What is your definition of intimacy? In my practice, I hear a variety of answers to this question. In fact, in my premarital sessions, we spend a whole hour talking about this issue, along with commitment and passion. These three things are interrelated and there is tons of research about how they all work together. To learn more about that, I encourage you to research it on your own. I find it fascinating, but it goes beyond the scope of what I am trying to convey here. Often times, passion and intimacy are mistaken for each other and although they are definitely related, intimacy is better defined as the friendship and/or closeness of a relationship. It is actually a building block for lasting passion and a satisfying sex life. Sex is intimacy in motion (pun intended), and is not necessarily intimacy itself. I make this clarification in order to get across that I am not necessarily writing to give tips on passion, but rather, tips on how to improve your closeness, your connectedness and your friendship with your significant other, in hopes that it will, in fact, improve your passion as well. Here are 10 tips I recommend.
- Take a walk down memory lane
Here’s a little secret: Sometimes there comes a point in therapy sessions where things can get to be too problem focused. Although it is important to get a picture of what is going wrong in a relationship, it is also important to concentrate on the things that have gone right. This is when I tend to switch the focus and get to talking to the clients about the first time they met, how they wooed each other, what they loved about each other in the beginning, the good times that they had together, etc. The energy in the room tends to switch immediately and people soften. If this can happen in my office, I’m sure it can happen at home, allowing the room for you to reminisce with your partner. And guess what? When you soften the mood, it leaves way for intimate conversations, and less room for yelling and blaming.
- Go to bed at the same time together if possible
Now I am going to preface this by saying that I know this is close to impossible for some clients who may have complete opposite schedules, or one partner who is a night owl and another who likes to go to bed early. So, what I am asking here, is for you and your partner to somehow find a night, 2 nights, 3 nights (gasp) that you lay together for at least 10 minutes, even if it’s not right before bed. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be night time. It can be morning time, or the middle of the day. I don’t care! Lie down together. This leaves time open to connect and be still. If it can be at bedtime, that is even better.
- Marriage meetings
This one is kind of boring. But basically, set aside time each week to sit down and go over what’s happening in your lives. Go over the calendar. Go over each other’s schedules. Go over To-Do lists. Go over any thoughts or concerns you have. Pick a day and time that is convenient for you both. I know this sounds so unromantic, but think back to your arguments (I’m thinking back to mine and to my client’s), how many of them are over logistical, mundane, every day things like forgetting to tell your spouse about a dinner you have planned, or to him or her forgetting to take the trash out on Tuesday. It’s these seemingly small things that can wreck communication. When we feel like we are not heard, whether it’s about the yoga class we told our spouse about or the work meeting he/she told us about, it feels hurtful and like the other person doesn’t care to listen. Which leads me to the next one…
- Pay attention to your partner’s bids for connection
So, what the heck am I talking about here? There is a famous relationship psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, who has studied relationships relentlessly and in his research he has found that the more we turn toward our partners the more likely we are going to have a loving relationship built on friendship, love and respect. He has said a lot of other things as well and I highly recommend you visit his website if you are interested in hearing more. Basically “bids” as he calls them, are any opportunity our partner is giving us to connect to them. This could be by telling a joke, by putting your hand on their leg, winking, responding when they ask for a cup of coffee, etc. They don’t have to be huge gestures, we just have to respond to the majority of them in order to make our partner’s feel important. So, put your phone down and listen to your partner. (Also a HUGE complaint I hear daily).
Simple. Tell your partner you appreciate them and why. Everyone likes to be appreciated. Everyone likes to hear why. If you don’t tell them, they may stop doing things to be appreciated for.
- Do something nice for your partner
This can be highly personalized depending on what your partner likes. Does he/she like small gifts? Does he or she like it when you do a chore for them that they hate (Mine is mopping. Ugh, I would love anyone who would mop my floors), bring them coffee in the morning, iron their shirt, fill up their gas tank for them, take the kids away for a few hours, buy them tickets to a sports game they like, give them a massage. So many things!
- Learn their love language
This is semi related to number 6. Love Languages is a great tool to get to know your partner in a different way and bring to light something you may or may not have already known about them or yourself. We all like to be loved in different ways. According to Gary Chapman, these different ways are “Love Languages”. Take the quiz at www.5lovelanguages.com and find out what yours is. Then have your partner take it separately. Compare. Talk about what it means. Not only will it possibly give you new insight, it can help you learn more about each other and give you something to talk about (besides the everyday).
- Remain curious about your partner.
You have been with your partner for decades. You know them inside out. When he/she looks at you a certain way, you just KNOW what they are thinking, right? Maybe not. Many of us make the assumptions that we know our partners better than they know themselves. This is not always true. People evolve. People change. I would venture to say, we never know someone 100%. So, next time your partner does something to get under your skin, ask yourself why. Important thing I am trying to get at is this: There are hundreds of reasons people do the things they do, and they don’t always have to be the same reasons that they did them in the past. Try to remain curious about who your partner is, what their intentions are (because they are not ALWAYS bad and they are not ALWAYS about you, your relationship or how they feel about you), and how you can use the opportunity to connect and know them even better.
- Check yourself
This is sort of an extension of number 8. This is just an exercise in being aware of your assumptions and stopping yourself before making them. Check your biases. Check your mood. Check your words. Try not to use words like above such as ALWAYS, NEVER, etc. They come off as criticism.
Interpret this the way you will. But basically, have fun together. Play a game. Tickle each other. Wrestle. Play a sport together. Laugh. Dance. Sing. Kids play for the sake of play. Be in that moment like a kid where you have no inhibitions and you can just be together.
Try these things at home! I would love to hear about your experiences with them and see if they have helped. Also, for more information about me and the practice I work for, visit TexasRelationshipTherapy.com and sign up for our newsletter. There are articles every month covering a myriad of topics that could be helpful.
Kisha is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and Licensed Professional Counselor Intern practicing in Houston, Texas for a multi-person practice, Texas Relationship Therapy. She is currently working on obtaining hours to complete her certificate in sex therapy and is certified in Anger Resolution Therapy as well. Her passion lies in doing pre-marital counseling, helping clients who are experiencing issues with anger and couples who are experiencing sexual difficulties in their relationship. She has been practicing for four and a half years. She has been married for 9 years, has a son and a baby girl on the way. For more information about Kisha and the practice she is associated with, please visit www.texasrelationshiptherapy.com.