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What is emotional intimacy? Overcoming emotional barriers and fostering closeness

What is emotional intimacy? Overcoming emotional barriers and fostering closeness

We all want to feel loved and valued by the people around us, but how do we get that? One type of connection that accomplishes this is emotional intimacy. Being emotionally intimate with people is an important part of developing relationships and allows us to create a deeper, more honest connection.

Whether you decide to spend more time with people, talk more about your emotions, or even set healthy boundaries within your relationships, being emotionally honest and open will help strengthen the relationships in your life.

What Is Considered Emotional Intimacy?

Emotional intimacy is the emotional connection between people, whether it’s in a family, intimate relationship, or friendship. It involves trust, vulnerability, and openness—a reciprocal experience of feeling seen and known.

Emotional intimacy isn’t something that just occurs—it requires work, practice, and patience to cultivate and grow it. Some examples of simple ways to increase emotional intimacy in a relationship are:

  • Spend more time with people you want to be closer to
  • Practice active listening when a friend or loved one is sharing about themselves—ask questions, give them space to say what they need 
  • Be honest when people who care about you ask you how you are
  • Stay curious—keep learning about those close to you

These are among many practices you can start putting into place to help you increase your emotional intimacy with those around you.

Emotional intimacy is close the emotional connection between people that trust and are vulnerable with each other.

What Are the Four Types of Emotional Intimacy?

Though there aren’t necessarily four types of emotional intimacy, emotional intimacy is one of the four types of intimacy. The four types of intimacy are: 

  • Emotional intimacy
  • Physical intimacy
  • Spiritual intimacy
  • Intellectual intimacy

Each of these types of intimacy play an important role in fostering closeness, respect, and connection in relationships. They are also closely tied to each other—it’s hard to feel the safety and connection within a relationship if only one type of intimacy is present.

Why Is Physical Intimacy So Closely Tied With Emotional Intimacy?

To feel physically safe and open to vulnerability, emotional intimacy must be robustly intact. With trust and vulnerability present and established in a relationship, the communication and connection necessary to support healthy physical intimacy is present as well.

Physical intimacy can be a wonderful, fulfilling, fun, connective experience when the relationship is trusting and safe, but without that sense of safety and trust, it can quickly become disconnected, unfulfilling, and even traumatic.

What Are Signs of Emotional Intimacy?

The truest sign of emotional intimacy is feeling a deep trust, closeness, and understanding with those close to you — as well as having a sense that they feel those things with you, too. 

If you’re wondering about the emotional intimacy you have with others, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you feel comfortable sharing your struggles and achievements with those close to you? 
  • Do you feel that you know those close to you on a deep level (i.e. who they are, how they function, how they’re doing)? 
  • Can you safely explore your emotional experience with those close to you? Are you willing to do the same for them?
  • Do you feel that connecting and sharing your inner world is impossible or that it’s too difficult to trust others with your inner self?

Starting your journey of practicing emotional intimacy can be difficult. If you are new to it, sharing and being vulnerable can feel uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing. However, without emotional honesty and vulnerability, a relationship cannot grow to its fullest potential. It takes strength to invest in your relationships and share truth about yourself with others.

Be kind to yourself, though—it takes practice to be consistent with emotional intimacy. Just like with any other skill, you might start off shaky and uncomfortable, but as long as you keep trying and practicing, it will become easier and easier.

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What Causes a Lack of Emotional Intimacy?

Any kind of issue or wound can weaken emotional intimacy, such as attachment issues or a lack of trust. Judgment, contempt, withdrawal or stonewalling can also cause emotional intimacy to be threatened in relationships. 

Sometimes these things can happen because of ruptures within a relationship (any kind of cheating or breach of trust), but they often start at an individual level. If someone didn’t have an environment in childhood in which it was safe to be emotionally vulnerable, those hurts and protective barriers can make it extremely difficult to be emotionally intimate with others. This can come from all kinds of things: neglect, abuse, an unsafe environment, or even just shyness or anxiety.

How to Be Emotionally Intimate

On a practical level, practicing clear communication is key to emotional intimacy. It can help you accurately share your needs and experiences with those close to you, as well as set appropriate boundaries when necessary.

The best way to teach yourself emotional intimacy and work through any barriers that are keeping you from being vulnerable with those you love is to see a mental health professional. At Thriveworks, our therapists can help you get to the bottom of what’s holding you back and give you practical tools to overcome it. Whether you need individual or couples therapy, or would rather have sessions in-person or online, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re struggling with emotional intimacy, whether it’s due to past relationships, a lack of experience with it, or anxiety about being vulnerable, a Thriveworks therapist can give you the help you need to grow beyond your comfort zone and allow your relationships to become deeper and more fulfilling.

To increase emotional intimacy with others, spend more time with them, practice active listening, be honest, and talk to a mental health professional about vulnerability

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  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
  • 1 sources
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP in New Haven, CT
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BCBoard-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
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Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC
Laura Harris, LCMHCLicensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
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Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Wade, T. J., & Mogilski, J. K. (2018). Emotional accessibility is more important than sexual accessibility in evaluating romantic relationships – especially for women: A Conjoint analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.

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