Getting to Know You: The Brave New World of Emotional Intimacy

I miss you.

I thought the words, said them out loud and heard his sigh on the other end of the phone.  The sigh was “I don’t know how to fix this.”  It was about two years ago; the strain in my marriage was palpable but vague.  Nothing was really wrong…and nothing was right.  The problem with missing someone is that they are normally gone – husband Brian and I were in our same small hometown, still loving one another (badly) and so much of our life had become filled with stress.  It was the truth – I missed the husband that I slept next to every night, but could never seem to connect to, to be emotionally intimate with.   Emotional intimacy is a sense of closeness to another person; a real sense of two-way empathy. When we’re emotionally intimate we can share personal feelings,  display affection, and risk being hurt.

Like most women in love, I crave the emotional intimacy of my beloved as I would crave air, water, sunlight.

According to our reading at,

 Emotional intimacy is not the same as sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy can take place with or without emotional intimacy, and emotional intimacy often does not occur within any kind of sexual context. Emotional intimacy is a psychological event that occurs when the trust level and communication between two people is such that it fosters the mutual sharing of each other’s innermost selves. It is unbridled mutual self disclosure.

Sadly, a lacking of emotional intimacy in relationships is common, and as a result we pay a heavy a price. Its absence can easily be witnessed by way of strained and failed relationships of those all around us, and in a larger context, reflected within the staggering divorce rates.

In our most intimate relationships, we seek to feel wholly accepted, respected, worthy, and even admired in the eyes of our mate. We would like our relationship to be a comfortable place for us when we are weary. A place of compassion and support. Emotional intimacy is needed for these feelings to develop and continue, and when there is a lacking of it the relationship breaks down. One or both parties might even seek to have these needs filled outside of the relationship, and this of course only makes matters much worse.

Fast forward two years, hours of fighting, tears, and a near miss with divorce.  We learned to talk to each other, to create a climate of emotional intimacy out of sheer desire to keep that one thing we’d found in each other…a life worth living together for the remainder of our human existence.  Life without Brian is not life for Alison.  But how do you communicate that journey for people in need today?  A couple of suggestions.

We found that after a decade, I was still the crazy one with all the adventure, he’s still the travel bug.  We’d stopped being crazy and being us in favor of being parents and professionals.    We didn’t take time out to simply be together, without occupying the time to read, write, watch TV, or talk about one of our five children.  One day about ten months ago, we were out to a normal, routine lunch on a Saturday afternoon with Mother and Taryn.   Brian ordered a sandwich that I’d never seen him order in over a decade of together lunches – from Subway, of all places.  Yes, by canceling the double meat roast beef he always eats and opting for the now discontinued Seafood Sub, I had what could kindly be referred to as a nuclear meltdown.  It was the crab sandwich that broke our relationship problems wide open.  I sat across the table at this quick lunch, shocked, silent.  Brian munched his sandwich and finally said “What?” We had a communication issue, and it was time to relearn one another.  Brian really liked something – and I had no idea.  I thought I knew every single food preference my husband had, after all, I’d spent a great number of hours as a professional chef, and even more as his personal chef.  There was something I didn’t know?  What else didn’t I know?

I found this list of questions on, and copied a few of their suggestions that might be helpful.  Think of them as conversation starters with that person you think that you know so well.  We get into ruts as we communicate, and practice on non-firestarter subjects can really help the couple in distress.  The key to emotional intimacy is that you’ve communicated well enough you can begin to (re)build trust, show interest and care for each other.

Favorites Questions  (Source: HumorWorks)
Want something to talk about other than the ho-hum of every day life?  See how many of these things you know about your loved one, friend or sibling on your next meal time or walk in the park.  You might be surprised.  Throw in a few of your own.

  1. What was your favorite food when you were a child?
  2. What’s the #1 most played song on your iPod?
  3. What is one of your favorite quotes?
  4. What’s your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
  5. What chore do you absolutely hate doing?
  6. What is your favorite form of exercise?
  7. What is your favorite time of day/day of the week/month of the year?
  8. What’s your least favorite mode of transportation?
  9. What is your favorite body part?
  10. What sound do you love?

If… Questions
Hypothetical questions help you learn more about another person’s personality, as well as their ideal state of the world. Since many of these questions might evoke longer responses, they are better suited for one-on-one conversations or smaller group discussions.

  1. If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like and what would it be for?
  2. If you could paint a picture of any scenery you’ve seen before, what would you paint?
  3. If you could choose to stay a certain age forever, what age would it be?
  4. If you knew the world was ending in 2012, what would you do differently?
  5. If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
  6. If you could witness any event past, present or future, what would it be?
  7. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
  8. If you had to work on only one project for the next year, what would it be?
  9. If you were immortal for a day, what would you do?
  10. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?
  11. If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?
  12. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?
  13. If you were reincarnated as an animal/drink/ice cream flavor, what would it be?
  14. If you could know the answer to any question, besides “What is the meaning of life?”, what would it be?
  15. If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose?

The point of asking the questions is that they are conversation starters meant to bring two people to a closer level of communication.  I learned about myself as well as Brian…we will walk through a museum or an art gallery, asking “love questions” about the displays, the artist, or just enjoying the moment.  We ask our daughter “thinking” questions to include her in the communications experience and give her an extraordinary sense of closeness with Mom and Dad.

Today, Brian laughs when I ask him a question because he knows that I am about to say that thing he now loves to hear.  Yesterday, I called him on his cell from a different floor of our house (yes, we were both home) just to whisper “I miss you.”  Yep, emotional intimacy leads to an amazing new kind of physical intimacy that transcends anything I’ve known in my lifetime.

Make a list and start slow…build trust, relationship and love in new and creative ways.

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