‘Being intimate’ doesn’t just mean getting close physically. It also means getting close emotionally. Being emotionally intimate means opening up about your honest feelings – allowing another person to see and know your feelings, and having your feelings cared for and acknowledged by another person (without judgment or rejection). When two people can relate to one another in this way, they are being emotionally intimate. And this is the antidote for loneliness, disconnection, and so many relationship difficulties.

Imagine you’re sitting across from your partner, remembering the unresolved argument you had the night before. Instead of pretending last night didn’t happen and engaging in small talk about the weather or the latest Netflix series, you bravely decide to share with your partner how sad you feel about the way the argument unfolded, how much you miss feeling connected to them, and how painful it feels when you had thought they didn’t care about your opinions the night before. You also ask your partner how they have been feeling, and ask them to share more about their emotional experience of the relationship as a way to better understand what happens for them, and to strengthen your bond into the future. In this moment, you have chosen to make your emotions the focus of the conversation, and you present them to your partner in a way that hopes to strengthen your connection – not in a way that hopes to ‘win an argument’ or avoid all the emotions swirling around inside you about the relationship. Despite how unfamiliar or uncertain this move may be, there’s an undeniable magic in this moment of emotional intimacy. You are making an attempt to connect and understand one another. You are making an attempt to strengthen the relationship.

So, what exactly is emotional intimacy? It’s those moments when you let your guard down and allow someone to see the raw, unfiltered version of yourself. This usually involves sharing your emotions with another person – because these can be the rawest and most vulnerable aspect of who we are. Opening up to someone in this way means that we are trusting them to care for what we share, and opening ourselves up to the risk that the other person will judge us, no longer like us, leave us, dismiss us, ridicule us, or blow up in rage at us for daring to have feelings about their behaviour! Responses like that can be deeply painful, so it’s easy to see why we might want to cover up our most precious emotions and instead keep our connection on an intellectual level.

But, with great risk can come great reward. Emotional intimacy can help to build up new patterns of what a close, meaningful relationship can be like for us. It can help to counter the pain of previous relationships where others may have treated us poorly, or where we may have acted in ways we regretted, or where we just didn’t know how to get close. Experiencing emotional intimacy enhances our ability to trust other people, to be confident in our own ability to share our opinions and desires, and to learn different ways of navigating differences in relationships (and thank goodness there are differences!).

Examples of emotional intimacy

What does emotional intimacy sound like in conversation? Here are some examples:

  • “I feel angry inside when I think you are rejecting me – even if you aren’t really trying to reject me”
  • “It is so painful when you make fun of me in that way, but I don’t like you to see me in pain because it feels too vulnerable, so instead I get really mean and I yell at you. But really, I am in pain underneath”
  • “I want to let you know how I feel when you do XYZ – not because I am asking you to change, necessarily, but because I want you to know me better”
  • “When you can’t put your phone down to reply to me, I feel disconnected from you and I miss you. But then I give up and walk away – and we disconnect even more. I love it so much when you look up at me and take the time to respond to my question. So even though I walk away from you like you don’t matter to me, I actually love you very much. And I want us to be closer. How about you?”
  • “I feel seen and understood when I’m with you, and I am so grateful to you for that”

Responding to someone who shares their emotions with you

What can you say in response to someone who shares their emotions with you, if you want to respond in an emotionally caring and connecting way?

  • “I feel closer to you now that you have shared that with me”.
  • “Thank you for sharing your feelings with me.”
  • “Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me this, even though it might not be easy for me to hear it.”
  • “I appreciate how you can discuss anything with me, even the tough stuff, without fear of judgment.”
  • “I think you are very strong to be able to tell me something so vulnerable”
  • “I’m here for you. And all your feelings are welcome, even if I might not understand all of them”

Finally, these are the sorts of phrases that are the opposite of emotional intimacy. Saying these sorts of things usually leads to disconnection, and these are often the kinds of statements that fuel conflict and arguments that never get resolved:

  • “You’re overreacting, it’s not that big of a deal.”
  • “I don’t understand why you have to feel this way!” (and I’m not interested in understanding, either)
  • “Can we talk about something else? This is bringing me down.”
  • “Just get over it already.”
  • “Stop being so sensitive.”
  • “You can’t say that to me, because you make me feel that way all the time!” (again – this is said in a way that does not show any interest in understanding one another’s feelings, but is only interested in being right and winning an argument, and/or getting the other person to stop talking about their feelings).

Interested to learn more?

Emotional intimacy is within your grasp. With a little bit of practice and guidance, you can cultivate deeper connections with those around you and experience the true beauty of authentic relationships. And that’s where we come in. Our psychologists are here to help you on your journey towards emotional intimacy and meaningful connection. Whether you’re struggling to open up to others or looking to strengthen your existing relationships, we’ve got your back. Together, we can explore your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a safe and supportive environment. We can help you break down barriers, build trust, and develop the skills needed to create deeper, more fulfilling connections with those who matter most to you.

If you would like individual or couples support, our psychologists and couples therapists at Sydney City Psychology are also here to help. Get in touch to find out more!