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Deepen Intimacy with these 3 Essential Communication Skills

Open communication is without a doubt the foundation of any healthy and fulfilling intimate relationship. It’s been a big theme in my studio lately which prompted me to reflect on what it means to be a good communicator and how to invite more open dialogue between lovers.  

Whether you’re dissatisfied about something in your relationship, wanting to explore something new or taboo, or perhaps experiencing some personal hardship, it’s never easy to have those big conversations you know you need to have. We fear the confrontation, potential rejection, our own vulnerability and the unknown. We hope that things will resolve on their own, or we learn to suppress our feelings and desires to avoid the discomfort of actually dealing with them. 


But it’s often the things we don’t say that hurt the most. Not expressing our needs, desires, struggles or grievances can be hurtful and harmful in many ways. Not only can it breed resentment, misunderstandings and distance in our relationships, but it can also contribute to feelings of anxiety, loneliness and unhappiness among other things. 


When we learn how to communicate openly - both on the speaking and listening end, we create opportunities to grow, build trust, connection, intimacy and, play 


Speaking from our felt sense

Embodied speech is the act of articulating how you’re feeling from a body-based position. It’s attuning to sensation in the body and allowing our words to express the emotional tone and charge of those sensations. Speaking from a body-based position often provides more clarity on what it is we’re feeling and wanting to express. It’s a way to get the mind and body on the same page. 


Try this essential practice for developing embodied speaking skills:

Focussing is a method of body-based self-reflection developed by the influential philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin, and is an excellent practice for developing embodied speaking skills. In this practice, we tune into our felt sense – that vague, deep feeling within us that’s not yet fully articulated, and allow it to speak. Try it out:

  • Bring your awareness into your body and ask yourself, ‘How are you?’, 'What’s bothering you?' Be patient, often several things come up. Avoid engaging the content of what arises with thoughts / judgement. 

  • Choose one feeling / issue to focus on, the one that feels most important, and bring your full awareness to it. Again, don’t engage it with thoughts. Simply get a sense of this concern in your body. 

  • Now, what is the quality of this felt sense? Allow a word, phrase, or an image to come up from the felt sense. E.g. jealous, uneasy, tight, uncertain, angry, embarrassed, fearful etc…

  • Go back and forth between the felt sense and the word (phrase or image) until you feel they resonate and the word captures the quality of your felt sense. This can take a few goes, but it should feel like an ah ha! moment when it fits. 

  • Enquire into this felt sense with your curiosity. Ask yourself, what makes this so [insert word from previous step].?” E.g. what makes this so uneasy? What is this tension about? What is this experience of jealousy I’m feeling? 

  • Allow your felt sense to speak and receive whatever message comes up without judgement. Sit with this message and show your body empathy and gratitude for its wisdom. 

NB: The practice outlined above has been slightly adapted, but you can read the original 6-step process here.  

Listening to understand, not to reply. 

When we think about communication, much of the emphasis is placed on the speaking part. But as Esther Perel puts it “the way we listen shapes the conversation as much as the way we speak or respond.” Often what the person sharing needs most is for their feelings to be acknowledged and respected. It takes a lot of courage to open and share about our needs, desires or grievances, so creating a safe, non-judgemental and empathetic container for each other is one of the greatest skills we can bring to our relationships. 


Here are some tips for being a great listener:

  • Your presence: commit to having a conversation at a time when you feel you can give the person your fullest attention and try to limit distractions (TV off, phones away, kids asleep etc).

  • Listen to understand, not to reply: be open and do your best to remain non-judgemental as you listen, refraining from the desire or urge to reply, rebut or solve.

  • Bring your curiosity and empathy: ask open questions to better understand what is being expressed, maintaining a gentle, empathetic tone to your presence. 

  • Acknowledge your own emotional response to what you’re hearing without reacting to it: notice when your defences start going up or when you feel the urge to rebut, correct or disagree and take a breath, creating some space between you and your emotions.

  • Reflect and affirm: repeat back what they said so that the person feels heard and understood “Let me see if I understand. You’re saying X, you feel Y. Is that right?”.

  • Avoid trying to solve anything, and always check before offering advice or feedback “Are you open to hearing my opinion / perspective on this?” 

  • Always thank them for their open honesty and vulnerability.  

Invite Vulnerability

Having intimate conversations can be vulnerable for both people involved. Vulnerability is both opening up about what’s troubling you or what you desire, as well as being ready to hear things that are difficult to swallow or that challenge your own beliefs and perspectives. Meeting each other from a place of softness, empathy and vulnerability completely changes the dynamic and direction of a conversation. From this place, you have greater ability to acknowledge and honour each other’s perceptions and see that they are both valid. 


The tips gathered for this article have been sourced from the work of Esther Perel, The Gottman Institute, Eugene Gendlin and Juliet Allen.


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