What is intimacy?
December 24, 2012 11:43 AM   Subscribe

How does emotional intimacy work in your marriage/LTR?

I'm looking for anecdotes about emotional intimacy in a marriage/LTR, mainly to help me better understand whether I'm crazy for wanting greater intimacy in my own.

I've been married for about 7 years, together for nearly twice as long. I don't feel that my partner knows me that well, in a deep, emotional way, and we don't talk about our lives or feelings in that way, either. It's been like this for so long that I'm having a hard time understanding whether such intimacy exists or is even possible in a long-term relationship.

So, do you have a successful marriage in which you and your partner don't talk about much other than work/funny things on the internet/the news, etc.? What does it mean to you to be emotionally intimate, and why is that important in your relationship? Or do you find comfort in not being that well "known" by your partner?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
In my 6-year marriage, we talk about work/internet/news a lot, and can make seemingly endless conversation just with that, but we have done a lot of discussion about feelings (mostly mine, since I have the bulk of the baggage/emotional constipation in this relationship) as well. For me, if all we did was discuss work/internet/news, it'd seem more like we were just good friends. I think emotional intimacy has the ability to breed trust in a relationship in a way that other topics of conversation may not be able to do as well.

Have you discussed this with your partner? Does he/she come from an environment where that's normal? (They may not talk about it, but if you've spent much time with their family you might know anyway.) Does he/she know that this bothers you?
posted by agress at 12:08 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't understand the question. Do you want a list of topics I do feel comfortable talking about with my wife? We can talk about most things. More over time. Some things are still slightly uncomfortable after years, but big life events slowly erase those. Having kids and going through that whole process changed things. Illness changes things. There was a time when I was worried that things like expressing sexual preferences might embarrass one of us, but I've watched her give birth and rushed her to the hospital when she nearly bled to death and sat with her to hear a second opinion on her cancer diagnosis, so fretting about whether or not she'll think it's stupid that I like a cartoon show or whether I'll be embarrassed to tell her what kind of lingerie I like or that I'd like to take a certain kind of class seems silly now.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:16 PM on December 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

There are many, many questions posted here that are at root some variant of "am I crazy to want [blah]" "is it normal to think [whatever]" and the answer is basically never "yeah that's ridiculous."

People are different.

You may want something different from what your spouse wants. You may interpret the intimacy of your marriage differently from your spouse. Neither of you are "wrong" or "crazy."

How all of our relationships work is not especially relevant to yours. If you're not feeling fulfilled, try to figure out what would help and then ask for that. Even if it's scary.
posted by kavasa at 12:18 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I always wanted those long talks with deep recognition. My spouse appears to be wired differently. He's extremely romantic in a practical way. He knows exactly what I want to do with a free summer day, what I want for my birthday, for dinner, even to watch after the news. After all these years I actually think his way is more admirable somehow.
posted by R2WeTwo at 1:02 PM on December 24, 2012 [18 favorites]

Rather than tell you anecdotes about my own marriage, because I am an odd person, may I suggest the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver? Gottman is a leading researcher who has done highly regarded studies on marriage and communication between marriage partners, and this book draws together research-based data on what works for lots of people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:33 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's already been alluded to somewhat, but there is sometimes a difference between comfort levels and interest levels in TALKING about relationship, intimacy, etc. and what the nature of that relationship is. I have a high degree of trust in my parents and siblings, but we've never been much to talk about and express emotions - the proverbial "I love you" and stuff. This may be regrettable in some respects, but I'd rather have a father who has rarely told me he loves me but will come with the gas can if I run out of gas on the highway, no questions asked (not that he's needed to do this lately, but it's just an example). I also know as sure as I'm sitting here that my siblings and I will NOT squabble about my parent's estate someday, and again I wouldn't trade that for a lot of gooey air-kissing and FB posts.

My wife's slightly more expressive than that, and we do tell each other we love each other a lot, but there's still a lot of brick walls. Everyone has baggage and sore spots. But again, there is trust and romantic gestures.

I think what counts is - can you have The Big Talk when you really need to? But be careful about having a "relationship talk" with someone who is not wired to want to sit and talk about a relationship. For some, it seems pointless, and/or creates a feeling that there must be a shoe waiting to drop.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:22 PM on December 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're not crazy for wanting this. It's something I require in a relationship I'm to take seriously; when it's been absent, it's been impossible for me to get past.

IME it's also very hard to get someone to change this part of themself.
posted by ead at 2:30 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's funny that I'm reading this now, as hubby and I just had an intimate moment at a restaurant over a meal. It was special because he has health problems that make being out and able to relax in the world a real challenge. Everything fell into place and we were able to enjoy each others company at a time when he was feeling well AND could be out and in a festive mood.

Emotionally intimate moments at home can be infrequent as well. I guess what I'm saying is that there is a lot of day to day stuff and the emotional intimacy isn't present all of the time so it is all the more special when it comes. Our meal out today was the best Christmas present I can think of.

It wasn't this challenging in years gone by, but even then, life isn't filled to the brim with those highs. They come and go in a LTR, in my experience.
posted by michellenoel at 3:13 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

In my experience you can have a marriage like this as long as you get lucky and everything goes generally okay and no one else pops up who fills that gap. It's a recipe for an emotional affair or a regular ol' affair or a bitter, lonely divorce when you aren't supported through [major life stressor].
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:38 PM on December 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

I can't imagine a relationship that doesn't involve small but not-infrequent emotional intimacy & check-ins with my partner. Talking about our fondness for one another, or the things we notice in one another, and even the problems or hesitations we have is integral in helping me feel secure and loved, and that we're working together toward similar relationship goals. In my case though, I'm most at ease talking things through with someone (rather than via other forms of communication), and for me being able to articulate hopes and fears and other vulnerabilities is a really good rubric of whether someone's compatible with me. If I'm guarded and can't do it, for me, that means something. For others who're better able to communicate other ways, it may not feel so significant. We all have our different bellwethers/barometers of comfort and loved-ness.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:39 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have a hard time talking about feelings. I am not currently in a relationship, but when I have been, I've had a hard time talking about my feelings. In other words, I have a hard time with emotional intimacy. I try to show my love and affection in other ways.

I think counseling - couples counseling or individual - might be really helpful.

It's hard to get the ball rolling on these things. I've found that a general feeling of not being connected to those around me was a depression warning bell - that might not be what's going on, but it's something to think about.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:28 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a stranger to my husband. He is a stranger to me. It works.
posted by jadepearl at 6:17 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

The times I have felt emotionally intimate with someone have often involved heated displays of emotion on one or both sides. It's risky to show anger, and it's scary to be with an angry person. However, after each person has been allowed to vent, the true intimacy can begin. Sue Johnson talks about this phenomenon in her awesome book, Hold Me Tight. I highly suggest you (and everyone interested in relationships) read this book. It changed my life.

Other times have involved fear or sadness, for example, not being able to reach someone and being worried about them and telling them how glad you are they are okay. Grieving together for the loss of a pet. Any time you feel empathy, or are empathized with.

I would not be able to stand it if I had a partner I could only make small talk with. I would rather be single than put up with that. I have dear friends and relatives I'm deeply intimate with, emotionally. I expect no less from a partner. But as others have said, YMMV.
posted by xenophile at 9:43 PM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

In some ways I am a stranger to my husband, and he is to me, even though we live and work together. Ha! Different cultures and a sometimes huge language barrier really interfere between us (he speaks four, I speak two - his English is still a bit shite after living in the US for 10 years now:)))

It totally works. Until the son came, anyway. Now, it's just a little weirder!

He's less about the emotions than I am. Having a toddler is, oddly, showing him that he has to work on his Emotional Intelligence, because modeling good behavior in that arena, helps our son grow into a well behaved and genuinely happy little being.

If this is driving you nuts, after 14 years, seek counseling!

Yes. You should have some comfortable level of comfortable emotional intimacy, even if you aren't All Navel Gazing OMG all of the damn time.

Is there true physical affection between you? Cuddles? Hand holding? That sort of thing?

I'm pretty sure the loving looks and squeezes stand in for Big Emotional Talks in my relationship.

This balance works very well for us.
posted by jbenben at 9:43 PM on December 24, 2012

Huh. This is not our relationship at all. I mean, it's not All Feelings All the Time or anything, but if one of us is having a rough time, the other notices and asks "what's wrong?"

A lot of our conversations happen lying in bed in the dark, or driving someplace. They are emotionally intimate in that we probe each other's feelings.. "does that make you happy?" "is he really getting under your skin?" etc. If one of us is having some sort of epiphany, we want to share it. And we do a lot of touching and hugging too, because that's how it works for us. Otherwise it would feel like more of a cautious friendship.

It sounds like you two may have conflicting wants, at any rate, or there is some other issue. You need to talk to each other and maybe a counselor.
posted by emjaybee at 6:35 AM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I haven't been in a close, emotional relationship for some time now. When I was, it seemed that opening up to each other about ourselves was what enabled that intimacy. We shared our fears, desires and (some) secrets that you would normally feel ashamed or embarrassed to reveal to someone. There was a feeling of trust that came from it, where we knew so much more about each other than did anyone else in our lives. It felt like we could be completely open and the other person would still be accepting of the other.
I've had relationships since then that were fairly successful because of all the other things that make one work, but that level of intimacy has often been lacking. For me, I think I need that intimacy, but like others have said, it isn't the only thing in a relationship.
posted by orme at 8:07 AM on December 25, 2012

In my marriage, any topic is fair game. Most of our emotions center around our son, so he's a frequent topic. But we frequently share daily incidents that made us happy or angry, or take a discussion of something from the headlines into the area of how we each feel about it. As for 'knowing' each other, it seems to me like we have partially arrested understandings of each other. Some of my picture of my wife is constructed of rare incidents that made a big impression on me, often negative, and the same is surely true of her view of me. But there are also ways in which I know her better than she knows herself (and vice versa). I believe we are on the 'healthy' end of the spectrum.

Curious how you see the origin of the problem. Are you initiating and your partner not reciprocating?
posted by troywestfield at 8:09 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also look up resources for partnerships where one person has Asperger's syndrome. It might be illuminating or interesting for you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:33 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

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