Emotional intimacy heartbeat of healthy relationship

Emotional Intimacy: The Heartbeat of a Healthy Relationship

‘Intimacy’-a word very often misunderstood as sex. A lot of times, we would have come across people talking about intimacy in their relationship and getting advised to “focus on the sexual aspect of their relationship” or “just have a baby and everything will be alright.” But, is that really true? What really is Intimacy? 


Dr. Kristie Overstreet (PhD, LPCC), a certified sex therapist described it as “The best way to describe intimacy is to think of it as a connection” Intimacy is closeness in a relationship, not only at the physical level but other levels like emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection between 2 individuals. Developing intimacy is essential for couples to work through challenges together in order to build trust, open communication, encourage vulnerability and a deep sense of understanding. This connection can be classified into 4 different levels-

Exploring the Four Dimensions of Intimacy

Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy and sex are considered to be synonymous. It can be understood so partially, but not entirely. Physical intimacy too, is much more than sexual connection. It is also about creating a connection through a non-sexual touch, hugs, cuddles, and comforting your partner.

Emotional Intimacy

This is one of the most essential aspects of intimacy that revolves around sharing emotions. Emotional intimacy includes all the important ingredients, essential for a healthy sustainable relationship between couples or in marriage, trust, respect, vulnerability, deep understanding of the partner’s feelings, empathy, as well as the ability to share and accept one’s thoughts, fears, dreams.

Intellectual intimacy

It involves sharing ideas, opinions, encouraging critical thinking and acknowledging each other’s different perspectives. Couples engaging in in-depth intellectual conversations tend to build a unique bond that helps in their individual mental growth as well as understanding as partners.

Spiritual intimacy

Understanding of the word spirituality may vary for people. Spiritual intimacy not only involves spiritual/religious beliefs but some real beliefs and values that one’s partner may hold. Couples sharing such beliefs & values in common may be less likely to have conflicts or can be more resilient in facing challenges.

Importance of Emotional Intimacy in relationship:

Scenario 1: Imagine a woman comes home and shares an incident with her husband that happened at work, and while expressing her feelings the husband dismisses it by saying, ‘this is your own problem. You must have done something wrong’ and changes the topic. 


Scenario 2: Now, in a different scenario, imagine woman comes home and similarly shares her feelings but here, the husband, even though he doesn’t understand the problem completely, yet comforts her and acknowledges her feelings by providing a ‘safe space.’ 


Emotional intimacy is not about sharing thoughts or having conversations at regular intervals, but deeper than that. It is the “safe space”, as people call it generally, that a partner provides the other. So that the other is able to share their complicated emotional experiences and have the feeling of being understood and comfortable. In the 1st scenario, the dismissing behaviour of the husband may contribute in rupturing their bond. On the other hand, in scenario 2, even though the husband wasn’t able to understand his partner’s situation quite well, he acknowledged her feels and offered some comfort. This expression of empathy from the partner may lead to healthier connection between the two. According to Dr. Gottman too, “A good sexual relationship is built on emotional intimacy and closeness.” 

Strong emotional intimacy leads to:

1. Enhancing the bond between partners, having a feeling of security, and being heard.

2. Security creates greater emotional support for each other which can help them deal with emotional issues of Anxiety, stress, and depression in a healthier and more effective manner.

3. Also, resulting in better and healthier communication between the partners.

4. Developing trust and respect- two elements being vital for a healthy relationship.

How to build Emotional Intimacy?

The key to a healthy and sustained relationship is nurturing it with conscious and consistent efforts to improve emotional intimacy. Nurturing involves efforts in 4 areas. These areas can be considered as 4 pillars of a relationship, which are- Respect, Trust, Love and Reciprocity. As much as these areas seem to be very basic to understand, people seem to have struggled with these aspects the most. 


Respect is not only about the way one should behave or treat the partner externally but also how they look at their partners, acknowledging and accepting them as they are, internally. It is an element to be felt internally for and about partners more than just behaviours externally.


For instance:

i) Acknowledging difference of opinions;

ii) Accepting disagreements about ‘the situation’ without making it about ‘the partner’

iii) Valuing each other’s time, efforts and

iv) Mainly, respecting their choices.


Although, trust and respect can be the result of emotional intimacy, as mentioned earlier, but these are also the pillars of building & strengthening emotional intimacy. To be vulnerable and have transparency between couples requires trust. Trust is not something that exists automatically, but a sense of faith that one needs to hold time and again towards their partner. The essence of trust is about believing in a partner’s intentions equally as their words & actions, which goes beyond the idea of honesty.


For instance:

i) Understanding partner’s behaviours/actions as a result of their circumstances, not one’s own limitations.

ii) To not doubt their intentions for their unusual opinions or perspectives.

iii) Open communication without any biases


Love, like trust, isn’t a universal phenomenon to exist. It is an idea which may differ for each individual and a process people work on in their unique way. In other words, it is not a noun, common for all but a verb that needs constant efforts for the connection to grow between 2 individuals, especially couples. From caring to showcasing affection physically to knowing each other’s language of love, love includes it all.


i) Showing care & concern towards partners in difficult situations.

ii) Offering support while making difficult choices

iii) Expression of Love: mutually creating their own language of love which is unique to them

iv) Acknowledging & appreciating each other’s efforts in strengthening the connection that the couples share.

v) Quality time together


Another important aspect of emotional intimacy that people may end up missing is the importance of reciprocity- i.e. exchanging of things or feelings in similar way and with equal intensity as their partners. A general understanding in the world as people commonly say is ‘every relationship is about give and take.’ As much as we would like to believe it’s not so close relationships or one should be selfless, in reality reciprocity i.e. this idea of give & take is as essential an aspect as other things. Lack of reciprocity in relationships can result in extreme thoughts like ‘being taken for granted’ or ‘not being prioritised’ or even ‘not being loved’.


These 4 aspects can therefore be considered as the ‘4 Pillars to emotional intimacy’, elements that cannot replace each other but always work parallelly to strengthen intimacy and enhance relationship.


Emotional Intimacy is a crucial aspect of human connection and our beliefs about ourselves, our partners and our relationship play a significant role in understanding and cultivating it. Enhancing intimacy to nurture a relationship is like growing a plant with the right amount of air, water, sunlight, and fertilizers to get fruitful results. It thus, helps us experience love, empathy, compassion, and understanding that enriches our relationship and thus, our lives.

About Author – 

Tanvi Haria

Tanvi Haria – 

Counseling Psychologist | Psychotherapist


Tanvi Haria has completed her P.G. Diploma in Guidance and Counseling from S.I.E.S. I.C.E and Master’s in Counseling Psychology. She also holds a Master’s in Philosophy. Tanvi has been trained in Advanced level in REBT from the Albert Ellis Institute, New York. She is experienced in working with and teaching street children and orphans at NGOs.  She strongly believe Philosophy and Psychology to be inseparable parallels to lead a healthy (especially mental) life. Tanvi is also a baker and painting is her go to therapy to maintain her emotional balance and sanity.