Questions and Conversation Guide for Deeper Emotional Intimacy
Communication is one of the most important parts to our relationships and is also a skill that can be mastered. If we want to participate in deep and emotionally nourishing relationships, effective communication is the key pathway to its creation. Love and intimate connection thrive upon it, yet this kind of communication does require mindfulness and commitment to practice. Therapists know that there are many kinds of communication, with varying depths to their layers. Below, the reader will find an exercise that will walk the couple through in a step-by-step approach that will focus on accessing the layers of emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy has bonding benefits and aims to create greater understanding between two people. It enhances the quality of your bond and couples who have effective conversations that are intimate and connected have a greater likelihood for longer and happier relationships. Or, if you are not married but planning on getting married soon, please see our premarital questionnaire.
There are three common pitfalls that prevent us from reaching the layer of deeper intimate exchanges. This first is a lack of understanding. There are many people who simply have not developed the skills to communicate this way. The second is inattention. In a world full of demands and “not enough time”, we sometimes fail to prioritize communication with our partner, or fail to recognize their attempts to create closeness. The third and final pitfall is hostile defensiveness. We hear our partner’s needs and get irritated, feeling that their requests or thoughts are casting a shadow onto our ego. It’s the ‘how could you think that?!!’ attitude that facilitates a cascade of hurt feelings and missed opportunities for understanding. The above pitfalls prevent against emotional intimacy and understanding developing between two married or dating partners. Instead, both partners helplessly slide down the landslide of ineffective communication; we ignore, dismiss, and become irritated at our partners attempts at deep conversation.
There are antidotes to remedy this style of communication. Instead of missing opportunities we can develop skills that will start the habit of active listening, maintaining vivid curiosity for our partner’s position, even when that position is different from our own, and finally to utilize a format for conversation that includes a list of questions to facilitate emotional depth and mutual understanding. Let’s consider the following exercise to get started:
- Keep in mind that conversation is a two-part process, the speaker is required to state his or her needs, thoughts, and concerns in a constructive way. This will require practice and mental gymnastics in order to move away from the conflict language of attacking – and instead to talk about feelings, needs, and thoughts which are the constructive modes of communication.
An example of attacking communication is: ”Hey, you never listen to me, you are always in your own little world, I cannot stand it!” An example of re-framing this in a constructive way would be: “It really hurts when I don’t feel heard, I get so frustrated when this happens.”
- The listener hears while maintaining interested and with a focused body language, head nodding, and with full attention. They then ask questions to understand more deeply, they do not attempt to defend their position, even if they feel the statement is false the listener sticks to the format and does not insert their own thoughts, feelings, or perceptions. Follow-through with the questions even if you think you know the answers to the questions already. The whole exercise is about the speaker, the listener will get a turn later. Use the following questions to gain more understanding:
- How did this make you feel?
- What was the most difficult part about the whole situation?
- How did you express your feelings through this situation?
- Is there anything that I did which made this more difficult for you?
- Does this remind you of any situations that you encountered in the past, or your childhood?
- When do you fear this may come up again?
- How can I help to change this situation in the future?
- Now the listener gets to validate the speaker, this means that they say, “I understand how you could feel ___________________ since you experienced ______________________.”
That’s the whole exercise and by sticking to this format you will see that the nature of the conversation will change between you and your partner. The communication when using this format will feel and be more nurturing and collaborative and is the antidote to the hostility and disconnection that can develop when we use defensive and critical modes of stating our thoughts and needs.
Be patient with yourselves and your partner, this is a skill building exercise and requires practice and patience. Remember, just as when you go to the gym and workout, the motions that a trainer asks you to make when lifting weights will feel unnatural. You may wake up in the morning feeling sore and exhausted but you must keep trying to achieve your goals, nobody comes in and gets all of the communication right the first time so keep trying to build your skills!