Whether you've just met someone, or you've been in a relationship for many years, you might feel like you sometimes have trouble connecting with your beau. Most often, that's due to a lack of intimacy.
Now, when I use the word "intimacy," you might be thinking I'm being euphemistic and I mean "sex" — but while sex can be a part of the intimacy pie, it's not even the main focus. Many of us have had sex with people who we were not really intimate with, other than physically. And hey, no judgment about that, but what I'm talking about here is intimacy as a larger relationship concept. Confused?
I like Tracy Goodwin's definition. The life coach and interpersonal communications expert defines intimacy as something you can have with anyone in your life, including a good friend, a parent or a child: "What really defines and determines an intimate relationship is the breadth and depth of the information that you share. Do you discuss things on deeper levels? Do you share feelings on a deeper level?"
"When we have intimate relationships, we start dealing in deeper levels of trust," says Goodwin. She points out that there is more risk involved in engaging in intimacy, and "that's one of the reasons people avoid intimacy — because they don't want to get hurt." Sound familiar? Fear is the biggest reason people avoid intimacy, and while it can be tough to overcome, it's not impossible. The upshot is that the rewards of real intimacy are tremendous — sex is better, disagreements are easier to work though, and day-to-day life is more cozy and enjoyable.
So, how can you get there?
1. Look into each other's eyes: In a recent, popular New York Times "Modern Love" column, the author explores how doing intimacy exercises, developed by psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron, helped her grow close to a man on their first date. There were 36 increasingly detailed questions for each other to answer, and then — four minutes of staring into each other's eyes. Mandy Len Catron wrote of the eye-staring: "I’ve skied steep slopes and hung from a rock face by a short length of rope, but staring into someone’s eyes for four silent minutes was one of the more thrilling and terrifying experiences of my life. I spent the first couple of minutes just trying to breathe properly. There was a lot of nervous smiling until, eventually, we settled in. I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever, but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected. I felt brave, and in a state of wonder." She feels that the exercise works, and yes, she ends up married to the man — so this seems worth doing if you're already in a relationship with someone; it might work for you too.
2. Quit the drama: If you are fighting and "breaking up to make up," think about why you're doing this. Do you crave the stress? Or are the emotions a substitute for something else? "Some couples create separateness by fighting and then making up over and over again. This allows you to continue the romantic trance, creating drama and avoiding real intimacy," writes Lynn Newman, who has created several self-discovery games.
3. Take date night seriously: It's so easy to fall into a rut. But familiarity can (for many people) let you be lazy — too lazy. Relationships and communication do take a bit of work, and that includes having a deeper discussion than what you're eating for dinner that night. One idea is weekly date nights: "By alternating weekly date nights, you have the chance to take the other person out and share something you would find fun with them. It doesn't have to be fancy, either. I've found that all that really matters to me is that someone has put some thought into where they'd like to take me, or what they'd like to share," writes Rachel Krantz, a senior editor at Bustle.
4. Listen: This one always comes up in any relationship advice you hear, and that's because it's always true. "I can't tell you the number of times I've heard ‘She/he just never listens,’ as I work with clients wanting to improve their relationship and sex life,” Dr. Fran Fisher, a certified sexuality counselor working with the Integrative Medicine Program of Sutter Medical Group shares in an article for the care provider. “Unfortunately, once communication begins to deteriorate, the other person's talking can begin to sound like white noise, or even worse — a constant irritating buzz." How does your partner sound to you when he's speaking? If you're tuning that person out, that's a real barrier to intimacy.
5. Hug: Sometimes things have gotten bad enough that you need to back up from talking to more basic forms of connection. A full-body hug for a minute or two can be a great place to start rebuilding intimacy. “I have seen remarkable shifts in relationships when this exercise has been employed,” says Fisher. “Both partners love the touch and enjoy the warmth of closeness with no agenda."
6. Put away the expectations: Some of the greatest barriers to intimacy are differing expectations. People expect things to be what they imagined, and when it doesn't match the reality, it feels like a failure. But take a good hard look at what you have with the person you're with. Is there really something missing or does it just look different from what you had expected? If it's the latter, reassess your feelings, looking at what's really happening between you and your beau and then decide if what's real is really problematic. Are there one or two things that you really DO need to be happy? Choose wisely and then tell your partner about them. And let go of the rest of what you expected your romance to look like, and live it for what it is.