Relationship intimacy; we all want it, right?
Well if you’re in a relationship, you probably know how challenging it can sometimes be to sustain your intimate connection with your partner.
Of course, it’s just not realistic you will feel close and connected to your partner at all times, but there are things you can do to make sure you’re supporting your relationship and building the depth of your closeness over time. And you might be surprised just how easy some of the things you can do that will promote your relationship intimacy.
So we spoke with 20 Australia Counselling relationship therapists to find out their best tips for creating and sustaining your relationship intimacy.
Gaze at your partner lovingly often – Have you ever watched the exchange between a mother and a baby and noticed the love pouring out of the mother’s face? This complex interaction fundamentally helps the baby feel loved, known, unique and special. As adults the desire for this feeling doesn’t change. When our partner gazes at us with a loving look the important neurochemical of love and romance are stimulated and this promotes feeling good, safe and secure.
Always do your best to make your partner feel safe and secure – Don’t threaten things you don’t mean in a heated discussion. Our brains are wired for attachment and being loved. Connection and safety is a paramount experience that we all need to feel to be secure. Security in a relationship helps create intimacy; threats do not encourage an environment of security.
Always leave the house and kiss/hug your partner goodbye – Mindfully saying goodbye (or hello) to your partner helps them feel the love and security required to create a relationship that grows. Doing this mindfully means you stop what you are doing and deliberately kiss or hug your partner goodbye and hold on for just those few seconds more than usual.
The way each of us has grown up to understand and need love and intimacy is different. By openly and honestly communicating our needs with a loved one, we have more chance of staying connected; and more chance of giving and receiving exactly what it is that makes us feel loved and that we belong.
Don’t assume your partner is a mind reader (because they’re not!) – Tell them how you feel and what you want and need. Just because it’s obvious to you, doesn’t mean it’s obvious to them. In addition, you don’t have to be a mind reader. Ask your partner what is important to them – what is it they would like, or need, from you?
Acknowledge and accept your differences – Having different opinions, likes and beliefs is okay. You don’t have to be the same to love and respect each other.
The little things matter – such as time alone together, or going on dates. Small gestures of generosity and kindness can go a long way.
Find out more about Perth counsellor Toni Jackson at www.tonijacksoncounselling.com.au
Hello and Goodbye – We are constantly re-connecting with our partners during the day—how we do this can impact on the mood of the relationship. Sometimes it’s easy to slip into habits and not acknowledge each other while we’re busy, stressed or tired. Taking the time to say hello or goodbye to the other person signals their importance. What can you say or do that says you’re happy to see your partner?
Fondness and Admiration – Many people are surprised when their partner tells them that they need to hear how proud they are of them, that they find them attractive or think that they’re a good parent. It’s easy to just assume that our partner knows that we think or feel these things. Find ways to tell your partner what it is that you like and/or admire about them.
Rupture and Repair – Conflict isn’t always bad news for a relationship. It’s not the conflict that impacts the relationship but how you fight and what you do to repair the relationship afterwards. Think about how often you go to sleep or walk out the door when still feeling hurt or angry. It’s important to come back together when you can, to repair the rift. Focus on trying to understand the other rather than who is right.
Intimacy is a frightening word for many people. It is, however, the only proven mean to have fulfilling relationships. Here are three tips to go by to increase your skills at intimacy:
Accept to be intimate you have to be vulnerable – It’s not true that if you are vulnerable you are weak. In fact, it is the opposite of being weak. To be vulnerable requires strength and resilience because it implies that one accepts the inherent potential for being hurt that is part and parcel of being in a relationship that engages our deeper emotions – when we love we get hurt. As Bob Marley said “…we have to choose the right person to be hurt by…” It is as unavoidable as when we get drenched in the rain, despite with an umbrella—and as such it has to be embraced.
Respect your partner as you respect yourself and learn to negotiate – Respect is not a given, it has to be earned in my book. However, if you have already chosen to spend a good part of your life with someone, chances are you‘ve already made an assessment of that person and it was positive enough that you’ve chosen to stay. So treat her the way you’d want to be treated; it is the least you can do to show your love. And negotiate; negotiation is all about collaboration, give and take—a bit for me, a bit for you – and so on. If it sounds very business-like, that is probably because the rules of good business apply when it comes to managing disagreements. A suggestion though: wait until everybody has cooled down before you start negotiating. Reason and emotions generally don’t work well together.
Laugh a lot together…at anything – I guess that speaks for itself. If in doubt, go see a funny movie.
With these three under your belt, you might even make it to a golden anniversary…who knows!
Communicate – If we “fail to communicate” to our partner about our needs in our relationship, we “communicate to fail.” Simply put, we don’t ask for what we want and, therefore, wonder why we don’t get what we want. No one can read another’s thoughts accurately. A common misconception is that your partner “will know or should know what you want because you have been together for a long time.” We know this doesn’t work most of the time.
Intimacy is not just about sex – Intimacy includes all of the things we share with our chosen partner. Anything we do together in a positive way is part of building intimacy.
Don’t wait until you fall into bed with your partner to start working on intimacy – A nice build up to this can happen many hours before such as cooking a meal together, sharing a glass of your favourite drink, a candlelight dinner (in or out), cuddling on the couch, taking a walk, as well as talking about your relationship. Additionally, don’t forget that the bedroom is not the only place that intimacy has to culminate in every time; variety is good for the soul.
Listen – It’s natural to think that saying soothing words to someone who is agitated will calm them down. However, it often doesn’t work like that. Saying ‘relax’ to people doesn’t help them relax. What can be effective, however, is to take their distress seriously. Focus on what they say, take it in, and the let them know that they have been heard. The agitated person doesn’t have to be so alert to the problem if someone else is also alert to it.
To people who identified as being shy and introverted, it can be hard to be close to other people – When you have an opportunity to be close, you can find yourself pulled in two directions—part of you wants to be close, but another part of you wants to get away as well. Trouble is, you end up trying to do both at once, and your intimacy ends up being skittish or half-hearted. Much better that you choose to be intimate for a period of time, then choose to be separate for a period of time.
Just don’t communicate with those you want to be close to – You can fear that the other person won’t like what you’ve got to say. The difficulty with this is that when you don’t communicate, the other person may well be thinking the worst about themselves and about the relationship. Much better that you say (and hear) uncomfortable things than to not know where you stand.
He says Potato, she says Potahto. How do you strike the balance to gain intimacy in your relationship?
Learn to respect each other – Even if you are both complete opposites and you don’t agree, be humble enough to listen to her opinion and appreciate that sometimes, views are different. As an example, you could have opposing political views. If you know these views might lead to an argument, take a step back, enjoy and celebrate that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Listen, and if you can’t agree—agree to disagree! (Oh, and don’t plan a romantic dinner on polling night!)
Vary your routine, if you feel you’re stuck in a rut – You go to play soccer, whereas she prefers to go swimming. Perhaps try something new together and find a pastime you both enjoy. It may take a few attempts to find a mutual hobby but there’s bound to be something.
Plan a special something, like a romantic meal – Choose a restaurant with a menu combining both your favourite foods. If you’re a vegetarian and he likes to eat steak char-grilled to within an inch of its life, then choose somewhere with both options.
Sit down and make a list of all the things both of you want to do – You may well find there is something you have in common on that list – make this a priority and do it.
Be intimate – That’s one thing all marriages should have in common. So hold hands, have a long hug, kiss and make an effort to enjoy plenty of sex!
Finally, remember just because you have different interests you can still have a fruitful, positive and intimate relationship. What is more important is that you are genuinely kind and respectful to each other, share common goals and have the same values.
“It is not people’s feelings and wants that cause problems in marriage but the discounting and disallowing of these feelings and wants that cause problems in marriages.” (Greenberg and Johnson, 1988)
We are meant to connect and belong, and when that doesn’t happen, we are often left feeling like something is missing.
Intimacy is being close to another person. When couples say they lack closeness, sometimes they mean sexual or physical closeness and sometimes they mean emotional closeness or both.
We achieve intimacy when we have clear communication, mutual decision making and empathy for ourselves and the other person.
So as a couple it is helpful to explore the following things:
- What is your closeness and what does intimacy mean to you?
- What do you do, think and feel about the intimacy in your relationship?
- What do you think causes your lack of intimacy?
Couples sometimes need help to listen to each other and hold their reactions so each person can feel heard and understood and have their thoughts and feelings allowed and acknowledged.
My three tips to help couples to become more intimate are when you talk to your partner about intimacy:
- Take turns to feel and express your thoughts and feelings while the other person holds their reaction.
- Talk in chunk-size pieces so your partner can listen and understand you and reflect what they hear and understand you saying (and vice versa).
- Tell your partner about your expectations and beliefs and be kind to yourself and your partner.
Hopefully, this way of talking will open up new possibilities for you and your partner and your intimate life together.
Intimacy is that very special, warm bond we feel with someone that allows us to open up and share ourselves emotionally and physically. But how do we build that special bond in our relationship?
If there were a formula for intimacy, it would go something like this: Intimacy flows from trust, and trust flows from safety. The best way to increase intimacy, therefore, is to increase the feelings of trust and safety between you.
When someone feels accepted, seen and heard in a relationship, they naturally feel safer and more trusting. And when they feel safer and more trusting, they naturally move towards the other person, towards intimacy.
So, what are some ways to do this, practically?
Show the Love – The easiest way to create safety, trust and intimacy is simply to LISTEN. Listen from the heart and let your empathy flow. Your partner will soften, melt and open up as they realise they’re being seen, heard and accepted by YOU.
Make Space for Love – Time and Space are pure oxygen for relationships. Love’s got to have juice, so making time and space allows the love-force to build between you. You’re more likely to be successful at intimacy if you accept that most people need time and space to connect and to nourish their intimacy feelings.
Relax for Love – Stress, busyness and tension tend to edge intimacy right out of the picture. Do things together which relaxes you both and helps your nervous systems turn off adrenaline and turn on physical relaxation and emotional ease (walks, cuddles, resting together, holding hands, hugs, smiles, humour). Relaxing together helps you to lower your guard and find each other again, in an atmosphere of safety and trust.
The key factor in intimacy is connection and the quality of that connection. If you can enhance the connection, you can improve intimacy. Increased intimacy tends to lead to increased feelings of trust and respect.
Be Physically Affectionate – Physical affection increases feel good hormones in the body. Sexual intercourse, while important in a relationship, is not the sole expression of physical affection. Simple gestures such as holding hands and hugging are just as important and can occur in most situations. Physical affection is an action that supports the words “I love you.” As they say, actions speak louder than words.
Listen – Intimacy increases when you take the time to listen when your partner is talking. To fully listen to your partner, you need to focus. This means that you need to forget about everything else that is going on in your life and focus solely on what your partner is saying. It is also important that you listen to what your partner has to say fully and not be trying to think of what to say next when they’re halfway through talking. When your partner has finished speaking, think about what you will say in response and then say it.
Spend time doing things you both like – The experience of doing things together increases closeness. Time enjoyed together gives you life experiences in common and great memories to look back on. A fallacy that people have about spending time together is believing that these should only consist of romantic encounters. Spending time together can also be doing things like gardening together. As long as you both enjoy the activity, what you are doing is secondary to the experience.
It’s all in the way we communicate.
Next time you need something, try asking for it – So often we have an expectation that our partner (or friend or co-worker) knows us so well they should know what we want or need from them. This expectation may lead to disappointment, resentment and possibly even anger when we are let down because it turns out people aren’t “mind-readers” after all. Avoid potential conflict just by asking for want we want from each other. Sounds easy right? However, it can be difficult at first. We may feel uncomfortable, or vulnerable, or even like we are imposing on the other person. Give it a go and see where it takes you. Just remember, ask nicely.
Try eliminating the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary – This will take practice! Once you pay attention to the use of the word ‘should’ in your conversation, you will come to know how over-used this word is. “You should go for a walk” might become “you could go for a walk.” “You should ring your friend” might become “would you like to ring your friend?” The difference in the words we use is subtle. However, the way it will be interpreted is likely to be far more positive.
Avoid the use of ‘why’ questions – “Why did you do that?” “Why didn’t you call me?” “Why” can feel confronting. The other person feels they have to justify their behaviour or actions. Instead you could say, “when you didn’t call me today, I was worried about you” or “when you borrowed my car without asking, I was left stranded and couldn’t get to work on time.” The person we are relating to will not feel shamed for their actions, but rather see how their behaviour had an impact on us. Again, we potentially avoid the potential for further conflict.
All relationships need attention. It’s easy to get caught up with work and family responsibilities and neglect, perhaps the most important thing in your life—your relationship with your partner. By making time to let them know how much you love and appreciate them, you both naturally feel more connected with each other. This is a win-win for both of you!
Try these three ideas to strengthen your relationship and build intimacy:
Send a love note – Writing your partner a handwritten love note says a lot. It says, “I’ve taken the time to think about you. You matter to me.” You could actually post it to them. Try disguising your writing on the envelope! Relationships benefit from elements of fun surprise. It helps to keep the fires burning. There’s no need to be a poet or write an essay. You can keep your message short, sweet and from your heart. For example, find a thoughtful way to say “I love you” or be grateful for something they did for you (big or small), or give a sincere compliment.
Pack a picnic – Get outdoors on a sunny day with the person you love. Grab some special goodies from the supermarket and throw your blanket somewhere secluded, romantic or with a great view. Make a lazy afternoon of delicious food and intimate conversation. Or just enjoy hanging out together somewhere in nature! Relationships benefit from time away from regular routines.
Do something creative together – Take a mid-week dance class or sign up for a beginner’s painting workshop—together! Creative self-expression is good for you, and it’s good for your relationship too. You’ll learn new things about each other and see each other from new perspectives. It’s good to step out of your comfort zones and be brave and supportive together. Relationships benefit from shared challenges.
Make sure you say nice things to each other – Show gratitude for the simple things such as saying “thank you for making dinner” or “the kitchen looks great” or “thanks for helping with the kids tonight” along with “wow, I am so proud of you and what you achieved at work today” or “you look great in that outfit.” Remember, to tell your partner all the things you appreciate about them.
Make time for physical contact – This doesn’t have to be scheduling sex but rather making plans like: Monday night is massage night, this week, I will massage you and next week, you can massage me, or Wednesday night is bath/spa/sauna night where we hang out together. Give each other a six-second kiss hello and a six-second kiss goodbye—it works wonders to keep things on the sizzle.
Make one night of the week Technology Free – No phones, laptops, desktops, iPads or televisions. The only thing you are allowed is the stereo. Take some time to converse with each other or doing things quietly but in each other’s presence, e.g., reading books curled up on the sofa together. This one is quite literally a relationship saver.
Find out more about Sydney counsellor Tanya Koens at www.surryhillstherapy.com.au
Confess a vulnerability – Take a risk and confess a vulnerability or even something that you might have previously considered shameful about yourself and your feelings. It can be disarming and unthreatening if it is presented in a way that is confessional and confidential. It is easy for partners to hear revelations as criticisms and yet if you were to say that you felt fragile or insecure in a situation that wasn’t accusing your partner of a misstep or thoughtless move or word, it is likely to be heard in a very different way; heard as a partner wanting to get close and who is feeling safe enough to reveal hitherto hidden parts.
Be curious – Be curious in a gentle, interested, and thoughtful way about something your partner tells you. It is so easy to dismiss the familiarity of what your partner tells you about their work, leisure, or activity with family and friends as though you’ve heard similar stories dozens of times before. By listening closely as though you have not heard what your partner has said before, will enable you to see your partner in a fresh light; even perhaps see something you haven’t noticed before. This listening presence and deep interest without the usual cursory brief attention may encourage your partner to dig deeper and see themselves in a different light too. They even feel safe enough to open up more.
Do something unexpectedly kind – An unprompted, unexpected kindness is one of the best gifts you can give your partner. Just as nastiness can result in ‘tit for tat’ situations, kindness can lead to similar acts. It opens the way for softness and generosity of spirit in a world that offers a great deal of hardness.
Be intentional about connecting every day – Intimacy can be eroded one day at a time, simply by the failure to intentionally look into your partner’s eyes and take a genuine interest in their day. Over time, intimacy is extinguished by a couple’s failure to connect and ‘catch up’ with each other because we are no longer familiar with the other’s external and, more importantly, internal life. So make it your intention to reserve a time each day when you catch up with your partner’s day – over coffee, walking the dog or even driving to and from work together. Whatever works—DO IT. I recommend you take a look at some of the apps available such as ‘Questions in a Box’ and ‘Ice Breakers for Couples’ that provide questions that promote further conversation.
Back each other up – Do you know the couple who, when talking about their partner to you, actually ‘put them down,’ or the person who talks to their partner with sarcasm both publicly and privately? That sort of behaviour destroys intimacy swiftly! So be your partner’s best friend and ‘back them up’ in public as well as in private.
Have conversations about what ‘turns your partner on’ – It is common for couples to neglect these conversations, either assuming that you already know what your partner likes or being completely egocentric and focusing entirely on ‘what’s good for me.’ Many couples have difficulty navigating these conversations so that resentment grows where intimacy once thrived. If this is your experience, check out some of the apps developed for couples.
Spend time together – Spending time together is very important for your relationship. This can be difficult these days when both partners are working and may or may not have a family and time together often gets put on the back burner as the pressures of life take first place. To do this, make time each week to spend together. This can be going out to dinner, staying in and making a romantic dinner at home or going for a walk together. It is often said that a relationship takes work. I don’t believe it does, however, it does take commitment and attention. Think of your relationship as a garden—what happens to a garden if it is not tended? Everything dies, and the weeds grow. Don’t let this happen to your relationship.
Learn to manage conflict as soon as it arises, or as soon as possible – The old saying, “don’t let the sun go down on an argument” is very good advice. To do this successfully, calm your emotions. Nothing is ever achieved when two people are angry. Walk away then come back to the issue when you are both calm. Listen to what your partner has to say without interruption, be more invested in resolving conflict rather than being right – sometimes you will have to agree to disagree. Feelings that are not expressed or if one or both partners don’t feel they have been heard can turn into resentment, which is a killer of sexual intimacy.
Be Team Players – Australia is a great sporting nation so look to team games as a guide for your relationship, whether you are interested in sports or not, does not matter. So what do players on a team do?
- They know they are on the same side and have the same goals.
- They support each other, whether they win or lose.
- They rely on each other and know that they can as they are not in this alone.
- They spend time together bonding as they know this is good for morale.
- They celebrate them victories and commiserate their losses.
Therefore, in a relationship knowing that your partner is there for you through thick and thin and you can rely on them helps builds trust. And without trust, no relationship can last.
Most people think of intimacy as something that happens either before, during or after making love or having sex, depending on which one is being perceived. In my opinion, intimacy is what develops when two people can share and connect on a deep level, and as far as I am aware, this can only happen when there is a level of safety and comfort. Many fears and concerns must be dealt with to both parties satisfaction before true intimacy can be possible. This usually requires that each must be able to feel comfortable enough to set and enforce limits at the moment. Only when each person can feel comfortable enough to ensure their own comfort can they let down into true intimacy.
Deal with conflicts – Avoid falling into the usual escalations that have either or both parties using insensitive methods of communication that are both ineffective and hurtful. Intimacy can’t happen in that environment. Regardless of how strongly you disagree, how angry or hurt you feel, you need to refrain from putting down, name-calling, sarcasm or belittling, using your voice or body in an intimidating manner or blaming or shaming statements. Focus on remaining respectful, listening and refrain from interrupting, commit to working towards a mutually satisfying solution and apologise and make amends for mistakes you have made.
Each person must look after their own needs to the point of satisfaction – Time must be taken individually that allows each person to come towards the other feeling at least somewhat fresh and at ease. Many couples in long term live in relationships have busy lifestyles with jobs, children and many other responsibilities. There is a belief that one can simply go from one to the other, and it is unfounded. Time must be taken for the individual to get to the point of feeling nourished within themselves before they can move into a space of either giving or receiving. Jumping into bed at the end of a long hard day, or falling on the sofa in order to have quality time without having replenished individually very rarely works. So, take time out, have a walk, a bath, meditate, listen to your favourite music, gaze at the stars, etc. before you attempt intimacy. You’ll never regret it.
Learn how to ‘meta-communicate’ (talk about what’s going on inside while you’re sharing) – It’s like walking and chewing gum. Get to the point of being willing to share all of your concerns about telling the whole truth so that the whole truth can come, e.g., “I want to tell you about my fears, but I’m worried that you might think I’m silly.” By sharing what’s going on while you’re talking you give each other the opportunity to know more about each other and as the saying goes “The more you know about each other, the more there is to love!” It’s through this deep sharing and sharing about the process of sharing that a deepening intimacy flourishes.
Slot in couple space into your life – relationships need constant attention and work. I often say to people that relationship is like a business – you wouldn’t be caught dead buying a business, not give it any attention, then expect it to prosper. It’s common sense to know that the more attention you give your own business, the more likely it will prosper. Relationships work on the same principle.
Look for what’s working in the relationship rather than what’s not working – Too many people get caught up with focusing entirely on the negatives of their relationship and lose sight of the positives. It is the positives of the relationship that makes the negatives less painful and more tolerable. The existence of some negatives in the relationship is also normal. We cannot entirely eliminate them.
Focus on what changes you can make in yourself, to make a difference in your relationship, rather than how the other person should change – We have control only over ourselves, not the other. We can request but not demand change by the other. It is the other person’s prerogative to choose whether he/she would change and how they would make that change. A relationship takes two to tango. What’s our part in it?
19. Clinton Power
Schedule time for intimacy – You might think that scheduling time for intimacy is very ‘unsexy’, but the truth is there is no difference in satisfaction between scheduled intimacy and spontaneous intimacy. And the reality today is we all live such stressed and busy lives, spontaneous intimacy rarely happens. As the famous sex therapist Dr Tammy Nelson says, “if you can find time to schedule a Yoga class, you can schedule some sacred time for love and intimacy”. Remember, intimate time does not have to include having sex, or even if you have sex, reaching orgasm. Take the time to slow down and connect, cuddle in bed, look into each other’s eyes and talk about what matters.
Play and have fun – Once a relationship gets underway, life can tend to take over and become serious. There’s the mortgage to pay, kids to get to sporting events, social commitments and then all the housework when you’re not working. Having fun and playing with your partner is very important to support your closeness, enjoyment of each other and intimate connection. Go and see a comedy show, have a laugh together, play a fun sport you haven’t done before. Just like kids, play for adults is very important, but often forgotten in the busyness of life.
Pay attention to ‘launches’ and ‘landings’ – Sometimes the smallest things can make a huge difference to your level of intimate connection with your partner. One of these simple things is to pay attention to what relationship therapist Stan Tatkin calls launches and landings. Launches occur when you separate or say goodbye to your partner and landings are when you reconnect with your partner – generally at the end of the day. Pay attention to the quality of your separations and reconnections. Linger a little longer – look your partner in the eyes, drink in your love and affection, or embrace or kiss your partner a little longer so you can truly connect and tune into the emotional state of each other.
Be physically affectionate during the day – This may include sex, or it may just be holding hands or hugging. Being physically affectionate not only feels good, but it also helps promote a monogamous romantic relationship. The ‘feel good’ chemicals produced during sex facilitate bonding with your partner which further promotes intimacy in the relationship. Additionally, go to bed together. Going to bed at different times contributes to a pattern of disconnection and can undermine the sense of intimacy. Start by turning off technology, try leaving social media out of your bedroom and instead put this time aside to attend to each other emotionally and physically. This might be the only time you get on most days to really connect.
Try to be open and communicative about sex – Get in the habit of focusing on your partner’s satisfaction. If both partners have this ‘giving’ attitude, sex can become an incredibly gratifying, bond-strengthening and fun activity.
Make time for romance – Increasing physical and emotional intimacy doesn’t just happen naturally, it takes time and effort. Unfortunately, with the demands of work and children, many couples forget romance altogether. Without the romance, the relationship can become a drag and with that decreased feelings of appreciation for your partner can set in. So schedule romance into your life. You and your partner should create opportunities for intimacy, making times when you can be alone together where you can focus on each other and on your relationship. Creating time for romance will strengthen the ‘specialness’ you share together as a couple.