Cultivating Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage
John Gottman once said, “The critical dimension in understanding whether a marriage will work or not, becomes the extent to which the male can accept the influence of the woman he loves and become socialised in emotional communication“.
Indeed, emotional connection is vital in building trust and intimacy in the marriage, meaning that both husband and wife need to accept each other’s influence to develop emotional closeness. This could be in the form of listening intently to each other’s points of view and being willing to compromise in the face of conflicts.
Here are other ways to build trust and emotional intimacy in the marriage. Gottman talks about the 3 skills and 1 rule for intimate conversations.
As a rule of thumb, we must ensure that understanding precedes advice. Spouses must be empathised with before anything else can happen, which involves listening carefully to what each spouse has to say before jumping in to fix the problem or give advice. This may be harder for men who are famously wired to be problem solvers. When they do that, women can feel alienated as their needs for connection are unmet. Instead, they feel like a problem to be solved. Dr Gottman told couples in the Art & Science of Love Workshop that “the goal of an intimate conversation is only to understand and not to problem-solve”.
Skill #1: Putting your feelings into words
Both women and men need to know that men are human beings capable of a wide array of emotions. All human beings are born with these emotions and want to connect emotionally. Initially, it may mean that wives must try to encourage and allow their husbands to be comfortable in expressing their feelings and not be quick to judge them. Wives may also have to help their husbands find the right words, phrases or images to fit their feelings and express them. This will significantly help enrich the marital relationship as both parties begin to reveal who they really are to each other.
Skill #2: Asking Open-Ended Questions
This skill helps one’s partner explore their feelings in greater depth. Couples must first turn towards each other in the relationship and acknowledge each other’s needs for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. After these bids for connection are acknowledged, the relationship can progress to exploring each other’s feelings using open-ended questions like, “How was your day?”, “What is troubling you today?” or “Tell me more…”.
Skill #3: Expressing Empathy
Empathy isn’t easy. It requires us to put aside our own judgment and feelings to listen to the other person and refrain from giving advice or interrupting. We may instead say something like: “I am sorry. I am here for you and am glad you told me.” There is no need to fix the situation. You may not necessarily agree with your spouse, but empathy means communicating that, given your partner’s perceptions, their thoughts, feelings, and needs are valid and make sense. With empathy, both parties feel valued and connected. The marriage is also profoundly enriched as a result.
Written by: Tabitha Lee, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services
Dr. Gottman’s 3 Skills (and 1 Rule!) for Intimate Conversation
Empathy vs. Sympathy: Understanding Key Differences (betterup.com)
Six Ways Intimate Conversation Strengthens Your Marriage | ReGain
Turn Towards Instead of Away (gottman.com)