Emotional Intimacy

A Comprehensive Guide for Connecting with the Power of Your Emotions

A cutting-edge exploration and illumination of emotion, with an emphasis on cultivating intimacy with each of our emotions.

A key theme is emotional literacy. Another is emotional healing and integration.

Throughout the book there are experiential practices designed to help us learn to make as wise use as possible of each of our emotions.

The book has three parts: The first helps orient us, describing what it means to become intimate with our emotions, as well as clarifying the nature of emotion and how to optimally express it. The second part is all about individual emotions, and the third part helps deepen our understanding of emotion.

The Table of Contents supplants the need for an index: In it you’ll find not only a list of all the experiential practices, but also a list of the various subsections of each chapter.


Emotional Intimacy is a godsend. Open it on any page and you will experience the truth within your emotions. I recommend this wonderful book to everyone!

— Christiane Northrup, MD, author of the New York Times bestsellers Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, and The Wisdom of Menopause

This is one of the best books on human emotion I've read. What I particularly like about it is its practicality. Dr. Masters has obviously done his fair share of work on his own relationships; his insights and suggestions show the signs of one who has been there in the heat of action. Few explorers venture into the heart of emotion at the depths Dr. Masters navigates. At the end of the journey is a jewel of an insight that can produce real magic in your relationships: no matter how unpleasant our feelings may feel, all of them can be embraced with compassion and welcomed into the vastness of ourselves.

— Gay Hendricks, PhD, author of The Big Leap and co-author, with Dr. Kathlyn Hendricks, of Conscious Loving

There is wisdom and power in this remarkable exploration of emotional intimacy. The author journeys into unexpected regions of the human heart and with rare discernment explores the dark and light of that which allows for a new order of coming together.

— Jean Houston, PhD, author of The Search for the Beloved

Emotional Intimacy is one of the finest books that is now available on the market dealing with emotions and, for lack of a better term, ‘emotional intelligence’ — you take your choice. It is the comprehensiveness, care, and genuine inclusiveness of this book that makes it so original, and that makes it an absolute must reading for therapists, teachers, parents, those in relationships, educators, psychiatrists, and you. Emotional Intimacy doesn’t confuse its maps and guidelines with the territory of emotions that it covers, but sets out a perfectly clear and beautifully understandable and accurate map of these all-too-often completely confused dimensions—our emotional territory (complex, often confusing, bewildering, and even occasionally staggeringly complex)—and the maps, guidelines, and suggestive maps that therapists use to bring clarity to this otherwise overwhelmingly complex territory.

The result is everything you could ever want: clear and concise, useful and beautifully succinct, exquisitely simple and well executed, beautifully well-written and a deeply joyful book to read, covering all the bases yet in a wonderfully simple and easy way to grasp, beginning to end.  I highly recommend this book for professional and laypeople alike—it has something deeply important to offer each—and you won’t regret it!

— Ken Wilber, author of The Integral Vision

From the moment I opened Emotional Intimacy and treated myself to a long look at — better to say “drink of” —its contents, something in my heart and whole being relaxed and released. I knew I was in the presence of one of the most precise analyses and deeply comforting (which means, strength-giving) contemplations of human emotion ever written, any time, anywhere, by anyone.

Over half a million books are now published every year. Very few deserve reading by many of us. Hardly any should be read, imbibed, deeply absorbed and used by just about every adult and most teenagers on the planet. This is one of them. I'm a fairly well respected teacher of such things myself, and I'm marveling at it. I intend to go to school in this masterwork by Robert Augustus Masters for a very long time to come. I can hardly praise it, and thank Robert, enough.

— Saniel Bonder, co-founder, Waking Down, author of Ultimaya 1.0: The Trouble with the Wishes of Leopold Stokes

Understanding our emotions and working with them and through them has never been more important. Personally, relationally, globally, the maturing of emotion is the first step toward peace. In Emotional Intimacy, Robert Masters creates a thorough geography of the heart, offering detailed understandings and extensive ways to practice being human. A true resource for individuals and those in the helping professions.

— Mark Nepo, author of Seven Thousand Ways To Listen and The Book of Awakening

This remarkably helpful, lucidly written book provides an exceptional road map on how to work creativity and constructively with all of our emotions. I was particularly impressed by Masters' emphasis on intimacy throughout the book, including the art of developing intimacy with each of our emotions. For those of us who wish to deepen our capacity for emotional intimacy with another human being, Masters offering is a beautiful place to begin.

—   Katherine Woodward Thomas, author of Calling in “The One”

In Emotional Intimacy Robert Masters offers a primer on emotions — from the most primary to the most subtle. Whether you are currently in a relationship or wish to be in one, this is a very worthwhile book to pick up and select a chapter from which to taste, digest, transform, and heal. As a couples therapist, I will definitely recommend this book to my clients.

—   Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, author of Wired for Love

For millennia spiritual inquiry and practice has been dominated by the masculine psyche. The rich world of our emotions has been viewed, in most traditions, as something just to master, overcome and transcend. This book is a lucid expression of a new balance of masculine and feminine awakening, through which we can surf emotion as a wave to take us deeper home into our true nature. Masters shows us, through highly articulate explanation as well as an abundance of very practical exercises, how every aspect of our emotional life is another doorway into love.

— Arjuna Ardagh, author of The Translucent Revolution and Better Than Sex 

With a poet’s facility with language, a psychospiritual guide’s skill in teaching us how to work practically with our most challenging emotions, and a scholar-practitioner’s light but firm grounding in the current literature on emotions, Robert Masters brings together in one volume a wonderful combination of wise perspectives, great depth and breadth, exercises and practices to help us explore our emotional lives, and a deep care and compassion for the reader, for all of us.

— Donald Rothberg, PhD, author of The Engaged Spiritual Life


Introduction: Into the Heart of Emotion

To be alive is to feel, and to feel is to experience emotion. Whether our emotions are overwhelming or subtle, fiery or chilling, dark or light, they are always present, finding expression in an extraordinary number of ways.

Our emotions are ever-moving wonders, bringing together physiology, feeling, cognition, and conditioning, allowing us to connect and communicate in more ways than we can imagine. The more deeply we know our emotions, the deeper and more fulfilling our lives will be.

However anatomically complex our emotions are, they are simple in their felt immediacy, providing us with the opportunity to participate more fully and more consciously in them so that we might make as wise as possible use of them.

For all too many of us, emotions remain a largely untapped source of strength, freedom, and connection. They are so much a part of us that we tend to take them for granted, losing touch with their sheer mystery and with the marvelously varied ways they transmit our inner workings, facially and otherwise.

How well do you know your emotions? To what degree are you at home with them? How do you view them—are they more ally or foe? Do you distance yourself from them, or get lost in them? Do you keep them tightly reined, or do you let yourself get carried away by them? Or do you cultivate intimacy with them, however dark or unpleasant or disturbing they may be?

Whatever we are doing with our emotions will not be clear until we know them well. We simply won’t be close enough to them to see what directions we may be channeling them into.

For example, we might not recognize that hostility is not something that simply arises in us, but is something that we are doing with our anger. The more intimate we are with our anger—which is far more about being close to it than about controlling it!—the more easily we can see the choices we are making with it.

The capacity for emotional intimacy — a greatly undervalued capacity — is essential not only to truly fulfilling relationships, but to having an uncommonly vital life, in which awareness, passion, love, action, and integrity function as one.

What I mean by emotional intimacy is twofold: (1) becoming intimate with our emotions, including their arising, expression, historical roots, and relational functioning; and (2) becoming intimate in our relationships with significant others through how we express and share our emotions.

To be intimate with our emotions is no small undertaking; doing so requires far more than simply being able to openly express and talk about them.

Being intimate with our fear, for example, means getting close enough to it to see it clearly — and in detail — in its mental, psychological, and physical dimensions, but not so close that we fuse with our fear or get lost in it. So we remain slightly separated from our fear even as we openly feel and closely connect with it, maintaining just enough distance to keep it in focus.

To take this example further, cultivating intimacy with our fear doesn’t necessarily lessen it, but does put us in a position where we are neither identified with it nor disconnected from it. We see our fear for what it is, we sense its location and coursings in our body, we recognize its impact on our thinking processes, we become more aware of our history with it, we register its degree and quality of contractedness.

As such, we become increasingly capable of working with our fear and skillfully sharing it. As we become more intimate with our fear, we lessen our fear of it and eventually adopt a nonproblematic orientation toward it.

The more intimate we are with our emotions, the more adept we’ll be in both containing and expressing them, so that their presence serves rather than hinders us and those with whom we’re in contact.

In this sense, there are no unwholesome or negative emotions — only unwholesome or negative things we do with them. Emotional intimacy allows us to make the best possible use of all our emotions — and it enhances relationship.

Without emotional intimacy, relationships founder on the reefs of emotional discord or flatness — no matter how heated the sex, no matter how much we hold in common — leaving us marooned from the interpersonal closeness for which we yearn. If we are parents, our children will pay the price of our lack of emotional intimacy, learning to normalize emotional reactivity and disconnection.

All too easily, we may simply act out our unresolved wounds and mishandled needs through our emotional expression or lack thereof, while remaining unaware of what we are doing! Such re-acting keeps our relationships in the shallows, cut off from the emotional depth and resonance needed for genuine intimacy.

When we wake up to this and begin doing what it takes to develop and deepen emotional intimacy, our relationships start to become less of a battlefield or flatland and more of a sanctuary. They become more vital, more nourishing, more authentic.

Emotional illiteracy infects many relationships, regardless of how effectively it might be camouflaged — or compensated for — by “rational” discourse, material success, erotic intensity, or spiritual practice.

Despite the obvious presence of emotion in everyone, as well as the plain-to-see emotional difficulties or challenges many of us have, emotional education has yet to take a significant place in the majority of our schools. It simply does not appear to be a priority for those in charge of “educational” policy. This, of course, is not just a failing of our school system, but of our culture. Intellectual intelligence tends to get the lion’s share of attention, with moral and emotional intelligence getting far too little focus, and many relationships reflect this.

Modeling a healthy relationship to our emotions is one of the biggest gifts we can give our children. Many of us grew up suffering the consequences of our parents’ unresolved emotional wounds, developing an understandably problematic orientation toward our emotions. For example, we may have learned to associate the expression of anger with danger or the loss of love and so have a reaction to anger that works against relational well-being — unless we’ve worked through this. We have an obligation not to pass on our emotional wounding to our children, or at least to minimize such transmission. This means doing our very best to face and work through that old hurt, as perhaps optimally done through high-quality psychotherapy.

How we treat our children is closely akin to how we treat the child within us. If we’re uncomfortable with our emotions, especially those that are particularly vulnerable, we’ll very likely be uncomfortable with our children’s emotions, especially when they are fully expressed.

If we were shamed for crying when we were young, the odds are that we’ll find ourselves shaming our children for crying at least some of the time, despite our intentions to do otherwise — unless we’ve worked through this dynamic in us to the point where we no longer shame ourselves (via the finger-pointing of our inner critic) for our more vulnerable emotions and their open expression.

When emotional intimacy is all but missing from a relationship — with emotional reactivity and dissociation at the helm — and nothing significant is done about this, it might be more accurate to say the partners have an association rather than a relationship. There may be similar values, the overall tone might be friendly, and there may be some sex occurring, but at best what is happening is basically akin to a successful business in which both partners are doing their part to keep the ship afloat.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it’s a far cry from the kind of relational mutuality they could be sharing and living. It’s as if we’re thirsty and are relying solely on the bottled water that’s on sale nearby, even though a crystal-clear river of clean water is also within reach, asking only that we turn toward it and take the necessary steps.

If we want more depth and connection and joy in our relationships, we’re going to have to develop more emotional intimacy with our partners, our friends, our family. It’s that simple and that challenging. Connecting only through our upbeat emotions is not enough — we also need to find, and keep finding, relationship-deepening connection through all our emotions.

And there is no way we can do this if we are not significantly intimate with our emotions. How can we share our anger in a way that brings us closer if we are not close enough to it to know it well?

It is quite natural to feel uncomfortable as we embark on the journey toward emotional intimacy — given that along the way we’ll very likely have to encounter whatever first drove us into emotional darkness, numbness, or dissociation — but developing this closeness with our emotions is an immensely rewarding and liberating passage, regardless of its challenges.

So many of us feel our emotions (or at least some of our emotions) only partially. We may be used to suppressing them; we may not feel sufficiently safe; we may find it just too vulnerable to feel fully. But when we become intimate with our emotions, we come alive — full-bloodedly alive — feeling with an exquisite sensitivity, depth, and breadth.

And then vulnerability takes on a new meaning; we realize that it can be a source of strength. Our senses are heightened, our empathy deepens, our intuition sharpens, and we begin to fully know in a deeply embodied sense the uniquely essential presence that is us.

This newfound vitality is coupled with an ability to be more tuned in to the impact we have on others. We are more able to cut through our tendency to let ourselves off the hook when we have hurt others, knowingly or unknowingly. Integrity becomes not a “should,” but a given.

Deepening our capacity for emotional intimacy awakens and grounds us, connecting us with palpable immediacy to the pulse of what really matters, rendering us more able to respond optimally to life’s inevitable challenges. This is an inherently liberating process, unchaining us as it does from much of our conditioned way of being.