6 Ways to Build Emotional Intimacy in a Relationship

Lacking physical, sexual, or emotional intimacy is a common challenge in romantic relationships. For example, you and your partner might find that it’s harder to confide in each other than it once was. Or you might feel disconnected, even if you spend a lot of time together.

Intimacy challenges may especially arise in certain scenarios — if you’ve been together for a long time, for instance, or if you’ve recently gone through a big life change (like moving or starting a new job) that saps your energy.

But building emotional intimacy doesn’t have to involve major changes. Try out the following small day-to-day practices to rekindle your bond and feel closer than ever.

1. Practice non-judgmental listening

It may sound simple, but you can up the intimacy of even short conversations by making an effort to really listen to your partner.

Dr. Yesel Yoon, a clinical psychologist in New York City, notes: “We’re so used to laying our own judgments, thoughts, and assumptions on top of our own or others’ thoughts and actions. When we’re too busy listening to the background noise of judgment (e.g. ‘Well, that’s mean…’ or  ‘I have a better point to make than hers…’) and thinking of what to say next, it can be really difficult to stay focused on what your partner is trying to communicate. You’re missing out on a lot of key information. Not only do you miss the words this person is saying, but how they are saying it as well.”

In practice, non-judgmental listening can mean trying out the following skills:

Dr. Yoon also recommends asking yourself the following questions as you practice your listening skills: “Are you noticing your own body language, your partner’s body language, or the tone of their voice? If you slow down and re-focus on your partner and away from the Greatest Hits of Judgmental Thoughts, you will be much more closely connected to the whole moment. You may be surprised by how much less tense, defensive and future-oriented you become. That in itself is a very intimate act and this practice breeds more intimacy and awareness."

Non-judgmental may not come naturally at first, so be kind to yourself as you're learning this skill. As Dr. Yoon notes, "It’s a muscle that needs to be exercised, so be patient as you practice non-judgmental listening.”

2. Express gratitude for the little things

Expressing gratitude for your partner goes beyond just saying “I love you”—it can also mean sharing your appreciation for all the little things they do each day.

Try saying a simple “thank you” for things you usually take for granted. Maybe your partner remembered to buy toothpaste, or maybe they got out of bed to turn off the light you left on in the other room.

These small gestures are all acts of caring, and actively acknowledging them can remind you both how deep your connection goes.

3. Indulge each other’s passions

Cultivating your own individual interests is important in any relationship, but it can be just as important to show interest and enthusiasm for the things your beloved loves.

For example, does your partner have a favorite book you’ve never read? Reading it can give you new insight into what makes your partner tick, and taking the time to do so is a great way to demonstrate affection. It also gives you a shared experience to discuss.

Or maybe your partner has a favorite hobby—hiking, playing the guitar, baking—that you don’t know much about. Try asking them to help you learn more about it. You’ll get to explore a new side of your partner, plus you might wind up with a fun new shared activity!

4. Try something new together

You can also try out a brand-new experience together. Research has shown that trying new activities together can help rekindle closeness for long-term romantic partners.

This might be as simple as trying out a new restaurant together, signing up for a salsa dance or cooking class you’re both interested in, or exploring a new part of the city. Or, you might find that there’s a new hobby you both want to get involved in, like joining a sports league or a musical group.

In any of these cases, taking the plunge together can give you a novel way to connect and a source of exciting shared memories.

5. Change your scenery

Along the same lines, visiting a new place together can shake up your relationship and give you a new sense of closeness.

A vacation together is the most obvious way to do this, but if a big trip isn’t in the cards right now, there are still lots of other ways you can gain the benefits of a change of scenery.

Try thinking of your own town or city the way a tourist might: are there museums, sites, or other attractions that you’ve never visited? What about nearby destinations close enough for a day trip? If, for example, you both live in New York City and you’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty, consider making an outing of it.

You can even try this in your own home—rearranging a room together, or spending the day in the backyard when you usually sit on the couch, can be an unexpected way to make your relationship feel a bit fresher.

6. Address intimacy issues in couples counseling or individual therapy

If you find that a lack of intimacy is a consistent problem for you and/or your partner, consider seeing a therapist for further support.

In couples counseling, you can practice effective communication skills, get support around building intimacy, and work on any underlying issues that might make it harder to connect.

In individual therapy, you can process emotions related to intimacy, gain insight into what might make intimacy difficult for you, and practice strategies for connecting more closely with your partner.

To find out more, check out Zencare’s guide to finding a couples counselor, or browse our resources to learn more about therapy or find a therapist.