As a marriage counselor, I very often think of myself as a teacher on intimacy. People typically don’t have trouble getting intimacy going. Making connections when things are new and different is fun and easy. However, maintaining closeness with another person over long periods of time is difficult. Popular culture usually is not helpful in setting us up for success here. In the fairy tales we tell our children the prince and the princess always get married and “live happily ever after”, just before the words “The End”. Most romantic movies end when main characters get together and are experiencing a state of bliss. Further our main way of handling a relationship or anything else that is not working is to move on or get a new one. So if you don’t want to get divorced around year 7 when the newness dies and tension has had sufficient time to build up, what do you do?
Marriage counselors (most famously Dr. David Schnarch) have compared marriage to a crucible. A crucible is a container in which substances are melted together at very high temperatures. A marriage acts in much the same manner. Putting two people together for long periods of time eventually heats things up and forces us to face our weakness and work out our differences together. The process, like anything that occurs at very high temperatures, is painful and can be dangerous. However, the result is something new that did not exist before. This new thing is the bond between two people, a we-ness or us-ness, that is one of the most beautiful and deeply satisfying parts of the human experience.
So there is good news and bad news. The bad news being you must stay in and experience the pain of the purifying heat if you want to experience lasting intimacy. The good news is, it is usually worth it. Of course there are times when divorce is necessary, and no judgement should be made towards those who make this choice. Everyone should be left to make their own path. Also, keep in mind that it is definitely possible to stay married and still avoid every last bit of the pain and challenging work it takes to form lasting intimacy. However, today I would like to honor the courage of those who stay in and face the heat.
Photo credit: washuugenius
As a couples counselor, I find myself talking frequently about the importance of maintaining intimacy in a marriage. It is definitely something that you have to work to maintain. Like cultivating a garden you can leave it alone for a little while and work on it in bursts, but neglect it for too long and it dies. Simply growing apart due to unintentional neglect can be a big factor that leads to marital dissatisfaction or divorce. It usually happens slowly over time. Some couples do not realize that they have neglected their relationship until it is too late.
In our busy, modern world with work, kids, and social media pulling us in so many directions, couples often struggle with how to do this consistently. First, keep in mind there are many different types of intimacy. Check out my previous post titled Cultivating Marital Intimacy: Types of intimacy. Also, one or two the easy tips below might help you figure out ways to work on maintaining intimacy consistently as a part of a busy lifestyle.
- Text a joke – Humor is a type of intimacy. If you come across a joke that you know you spouse would particularly appreciate or think of them because of an inside joke the two you share, send a text or email before you forget.
- Set a date to “stay in” – This one works well in two ways. Get child care outside the house, if needed, and stay at home together for several hours on a weekend. Or set a time for a “stay in” date on a week night for 15 to 30 minutes. Do anything that doesn’t involve screens. Play a card game, cook/bake something, or sit on the porch with a glass of tea or wine, hold hands, and look at the stars.
- Find a shared hobby – Shared hobbies can be a big help because they not only give you something in common but they often involve seasonal or regularly scheduled activities that you do together and you both look forward to. If you both love biking and you have been neglecting the relationship a little over the winter, when the spring hits your likely to automatically pull back in as you both get together to plan for the season.
- Try new things together – There is just something about experiencing new things together that creates a bond. Get out, explore, and try anything that you have not done before. Maybe you will find something great that you can do together again. Maybe you’ll find something you never want to experience ever again. Either way if you do it together it will help build intimacy.
- Phone reminders – Set a reminder on your phone to help you remember to do something extra once a month such as pick up your spouse’s favorite for dinner, send a email love letter, do a chore or task that your spouse usually handles to give them a break. When your spouse knows you thought about them in a way that shows you know them deeply or understand what they are going through, it goes a long way.
Photo credit: TheeErin
The inherent and universal need for intimacy and closeness with others is obvious. One author writing on the topic called intimacy “the essential factor in adults’ health, ability to adapt, happiness, and sense of meaning in life” (M. Popovic).
Marriage is one of the primary ways we attempt to meet this need. Additionally, there is extensive research that shows that long healthy marriages are associated with overall health. However, maintaining closeness with another person over a long period of time is difficult. It takes constant work like cultivating, maintaining, and caring for a garden. It requires continuing to prioritize one another despite all the business, distractions, and pain of everyday life. One good way to start is to recognize that there are many different types of intimacy.
Consider reviewing the below list with your spouse. No relationship has them all, but most successful relationships have a few. You may be able to find 2 or 3 types which are strengths. Many couples report not having considered a certain area as intimacy. Remember to congratulate one another on the areas where you are already doing well. Additionally, it may also help to pick 1 or 2 types where you would like to grow.
- Aesthetic Intimacy – Sharing experiences of beauty – music, nature, art, theater, etc.
- Communication Intimacy – Connect through talking. Keep communication channels open. Listen to and value your spouse’s ideas. Be loving, compassionate, respectful, giving, truthful, and open in your communication.
- Conflict Intimacy – Facing and struggling with differences together. Using resolution of conflict to grow closer together.
- Creative Intimacy – Experiencing closeness through acts of creating together. Sharing expressions of love in creative ways.
- Crisis Intimacy – Developing closeness in dealing with problems and pain. Standing together in tragedies. Responding together in a united way to pressures of life such as working through problems, raising a family, illness, aging, etc.
- Emotional Intimacy – Feeling connected at an emotional level. Being in tune with each other’s emotions; being able to share significant meanings and feelings with each other, including negative feelings.
- Financial Intimacy – Working together to balance differing attitudes about money. Developing a unified plan for budgeting, spending, and saving. Having shared financial goals.
- Forgiveness Intimacy – Apologizing to each other. Asking for forgiveness. Asking your spouse, “What can I do to be a better husband/wife?”
- Friendship Intimacy – Feeling a close connection and regard for one another as friends.
- Humor Intimacy – Sharing through laughing together. Having jokes between the two of you that only you share. Making each other laugh. Enjoying the funny side of life.
- Intellectual Intimacy – Experiencing closeness through sharing ideas. Feeling mutual respect for each other’s intellectual capacities and viewpoints. Sharing mind-stretching experiences. Reading discussing, studying together.
- Parenting Intimacy – Sharing the responsibilities of raising children, including providing for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Includes working together in teaching and disciplining them as well as loving them and worrying about their welfare.
- Recreational Intimacy – Experiencing closeness and connection through fun and play. Helping each other rejuvenate through stress-relieving and enjoyable recreation together.
- Service Intimacy – Sharing in acts of service together. Growing closer as a couple as you experience the joy that comes from giving to others.
- Spiritual Intimacy – Discovering and sharing values, religious views, spiritual feelings, meaning in life, etc.
- Work Intimacy – Experiencing closeness through sharing common tasks, such as maintaining a house and yard, raising a family, earning a living, participating in community affairs, etc.
Types of Intimacy directly from: Fife, S.T., & Weeks, G.R. (2010). Barriers to recovering intimacy. In J. Carlson & L. Sperry (Eds.) Recovering intimacy in love relationships: A clinician’s guide (pp. 157-179). New York: Routledge.
Popovic, M. (2005). Intimacy and its relevance in human functioning. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 20, 31-49.
Photo credit : Rebecca Krebbs http://www.flickr.com/photos/missturner/4565589703/
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Managing money is one of the topics brought up most often in couples counseling. As you can imagine, many husband and wives argue over this topic. These arguments can become frustrating and hurtful if they continue.
Others couples avoid arguing about money. They give up, keep separate accounts, and divide up the bills. Often these couples see their money management as a non-issue. However, frequently couples who have kept their money separate have set up separate lives in many other areas as well.
It is hard work to get two people to operate as partners on finances. But if you want a long term happy relationship, it is worth it. Often couples are tripped up because they think the money itself is the problem. Some believe if they could just resolve their differences about money all would be well. Others think by having separate accounts and preventing arguments they have solved the issue. In truth, both groups have only missed or avoided a deeper problem. Money is the symptom of the problem like your cough when you get a cold. Except with a cold it is ok to just treat the symptoms as they go away on their own within a week. If you ignore symptoms in your marriage, it is not likely to go away. Instead it settles in and festers like an untreated infection breading resentments that can over long term contribute to marital dissatisfaction or divorce.
Here a list of some common underlying problem that often are expressed through arguing over money or keeping money separate.
- Off balance with yours, mine, and ours – Every couple needs space, time, and material things that are their own. Shared space, time, and material things are also important. In a healthy relationship these are kept in balance.
- Lack of conflict resolution and problem solving skills – Navigating a long term relationship as partners requires skills for discussing issues of disagreement in a productive manner and reaching a mutually acceptable resolution.
- Not developing common life goals and shared values – Money in our society is generally a means to an end. Our life goals and values go a long way to determine how we spend money. Healthy, happy couples over the long-term work together on joint life goals and tend to share most values in common.
Of course none these are hard and fast rules. There very well may be many couples that have a generally healthy, happy marriage and still argue about money from time to time or have decided to keep money separate in some way. However, consider this perspective. If you think some of this may apply to you or your relationship has room to grow in one of the areas mentioned above, you may benefit from couples counseling.
photo credit: Howard County Library System
So many people struggle with healthy intimate relationships. What is real love, what does it feel like, and how to do I know when I have it. Pain from past relationships often create fear and causes poor choices with new relationships. Then if you are lucky enough to settle these issues and find a fulfilling relationship, the struggle begins to keep it alive. Many simply put their heart on ice permanently and give up on true, satisfying connections entirely.
How does one even begin to sort through all of this?…..In fact, there are many types of love and all of them are real. What most people really want are fulfilling connections that endure through the test of time and remain fulfilling. One way to begin to get a handle on this complicated problem is to look at a good model that helps to label the different types of love.
Robert Sternberg was a psychologist who developed a triangular model that helps us to begin to clarify what type of love we have and what type we want. He identifies 3 components of love:
- Intimacy – feelings of attachment, closeness, and connection
- Passion – strong drive to be connected including sexual attaction
- Commitment – the decision to remain together and the long term plans made with each other
According to Sternberg, the amount of love one feels depends on the strength of each of these components and the type depends on how these different components work together. A relationship that based on a single element is not expected to last as long as one based on 2 or 3. Also, consider that most relationships develop and go through different stages as time passes. For example, a relationship may begin with passion alone as infatuated love, later add intimacy and develop into romantic love, and finally marriage is proposed and consummate love develops. Consummate love is thought to be the ideal type. These couples are described as having joy in their relationship together, overcoming difficulties together gracefully, and experiencing good sex even after 15 years together. However, even consummate love must be maintained and this can be difficult. It is possible and quite common for couples to experience consummate love for a time but after the birth of children and weathering the stress of live empty love is all that is left.
Whatever your situation, just identifying the type of love you have or have had and the type of love you want is a helpful step in the right direction.
photo credits: frozen heart Lara Danielle, teachinghighschoolpsychology.blogspot.com, sophisticated relationships.com
Mindfulness is defined as present moment non-judgmental awareness. Generally mindfulness skills are taught to individuals to help individual problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, impulsive habits, and other medical conditions. Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to have many positive effects. It is discussed frequently in current news reports, and most people have some idea what mindfulness is or wonders if meditation might help them. However, a lesser know fact is that learning mindfulness can also help your intimate relationships.
Individual Mindfulness to help your Relationship
Of course simply reducing your own stress level can help your relationship. We all know the ease enjoying our partner is much increased when we are not feeling stress. However, there are several ways individual mindfulness may help your relationship beyond the obvious. First, mindfulness practice teaches you to become more aware of your own thoughts an emotions as they arise. Our intimate partners can trigger an emotional reaction that we later regret more easily than anyone else. As you become more mindful you may be able to observe these emotional responses as they arise and make a decision about how to respond. Additionally, common mindfulness practices can be applied to relationships.
- Savoring – Savoring is the practice of being mindful of positive experiences. In long term relationships the positive experiences with one another are often found in small everyday interactions. Good feelings towards your partner are usually deeper but more subtle than the big, overwhelming emotions of a new love. Try using savoring of positive experiences such as the time of day when you partner always remembers to bring you coffee or simple physical touch.
- Gratitude – The idea of making a gratitude list is often taught along with other mindfulness skills. Simply making a list of the things we are grateful for helps to balance out our brain’s natural tendency to focus on negatives more than positives. This effect of remember the bad and forgetting the good definitely applies to long term relationships. Try listing all the reasons you are grateful for your partner.
- Compassion – Loving-kindness meditation (also called compassion meditation) is a common mindfulness practice. By repeating phrases describing kind wishes towards ourselves and others we can grow our capacity for empathy and compassion like a muscle. Compassion can be defined as kindness in response to another’s sorrow or stress. Building compassion skills and the ability to stay with and hold the difficult emotions of yourself and others can greatly improve intimate relationships. Our life partner is often the primary witness for our lives. An increase our ability to hold one another with compassion during painful and stressful times grows our bond.
Practicing Mindfulness Together
Practicing meditation together in the same space can be an intimacy building activity. There are also interactive meditation practices that can be done together by focusing on the breathing of yourself and the other person, using silent eye contact, and attending to the felt sense of connection or disconnection as it flows and changes. However, many will find the informal practice of simply being together without having to say anything or do anything for a few minutes a day deeply connecting and restful.
Finally, there are several ways to describe how to apply mindfulness skills when communicating with another person.
- Waiting to speak and speaking slowly – With mindfulness conversations about important topic can be easier and everyday interactions can go deeper. This involves letting go of your own thoughts, judgments, and analyzing while the other speaks. Also, try only listening rather than trying to fix problems or change uncomfortable emotions. Pause when another is done speaking taking a moment to relax your mind and body and attend to your present experience of connection with the other. Then when you speak do so slowly enough to stay connected to your body and heart.
- Embodied listening – This is the practice of listening from the neck down. Attempt to feel in your body what the speaker is saying as well as listening with your eyes and ears.
- Three objects of awareness – When you listen to another person try to keep your attention on (1) Your body sensations, thoughts, and feelings (2) Your partner’s words, body language, and facial expressions (3) Your felt sense of connection and disconnection with your partner.
For more on building intimacy with mindfulness, including in person training and coaching, consider couples counseling with a therapist trained in mindfulness.
References: The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems by Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD and Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel, and Fulton