One of the most magical things about being in love is the intimacy that happens so easily. It’s a thrill when warmth and acceptance flow so naturally you don’t even need to think about it. The closeness you enjoy may include sex, your smiles for each other, hugging, cuddling, kissing, and talking just so the two of you can hear.
As beautiful as it is, intimacy doesn’t rebuild itself automatically. Stumbling blocks emerge for every couple. Often, it is hard to know what to do. Fortunately, love does not require perfect people – just persistent ones. Love needs to be made over and over, like a fresh loaf of bread.
How Do Couples Lose Closeness?
A loss of closeness can happen at any stage of a relationship. In early marriage, some couples struggle to switch from social life to partnered life. One wants to remain involved with friends while the other envisions being home together. In our couples counseling practice, we see guys who keep going out to play sports or hang out with their buddies, while the wives are asking, “Where is he?”
Men, too, can feel sidelined as kids receive more attention, or when spouses have different social styles. Disappointed husbands say, “She’s always playing with the kids, or she wants to hang out with the neighbors, not with me.”
Spouses or partners pursuing careers may be expected to put in 50- or 60-hour weeks at work. For example, one dual-career couple is struggling even though they have over 15 years of marriage and two children. They only see each other one or two times a month between business trips. This makes it very hard to feel connected.
Retirement and aging impact the way longtime partners feel about each other. There’s a loss of meaningful activity and work relationships, and sex decreases as partners age. They still want emotional intimacy, but it’s often woefully missing. This can happen if there has been little attention along the way to a shared dream of making the golden years golden. They wonder, “Who are we together?”
What Makes It so Hard to Bring Intimacy Back?
It is human nature to seek out a supportive bond with a loving partner. It’s hard to maintain, though.
We may not see the everyday hazards that wear down our capacity for intimacy. That’s why it is important to recognize the ways that modern lifestyles challenge couples to stay together.
We have demanding jobs and stressful commutes. The support system we had growing up may be gone. Solitary habits take hold, such as watching television, playing computer games, spending hours tuned into headphones or online connections.
Ideally, our social circle forms part of our support system. Close friends and family help couples rebalance by providing needed perspective and emotional support (“He’s a good guy – you’re just mad he messed up”). We traditionally hold weddings with friends and family for more than a nice party. It allows couples to know who to turn to in a moment of need.
However, many of these connections fade as life takes us in different directions. The way we live today puts tremendous pressure on our partnership to provide everything we need. When the relationship is troubled, our sense of alarm is magnified since we have “all our eggs in one basket”. Lost intimacy is so troubling because we need to know we can rely on each other.
How To Bring Intimacy Back Into Marriage or Relationship With Your Partner
With all these challenges, it can be difficult to know how to tend to a relationship so that love, security and mutual support is ongoing.
When a couple is not sure how to work through a difficult time, they may wonder if they have what it takes to stay together. Some people question whether monogamy even works.
Author, researcher and couples therapist Sue Johnson answers yes, as partners we are meant to be together for life. We are wired for survival to seek out a partner we can trust and care about, and who cares about us. Lasting intimacy provides a sense of safety, belonging and well being that allows both to feel secure.
We know from studies and experience that human beings need more than a tribe or social group to thrive. We are driven to find connection with someone who matters, to form a bond of trust. A healthy lifelong partnership provides emotional security, and a place to give and receive the support each person needs.
It helps to know that wanting an enduring bond is natural. Intimacy is something you can renew and nurture. You can begin at any stage in your relationship. You may need to act from resolve this time, instead of momentum.
Intimacy Help for Couples: 5 Tips
Here are 5 tips to help rebuild the closeness you are looking for:
1) Find a trustworthy support system that is friendly to your relationship. Look for those who love and respect your partner. When you’re struggling, they can help you understand your feelings and see the whole situation – good and bad – and how to work through it in a respectful way. A good friend, family member or trusted counselor can help you find ways to turn toward your partner again.
2) Be able to bring up issues when they are small. Talk through issues with your partner when your emotions are less likely to overwhelm the information you need to share.
3) Be cautious about forces that pull you away from paying attention to your relationship. Look for habits such as social media use, TV watching, or computer gaming that may have displaced interactions with your spouse, close family and friends. Be careful to avoid paying attention to work or kids at the expense of your relationship.
4) Look for activities that nurture your relationship, as when you were first together. Sometimes, doing what you did when you first met can help rekindle the joy of being together. Then again, your abilities and interests may have changed. You can forge new fondness for each other by exploring and experiencing something new together.
5) Know that a foundation of “we” really matters. Remember that tending to your relationship means building a sense of ‘we’ in small ways every day. You can’t fall in love at 20 and assume it will take you all the way to 70. If you don’t meaningfully connect along the way, it is hard to pick up intimacy where you left off. Too much unshared life has gone by. Mindfully doing things together allows you to deepen your knowledge of each other and rebuild bonds even through change.
Unresolved conflict, passing time and bad habits can displace intimacy, but they don’t have to. Your personal decision about where to place your focus is very important. Intimacy has a better chance when couples put blame aside, and ask themselves what they can do to restore warmth.
You know intimacy has returned when you sense your agreement on shared goals, whether to support his career, her career, raise a family, or all of the above. You know that your relationship is the most important thing in life – more important than work, hanging out with the gang or the kids, or international travel. This fosters deeper trust in each other. Rebuilding intimacy means finding new ways to turn toward your partner to give and receive the closeness you are looking for.
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