by Robert Augustus Masters
Without emotional intimacy, relationships founder on the reefs of emotional discord or flatness—no matter how heated the sex, no matter how much we hold in common—leaving us marooned from the interpersonal closeness for which we yearn.
En route to developing emotional intimacy, we must learn to find a fitting balance between containment (as when our anger is on the verge of turning into hostility) and expression (as when our held-back anger needs to be given emphatic voice). There’s a lot of debate about the merits of expressing versus not expressing emotions, particularly those that are labeled “negative,” but beyond the sniping between these two camps is another approach: we can make skillful room for both expression and non-expression, so that expression ceases to be self-indulgent or harmful, and non-expression ceases to be mere repression. Imagine emotional restraint and emotional uninhibitedness in savvy sync, coexisting consciously and compassionately.
If we want more depth and connection and joy in our relationships, we’re going to have to develop more emotional intimacy with our partners, our friends, our family, our coworkers. It’s that simple and that challenging. Connecting only through our upbeat emotions is not enough—we also need to find, and keep finding, relationship-deepening connection through all our emotions. And there is no way we can do this if we are not significantly intimate with our emotions.
Here are 7 ways to emotionally connect with your partner:
- When you realize you’re being reactive, say “I’m being reactive.”
How simple this sounds, and yet how challenging to put into practice — mostly because of the shame we’re on the edge of fully feeling as we become aware of our reactivity.
And once you’ve stated that you’re being reactive, STOP, no matter how tempted you might be to continue your reactivity. Soften your belly, breathe more deeply, and wait until you’re ready to say what you’re feeling and nothing more.
- Learn to express your remorse from your heart.
Don’t settle for shallow or emotionally flat expressions. If you’re not sorry, don’t say you are — but if you’ve done something that’s hurt another and you feel bad about this, and the words “I’m sorry” get stuck in your throat, say that you’re having hard time saying it. Such a confession will usually soften you enough to allow your remorse a fitting voice.
- If you’re being defensive and know it, don’t hesitate to say so.
Be your own whistleblower. Don’t wait for the other to pressure you into owning up to your defensiveness. And don’t slip into being defensive about being defensive!
- Don’t allow emotional disconnection to last any longer than necessary.
When you lose touch with the other, reestablish it as soon as possible. If you’re staying emotionally disconnected to punish the other, confess that as soon as possible, regardless of how uncomfortable that may be.
- Never threaten to leave the relationship in order to get your own way or to make your partner beg you to stay.
If you feel like being manipulative, say so, rather than acting it out. Threats are negative promises, and are usually mood-dependent. If you really want to leave a relationship, such wanting will remain present no matter how good, bad, or indifferent you feel.
- Instead of using sex to build connection, let sex be a fully embodied expression of already-present connection.
When you want to have sex when you are not very connected to the other, turn your attention to your emotional state and do what it takes to bring that into your heart.
- Don’t forget that the deeper you dive, the less you’ll mind upsetting waves.
View your relationship as an ever-evolving adventure, potentially deepened by all that happens, however unpleasant. You may hurt more as you mature, but you’ll mind less.