How to Cultivate Emotional Intimacy in Relationships

Everyone needs human connection for their well-being. Yet, all relationships go through ups and downs. But if you place emotional intimacy on the back burner in your most important relationships, you could face serious challenges. So, what exactly is emotional intimacy? Emotional intimacy is a type of emotional closeness that plays a necessary role in […]

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano, LPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Everyone needs human connection for their well-being. Yet, all relationships go through ups and downs. But if you place emotional intimacy on the back burner in your most important relationships, you could face serious challenges. So, what exactly is emotional intimacy?

Emotional intimacy is a type of emotional closeness that plays a necessary role in how you view the strength of a relationship. Without it, you might not feel comfortable sharing your emotions or feel separated from the person you want to feel closest to. This lack of emotional connection can lead to emotional and physical separation, divorce, dissatisfaction in romantic relationships, and the potential end to once-loving friendships. Keep reading to learn more about emotional intimacy and how it (or a lack thereof) affects your most important relationships.  

What Is Emotional Intimacy?

There are many types of intimacy, and yet, intimacy as a psychological term can be difficult to define. The definition can vary by age, education, and sex, as can the importance of it to your personal and professional relationships. 

When discussing emotional intimacy, we’re talking about closeness, familiarity, and similarity in communication between two people. It’s a deeper connection that feels safe and comfortable. Emotional intimacy may also be called emotional closeness or emotional accessibility. While most people think of emotional intimacy in terms of romantic relationships, you can experience this deep sense of closeness with family members, friends, and sometimes coworkers. 

These meaningful connections take time to develop. In these relationships, both people feel comfortable sharing their innermost feelings, ideas, dreams, and hopes. Oftentimes, the things you share in an emotionally intimate relationship aren’t shared with people outside of the relationship. 

The dynamics of emotional closeness in couples can vary by the makeup of the relationship, particularly considering that men and women tend to approach relationships differently, placing different values of various forms on intimacy. In same-sex couples, intimacy value dynamics tend to be closer aligned. 

A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that women put more value on emotional accessibility, while men put more value on sexual accessibility. These differences can sometimes create an intimacy gap. However, when the same researchers took sex out of the equation, emotional accessibility and closeness were more important to resolving romantic conflicts than physical intimacy. 

What Are Signs of Emotional Intimacy? 

In an emotionally intimate relationship, partners are more easily able to talk about sensitive topics. But it can take time, even years, to get to know the other person and feel comfortable moving through varying degrees of closeness. You may not even realize the depth of your connections in some cases. 

Your willingness to be vulnerable with the other person is a good indicator of your comfort levels. Tami Zak, LMFT, a therapist with Grow Therapy, says, “If someone is able to access vulnerability and their defenses don’t immediately come up, they generally have good emotional intimacy.”

But even then, you might wonder what vulnerability looks like. Here are a few more signs that you have a close emotional connection, romantic or not:

While you can have emotional intimacy with almost anyone, it’s easier and more likely to form in contexts where partners share similar beliefs and backgrounds.. 

What Does Lack of Emotional Intimacy Look Like?

Kristina Anzell, LCSW, a provider with Grow Therapy, says, “A lack of emotional intimacy is when you do not share much with the other person. You stay surface level in conversations, and you don’t really know what is going on in the other person’s inner world, and you do not share your inner world.” If you feel concerned, worried, afraid, or uninterested in sharing your thoughts with someone, there’s a lack of emotional intimacy.

Common relationship issues may mask an underlying lack of emotional intimacy. In some cases, the cause is obvious. But more often than not, the deeper connection you once had slowly weakened with time. Everything from work and financial stress to raising children can change the intimacy in relationships.

It’s important to note that experiences of trauma have a strong effect on emotional intimacy as adults. This is something you an work on with a mental health professional so you can heal and feel more comfortable becoming emotionally intimate with others.

Emotional Intimacy Outside Romantic Relationships 

Anytime the word intimacy gets used, thoughts immediately turn to romantic relationships. But couples and romantic partnerships aren’t the only places you can have meaningful conversations that build trust. As humans, we have a deep need for social engagement and connection as part of our general happiness and life satisfaction. 

“Human beings at their core need to connect. And emotional intimacy plays an important role in friendships. I don’t think it’s different from romantic relationships,” says Zak. “Connection is critical. . . . Our culture puts emphasis on emotional intimacy with our partner, and it’s often confused with sexual intimacy.” But intimacy has different facets and levels that include friendships and family relationships. As Zak puts it, “Emotional intimacy in friendship is about revealing yourself and being vulnerable.”

Most work relationships purposefully lack emotional closeness. While you may have positive feelings for your colleagues, sharing thoughts and feelings on a deeper level might cross spoken (or unspoken) boundaries. You shouldn’t generally expect closeness with those you work with, especially if doing so is out of your comfort zone. 

However, some people do find emotional closeness in their professional relationships. Zak shares that in her line of work as a therapist there’s often a culture of trust and sharing among colleagues. Though she acknowledges that she’s in a profession where people are expected to be more open and honest, it’s not always safe or encouraged to share deeper feelings at work. But if you do find yourself in a supportive, safe workplace, cherish and nurture those relationships for the joy they can bring. 

How to Build Emotional Intimacy

If your partner feels more like a roommate than a romantic partner, a lack of emotional intimacy could be at the heart of the problem. Couples navigating the rocky waters of reconnection may benefit from working with a licensed therapist. Couples therapy offers a way to look at common problems and communication patterns with the help of someone who can guide both of you to a deeper connection. 

Use Prompts to Open Discussion

Anzell suggests prompts and exercises to get the dialogue flowing. She recommends Gottman Card Decks, which have questions for partners to facilitate talking about inner feelings and thoughts. You might have gotten out of the practice of sharing with your partner. These types of prompts can give you a starting point and offer the freedom to explore once you get started. 

Share Appreciation and Gratitude

“Start sharing gratitude and voice fondness toward your partner in little ways every single day,” says Anzell. Plan date nights and spend time with your significant other and express how you feel about them. 

Focus on Healthy Conflict Resolution 

It’s difficult to feel emotionally close to someone with whom you regularly fight or don’t have a healthy relationship. You can’t avoid all conflicts, but you can learn to resolve disagreements in helpful, healthy ways. Couples may benefit from counseling with a neutral third party who isn’t on anyone’s side and can see the conflict from outside the issue. A therapist can also help you improve emotional intelligence and validation, and form a deeper emotional bond in your relationship. 

A few basic conflict resolution skills include:

Have Grace and Compassion 

“Have lots of grace and compassion for one another and yourself. Recognize that developing emotional intimacy is hard to do,” says Zak. Realize that there’s nothing wrong with you, your partner, or your relationship if you struggle with emotional intimacy. Coming to a place of vulnerability isn’t easy.

Zak also suggests, “Can you recognize that it’s hard to say that it’s hard for you to be vulnerable? You don’t have to dive right in. It’s OK to say it’s hard.” If both of you can acknowledge that what you’re doing is difficult, you can have more compassion for one another. Those acknowledgments can help create a feeling of safety and security as you grow closer emotionally. 

Focus on What You Can Change

It’s easy to put the blame for a lack of emotional connection on the other person. However, working on emotional intimacy starts by working on yourself. Zak says, “Approach emotional intimacy and therapy from a perspective of ‘I’m willing to look at me and I’m not trying to change my partner.’ You can recognize that it’s a place for personal growth. You’re going in to learn something about yourself.” 

Becoming emotionally closer also requires acknowledging the difficulties your partner faces. “Your partner is living a life, possibly in a stressful job outside the home, or at home with young children. If you can understand that they have struggles aside from your relationship, that can help you find compassion.” You’ll need that compassion to stay connected. For example, “Can you find compassion when they come home from work and don’t empty the dishwasher when you think they should? Find the understanding that they’re human just like you, and that can make them feel safer to share with you,” says Zak. 

Help Improve Your Relationships Through Therapy

Emotional intimacy, whether with a partner or friend, takes work on the part of both parties. But if you put in the work, your relationships can bring a deep sense of satisfaction and joy. If the emotional bonds in your life feel like they’re weakening, you can work toward the closeness you want, and a therapist can help. 

Grow Therapy can connect you with a therapist in your area that accepts your insurance within two or three days. Browse our online marketplace to find the right fit for you and book an appointment today. It’s the first step in building the meaningful relationships you want. 


  • Emotional intimacy is when two people feel a closeness and connection that makes them feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings. Both people experience a sense of security. You can experience emotional intimacy with a romantic partner, friend, or other family member. Some people also experience similar emotional closeness with coworkers.

  • A lack of emotional intimacy can happen for any number of reasons. Busy or changing schedules can reduce time together and cause distance. Job stress, finances, past trauma experienced by one or both people, and other sources of stress are all reasons you feel distant.

  • Emotional intimacy allows people to feel confidence and safety in their connection with another person. It builds stability into a relationship. It’s also a factor in overall happiness and life satisfaction.

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano, LPC

Greg Lozano is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in working with individuals with severe mental illnesses such as depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse conditions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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