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The sweetest place on earth exists in the symbiosis of our close relationships. They provide us with tenderness, love and security. The paradox of this experience, however, is that the healthiest relationships are achieved only when each individual takes full responsibility for what they bring to the partnership. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the lovers who experience hell are those who never develop a core of individuation. They just endlessly spin in unhealthy enmeshment with each other.

Intimacy does not happen by magic. It is built over time.

To fulfill our individual part in building a relationship that embodies trust and stability, we must continue to build our own confidence. The root of the word confidence can be traced to its Latin derivative, confidere, within which is also the root of the word fidelity. By developing this core of confidence and fidelity, with its sacred mix of honesty, loyalty and constancy, our relationships can be more trusting. Emotional intimacy cannot occur without the foundation of safety that trust provides. Honesty, loyalty and constancy can be practiced, and there are some vital strategies for bolstering these building blocks of emotional intimacy.

Build Honesty Through Vulnerability

Emotional intimacy involves openness and transparency. It feels vulnerable to be truly honest with another person. Initially, this can feel uncomfortable. After all, we run the risk of rejection when we expose our innermost thoughts and feelings. But when the courage to speak our needs is met with respect and reciprocity, discomfort quickly gives way to relief and deeper connection. Through this process we galvanize our bond with one another as we come out from underneath of our emotional masks. (See post, “True Intimacy Lives Behind Our Emotional Masks.”)

We allow ourselves to be known, simply and directly. In her book, Daring Greatlyauthor Brene Brown writes, “Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style, social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process.”

Build Loyalty Through Reciprocity

Through my grade school years, I often implored my Mom to give me two of everything. She quickly realized that I wanted my best friend, Janet, to equally have whatever was given to me. Janet and I were inseparable. We even took the blame for one another if either of us was caught in a jam. (Good for us, frustrating for Mom). Her frustration aside, I remember my Mom’s validation of our shared loyalty. “You two are as thick as thieves,” she would say while shaking her head. And then with a smile, “Good for you for sticking by each other through thick and thin.”

Blind devotion could inherently require a loss of self. But loyalty, on the other hand, is never blind. In our loyalty to another, we have our eyes wide open in our desire to offer our willing and energetic support. Loyalty calls us to reflect and reinforce what is working well. It also calls us to express gentle but direct feedback on whatever arises that may be troubling. We keep each other up to date on what and how we are feeling. Waiting too long to address unfinished business increases the chances that our bottled up communications may instead come spilling out in an angry, resentful or blaming way.

As we continue to deepen our loyalty to one another, we realize and accept that interpersonal conflicts are inevitable in relationships. However, emotional bumps in the road of intimacy don’t have to turn into impassable boulders or result in dead ends of communication. We learn through trial and error how to balance the equity in our relationships through our shared, respectful and compassionate reciprocity. We give and receive equally. The result is that we feel, and are seen, heard and held in, an alliance of safety and care. As we develop a track record of standing by one another, our bond of loyalty increases exponentially.

Build Constancy by Expressing Gratitude

Keeping emotional intimacy alive and growing involves a steady devotion of our time, attention and energy. Sometimes our dedicated involvement with one another can cross over the line from care to control. When this occurs, we feel pushed, judged, inadequate and unappreciated. There is a simple and highly effective way to release control and return to loving and trusted support of one another: practice gratitude.

The ability and willingness to express gratitude improves relationships.

The ability and willingness to express gratitude improves relationships. In this study, researchers from Gonzaga University found that expressing gratitude strengthens relationships and increases satisfaction, which leads to partners spending more time together. In another study, researchers from The Family Research Institute of Florida University found that expressing gratitude to a partner changes one’s view of the relationship in a positive direction. It results in enhancing one’s perception in the strength of the bond.

Developing emotional intimacy is an ongoing journey of discovery in which the individuals and their relationship continues to blossom, deepen and grow. Our well-being is contingent upon the health of our social and emotional connections. Intimacy does not happen by magic. It is built over time as each partner assumes responsibility for sharing their inner-world with one another through steadfast and thoughtful application of honesty, loyalty and constancy.

What helps you to increase emotional closeness with others?

 

Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

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