What comes to mind if we say two people “have chemistry”? You might think it means they’re physically attracted to one another, but there’s another type of attraction that is just as — if not more — important in relationships: emotional attraction.
It’s a familiar scenario. You match with someone you find super attractive on a dating app or exchange numbers at a bar, then go on a date only to realize there’s no real connection. That’s what happens when you don’t feel any emotional attraction for a potential partner.
Emotional attraction means being attracted to a person’s mind, personality, and heart — not just their looks.
Every long-lasting bond needs emotional attraction because it’s what keeps partners connected and invested in the relationship. Think of it as the glue that keeps romantic relationships together.
Romantic relationships need both sexual and emotional attraction to last. “Physical and emotional attraction work together to create desire and establish an intimate romantic bond,” says Terri Di Matteo, a licensed relationship and couple counselor at Open Door Therapy.
“Mutual physical attraction is crucial for two people to be drawn toward one another and plays a critical role throughout the relationship. However, physical attraction is not standalone regarding long-lasting love. Instead, its counterpart is emotional attraction,” says Terri Di Matteo.
“Emotional attraction is being drawn to someone beyond what they physically look like,” says Charisse Cooke, a relationship psychotherapist. “There is chemistry between the two of you because you have great conversation, shared values, feel respected, and seem to fundamentally understand each other.”
Emotional attraction plays an important role in all types of relationships, including platonic ones, but it’s fundamental to romantic relationships as well.
While sexual attraction is unarguably important in (most) romantic relationships, it can diminish over time. Emotional attraction, on the other hand, is there for the long haul.
“Emotional attraction is extremely important in relationships as it is the most enduring aspect of your relationship that bonds you in the long term,” says Cooke.
Research suggests that emotional attraction can determine the success of a romantic relationship. Being emotionally available was more important than being sexually accessible, according to a 2018 study. Couples who lacked this emotional attraction were more likely to break up.
Emotional attraction can also make sexual attraction stronger. “Perhaps someone you found unattractive at first suddenly becomes more attractive when you discover you like their personality, humor, laugh, voice, expression, or how they make you feel,” explains Di Matteo.
Likewise, a lack of emotional connection can make the sexual spark go dull. “Your attraction to someone you found alluring can diminish once you view them as crass, uncaring, self-absorbed, or offensive,” she adds.
Some people need to be emotionally attracted to someone before they can be physically intimate with them. This is known as demisexuality, a sexual orientation where a person only feels sexual attraction to people with whom they have an emotional bond.
Cooke explains that emotional attraction is best measured by when we feel safe with someone.
“Emotional attraction is about security and meeting each other’s emotional needs,” she says. “If you value and respect someone, their thoughts and opinions matter to you, and you trust they feel that way about you too, these are signs of a strong emotional attraction.”
Although emotional attraction is subjective — and difficult to quantify — some signs of emotional attraction in a relationship are:
Feeling safe and at ease around each other.
Being able to have deep conversations.
Value each other’s opinions.
Having open, honest communication.
Having mutual respect for one another.
Appreciating each other’s sense of humor.
Being vulnerable with one another.
You “get” each other.
While physical attraction is usually instant, emotional attraction can take time to develop.
“We can develop emotional attraction by intentionally focusing on what people say and how they behave, rather than how they look or appear,” explains Cooke.
“We can be very visual and over-focus on people’s externals, so if we consciously choose to notice someone’s emotional intelligence and emotional availability, we are then more likely to develop an emotional attraction to them,” she adds
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
Make time for non-sexual forms of intimacy.
Learn how your partner likes to receive affection.
Practice active listening.
Spend quality time together, without distractions (aka: your phone).
Learn about your partner’s interests.
Accept your partner’s differences without trying to change them.
Practice open and honest communication.
Don’t shy away from talking about difficult subjects.
Want to build emotional attraction in your relationship? Download the Paired app to start having more meaningful conversations with your partner and feel more connected.