Can you recognize a good partner? Do you know the difference between openness and honesty? Take a look at these four stages of emotional intimacy and foster a healthy connection in your relationships
While many don’t articulate it, most of us crave emotional intimacy. We want someone we can share with on a deep level, someone we trust who will be gentle yet honest with us. Emotional intimacy seems especially evasive in a world that appears to rank the physical far ahead of the emotional.
Similar to love, we can’t force emotional intimacy to occur. We can encourage it, though, by creating conditions from which it can develop. Being alert, we will recognize situations where achieving emotional intimacy is more likely than in other circumstances.
There are several steps that occur as we become emotionally intimate with someone, and they have a logical order. Progress is not guaranteed, however; and when it does happen, it may not be linear. Understanding these steps can help us to foster emotional intimacy.
This first step is foundational, because it’s required to for the other steps to work well. This is also a crucial step for those wishing to overcome a fear of emotional intimacy. If we don’t know and accept ourselves, we won’t be able to share ourselves comfortably with another person.
Some ways to enhance self-knowledge are quiet reflection, prayer, meditation, journaling your feelings and thoughts and just being alone. These processes help us to see the tendencies we’ve had and the patterns that have surfaced in our past dating experiences. The willingness to recognize and accept what comes up is an essential part of this step.
2. Use discernment to recognize an appropriate partner.
Just as you need to do your inner work, they need to have done theirs. I’m amazed how many people really don’t know themselves well, making it especially difficult for us to know them and to be sure they’re emotionally available. When we’re paying attention and know what’s important to us, we’re better able to realize when advancing the relationship emotionally isn’t probable and/or is not in our best interest.
At this stage, it’s important to spend time together in places where you can talk. One common, positive aspect of online dating is that going to the movies has been displaced with meeting for coffee as a typical first date. Quiet conversation is ideal, as is limiting or avoiding alcohol. To be discerning we need to be clear headed and remember what was said. Try to think less about what they think of you and the impression you’re making. Instead, focus on what the other person is saying and what you’re feeling.
Before we move on, let’s make a distinction between honesty and openness. Honesty is never optional; it is required from the start for emotional intimacy to develop down the road. If you’re asked a question you don’t care to answer, simply respond with “I couldn’t say” or “I’d like to get to know you better before talking about that.” If you can’t be that forthright with them, emotional intimacy is not likely to develop. Openness, however, is always optional. Being open is what the last two steps are all about.
3. Start to share at a deeper level.
Continue having rich conversation, striving to do so in different settings. Experience a variety of circumstances so that different aspects of your personalities emerge. For instance, start to meet each other’s families and/or friends.
Ideally you’ll align your openness with your partner’s level of sharing, and over time begin disclosing at a more intimate level as trust builds and you feel safe. Notice again how self-knowledge is essential. It’s okay to be the first to open-up, but if it’s not reciprocated soon, hold off going deeper and evaluate what’s happening. It’s easy to overlook that the extent of sharing is not equal. There’s a difference between being a quiet person and being closed. What are you feeling physically when you’re together? Our bodies often know before our conscious minds, so pay attention to what you feel. It should feel good to open up with this person.
4. Become more intimate.
As time passes, if you’re both disclosing more, the emotional intimacy and trust will grow. If they do, you will both be not just honest, but increasingly open with each other, as well.
As emotional intimacy deepens, it’s natural for physical intimacy to develop. Allowing both of these aspects of the relationship to progress at the same pace keeps us in alignment and helps avoid regret later on. If you’ve given yourselves the opportunity for emotional intimacy to grow and it hasn’t, you haven’t failed. This is just not the right relationship to take to that deeper level. Be thankful for the experience and move on, feeling richer for it.
[image: via Jan Fidler on flickr]