership role, but everyone participates in providing input.

Intimate Foundations

by Remi Spicer Rakipi, LMSW

Long term, committed relationships are challenging on many levels, and sex and romance are no exceptions. Here 3 strategies for improving intimacy and passion.

1.) Be engaged:  Talk, watch, and listen.  Social science research informs us that there are specific things we can do to turn up the volume on romance and this can mean more and/or better sex. Specifically, these behaviors lead to increased feelings of intimacy are:

  • Mutual self-disclosure.
  • Eye-gazing.
  • Hearing what the other person likes about you.

These are specific, concrete acts that you can engage in on a daily basis.  People do not fall out of love suddenly, but rather couples relationships are either maintained or eroded over time.  The daily nurturing and efforts to maintain an intimate connection are therefore both enriching andpreventive measures.

2.) Be attentive. We tend to give in ways that reflect who we are and what we want. This does not however really inspire passionate expressions of gratitude and love in a coupledom.  If you want to create ongoing romance, find out what says “I love you” to your partner and do it. When a person describes being truly wooed, or being swept off their feet, they are telling the story of someone behaving in a manner in tune with their love and sensuality language. It comes from a kind of attentiveness to ones’ daily expressions, preferences, etc. This kind of behavior INSPIRES passion.  (read more in Love, & Robinson’s Hot Monogomy).

3.) Last, increase risk taking outside of the bedroom. Break up your routine, learn a new skill, and go to new places together.  Visit our Creative Dates section and find local things to do.  Research tells us that experiences that are thrilling really do stimulate sexual desire, and that we truly feel and act more alive when we are still learning, being, and feeling.  In other words, don’t expect excitement to be limited to in the bedroom, you must be getting excited and invigorated together outside of the bedroom, to be experiencing passion for life.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is this:  marital research tells us that avoidance and withdrawal is a predictor of divorce and distress. If you are in a marriage, do not avoid getting help with issues. The average couple comes to counseling after they have had problems for 5-7 years. That’s a BIG burial site to uncover. Not impossible, but big. So don’t let your self or your partner talk you in to avoiding issues that are getting in the way of marital satisfaction.  Visit our Resources section and get help.