I’ve always had a theory that romantic relationships have three core facets, which comprise “The Connection Trifecta.” The first is physical chemistry, which comprises sparks, sexual attraction, allure and visceral appeal. The second is intellectual compatibility, meaning you find similar topics engaging, have shared interests and aligned senses of humor. But the third is perhaps the most important: emotional connection.
What Is Emotional Connection?
Emotional connection is sharing a common unspoken language with your significant other. It’s staying attuned to their needs and problems and following up when you know they’ve got a big interview coming up or just got into a squabble with their mom. It’s a synergy between two personalities that creates a balance between pushing the other toward growth and remaining a comfortable place to fall.
This type of connection is the glue that holds your relationship together. It’s the X-factor that keeps your bond strong. It’s trust, understanding and a core component of all types of love. But not every couple has it. Do you? Here are the signs.
1. You are friends first.
No matter how far your relationship evolves, the foundation of the relationship is a strong friendship. You respect each other in a human way. You value their thoughts. You want their input, and you enjoy their company. If all else was stripped away, and the romantic relationship never existed, you’d still want to know this person and call them a friend.
2. You develop rapport, inside jokes, shared experiences.
Emotional connection is all about developing a shared experience of the world: going on trips, working on projects, partaking in hobbies, finding common ground you can refer back to for years. There’s ease born of these experiences, and they make for the strongest foundation. The more history you have, the more likely you are to have a deep emotional connection.
3. You talk every day and develop routines.
An important element of emotional connection is consistency and reliability, which means your partner isn’t going off the grid for long spans of time or refusing to stay in touch during the day. You should be able to anticipate hearing from them. They should respond quickly to your contacts. You should talk regularly and see each other often. You should fall into a normal cadence of when to expect date nights or phone calls; you often develop default plans and warn each other if something changes out of respect.
4. You can have deep conversations (or just sit in silence).
No, emotional connection does not always mean you have to talk nonstop; it’s amazing how many people believe that! More than anything, an emotional connection with your partner is the ability to have deep, substantial conversations about things you’d struggle to talk to just anyone about—feelings, friends, family entanglements, politics, religion, goals and dreams. On the flip side, those with strong emotional connections can also just enjoy each other’s company and can sit in total silence, comfortably. There's peace and solace in something as simple as that.
5. When something major happens—good, or bad—you want to tell them.
When you find out big news like you got a promotion or your grandmother is sick, who do you tell? If you wouldn’t tell your significant other first, I’d question the strength of that emotional bond. If you have a strong emotional connection to your partner, they are your automatic first call or text. You don’t even think twice. You know everything, moments after it happens.
6. You don’t withhold crucial information about your life (aka you trust them with secrets).
If you don’t have a strong emotional connection with your partner, you might withhold from them for a couple of reasons. One, you may not fully trust them with the information; will they be able to handle it emotionally and be a rock for you? Will they tell someone else and break your trust? The other problematic reason you may not tell them about important information—like getting into grad school or doing well on a project at work—is because you’re not sure they’d care. Those with strong emotional connections to their partners always share the big developments and reveal secrets when they matter because they genuinely want to share in that with them.
7. You can be vulnerable with them.
Can you tell your partner about your biggest sexual hang-up? Can you tell them your biggest fear? Can you break down in front of them without judgment, or let them in on the way anxiety affects your life? If you have an emotional connection with your partner, you can let your guard down without assuming they’ll believe you’re “too much” or broken. They meet vulnerability and intimacy with more of the same. Oh, and they let you in on their worries and baggage, too, because we all have some.
8. You engage in non-intimate touching on a regular basis.
In couples, all forms of touch are not created equal. Some touch is electric, sensual, full of chemistry and ultimately meant to lead to sex. But partners with an emotional connection also engage in tons of non-intimate touch, like handholding, forehead or cheek kisses, back rubs, hugs and other sweet gestures. This type of touch is nourishing to the relationship in a non-sexual way, helping to maintain a connection to your partner. It’s a silent, significant way of saying, “I’m here with you,” not just “I want you.”
9. You can predict how they’ll react or behave.
Partners with a strong emotional connection can predict their significant other’s behaviors and reactions because they have a sense of their patterns—what they like to do after work, how they act when they’re fudging the truth. This also helps when friends and family members try to plant seeds of doubt about the relationship, which happens to everyone. If you have an emotional connection and understanding of your partner, you likely have strong, accurate convictions about who they are—positive, and negative, good attributes and flaws—because you know them to their core.
10. You can both sense when something is wrong.
Those with strong emotional connections are intuitive about their partners. You don’t need your significant other to say, “I had a bad day.” You know because you see it on their face when they come home from the office. It comes across when they text you short and clipped. You can tell when their anger is masking hurt and when their defensiveness is born of an old habit they just don’t want to break yet. And you know how to talk to them and deal with them on bad days; they learn the same about you.
11. You hold each other accountable.
You know when your partner is not living up to their own standards and vice versa. If you have a solid emotional connection, you will be able to call each other out when they can do better—whether it’s developing healthier habits, letting go of limiting beliefs or refusing to make amends with a family member when they should have done so long ago. You know that if they bring something up, they mean it and you should listen. You trust it comes from a place of love, and in that, heeding their feedback will always make you better.
12. You’re as happy with the everyday as you are with the exciting days.
You can’t always be swept away on a romantic vacation or go out on a ritzy date night. But when you have a strong emotional connection to your partner, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about constant chemistry, but rather a constant companionship. In fact, couples that have strong emotional bonds regularly just want to cook dinner together and watch Netflix, take a long walk in the park or play with their kids. The mundane is as important, and fulfilling, as the grander gestures.
Jenna Birch is a journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women, as well as a dating and relationship coach (currently accepting new clients). To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.