To understand why a relationship is not as deep as you’d like it to be, let’s talk about the three things you need to do to build an emotionally intimate relationship (the formula is the same whether it’s a friend, romantic partner, or family member).

Pick the right person

I know that sounds like a no-brainer but people get this wrong all the time. Every one of us has blown it at this first, basic step. Most people will show you who they are pretty quickly. You just have to pay attention. What do they talk about? How do they treat people? How do they interact with you? Being good-looking, well-connected, and rich are not enough to sustain a deep relationship. You need someone who shares your values and is capable of showing up the way you want them to.

I don’t think compatibility is prioritized highly enough. Don’t overlook major differences in personality, lifestyle, and desires. Those can end up being fundamental problems that limit a relationship from the start.

Spend lots of time together

I have a dear friend who recently broke up with a great guy she’d been dating for a couple of years. Due to life circumstances, they’d only been seeing each other once a week and he couldn’t commit to more. That’s just not enough to move a romantic relationship into a deeply connected partnership. It’s fine if you’re looking for something casual or just a friendship but if you want to be really close to a person, you’re gonna want to log a significant number of get-togethers.

If you’re thinking, but hey, I have that one friend I only see once a year and we’re super close, my guess is that at the beginning (probably years ago) you put that time in or else you had a high enough dose of the next ingredient in a short window to build something really special.

Get vulnerable with each other

You know how you can hang out with someone every day, like a coworker, but never feel emotionally close to them? It’s because this is missing. You’re laughing, creating, and complaining about your jobs with each other, but you’re not sharing the most vulnerable parts of yourself. That’s totally appropriate for work life but will never feel like enough in your closest relationships.

Vulnerability has to travel both directions, too. You need to do the risky work of sharing tender things about yourself, but so do they. Plus, you each need to be sturdy and present enough to hold the other person’s share as something delicate and sacred.

That’s it.

Those are the components. Even if you have a relationship with a lot of conflict (as long as you’re both good at repair), you can create something emotionally intimate when you follow that formula.

If you want more depth in one of your relationships, step back for a minute and get clinical. What’s missing? Where can you make corrections? Maybe you need more time with a person. Maybe you need to go a little deeper with them. Maybe you need to take stock and figure out if you even want to try to build something more meaningful. If you aren’t really compatible, do you need to re-categorize the relationship and get your emotional needs met elsewhere?

The tone here is light, but this might feel heavy if you’re looking at a long-time committed relationship through this lens. At least, this gives you information. Growth happens in three stages: awareness, acceptance, and action. It’s okay to be at the first stage. Acceptance just means accepting where you stand and that the people in your life are who they are. When it comes to action, there is always a forward step you can take, even if it’s a small one.

Wishing you deeply connected relationships with your most precious people!