How to meet emotional needs and create emotional intimacy

It's not always easy knowing what those closest to you are thinking and feeling. Here's how to decode what they're saying and build stronger relationships, in life and in coaching.

No matter if you're in a long marriage, have just met someone you share a spark with or are butting heads with a teenager, all relationships revolve around knowing how to meet emotional needs and create emotional intimacy.

Without that, what you have is the emotional equivalent of just shaking someone's hand and talking about the weather.

Truth is, it's not always easy knowing what's going on underneath the surface for someone in your life, even if you spend a stack of time together.

In coaching, there's always two things we're looking at: the surface communication between people, and then what's below the surface.

That's the emotional context, or what is that the person is looking for underneath versus what they're looking for literally.

Underneath, we're all looking for the same stuff. And one of our deepest desires comes in the form of a couple of question that get asked unconsciously.

Will you be there for me?

Will you have my back?

If I make a mistake, will you stay?

Will you accept me with all my flaws?

And these questions drive so many of our behaviours.

When you're thinking about how to meet emotional needs and achieve emotional intimacy, consider this.

How many times have you been in a relationship where you withheld something because you were worried about the other person's response?

You were thinking at some level, 'If I share this, I don't know if you'll stay.'

We fear someone will leave us if they see or understand what's really happening below the mask or the surface emotions.

Our truest and deepest desire is will you be there for me, will you stay present for me, will you hold me in this space?

To understand the two major ways we communicate in a relationship, imagine a disagreement. The usual styles of responding are to either attack or withdraw.

Often in a relationship you'll find one person is the attacker and the other the person who withdraws.

An attack doesn't have to be a violent request. It can simply be a request: 'You're not listening to me. Why are you not paying attention to me?'

Think of it as an emotionally forward movement.

The opposite of this is a withdrawal. So say somebody says, 'Let's have this conversation—what's going on?' and the other person's response is to take a step backward and say, 'I don't know, I don't want to talk about it.

I'm tired.'"

Both those responses are saying the same thing and are what we call the surface communication, which comes with the same message.

It sounds like this: I'm too afraid to have this talk. I'm not sure what's going to happen. I don't know how to talk about my feelings. I'm afraid if I say the wrong thing you won't understand.

I'm afraid if I speak up this won't go really well.

I'm not sure how to navigate this and I'm afraid that if I try, you won't be there for me, you won't listen to me, you won't hold my space.

This is going on in all relationships at some level, either consciously or unconsciously. You have two people who are aware of it and are talking about it, or two people who are wrapped up in the external drama and are not communicate openly and calmly.

Moving the narrative along starts with something simple: really listening to what is being said to you.

Next time you're having a conflict, I'd like to really encourage you to do your best not just to hear the external message but to go even further and listen even more deeply to the emotional context of what's really going on for that person emotionally.

This is the beginning of knowing how to meet emotional needs.


One of Australia's leading coaches, trainers and speakers, and head facilitator at The Coaching Institute. In between mentoring thousands of coaches and leaders all around Australasia and helping others build incredible culture, Matt is passionate about fitness and music. His healthy office lunches whipped up in five minutes are the stuff of legend

Matt Lavars life coaching
Matt LavarsThe Coaching Institute