Emotional intimacy is likely the most important ingredient in long-term fulfillment. In fact, after using data from the longest longitudinal study in human development--the Grant Study--Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger found that the happiest and physically healthiest in old age are those who maintain close and intimate relationships. Being uninhibited emotionally and capable of experiencing and providing warmth to others may even be a significant factor in how long a person lives. One particularly interesting factor is that Waldinger's findings showed that people can change. Some men in this study had few close relationships and then, in their 70's and 80's, became more emotionally open and reaped the benefits.
A relationship is not close if you can't bring your emotions to the table and feel relief and comfort through your partner, friends or family, and if they can't do the same in your presence. Here are 5 ways to start:
1. Make Getting Close To Others A Priority: It seems that the largest payout in terms of success and happiness is in the quality of our close relationships. Instead of putting all of your attention and resources into your physical appearance, making more money, or impressing your friends with your experiences, consider what riches will come if you invest more in getting close to others. Make it a point to deliberately and purposefully work on developing more warm and close relationships.
2. Pay Attention To Emotions: I know, I know it sounds like psycho-mumbo-jumbo, but emotions are the way our nervous systems connect with one another. If you can understand and talk about your emotions and understand the emotions of others, you will have immediate connections. These connections are not draining. They are not boring. They are energizing and make you feel less alone and more alive.
3. Give Up Control (at least sometimes): If you always have your guard up and never allow yourself to be vulnerable, others around you can't get close to you. If you constantly have the plan, make the plan and don't accept the influence of others, then people feel like your assistant or employee. Treating others as employees and assistants robs you of the experience of feeling you can safely depend on someone. If you never give up control, you never come to see how good it feels to let go and to know someone else has your back.
4. Listen, Without an Agenda: When your spouse, close friend or teenager tells you about their difficult day--don't chronically offer advice and counsel. We as human beings are sorely in need of listeners--people who demonstrate their interest and care merely by listening without instruction, guidance and control. Feeling someone's warm presence and supportive commentary allows us to open up without fear of having done something wrong or having to do something differently. The more you provide a kind ear, the more others will want to be around you and open up to you.
5. Do What You Say You're Going To Do: For others to trust you and feel safe emotionally, you need to do what you say you're going to do. If you show love and care in one instance and then in the next don't show up at all or cancel a plan, others come to see you as unreliable. Unreliability is a cancer to intimacy. People can't be deeply open and close with someone they can't trust to show up when it counts. If you say you are going to do something or make a plan or commitment, be sure to keep it and notice if others are doing the same for you.
For more, tweet me your relationship questions @DrJillWeber, like me on Facebook, or visit drjillweber.com.
Jill Weber is a clinical psychologist in Washington, DC and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy--Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.