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5 Tips for Building Emotional Intimacy in a Relationship


The winter holidays find couples cozy at the fireplace, snuggling under a blanket, sipping hot cocoa and gazing at the tree. New Year's Eve, they're smooching like teenagers as the ball drops and people cheer. Then comes January, and with it, everyday life.

Maybe it's a good thing Valentine's Day pops up in gloomy ol' February. After the holidays fly by, romantic relationships can sometimes use a little … romanticizing.

But like Christmas, Valentine's Day can be celebrated any time of year. And if you take that to heart, your heart—not to mention the rest of your body—just might benefit.

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Health Benefits of an Emotionally Intimate Relationship
“People in happy, emotionally close relationships are less likely to suffer from headaches, have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, are more likely to be physically active, and tend to live longer and healthier lives than those whose relationships aren’t emotionally close,” says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a psychologist and research scientist who calls herself "The Love Doctor."

Researchers have long hypothesized that having close relationships is good for your health, and many studies have backed up this theory over the years.

While single people can have other emotionally intimate relationships, married folks have one built in! Right? The thing is, if the marriage isn’t good, that has been shown to have negative health consequences.

“Many people struggle in how to achieve emotional closeness with their partner,” says Orbuch, who’s been studying relationships for over 20 years and works as a research scientist with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. “Others experience continued conflict and tension.”

The good news, she says, is you can create that emotional intimacy. Here are her tips to get started.

Tips to Build Emotional Intimacy
by Terri Orbuch, Ph.D.

Tip #1: Follow the five-minute rule.
Spend five minutes every day talking together about things other than the children, your relationship, tasks around the house, and work. Instead, discuss sports, movies and your goals and dreams for the future. You can do this on the phone or in person.

Many couples make the mistake of assuming that handling daily tasks or talking about work is communication. All couples need to have moments alone with each other to be thoughtful, share goals and feelings and consider life and its meaning.

Tip #2: Remember your differences.
Keep in mind that men and women differ in the link between sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy. In general, women need to experience emotional closeness to feel sexual; men experience emotional closeness as a result of sexual intimacy.

Tip #3: Compliment.
Remember to notice and compliment your partner. If not, partners get resentful and sad. No one should feel that his or her wonderful qualities are no longer noticed or given credit. Find one quality or behavior to compliment your partner on every day for the next week!

Tip #4: Explore New Activities.
Every relationship needs refreshing, so take some time and plan outings and new experiences with each other. When couples share new activities, it leads to emotional intimacy. Try taking a salsa dance class together or hiking up the mountains on a gorgeous afternoon.

Tip #5: Laugh.
Don’t forget to keep doing things that make your partner fun to be around. Smile and laugh together, which will put you in a good mood and foster emotional intimacy.

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Last updated and/or approved: February 2012.
Original article appeared in January/February 2008 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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