Fathers need to recognize the importance of emotional intimacy in their marriage and in the marriages of their friends. When emotional intimacy is lacking, marriages suffer and sometimes fail. Restoring emotional intimacy when it is lost can be very tough – a lot tougher in fact than working hard to preserve it along the way.
For example, a woman recently divorced from her husband and wrote that she was totally blindsided by her husband's leaving.
Looking back over the 20+ years of their marriage, she could see times when there was an emotional distance between her and her husband, and as she recreated their marriage calendar after learning of repeated secret extramarital affairs, she saw the correlation. When there were secrets, the marriage suffered. His long hours at “work” were really spent with other women and away from his wife and family.
Emotional intimacy is generally defined as a closeness in which both partners feel secure and loved and in which trust and communication abound. When you are emotionally intimate with a spouse, you feel as if you can see into the other’s soul, knowing their hopes, dreams, and fears and understanding them at a deep level. Relationships that lack emotional intimacy are often characterized by a lack of trust, poor communication, secrets and hidden emotions.
So, if your marriage relationship seems to be lacking in emotional intimacy, there are a number of things that you and your partner can do to strengthen and deepen emotional intimacy.
Silence the electronics. Deep and meaningful emotional intimacy in a relationship depends on the quality of human interaction. Texting and emailing are important, but they tend to distract from real emotional intimacy if there is not a solid, human, one-on-one interaction. So consider turning off the computer, television, video game console, cell phone and tablet when you are together and spend some time talking and sharing.
One tool that many successful couples use is silencing their cell phones and dropping them in a little basket or box by the door as they come home and agreeing to leave them off for at least an hour or two when they are together.
Increase the time spent together. In a very hectic and demanding world, it can be hard to find time together as a couple. Having children in the home can often magnify that difficulty. One family therapist shared the idea of committing 30 minutes each evening after the kids are in bed to uninterrupted time with a spouse. He suggested that the partners do dishes together so that they were in close proximity but still got important things done.
One couple decided to have a cup of steaming hot cocoa or herbal tea together during that half hour so that they felt more relaxed and able to engage in good conversation. Then this same therapist suggested a weekly date night. Several couples he worked with found friends with whom to trade child care so that one couple went out on Friday night while the other babysat, and then they switched the following evening. Other couples plan a lunch time together once or twice a week so that they can increase the time they spend together.
Finding ways to spend time together without the kids or other distractions is critical to maintaining emotional intimacy.
Be safe for your spouse. Years ago, I heard a speech about marriage from the president of the university where I studied. He spoke about emotional intimacy in these terms:
As our love has grown and our relationship matured, we have been increasingly open with each other about all of that for twenty-two years now, and the result is that I know much more clearly how to help her and I know exactly how to hurt her. I may not know all the buttons to push, but I know most of them. And surely God will hold me accountable for any pain I cause her by intentionally pushing the hurtful ones when she has been so trusting of me. To toy with such a sacred trust—her body, her spirit, and her eternal future—and exploit those for my gain, even if only emotional gain, should disqualify me to be her husband and ought to consign my miserable soul to hell. – Jeffrey R. Holland
We need to be so careful to be safe for our spouses – to understand what might hurt them and to avoid that, and then to know what we can do to help our partners feel loved and valued and do that. When we make the environment safe for our spouses, emotional intimacy finds its seed bed.
Read a good book together. Reading the same book together at the same time, and then taking the time to stop and discuss what you are reading, can be a good vehicle for increasing emotional intimacy. There are some great books about strengthening marriage that you can read together, but it doesn’t have to be a book about marriage and relationships. It could be a fun novel, a biography or a book about a common interest. The fact that you are reading together and talking can strengthen the trust and communication aspects of emotional intimacy.
Seek a balance between self and the couple. The strongest marriage relationships have two interdependent partners. Each one has a rich private life and they invest together in the marriage relationship. Too much togetherness can be a bad thing if it deprives the relationship of the richness that interdependence brings. So make sure to engage in some good self-care as the husband and father, and allow your wife to do the same in her personal life. And then come together as a secure and trusting couple.
Put together a “fun list.” Counselor Dr. Tony Ferretti recommends that couples assemble what he calls a fun list – a list of things that the couple enjoys doing together, and then creating time to do the things on the fun list. Spending time in pursuits the couple enjoys together can build common memories and experiences and strengthen emotional intimacy. Think about things you did when you were dating or newlyweds that made you enjoy time together, and put them on your fun list. Then make sure that you are doing something on the fun list on a regular basis.
Consider marriage enrichment activities. Many communities, churches and civic organizations hold marriage enrichment classes or marriage retreats for couples.
A lot of couples have found that this kind of investment in their relationship pays big dividends. Getting into a structured setting with other couples and a professional counselor or clergy can really help develop a deeper and stronger marriage relationship. This kind of focused commitment to improving emotional intimacy is a big investment, but it brings significant returns. And, if you feel your emotional relationship heading downward, you may want to consider seeking help from a competent family therapist.
Having strong emotional bonds in a marriage relationship is important and worth the effort. Taking some steps in the direction of strengthening emotional intimacy in marriage is a vital thing to do and demonstrates your commitment to a long, strong and happy marriage. And that strong marriage helps you be a better father and man, as well as being an amazing husband.