For many of us, the early stages of courting our partner involved a lot of resources and commitment to making the relationship a priority. In fact, we may have been teased about how much time we spent with our significant other at the expense of other areas of our life. Fast forward five to ten years and it may be a completely different story (the former would be comparable to the movie “50 First Dates” and the latter to “This is 40.”). Over time, many couples stop investing as much energy into growing the relationship as they do in other aspects of their lives (e.g., careers, children, education, extended family, volunteer work). Additionally, they may not feel like it is something that must be done today and can be done “tomorrow.” Like most things, if you don’t make growing your relationship a priority and put it at the end of your “to-do” list, it has a significant chance of being put off indefinitely.
Successful, long-term relationships require intimacy to grow and thrive. In fact, it is a component of several protective factors that help foster marital success. This article will explore what intimacy is and ways you can create more intimacy in your relationship.
What is Intimacy?
Often, people think “intimacy” is synonymous with physical, sexual activity. Intimacy is much more complex than just having sex. It is multidimensional; it includes emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, physical intimacy, and spiritual intimacy. Depending on the type of relationship, you may only develop a few dimensions of intimacy. For example, platonic friendships can be very emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually intimate, but may lack physical intimacy. In romantic, long-term relationships, many couples strive to connect in all dimensions of intimacy.
When achieved, people often report feeling very connected and understood by their partners, creating a sense that they can “be themselves” or live authentically. It can include having an insight into each other’s dreams, fears, likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. Often, it can generate feelings of “oneness” or “we-ness” which can be a powerful support in face of life’s challenges. The following is a list of ways you can create more intimacy in your relationship within its different dimensions.
Create More Intimacy: Emotional
Remember those early days of dating when you were just getting to know each other? Most likely you spent hours learning about each other, such as political affiliations, religious influences, life goals, career aspirations, musical preferences, worst breakups, most embarrassing experience, etc. In long-term relationships, those intimate conversations can often get replaced with more functional inquiries, such as “What do you want to eat tonight?” or “Did you pick up the dry-cleaning?”
Emotional intimacy involves sharing your inner most feelings and vulnerabilities. It’s the heart-to-heart dimension of intimacy. Here are a few examples of ways you can increase your emotional intimacy:
- Overtly express your feelings.
- Write a love note or message. It can be handwritten on fancy paper, with lipstick on a mirror, or even within a simple text message. The medium isn’t as important as the message.
- Plan regular check-ins to share your frustrations, fears, joys and successes. This could be shorter check-ins each day or longer ones once a week.
- Walk down memory lane.
- Watch a movie that you saw when you were dating and reminisce about your thoughts and feelings during the nascent stage of your relationship.
- Create a playlist or soundtrack to your early relationship (first date, first kiss, wedding songs, etc.).
- Look through old pictures.
- Create some fun interactions.
- Have an indoor picnic where you focus on sharing your dreams and fantasies.
- Take a romantic walk and share what you love most about each other.
- Find ways to support each other.
- Proof read articles (thanks, honey!).
- Compliment your partner in front of other people.
- Protect your partner’s image by not talking poorly about them to friends and family.
Create More Intimacy: Intellectual
How many of you remember feeling awed by your partner’s knowledge in certain domains? You may have even gotten turned on by seeing your partner shine in a particular field or expertise. Over time, those feelings may have been replaced with frustrations and annoyances with all the areas they haven’t mastered, such as taking out the trash, putting away the laundry or updating the grocery list in a timely manner.
Intellectual intimacy is the brain-to-brain dimension of intimacy. It includes sharing your thoughts, opinions, insights, and analysis on different topics. Ways you can increase your intellectual intimacy include:
- Find new hobbies that you can learn and share together. Painting, photography, gardening, cooking, etc.
- Take a class together (community, online, workshop, etc.).
- Start a mini book club together. Take turns reading chapters together or read separately and come back to discuss.
- Watch documentaries, TedTalks, or webinars together and discuss.
Create More Intimacy: Physical
A common complaint reported in couple’s therapy is sex has lost its spark and it feels very formulaic. In some ways, it is very understandable that couples might end up in a sexual rut. When limited resources are devoted to other areas of life, couples may engage in “efficient, linear progression” sexual activity. In other words, if you feel like you only have 15 minutes to devote to “sexy-time,” then you may move through the act very quickly with the goal of someone climaxing, rather than savoring and treating the time like a sensual, physical, emotional, and spiritual experience. It’s the difference between savoring a gourmet meal and eating fast food; one is an experience and the other is functional. Successful relationships find a way to incorporate both gourmet and fast food meals into their relationship.
Physical intimacy is the body-to-body connection of intimacy. Ways to increase it include:
- Plan to fool around just for the fun of it.
- Make out in the back of your car.
- Engage in heavy necking on the couch.
- Add a little spice to your relationship.
- Surprise your partner by jumping in the shower and giving each other a full body soaping.
- Go to a sex store and buy one new item (e.g., toy, clothes, sexual communication game).
- Read erotic literature or watch pornography together.
- Increase small acts of physical intimacy.
- Hold hands when walking.
- Cuddle on the couch.
- Give each other a 30 second kiss (not a peck!) when you leave and reunite each day.
- Take turns giving massages.
- Schedule uninterrupted, sexy-time.
- Stay overnight at a hotel or Air B&B.
- Send the kids away to “Camp Grandparents” for the weekend.
- Play hookey from work (or even take a long lunch break) and have an erotic interlude.
Create More Intimacy: Spiritual
In its simplest form, spirituality is the sense that we are connected to something greater. It can encompass formal religions, supreme enlightenment, inner peace, or any path that can help propel you from the physical dimension and generate feelings of inspiration or guidance. When you were just getting to know your partner, you may have had the feeling that you were connected on a level beyond the material.
Spiritual intimacy is the soul-to-soul connection of intimacy. Ways you can increase it include:
- Attend worship services together.
- Pray, meditate, or worship together.
- Develop spiritual rituals together that you perform frequently.
- Engage in activism, volunteerism, community outreach.
Intimacy (and by extension, feelings of love) is a choice. It is a choice to be vulnerable and share intimate parts of yourself with another person. We choose who we share ourselves with and how we create that connection each and every day. The more we choose to connect with our partner, the greater potential of intimacy. Considering the protective and quality enhancing nature of intimacy, we need to make conscious choices every day to include it in our relationships.
As this article highlighted, there are a variety of ways you can create more intimacy into your relationship. If you are struggling with this process, contact one of our therapists to help guide you through this process. We have offices in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Mechanicsville VA and Santa Fe, NM