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Dating Advice #71 -- Emotional Connectivity

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

These newlyweds never laid the foundations for emotional intimacy and sharing deep thoughts. Now how do they start the process?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

In your column "Building The Emotional Investment Portfolio" (Dating Maze #51), you wrote: "When a couple is dating, they build emotional intimacy by revealing personal info, sharing ideas and thoughts, and confiding in each other. Over time, they build a level of mutual trust and emotional support, and their affection for each other grows as well."

I understand how this applies to a couple getting engaged. However, I got married a few months ago, and I don't have a "strong emotional connection" to my husband. So why did I get married? Because we had the same outlook on life, and I respected his values and character. And indeed he turned out to be a terrific, ideal husband: sensitive and considerate.

But I also need to have an emotional connection to him -- and I don't. Is there a way to develop this between us? Help me (us)!


Dear Rebecca,

Even though we usually answer questions about dating, we're glad you wrote to us for advice. Emotional intimacy is very important to marital happiness, and we have counseled married couples on how to renew and nurture their emotional relationship. We have also guided a number of newlyweds who are in the same situation as you, who need guidance in building a good relationship after the fact.

You are starting at a very good place, because you like and admire your husband. It seems that he feels the same about you, as you can see by the wonderful way he treats you. With a little guidance, we think you will be able to develop the kind of relationship you want to have.

We sense that you may have trouble opening yourself up. Perhaps you had a bad experience when you did open up to someone in the past, or you may be naturally shy or reserved, and feel uncomfortable confiding in someone else. Once you learn how to share the feelings and experiences you are keeping inside of yourself, you will experience the budding of emotional intimacy. It's easiest to do this by taking one small step at a time.

We suggest that you make a date with your husband to talk in a setting outside of your home. Since there is nothing wrong with your marriage, and you don't want to give your husband the wrong impression of how you feel, it's best to be honest about your need for this talk. You might say, "You know how hard it is for me to open up, and I would like to be able to do it more often. I thought it might help to have a few conversations outside our home, where I can practice opening up to you."

Why is it easier to have this conversation in a park, or at a quiet table in a coffee shop? The setting may have ambiance that makes you feel more comfortable, and an outside location tends to be less emotionally loaded than an intimate setting such as your bedroom or living room. In addition, in the beginning you might feel a bit embarrassed or uncomfortable revealing certain information about yourself to your husband. If the setting of your conversation might later remind you of this discomfort, you don't want that uncomfortable feeling in your own home!

For your first conversation, try discussing a topic that is a little more in depth than what you usually talk about. For example, you may want to talk about a difficult childhood experience, or something you have always wanted to accomplish in life. The two of you can have a dialogue about this for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, and then go on to talk about lighter matters, or simply enjoy each other's company. If at any point the conversation becomes too difficult or painful for you, tell this to your husband and then stop talking about the subject.

A few days after your "date," mention to your husband how uncomfortable or difficult the conversation may have been for you. Ask him how he felt at the time, and then discuss your feelings and observations.

A week later, have another "date," and focus on another deep subject you never shared before. A few days afterward, speak to each other about how each of you felt during the discussion.

Then, for the next few weeks after that, take a break from heavy conversation during your "date." Do something that's fun or light-hearted; a concert, amusement park, trip to a historical site, bowling... whatever suits your fancy.

Repeat the same cycle another few times over the coming months. Within time, you should find it easier to speak about experiences and feelings you may have buried, and you will also find that your husband can share more of his experiences and feelings with you. In time, you will develop an appreciation, understanding and level of trust that you didn't have before.
In addition, both of you will gradually be able to share deep things with each other without the need to leave home!

At the same time the two of you are developing this emotional intimacy, you are learning tools for keeping closeness alive throughout your marriage. All married couples -- throughout their marriage -- should set aside a few hours each week just to be together. Jobs, children and busy schedules should revolve around this special time together. You don't have to dress up and go out on the town (although this can be an occasional treat), but you can meet for a cup of coffee or lunch one morning a week, or take a long walk together each Thursday night or Sunday morning.

Once you have completed the steps we described above, use your time together to enjoy each other's company and speak about stress-free, light topics of conversation. Steer away from discussions about family finances, child discipline, etc.

In addition, make sure that you touch base once each day by telephone, just to say "Hi, how are you," or, "I'm thinking about you." In casual conversation, share something interesting, funny or upsetting that happened that day.

It's also a good idea to get in the habit of daily doing nice things for each other and paying each other compliments. "I knew you were busy so I went out for bagels and saved you the trip," or "Honey, I saw in the paper that the shirts you like are on sale," or "You outdid yourself with that cake! I'm lucky to be married to a great guy who can bake, too!"

Finally, if something bothers you, don't bottle it up inside. Wait until you are calm, let your husband know you'd like to discuss something, and then agree on the best time for the two of you to talk. You may just need to get something off your chest, without expecting your husband to suggest a solution, or the two of you may need to work something out over the course of a few days. What matters is that together you can discuss something that troubles either one of you. That's another component of emotional intimacy.

We hope these suggestions have been helpful, and we wish you the best of success.

Rosie & Sherry


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