5 Levels of Communication & Closeness You Can Experience with Your Intimate Partner

couples therapy

No matter what your attachment style is, you crave some level of emotional intimacy and connection. 

You may just want to be heard and understood or perhaps deeply feel seen and soothed. But it may feel impossible to increase the intimacy in your relationship. 

In this post, I am going to share 5 levels of communication, so that you can clarify and discuss with your partner the level of intimacy you would like to reach. Then I’ll give you one simple and powerful way to increase the closeness in your relationship.

After you’ve decided which level of relationship intimacy you would like to experience, check out my blog, “Top 5 Tips to have a Closer, More Intimate Connection” so you can learn more practical and poignant tools in deepening your intimacy and taking your relationship to the next level. 


You come home from a tough day at work. You made a mistake and your supervisor admonished you for it… 

Or, you’re a stay at home parent, and after too many challenging incidents, you lose your cool with your kids in a public place and feel shame about it… 

When you see your partner (at the end of the day)…

Do you feel comfortable telling them what happened? Do you include how you felt about the situation and yourself on a vulnerable level? Or, do you tell the story in a monotone way or only express anger about other people? Do you give your partner a chance to hold space for your feelings and comfort you? Or, do you avoid talking about it altogether? 

Now imagine the reverse…

When your partner opens up to you about their tough day, are you able to be attuned and show empathy? (attune = in synch with and mirror your partner’s emotional state) Or, do you try to cheer them up or jump into problem solving mode? Are you able to respond to your partner in a way that they feel heard and provide comfort to them? Or, do you feel uncertain about how to comfort your partner or maybe even question if an adult needs soothing at all? 

How you react in these situations, and in many others, is directly related to the level of intimacy you have with your partner and likely the level of intimacy that was modeled in your family of origin. 

The GOOD NEWS is that anyone can strengthen their intimacy skills as long as you have the courage and commitment to get to know the dark and light of your inner world, and be open, curious and compassionate in response to your partner sharing their inner world as well. 

Psychologist and author, Dr. Marilyn Sorenson identifies 5 Levels of communication & emotional closeness. I’ve adapted these a bit for clarification and to align with current research about attachment theory and couples.

As you read about each level… ask yourself: 

Does this sound like my relationship? 


Is this the level of closeness I would like to have with my partner?

Even if your relationship is at a different level than you would like right now, there are effective ways to deepen your level of intimacy. 

Every couple is unique, and thus may feel content and fulfilled at different levels. Your desired level of intimacy may also change throughout your life depending on the amount of energy and time you are able to devote to your romantic relationship.

What matters is that you and your partner are able to speak and listen with an open heart with the shared goals of understanding and attunement (about the level of intimacy you both desire). Using these guidelines for any conversation can increase safety, closeness and connection, and thus deepen your intimacy. 

1.) Surface Level

We talk in polite cliches or superficially about general topics, e.g. “Beautiful weather, isn’t it?” We can talk without knowing anything about the other person and without revealing anything about ourselves

It is TOTALLY safe, but also maintains profound loneliness.

2.) Factual Level

We share facts about situations we know about or have experienced. E.g. “My mom just had her second knee replacement surgery”, “My family went to Disney World last year”, “I’m opening a new office.” 

This is also a form of safe communication because facts leave no room for debate or disagreement*. However, just sharing facts will not engender the level of closeness and connection most partners long for because one or both are still behind a WALL.

*Unfortunately, when a “negative cycle” has gotten hold of your relationship, partners can find themselves arguing about whose objective truth is correct and so even this safe form of communication can feel scary if it can lead to conflict. 

To make a relationship work it really helps to adopt the saying~

You can be right or you can be married.

3.) Thinking Level

We share our opinions, ideas and perceptions about the world, our relationships and possibly ourselves (but only parts of ourselves we’re comfortable showing on our resume or social media). For some folks, sharing your thoughts is your comfort zone.  For others, we’re starting to take some brave risks!

This deeper level of interacting can feel scary or threatening because others might disagree or even take offense at our remarks. Thus, we must have confidence in ourselves to speak freely at this level, and we must TRUST the other person to respect our ideas, opinions and perceptions – whether or not they agree.

4.) Feeling Level

This level is a turning point! (& can be quite daunting for some folks- especially without the help of therapy)

In EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy), we know from research that EMOTIONS are:

  • the language of love and a wired in survival strategy. By helping clients reconnect to their inner world and share it with their partner in a clear, vulnerable manner, they are profoundly more able to feel understood, cared for, get their needs met & experience deep connection.
  • just information from your body trying to put out a signal to get an attuned response.

Unfortunately, in our American society (& in some other cultures), we have been directly or indirectly taught to hide our vulnerable emotions. Stoicism, looking “cool” and appearing totally “independent” are still rewarded in many workplaces, and tragically, in the not too distant past, have been the only way many children felt safe, accepted, and a sense of belonging in their families of origin too.

Yet, hiding one’s inner world has created an epidemic of LONELINESS and DISCONNECTION in intimate couples, and in other cases family estrangement. 

Without being able to identify and express our emotions, it’s like trying to dance to no music or painting without any colors. We all love art that taps into our emotions and truly moves us. Even just sharing the excitement at sporting events can help us experience greater connection. 

While for some adult partners, it’s a HUGE milestone for them to just begin expressing emotions with words, I need to distinguish the impact of using feeling words and actually demonstrating feelings through your body language.  

Saying, “I’m sad”, but not showing any non-verbal signs of sadness (through your voice and your body, especially your face) will not move another person to empathy, comfort and closeness at the same level as a person who SHOWS sadness through their non-verbal body language. This response to the POWER of non-verbal body language is innate as even babies react to facial expressions.

Also, we are generally drawn to move closer and are significantly more capable of responding in an attuned way to people who express authentic emotions (“below the waterline of the iceberg of emotions” handout). Examples of vulnerable emotions are: sadness, fear, anxiety, hurt, inadequacy and even genuine joy

In contrast, “protective” emotions/coping behaviors “above the waterline” are: anger, frustration, ingenuine happiness or laughter, stoicism/numbness, or intellectual problem solving

These protective emotions and behaviors are more likely demonstrated at levels 1-3 of this communication paradigm and need to be honored and understood for their function to protect oneself, one’s partner and/or one’s relationship. 

By therapists creating a safe space in EFT sessions~ clients can slow down… check in with their body… and take risks at the level they choose in sharing parts of their emotional inner world. Over time, as they experience attunement, validation, and empathy from their therapist and eventually their partner, individuals are better able to identify and express their deeper emotions. 

Intimacy is developing as both partners take turns opening up their inner selves to be SEEN and receiving an attuned response from one another. 

In order to feel SAFE to communicate at this level, we must (generally) feel accepted, respected, and free from threatening repercussions.

NO ONE does this perfectly! It should feel risky and messy at times. It’s OKAY to make mistakes, misattune, learn through trial and error how to respond best to our partner. Compassion and grace are essential.

5.) Intimacy Level

We share ourselves at the MOST vulnerable level

WE REVEAL WHO WE REALLY ARE and gratefully receive our partner sharing their hidden parts as well.

I think this quote by therapist, Carl Rogers, captures this level of communicating~

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself, just as I am, then I can change.

We express our most vulnerable feelings, such as hurts/pain/shame, fears, insecurities/struggles, longings, needs, dreams, fantasies, etc. and strive to attune to our partner’s emotions. Both of us feel safe, seen, and soothed and no longer feel alone, especially with emotional pain. 

Our intention is to deeply connect with one another (at times- no one can do this all of the time!) so we don’t try to change or fix each other. At this level, we’ve built up the strength and resilience to be able to process difficult emotions, sit in discomfort, and both effectively implement self-regulation and co-regulation. Our goal is to be as present, open, curious, attuned and responsive as possible for the benefits of connection and growth.

We can talk about traits or accomplishments we’re proud of without worrying that our partner will judge us as boasting. We can also share our shortcomings and humiliations without fear that it will diminish how our partner sees us. 

*One of the most powerful elements of this level of communication is that we can share the most hidden parts of ourselves- that possibly even we have been afraid to acknowledge to ourselves. 

Another transformational element is our ability to ask for a vulnerable need or longing to be met (that’s related to our deep attachment fears and longings). 

We feel fully loved and accepted and provide the same level of love and acceptance for our partner. We are also able to offer each other sensitive feedback about areas of needed growth.

It takes a LOT of emotional maturity, courage, openness and the willingness to connect, learn and grow at this level, and the benefit of experiencing healing, growth and the most meaningful relationship possible. 

One activity you can do with your partner to increase your intimacy today:

Eye gazing for 4 minutes has been shown to increase intimacy. 

What I love about this exercise~ It helps couples fall in love again! 

At the very least, it strengthens your attunement skills. Attunement is the most important skill in building trust, and it is essential to deep understanding and accurate empathy. It is essential for connection.

According to Stan Tatkin, PhD, “A few minutes of sustained gazing can also lead to relaxation, a sense of safety, and full here-and-now engagement.” 


  • Connect with your heart for 1 minute with your eyes closed to set your intention. 
  • It’s okay to begin with just 1 minute and then increase the time. 
  • If this feels too anxiety provoking for you or your partner, look for what’s beautiful. You both will be able to feel your partner’s positive energy. Share 1 positive quality with your loved one at the end.

In closing~

Whatever level you’re at right now is for a good reason.

Few adults were taught about emotional intimacy in their childhood. 

What matters is that you and your partner are willing to HEAR each other’s view of the communication level you each are experiencing your relationship at and the level you DESIRE it to be. It’s also essential that you both agree that the GOAL is to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand them. That’s it. To speak from your hearts and listen from your hearts.

The first step is to increase safety, be present, and tune in to one another.

Would you like to take your relationship to the next level, and you and your partner need support in having this kind of courageous conversation? 

Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAS at 720.939.2189, [email protected] or schedule a free consultation if you’re a new client or a session if you’re already an established client~ Click here for my calendar.