Oftentimes, it’s easy to put off working on your relationship. You tell yourself that after your big presentation at work, or after you get back from vacation, that you’ll start a conversation with your partner about how you can communicate better or how you can resolve a lingering conflict.
If you’re wondering how you can build a closer relationship with your partner or your partners, or you’re ready to address the origins of your arguments, and to put intentional habits into place to feel more connected —there are eight ways to build closer relationships and to grow emotional intimacy.
1. Be vulnerable
Vulnerability has become a popular topic within the mental health community, so it’s likely that you’ve heard about the benefits of being vulnerable. But what does vulnerability mean? And what does it look like in practice?
What is vulnerability?
Vulnerability is a state of existence where you accept that there’s a risk of harm or danger. You’re vulnerable to the cold when you go outside in winter without your coat. Your house is vulnerable to the elements if it’s located on the coastline. These are examples of a type of physical vulnerability. But what about emotional vulnerability?
When someone is emotionally vulnerable, it means that they understand that they might get hurt after expressing their thoughts or feelings. They accept that there’s a risk that their partner will reject them, make fun of them, or hurt their feelings after they put themselves out there. It can be extremely scary to be emotionally vulnerable, whether that’s telling your partner about a painful past relationship, an unhealthy habit that you’re trying to break, or how their behavior was upsetting to you.
Yet, being vulnerable with your partner or partners creates an opportunity for deeper connection and mutual trust. When you share your feelings or experiences with another person, there’s a chance that they can relate to you. Learning more about you — who you are, where you came from — means that your partner has more to love.
Being emotionally vulnerable means that you trust your partner not to hurt you or to use your feelings against you. With greater trust, you can get through anything together without anxiety or worry about the state of your relationship.
2. Show appreciation
Another powerful way of building closer relationships is to show your appreciation for your partner or partners. Gratitude is another element of wellbeing that’s highly popular within the mental health community. The practice of expressing gratitude shows your partner that you notice what they’re doing and that you’re grateful for them. It communicates that they bring you happiness and joy, as well as your acceptance of them.
How can I show my partner I appreciate them?
There are many ways to show your partner that you appreciate them. Here are a few ways:
- Make it a routine: Creating a gratitude routine can look like regular reminders to tell your partner that you appreciate them. These reminders could be a calendar reminder, but it also could be pairing your appreciation with a certain activity — every time that your partner does the laundry, tell them how much you appreciate them taking care of household chores.
- Leave them notes: Leaving notes is an especially meaningful way to show appreciation for those who have busy schedules and don’t have as much time together with their partner as they would like. Your note could be as simple as: “You’re so special to me!” or they could be letter length, left near the coffee pot or by their keys for a cute surprise.
- Make grand gestures for the significant days: Depending on how much you or your partner enjoy big gestures — think a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant or recreating your first date — doing something special for holidays or anniversaries shows that you’re excited to spend time with them and that you enjoy putting effort into curating special experiences.
- Get them thoughtful presents: Some people enjoy little presents, especially those for no other reason besides that you appreciate them. Presents don’t even need wrapping, you can give them their favorite candy bar or a book that you think they might like.Do something nice for them: Lastly, acts of service speak volumes about your appreciation. Offering to take care of the errands or making breakfast is a meaningful way to connect with your partner and to demonstrate your affection for them.
3. Communicate often
Communication is the foundation of all healthy relationships, and not just the romantic kind. Partners who communicate clearly with each other have a higher opportunity for connection and a lower risk of the conflict that comes with misunderstanding.
How can I communicate better with my partner?
Communication, while a natural ability for the majority of people, can actually be quite difficult in the romantic context. Here are some tips to communicating that can help you build a close relationship:
- Be clear: If you know what you want to say, find a way to say it in a concise, straightforward manner. It can be difficult to be clear when you’re talking about something as intangible as feelings, yet strive to be direct about what’s on your mind or what you’re experiencing. This leaves less of a risk that you’ll be misunderstood.
- Express your needs: Conflict arises when your needs aren’t being met. That’s why it’s important to explicitly express your needs so your partner knows what you’re expecting — they might not meet your needs if they don’t know what they are.
- Use “I” statements: During a fight, it’s easy to use “you” statements — “You never tell me that I’m important to you” or “You don’t help me with the kids.” Instead, try using “I” statements that center around your experience, since putting words in the other person’s mouth might lead to a worse outcome. Examples of these statements include: “I feel really anxious when you don’t respond to my text” or “I don’t like it when you tell me that I should get over it.”
- Ask questions to invite conversation: When you’re upset with your partner, try having a full conversation with them by asking them how they feel or whether they have thoughts about what you brought up. By having a dialogue and showing that you want to talk things through, your partner may not become defensive and instead open up to you.
- Come to the conversation ready to listen: When you’re angry or upset, it’s very easy to arrive at a fight with a list of what’s bothering you. However, conflicts resolve faster and with better outcomes when all sides get a chance to speak. This means that you also need to listen as your partner talks. If you aren’t yet ready to listen, that’s okay — give yourself some space to calm down before approaching the conflict.
- Find the right time and the right place: Having a calm, empathetic conversation won’t happen in the heat of the moment. Finding the right time and place — a time where you won’t feel rushed — means that you’ll get to talk about the conflict in its entirety and with a higher opportunity for resolution.
4. Create intimacy
Close relationships are built on intimacy, which is a powerful component of a romantic relationship. Intimacy also perpetuates trust, which creates a healthier relationship.
What is intimacy?
Intimacy is a feeling of closeness with another person.
There are two types of intimacy: emotional and physical. Most people think of physical intimacy in the context of a relationship, which can look like holding hands, kissing, or sex. Emotional intimacy, however, means that you feel connected with your partner on an intangible level. You might feel emotionally intimate when you have a philosophical conversation about the meaning of life, or when you have an inside joke that leaves your friends confused. It can also show up when you tell your partner a secret or when you trust them to watch your dog for the weekend.
Emotional intimacy grows over time and it takes intentional effort. It goes hand-in-hand with vulnerability — to be intimate with someone, you have to be vulnerable. Find ways to connect with your partner or partners that grow your emotional intimacy so that you feel closer to them. The way that you bond with others will look different based on your personality, your needs in a relationship, and what makes you loved.
5. Explore nontraditional relationship structures
Another way of building a closer relationship to your partner is to explore other ways of connecting — ways that are nontraditional. Throughout history, monogamous relationships have paved the way for many of society's institutions. With greater equality and personal freedom than previous eras, we can now connect with others in ways that work for us, even if those ways aren’t society’s default.
What is polyamory?
Polyamory is a relationship dynamic where there are more than one sexual or romantic partners. The basis of polyamory is that all partners consent to being in this type of relationship. Some people might have one primary partner and other secondary partners, or live with a nesting partner but value all relationships the same. Having a consensually open relationship helps them connect more fully with their partners, whether that’s because they can mitigate the anxieties that come with monogamy or because they feel it’s a better way to express themselves. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with traditional relationships, and bending society’s rules helps the mental health and relationship health of who are polyamorous.
What is kink?
Kink relationships also describe deviating from traditional relationships in a consensual way. Kinks are generally sexual in nature and aim to break free from from “vanilla” relationships or sexual behaviors. Kink relationships are built on communication and consent, come with intentionality, and can be a healthy way to build closer connections.
6. Accept your partner for who they are
No one is perfect, and while we might have found a partner that’s perfect for us, they will still have flaws. To build a closer relationship, it’s important to accept your partner’s imperfections. It’s a healthy shift in your mindset away from “searching for the perfect partner” and into recognizing that there are differences and accepting that those differences benefit the relationship.
Having differences can be exciting. It gives you something to talk about, and can be the source of new experiences for you. You can create dates out of your hobbies and your partner’s hobbies. When you spend time with your partner doing something that they enjoy but you don’t necessarily gravitate towards, it shows them that you’re supportive of who they are and what they like.
7. Give yourself alone time
It might sound contradictory, but spending time alone can also help you build a closer relationship with your partner or partners. Being alone gives you the chance to reflect on your relationship. It gives you space to relax and to process through what’s happening in your life, both within your relationship and across other areas like work, family, or friends.
Try to spend regular, intentional time alone. You might ask your partner to give you an hour of space each day or to take at least one solo trip each year. Figuring out what sort of space and how much of it you need will vary based on the person, but spending time in solitude can help you keep your enthusiasm for your relationship high.
8. Seek outside support
Need additional support from someone outside your relationship? Consider a therapist that specializes in relationships. A therapist can help you and your partner navigate through the challenges you might need help with, whether that’s communicating more effectively, determining your attachment style, or exploring your needs.
Within the Zencare therapist directory, you can filter through the therapists in your area to find those that offer couples therapy. When you work with a therapist, it’s important to trust them — just like in a romantic relationship, trust goes a long way! — So check out the videos on their profile to see if they might be a good match for you and your partner or partners.