You might think that after years together you’ll have built a deep emotional intimacy that bonds you and provides profound satisfaction for you and your partner. You may think that, but you’d be wrong in many cases.
Anyone who’s been with their partner for years knows that emotional intimacy isn’t a given simply because you’ve put in the time together. It requires effort, flexibility, and the intentionality to face many, many ups and downs and stay connected.
For some, emotional intimacy is like fine leather. It weathers, becomes softer, more pliable, and richer with time. For others, however, neglect will have left the leather brittle, scarred, and with many cracks. The good news is that, in most cases, some attention and conditioning can give both leather and emotional intimacy a fresh start.
Emotional intimacy is a dynamic and nuanced aspect of a relationship that can be influenced by many factors. Although every relationship is unique, some common reasons typically contribute to a breakdown in emotional intimacy, especially in relationships that have entered the golden chapter of life.
Over time, couples can fall into patterns of communication that are too superficial.
During the busiest years of life – raising young children, building careers – couples may inadvertently neglect to spend time together and keep the emotional intimacy alive. A lack of meaningful connection can contribute to a decline in emotional intimacy.
Over time it’s easy to fall into a pattern of taking one another for granted and forgetting to express appreciation and gratitude. Feeling unappreciated can lead to resentment between partners.
With years together can come the assumption that you know everything about each other. This leads to a lack of curiosity and interest, resulting in boredom and simply feeling tired of each other.
It’s not unusual for physical intimacy to decrease with time. However, a complete cessation of physical expressions of affection can be detrimental, as emotional and physical intimacy often go hand in hand. Note: Physical intimacy doesn’t have to mean intercourse. Simply hugging or holding hands are both forms of physically intimate affection.
People grow and change over time. If partners don’t actively involve each other in their personal growth, or fail to adapt to changes together, it can lead to emotional distance.
In addition to all of the above, there can also be a sense of exhaustion that sets in when couples have been together for a long time. Once the kids leave and retirement occurs, some partners claim they don’t have the energy for each other anymore.
They’re referring to the energy needed to make the necessary changes to bring emotional intimacy and excitement back to the relationship.
But many of these couples don’t realize that it’s not a lack of energy, but rather a lack of understanding of the importance of what’s missing and the motivation to fix it. Given the right tools, emotional intimacy can be brought back and maintained.
So, what are the strategies needed to rebuild and maintain the emotional intimacy in a relationship as you age? And how much effort is it going to take?
One of the most significant barriers to building emotional intimacy when you’ve put years into a relationship is the “been there, done that” feeling that can set in.
Over time, many relationships fall into dysfunctional cycles that repeat, never achieving the result that either partner would like. At some point, it can feel easier to give up, stop trying, and resign yourself to living in what should be an unacceptable state of lack of emotional connection.
But unless that state makes you happy (my bet is it doesn’t), you can and should make the effort to change things. And yes – it does take effort. But as the axiom goes, nothing worth doing is easy.
The following are the key areas you should focus on when rebuilding and maintaining emotional intimacy.
Effective communication forms the foundation of any intimate relationship. At any age, couples should practice direct and honest communication. This is particularly important when it feels like there’s nothing left to say. Trust me, there is.
So, set aside dedicated time for meaningful conversations. Share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It can be as simple as sharing something you recently read or heard. This deepens your connection and ensures that you remain attuned to each other’s needs.
Emotional intimacy thrives on vulnerability. Allow yourself to be open and honest about your fears, hopes, and dreams. Sharing your vulnerabilities creates a deeper level of trust.
As we age, life experiences accumulate, and they change who we are. It’s very likely that there’s a lot to get to know again about your partner if you’ve been disconnected for a while. But opening up about feelings and thoughts that have changed or are new will mean becoming vulnerable. And remember, a vulnerable partner is one that needs to be listened to and treated with respect and kindness, otherwise, you risk them closing up and disconnecting again.
Make a conscious effort to prioritize shared activities that bring fun and fulfillment to both of you. Whether it’s taking a walk to watch the sunset (or rise), taking up pickleball, or gardening, investing time in shared experiences is crucial for maintaining emotional closeness.
This is an arrow that couples over 60 have in their quiver that younger couples don’t. Reflecting on shared memories can be a powerful way to reconnect emotionally. Look through old photo albums, revisit the places that hold sentimental value, and reminisce about the journey you’ve taken together. This not only reinforces the emotional bonds formed over the years, but also helps cultivate a sense of gratitude for the life you’ve built together.
Touch is a powerful sense. A touch can convey messages that words can’t, and it immediately brings you closer. Holding hands, cuddling, or simply placing a hand on a shoulder or arm conveys caring and connection.
The aging process brings about physical changes that are emotionally challenging. Couples need to adapt to these changes together through mutual support and understanding. Being patient and compassionate with each other as you navigate the challenges that come with aging is crucial for staying close.
If after trying these things your efforts aren’t getting you the results you’d hoped for, don’t be afraid to seek the assistance of a professional counselor. Sometimes we all need a guide when we’re stuck in the middle of the trees and looking for the forest.
A marriage or couples’ counselor can help you each gain the needed perspective to appreciate, understand, and value each other better, as well as share tools that build emotional intimacy.
Emotional intimacy is not exclusive to romantic relationships – it can certainly apply to friendships as well.
As we age, friendships are a fundamental part of maintaining mental health and have been proven to improve quality of life and potentially increase longevity.
While “intimacy” is often associated with romantic relationships, its broader definition encompasses close, personal connections in many forms. Friendships, family relationships, and even connections with pets can involve emotional intimacy.
In a friendship, emotional intimacy involves a deep and mutual understanding between individuals. It includes sharing thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a trusting and supportive environment. True friends are those with whom you can be vulnerable, expressing your authentic self without fear of judgment.
Although, in some cases, it can seem easier to develop and maintain emotional intimacy with a friend than with your spouse, friendships can occasionally need a tune-up too.
If you want to build and maintain a deep connection with a friend, the following elements are fundamental:
This means sharing the good and the bad. Friends who’ve developed emotional intimacy give each other the opportunity to talk honestly, celebrate when they can, and grieve when they need to. This freedom should apply equally to both people. If it only goes one way, that’s a problem.
Trust is non-negotiable for emotional intimacy to exist in any relationship. A good friend can help you look at things from different perspectives, hear what you say, keep your confidence, and offer guidance when needed.
Over time, friends learn to read each other. They’re attuned to each other’s emotions and can anticipate what’s not said. This allows them to understand each other’s perspectives, offer empathy, and provide a sense of validation.
Sometimes even more than in a romantic relationship, friendships can create a non-judgmental space where individuals can be themselves without fear of criticism.
The emotional intimacy of friendship shouldn’t compete with, threaten, or replace the emotional intimacy within a romantic relationship. On the contrary, it should complement it. This means that keeping both healthy and strong is crucial.
Remember, the journey of growing old together – in relationships and friendship – is a gift. Building and strengthening emotional intimacy is how you care for and protect that gift.
Who is your closest person? What keeps that connection alive and thriving? Or is your relationship lacking emotional closeness? Do you struggle with emotional intimacy too? Is the emotional connection in your relationship or a friendship lacking? Please share your experience and join the conversation.