A friend of mine recently complained about her partner to my husband Loïc and me during our backyard brunch.
She let out a long Aargh! and threw up her hands, nearly knocking over the pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice.
My friend laughed sheepishly, You two are my go-to source for relationship advice.
I humbly accepted her compliment. She has witnessed the wonderful ups and horrendous downs of my once-toxic relationship with Loïc.
Years ago, I never would’ve thought “happily ever after” would be possible. Conflicts happen, but we’ve learned how to leverage them to create a deep sense of security between us.
As you can imagine, it took many years to repair and build true emotional intimacy.
These 3 tips proved to be essential in bringing us closer. And we keep practicing them to deepen our love for our each other.
1) Heal your emotional baggage
The more Loïc and I heal our stuff, the closer we become.
This is by far my best advice to foster a soulful relationship. I cannot underline this enough!
Each person enters into a relationship with their own emotional baggage. This baggage is composed of your past wounds and triggers.
Arguments often happen because we react to something—like our partner’s snide remark—that triggers an old wound.
We’re not excusing disrespectful behavior. Your feelings are always valid.
But consider the idea that your reaction—like retorting or shutting down—may be a way to protect yourself. And as a result, this pushes away the connection you’re seeking.
Seemingly stupid things can provoke old hurts.
I remember Loïc asking me to place the lids differently on the pans. He explained that if the vent holes turned away from us, we could more easily avoid getting burned by the steam as we were cooking.
Suddenly, I felt the familiar swell of shame rise to my face. I couldn’t help but think I had committed a grave mistake.
Nothing seemed good enough for him. And though he was no longer micromanaging my life, I still felt the repercussions as an adult.
If I hadn’t cultivated deep self-awareness, I probably would’ve resented Loïc for his suggestion. I would’ve unknowingly pushed him away, due to my past-tinted glasses. Then, a fight would’ve exploded.
Of course, if that happens, we have to forgive ourselves. We’re doing the best we know how.
As we heal our emotional baggage, we release our fear of abandonment and rejection to allow more love and connection.
Conflicts can be blessings
Not everyone is ready to face their feelings.
It demands us to embrace our vulnerability and risk getting hurt. It’s risky to be seen—to love and be loved.
Leaving unresolved conflicts in the air creates more disconnection over time. So make a commitment to deal with lingering issues as soon as possible.
Sometimes, discussions get so heated, it’s challenging to find common ground. In that case, consider getting some support. (I offer EFT Tapping packages.)
This Gottman Institute article summarizes the 5 steps Loïc and I use to resolve conflicts:
- Express how you feel: Share the emotions that surfaced during the conflict to begin to understand each other’s views.
- Share your realities and validate each other: Describe your experience during the argument, without blaming. Understand and validate both of your experiences.
- Disclose your triggers: Share what provoked a dramatic reaction in you and any similar past experiences (like in my story above with the fear of making mistakes). Empathize with your partner.
- Take ownership of your role: Acknowledge and apologize for your part in the conflict.
- Preventive planning: Collaborate to find ways you can both improve next time. For example, setting aside time every week to discuss any misunderstandings.
Sometimes, Loïc and I reflect on how far we’ve come and express gratitude for the arguments—or rather, how we took advantage of them to better understand each other.
Sure, there were countless heart-wrenching moments. Moments when I couldn’t believe the monsters that emerged from both of us, only to find our tender vulnerability underneath.
This part of us wants to be validated and supported. We’ve just adopted unhelpful ways to receive that love.
Layers and layers of heavy armor surrounding our hearts need to be gently removed a little at a time.
That’s the love and appreciation we can offer ourselves, first and foremost.
2) Navigate the 5 stages
A common assumption many of us have:
Something is wrong if your relationship lost the spark it had at the beginning.
Yet the “honeymoon phase” tends to only last from 6 months to 2 years.
Intimate relationships need constant maintenance. They demand lots of time, energy and resources.
Therapist Linda Carroll says that relationships often experience 5 non-linear cycles. The success of a relationship largely depends on how well you navigate these stages:
1. The Merge
Falling in love, intense sense of longing, overlooking your partner’s flaws, high libido, high levels of feel-good hormones.
Enjoy this stage, while acknowledging that the flood of feel-good hormones often distort our rational thinking. As a result, we tend to ignore the red flags. Take your time with any big decisions.
2. Doubt and Denial
End of infatuation, recognizing differences between you and your partner, irritation, power struggles, conflicts.
Learn how to manage conflicts, set boundaries and communicate with empathy. Muster up the courage to confront your issues.
Winter season of love, power struggles fully surfacing, some people become vigilant, others invest less energy into the relationship.
Continue taking care of issues as they arise, instead of avoiding them. Try to show affection despite the difficulties. Acknowledge the positives.
The breaking point, emotional breakdowns, self-protective behaviors, avoiding each other, indifference, contemplating leaving or staying.
Do healing work. Learn communication skills. Understand and take responsibility for your role in your relationship’s challenges. Commit to taking the necessary actions.
5. Wholehearted Love
Summer season of love (healthiest and most rewarding stage), enjoying the fruit of your labor, self-discovery, self-acceptance, acceptance of your partner, active listening, deep emotional intimacy, falling in love with each other again.
Maintain self-care and stay committed to your inner growth. Honoring each person’s needs and desires nourishes the relationship. And enjoy!
3) Express appreciation
It’s easy to get wrapped up in daily life and forget to acknowledge the positives.
If you both agreed to take action—for example, “We’ll help each other make dinner”—acknowlege the fact that you both followed through.
In fact, give yourselves a pat on your back anytime you get a chance: Wheew, we did a great job! Create a secret handshake and use it often!
(Yep, I do this with my husband.)
These are the kinds of things Loïc and I tell each other after hosting a successful get-together with friends:
That dinner was awesome! Everyone had a good time. You’re such an amazing storyteller. You were so attentive to our guests.
It may sound cheesy, but giving each other compliments nourishes our partnership. Each person feels appreciated for their contribution—something we all desire as human beings.
Similarly, learning how to react differently to old triggers takes time and effort. When we have deep compassion for ourselves and our partner, we can more fully appreciate the smallest positive changes.
Wouldn’t it be affirming to hear this from your partner? My love, I noticed how thoughtful you were when you gave me feedback. I really appreciate that.
You can practice in your gratitude journal too. Write down a couple things you love about your partner everyday.
Needless to say, spending quality time together is essential. Make sure to connect daily. For example, when you both come home in the evening, put down your phones and share about your day.
Affirming words and gestures boost your well-being and strengthen your partnership.
Emotional intimacy matters
Connecting more deeply with our partner asks us to express our feelings and vulnerabilities.
Emotional intimacy plays a key role in loving and supportive relationships. The profound sense of security and trust lets each person be themselves, which then sustains the foundation of the relationship.
It’s an ongoing practice to heal our emotional baggage, navigate the 5 stages of a relationship and express our appreciation.
My husband and I are grateful for our relationship today, especially after a decade of codependency chaos.
In the words of Rumi, to become a pilgrim on the road of love, we had to make ourselves humble as dust and ashes.
May you have the courage to love and be loved.
P.S. I’m offering free EFT Tapping sessions in exchange for a short interview. Learn more and book your session.
Annie Moussu is a certified EFT Tapping Master Practitioner helping women build confidence, set boundaries & enjoy healthy relationships. Get her free EFT meditation & guide for people-pleasing.
Further reading to build emotional intimacy with your partner: