Critical Conversations: Deepening Emotional Bonds with Your Spouse

April 2024

article by elise habel | photo by aspen marie photography

Navigating a healthy relationship with your spouse can be a winding, seemingly unpredictable road. Of all the planes of connection in marriage, spiritual, physical, mental, and more, emotional intimacy can be one of the most vital but often easily missed. We sat down with Pastor Steve Strutz, a relationship expert with over three decades of experience as a pastor, to discuss emotional connectedness in marriage and why it deserves to become a priority in your relationship with your spouse. 

These days, Steve lives up to his affectionate nickname, “Coach,” as he spends time investing in individuals and couples around the community as a mentor and friend. “Emotional connectedness is being on the journey together,” he explained, “more than just logical understanding or physical intimacy, being emotionally in tune together allows each other to be their authentic selves. It’s more than just the head; it’s the heart.” 

Nurturing Emotional Connectedness 

There are five generally recognized love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, physical touch, and acts of service. “Understanding love languages can be instrumental in building that emotional connection,” Steve said, “when I understood mine and my wife’s, it helped me understand how to connect our disconnections.” More often than not, partners’ love languages are mismatched, which can feel like an obstacle in cultivating emotional intimacy, but the opposite is true. Communicating with your spouse in their love language takes practice and sacrifice. However, demonstrating an effort to try, fail, try again, and grow can be incredibly beneficial in building emotional intimacy. “I love to use the word cherish for my bride,” Steve emphasized. “It implies she is the priority of my heart.” Many things come naturally in marriage, but for the things that don’t, proving to your spouse that they are worthy of your conscious effort to cherish them speaks volumes. 

Another example of intentional steps to emotional intimacy with your spouse is elevating conversations with them. “Don’t be cliché,” Steve said. “Don’t ask “yes or no” questions. Be curious about your spouse; deep conversation comes from a genuine interest.”  

“Good conversation is a two-way street,” Steve added. “To cherish my wife, I am going to ask questions and listen, and then, in return, open myself up to her and share about me.” It’s common for one spouse to be less of an external processor than the other, which can be hard on both. For the more reserved spouse, it takes a lot of energy to describe what they’re experiencing and feeling, whereas the more open spouse longs to know the authentic fabric of their partner. The solution to bridging this gap is communication and good conversations! One of the cornerstones of emotional intimacy is being your authentic selves with each other, so be open, honest, and honorable. 

“Above all,” Steve said, “be present.” When spending one-on-one time together, Steve stressed the importance of leaving phones behind and removing distractions. Building emotional intimacy starts with initiating the intentional pursuit of your partner and making them your priority with your time and energy. “Think of what that communicates to your spouse to say you are going to zero out a day and designate it for a date, that says that they are your priority and that you want to hear their heart.” 

Enemies of Emotional Connectedness 

 Though stress often causes us to regress and disconnect from our spouses, Steve noted how to tackle big life changes and flip them on their heads to benefit your relationship. “If you have a foundation built, changes only provide a new open avenue to discuss and connect.” He said, “Being proactive in preparing each other's hearts in life changes keeps your connectedness grounded when the times get tough.” Use the stressful opportunities to practice openly communicating about how you’re feeling, how your spouse is feeling, and what your next steps will be together. 

Another enemy of connectedness is criticism. “Whenever I criticized my wife, I could sense the tightening of her spirit,” Steve said as he clenched his fist over his heart. “Trust is absolutely crucial.” Over time, the dominance of criticism and the loss of trust leads to the locking away of the authentic self. Trust will have to be rebuilt before emotional connectedness can flourish again.  

After sharing his troves of wisdom, Steve looked up with tears collecting in the corners of his eyes. “The last thing I will say is this: cherish every moment of it because it goes so, so fast.” Steve’s sweet wife and best friend of 40 years passed away only a few short years ago. “If you truly have it bent in your heart, and you remind your spouse that there is nothing they can do or say to keep you from cherishing them, that is pretty healthy.” 

Originally printed in the April 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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