Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is hard to define, but I think we all know when it is happening in a relationship.

I feel pleasure/gratitude/happiness/contentment/desire, ect. when I think of my beloved, and the words in my thoughts reflect those feelings.

When I feel distant/resentful/angry/hurt/contempt, ect. the words in my thoughts reflect those feelings.

In the latter case, I often find myself including "You", "should", "ought", which are blaming and accusatory in my self talk, or my thoughts if you will.

So there is certainly a need for me to regulate my own inner self-talk and feeling states to sustain emotional intimacy.

When I create those thoughts, and the feelings of affiliation and cooperation follow inside me, it is much easier to reach out to my partner, in ways that are pleasing to her.

I Create Emotional Intimacy? Shouldn't I just Receive It?

You can receive emotional intimacy when you signal for it. Even newborns signal for attention, although they get it freely passed to them by doting parents, but even that becomes less frequent as time passes.

When I get an invitation from my wife to connect, it is usually verbal.

I may get a request or even an order, and I have a decision to make about my response, which needs to happen fast, perhaps twice as fast as I can blink my eyes.

If I do not think about my response, my limbic brain may offer an emotionally driven response of irritation, which diminishes the pleasant kind of emotional intimacy.

If I get an invitation from my wife for emotional intimacy, I want to be in the habit of responding from a belief stored in my brain about gratitude, and even heart based affiliation and cooperation, so that I can be playful and affectionate.

My partner thinks that our connection should be more important than my schedule, and she has a point.

But for our purposes emotional intimacy begins in my head, and I need to make a decision about how I am going to handle invitations for intimacy and how I am going to invite intimacy.

There are some excellent models out there who have offered us models for doing that, including John and Julie-Scwartze Gottman, Robert Epstein,Ph.D., and Helen Fisher,Ph.D., who has been studying romantic love most recently, and has created a blue print which just might reduce the uncertainty in the romantic love arena.

John Gottman,Ph.D., has been following couples who have naturally mastered the art of intimacy. He calls them the Masters of Marriage, and it appears that they have some behaviors which can be learned, practiced, and duplicated by any couple.

The Gottman's have put together a home workshop for folks who cannot travel to the "love lab" where they can be watched vary carefully by the Gottman team.

I have used the workshop with my domestic violence clients, and those couples are often amazed that emotional intimacy needs to be attended to and practiced.

Oftentimes, they are under the sway of the Disney model, and are waiting for the Fairy Godmother to make Happily Ever After happen without any effort on the part of the participants, sort of like a newborn who will make a lot of disturbing noise to get needs met.

OK, so emotional intimacy begins in my head, when I decide to invite a connection with my wife, or to respond to one.

She invites much more often than I so I need to understand that, and be ready to respond, and I also need to extend some invitations on my own, such as a request for a walk around the park.

Epstein Exercises for Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy takes regular effort, and Robert Epstein,Ph.D. has some suggestions for exercises that we can do, like what he calls soul gazing, where you spend a couple of minutes looking into your partners eyes in an attempt to see their soul.

Folks who do this report a tremendous leap in feelings of closeness.

Epstein also suggests other exercises for couples to do, like heart beat synchronization, and you can be very scientific about that these days if you use the Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback tool.

Couples can see that heart beat of the relationship if you will on computer screens, they can see how fast it changes, how fast their relationship heart beat moves into and out of coherence, and how often it needs to be adjusted.

Most couples are quite amazed at the idea of working on emotional intimacy in frequent short bursts.

Helen Fisher,Ph.D. says that emotional intimacy chemistry has the best chance of growing when we find compatible personality types.

Based on her 30 years of research, she suggests that we humans fall into four broad personality types, each ruled by a different neurotransmitter, and we can find compatible types if we complete a personality test at Chemistry.com. I believe the test is free, but to meet a number of potential partners for chemistry, you have to sign up for Chemistry.com.

Part of her research is based on the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging tools (fMRI), humans in love activate certain parts of the brain, which are run by powerful neurotransmitters.

However, the early stage of love is not designed to last for very long, and when it runs its course, we need to start doing Gottman and Epstein kind of exercises, and it would be helpful to be building that emotional intimacy with a compatible type.

To sum up, emotional intimacy is best not left to chance. Practicing emotional intimacy is an inside job before it is an outside job, and my brain works fast, so pay attention to what it is saying, and decide if what it is advocating for is really the emotional intimacy you want to express. Then activate your heart's affiliative and cooperative intelligence for emotional intimacy, and you can practice that heart beat by heart if you want. Gratitude is the attitude, and you will find when you are scared or feeling lonely, someone will be there to offer support, or more. (Remember the role of chocolate)!

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