If you really want to build more intimacy in your marriage – and who wouldn’t??? – here are four ways to do that. Take the time to hear, and digest this.
1st Way to Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Disclosure and Responsiveness
Given that intimacy itself is purely emotional, let’s put a nice, sterile definition on it…
Intimacy is what happens through interactions of self-disclosure and partner responsiveness to disclosure. This process is believed to develop feelings of closeness between the speaker and the listener.[i]
Gotta love it!
Perhaps the definition that Caleb uses will be easier to understand. He says that intimacy is really like “Into Me See”. When I let you see into me and you respond appropriately, and when that is reciprocated, you get intimacy – That’s what deepens love.
So, the first way that you can increase the level of intimacy in your relationship is through disclosure and responsiveness, or doing the “into me see” thing.
It’s cute and fun and worthwhile for you to share that you got a bike for your sixth birthday. However, when you tell her how you felt after you fell off your new bike and your dad got all mad at you for scratching it, that will create greater intimacy than just telling her you got a bike.
Again, when you complain about the guys at work, that’s fine. You need to share. When you tell her you’re afraid of losing your job though, and that you’re carrying this fear around like a dark cloud in your heart, that will create intimacy far deeper than the facts regarding your work situation.
Wives, the same deal goes for you. You need to be connecting emotionally with your husband. Intimacy is built up when I let you see into my emotional world. That’s very vulnerable.
The flip side of this is that when your spouse shares an intimate detail with you: you have to respond. You must, must, MUST acknowledge it. Even if all you can think of is “Wow, I never knew that”, then just say, “Wow, I never knew that”; or “Thank you for sharing that with me – that’s really special.”
Something, please! It’s not just enough to share: responsiveness needs to happen too.
2nd Way To Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Knowledge and Understanding
There is a great study from 1998 which is worth mentioning, even though a lot of couples have already figured this out.
First, couples who are better at predicting each other reported greater feelings of marital intimacy.[iii] That’s just saying that couples feel more intimate if they know each other well.
Become a student of your spouse! Intimacy comes from knowing and understanding each other.
There is a positive cycle that happens here. When you accurately understand and know a person, that will lead to greater trust. You trust the people you know best (assuming that the knowledge is positive…).
When you have that greater degree of trust, you feel safe to be more expressive of your inner world of emotions and thoughts. In other words, you become more vulnerable and you’re more willing to self-disclose. Then what? That leads to more knowledge and understanding between the two of you, and more predictability and then there is more trust.
And what happens when there is more trust? Intimacy!
It’s a brilliant positive cycle. This is why marriage should keep getting better and better.
So, you can build intimacy by increasing your knowledge and understanding of each other, but how do you really tease out that knowledge and understanding?
3rd Way to Build Intimacy: Intimacy is Built Through Curiosity
Curiosity is the tool you need to go down that path of seeking further knowledge and understanding.
A study from 2014 investigated the link between curiosity and intimacy. The study had a definition full of research lingo, so let me summarize it for you.
If you allow yourself to get really interested in your spouse and what your spouse talks about (think, by the way, of how this ties back to our earlier point of being responsive to the disclosure of emotions), it will increase your desire to have more encounters with your spouse.[iv]
Again, this is a positive cycle. The more that you learn about your spouse’s perspective and experiences, the more it leads to an enduring, intimate relationship. Curiosity predicted increased rating of attraction and closeness in the people in the study[v], and will do the same for you.
Finally, Intimacy is Built Through Positive Emotions and Events
Apparently happier couples have faster cycles of alternating in talking and sharing, AND they have increased emotional intimacy.[vi]
This is where we need to learn to enjoy each other – to enjoy time together. Caleb and I laugh a lot together which creates a sense of intimacy because I have more fun with him that I do with anyone else.
Again, this is a positive cycle. You have to work towards creating this cycle in your marriage – it’s more difficult at the start, but eventually it starts to take on a life of it’s own and just needs to be nurtured after that.
Tied to this is the need to savour positive life events.
A study in 2015 was done with 99 couples where the wife had early-stage breast cancer.[vii] The researchers looked at deepening intimacy in the middle of a very scary point in life. They talked about the idea of capitalization – where a couple savours positive life events by sharing it with each other. In this case, they shared the best event of the day.
What they found is that on days where capitalization events occurred, both spouses felt a higher sense of intimacy. The benefit of savouring the positive event together was actually greater than the benefit of the positive event itself.[viii] You know what that’s like – when something wonderful or funny happens and you think to yourself, “Oh, I wish my hubby was here too!” I know I think that!
In summary, the four ways to build intimacy:
- Through Disclosure and Responsiveness (into me see)
- Through Knowledge and Understanding
- Through Curiosity
- Through sharing positive emotions and events
You Need to Talk This Through
To help you through this, we’ve got a conversation guide to help you get started on the Knowledge and Understanding part. Download this bonus worksheet now! You know you could use some help in this department… 😉
[i] Jean-Philippe Laurenceau, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Paula R. Pietromonaco, “Intimacy as an Interpersonal Process: The Importance of Self-Disclosure, Partner Disclosure, and Perceived Partner Responsiveness in Interpersonal Exchanges,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74, no. 5 (1998): 1238–51, doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.528.
[iii] Patrice E. Heller and Beatrice Wood, “The Process of Intimacy: Similarity, Understanding and Gender,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 24, no. 3 (July 1998): 273–88.
[iv] Todd B. Kashdan and John E. Roberts, “Trait and State Curiosity in the Genesis of Intimacy: Differentiation from Related Constructs,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 23, no. 6 (December 2004): 792–816.
[vi] Lynda Dykes Talmadge and James M. Dabbs, “Intimacy, Conversational Patterns, and Concomitant Cognitive/Emotional Processes in Couples,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9, no. 4 (December 1990): 473–88, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/jscp.19184.108.40.2063.
[vii] Amy K. Otto et al., “Capitalizing on Everyday Positive Events Uniquely Predicts Daily Intimacy and Well-Being in Couples Coping with Breast Cancer,” Journal of Family Psychology: JFP: Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43) 29, no. 1 (February 2015): 69–79, doi:10.1037/fam0000042.