Issues with intimacy is one of the top issues that couples report when they enter couples therapy. They have lost the “spark,” they have stopped being affectionate, they have ceased expressing appreciation, and they often have started to sleep in separate rooms for various reasons. There are many reasons that intimacy starts to dwindle between couples, but it is essential to find ways to stoke the fires and keep them burning. Intimacy and affection are an essential part of maintaining a healthy relationship, but it takes work. For most couples, after time, children, stress, and the burdens of life, intimacy can start to take a back seat to other things, like sleep. Intimacy starts to move down the priority list, which in a way is saying that the relationship has moved down the priority list, since this is an essential function of a happy and healthy relationship. So what are some things that can help restore intimacy? The answers may not be what you think?
Each partner should do an exercise of telling the other something that they appreciate about the other, daily, for a set amount of time. This is an “assignment” I often give couples. It does not matter if it is face to face, by note, dry erase board, e-mail or text. It only matters that you say it. Couples ALWAYS come back to me and although they were hesitant at first, are beaming about the exercise. They find out things their partner appreciated about them that they never knew, and they are reminded that their partner notices and does appreciate the small things they do, they just stopped verbalizing it. More couples than not, tell me they are going to keep this as part of their routine, as is really does make them feel closer to each other.
Open communication is key. While that might seem obvious, this is another top reason couples enter therapy. This spans many arenas when it comes to a healthy, close, and intimate relationship. It starts with the couple’s ability to be able to communicate honestly and openly with each other on pretty much all topics. If a couple feels that they can’t share things with their partner honestly, they start to shut down and distance starts to be created. This also plays out in their intimate life, because if they can’t talk openly about normal everyday issues, they are not likely to talk about their intimate wants and needs in an open and comfortable manner. So, getting to the root of healthy communication will help to improve many areas of their relationship, and make them feel closer, which makes intimacy easier to express.
Shared respect in the relationship is another key factor in establishing and maintaining affection and intimacy. When partners sense mutual love and respect for each other, they want to be close to this person, and they maintain a certain level and type of attraction to them. When a partner feels that they are not respected by their partner, that they are not seen as an equal, that their partner does not think their work or parenting style is up to par, they start to resent their partner, and grow more distant from them. Respect is probably one of the key issues that starts to create unpleasant feelings and distance in a couple. Think about how hard it would be to be close and affectionate to someone you felt did not have a fundamental respect for you. We would struggle to want to be close to that person. However, think about how much easier it would be to be affectionate and intimate with someone you felt not only respected you, but supported you as well.
Trust is another key issue when it comes to affection and intimacy in a relationship. Trust spans many levels. If you do not trust someone to be honest and faithful to you, you would really struggle to open yourself up to them in this way and be vulnerable. You would have feelings of resentment, questions, and a level of instability that fosters distance and questioning instead of closeness and honesty. The other layer of this is that a couple needs to have a deep level of trust in their partner to have a healthy and open level of intimacy. If you do not trust your partner, you are not only going to withhold your wants and needs, you are not going to trust them to respect your boundaries and limits. This can be extremely detrimental to intimacy and this deep level of closeness, as it leaves each member of the couple on guard instead of being completely comfortable and open to one another. This typically leads to a lack of intimacy, and even a complete stop to it. So, talk out issues, express concerns, and make sure that you are feeling trusting and comfortable of one another.
Another important issue is to never pressure your partner when it comes to intimacy. We have to understand that we are all going to have times when we are not at the same level of energy, want, and desire as our partner, and that they will have times when they want to be close and we are just not there that day. Having the respect to know that it is ok and natural, that it is not about us, it is about them, and us, being human and not being in the mood, being tired, or just not having it in us at that time. I think one of the most important take always is to remember that it is not you! Do not take it personally. One of the most damaging things you can do is make your partner feel bad for not being in the mood, or not being able to perform. Making them feel shamed or guilty about it, is the surest way to make sure that it happens again. I cannot stress enough the long term damage you can do to your intimate life if you make your partner feel like there is something wrong, that you feel rejected, or that they are at fault for being honest about not being in the mood at a given time. Always remember that they are human, as are you, and that if you are being honest, you are not in the mood at all times.
Keep these keys pointers in mind, and you will have a solid base to your relationship, affection, and intimate life. You will be able to maintain a healthy intimate relationship, but perhaps more importantly, relationship as a whole. Hold hands, kiss, and tell each other why you love one another. The little things add up to a lot in the health and stability of your relationship. Mutual trust, respect, and support of one another also goes a long way to keep that fire alive. There is something about feeling supported, about knowing your partner is not only physically, but is mentally attracted to you as well. If you can keep those things in mind, and truly make a diligent effort to keep them practiced and alive in your relationship, you can be assured you will have a healthy intimate and emotional life in your relationship.