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.
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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.
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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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