How to achieve long-term emotional intimacy
We often experience emotional intimacy and deep connection at the very beginning of relationships, before the conflicts start. How can we maintain that wonderful intimacy in a long-term relationship?
Think back to a time when you felt really close and connected with your partner — a time when you felt emotionally intimate with him or her. Think about a time when you felt light and playful with your partner, or a time when laughter flowed easily, or a time when you felt you could tell your partner your deepest secret and it would be accepted.
We all yearn for that deep connection with someone, yet few people seem to be able to maintain emotional intimacy for very long. We often have it at the very beginning of relationships, before the conflicts start. How can we maintain that wonderful intimacy in a long-term relationship?
The deep and wonderful feeling of intimacy flourishes in an atmosphere of safety. We open up when we feel safe. We take risks when we feel safe. The challenge is — how do we create this safety?
Most of the time people feel safe when they are with someone who is very accepting, caring and compassionate. The problem is that no one is completely reliable when it comes to these qualities. Most people have bad days when they may be irritable or grumpy. What happens to safety when the other person’s acceptance and caring goes away?
Our sense of safety needs to come from within as well as without. We need to become the person who is consistently accepting, caring and compassionate with ourselves. We need to become strong enough within to not take another’s bad day personally. We need to become centered enough within to stand up for ourselves and take loving care of our feelings when another gets angry or blaming. We need to become powerful enough within to stay openhearted in the face of fear and conflict.
Creating a safe enough environment for intimacy to flourish means that each person needs to take 100% responsibility for creating safety within themselves as well as safety within the relationship. We do this by practicing acceptance and compassion for ourselves, which will then naturally extend to others.
However, the moment we are triggered into fear — fear of rejection, of domination, of abandonment, of losing ourselves or losing the other — we often do anything but behave in a way that creates inner and relationship safety. We abandon ourselves and become reactive — getting angry, complying, withdrawing, resisting, blaming, defending, explaining, attacking and so on. None of these behaviors create inner safety, nor do they contribute to relationship safety.
How do we learn to stay connected, openhearted and non-reactive in the face of fear and conflict? The key is to practice staying connected with a source of spiritual guidance (whatever that is for you) during peaceful times, so that when the fear and conflicts arise, you have that source available to you and can bring that comfort to your painful feelings. None of us can stay open by ourselves. David Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D., in his book entitled simply “I”, states that “The strength of the ego is such that it can be overcome only by spiritual power.” When our ego — our wounded self — is activated by fear and conflict, we must be able to turn to a source of spiritual power for the strength to not react with our learned defenses, and the strength to being compassion to our painful feelings.
The more we practice staying connected with our spiritual guidance and our own feelings, the more we create inner and relationship safety. The safer we feel within ourselves and with our partner, the freer we feel to share our joy and pain with each other, which is what leads to connection and intimacy.