A Potent (and Easy) Strategy for Increasing Emotional Intimacy

This simple tool makes all of the difference.

Posted Mar 03, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

You likely think about your romantic partner. You daydream about them. You imagine potential conversations — what they might say, what you might say. You anticipate maneuvering past conflict. You mentally play out positive scenarios. And you probably talk to your close friends about your partner — the bright spots, your dilemmas, your unmet needs.

What gets lost in all of the mental preoccupation is that you aren’t engaging the person who could actually impact your situation: your romantic partner.

People tend to avoid directly talking about their relationship with their actual partners. They feel, “Things are going so well, why would I bring up the relationship?” Or, “Are you kidding? We just had a huge fight. It's not the time to bring up how we are feeling in our relationship.”

Despite the avoidance, the reality is that engaging in the meta talk brings couples immense emotional intimacy and closeness and wards off future conflict. The meta relationship talk means talking aloud with the person you are intimate with about how things are going, how you both feel, what is going well, and maybe what is not going so well. People avoid these talks because they don’t want to hear anything bad, upsetting, or negative. Avoiding these chats, however, makes the distress in your relationship grow. Talking together in this way, even when what you hear is unfavorable, brings people closer together.

It is by talking with our partners that we concretize the relationship. We are literally saying to each other, "We are in this together.” Through talking about the relationship, we signal to our partners that we are close enough to talk in this intimate way. We show in real time that we trust each other enough to be open and we don’t fear that our partner will punish us with what we say. As we plow through difficult terrain, we show each other that we believe the tension or problem areas can and will improve. And most importantly, it simply feels liberating to get our feelings out of our heads, into words, and to the actual person the feeling is about.

And, too, as you become more comfortable and at ease with the meta talk you will find that conflict with your partner decreases. Think about it as an inoculation against a larger more potentially rupturing and damaging future argument. This is because you and your partner are no longer suppressing your emotions. Each time you push away your upset or suck up your hurt, you create another layer of resentment and distance from your partner. At some point, the straw is going to break the camel’s back and one of you is going to blow or walk away from the union entirely. This usually leads to even more upset and distress. Thus, the cycle of avoidance starts all over again. If you have these little maintenance chats along the way, you avoid the repression/blowup cycle altogether.

Many overcomplicate the meta-relationship talk. Becoming comfortable with it means following a few simple steps regularly. Here are 5 simple steps to engaging the meta with your romantic partner.

  1. Pick a time with low tension. Yes, happy times are actually good times to engage the meta-talk!
  2. Literally say, “I want to check in and see how you are feeling about us.”
  3. If your partner looks at you aghast, be brave and repeat yourself: “I want to see if anything is bothering you or going well in terms of us.” Or, “I think it’s healthy for us to feel safe talking about our relationship when we are not fighting.”
  4. With genuine interest, listen—and see if you can reflect back without defensiveness what your partner needs to say.
  5. Once your partner feels heard, share how you see things or what you are feeling about the relationship.

Everything doesn’t need to be solved between you and your partner during this particular moment. What is most important is that you create a safe emotional space for each other. End the chat with an acknowledgment that you can continue to talk in this way. Work to make the meta-relationship talk a regular routine. As you practice, you will notice intimacy grow and rupturing conflict decrease. For more on intimacy, check out my workbook, Getting Close to Others.