When people think of intimacy, the first thought that comes to mind is generally physical intimacy. Experiencing a close physical presence with someone is indeed one of the primary ways one can be intimate with their spouse, but there are many other ways of deepening bonds with each other outside of physical contact. In my work with couples, physical intimacy is sometimes the only thing keeping the relationship together, and even that is starting to wane. When this happens, we work on rebuilding the marriage by cultivating intimacy holistically, which is like cultivating a plant. Intimacy does not always just ‘happen’. It takes effort and patience to grow an intimate connection. There are many areas to focus on and each couple is different, so I will have much more to write on later but here are two areas that I tend to start with.
To be intimate means to be emotionally available for your spouse. Sounds easy and obvious, but it’s one of the hardest things to do. We all have built up defensive walls around us, some necessary and some not so much. These walls protect us from negative emotions and keep us sane and are beneficial. The marriage relationship is very different than our usual relationships though. Learning to let down our guard with our spouse makes us vulnerable and is one of the first steps to becoming more intimate. I do not believe we need to have no protective walls around us with our spouse, but we need to learn how to let them in when we are ready. If we constantly hide behind our walls, we will become emotionally disengaged and this leads to isolation. Even a response of anger can be better than no response at all. If we are not able to feel safe enough to communicate our needs and wants, intimacy will be difficult. Learn and understand what causes your spouse to become defensive and communicate with each other how to work around that. Develop ways of communication that promote a safe place where neither of you feels threatened. Certain words or ways of communicating can be triggering for people. Make mistakes and learn so that both of you can find what both of you really need.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, physical intimacy is important to a relationship. But, this is not only sex or physical touch. I am always surprised to hear how much time a couple actually spends together a day. Usually, the reason is work, which is understandable, but I see many couples that do not even share time over a meal together. Their time together is in the morning getting up for work and at night when they’re about to go to sleep. I am not saying you need to spend hours together a day, I am recommending couples take as much time being physically together when they can other than sex. If sex is the only time there is a physical presence, then it is easy to fall into a maladaptive pattern of seeing your partner as only for sexual pleasure. Physical isolation has as much effect as emotional isolation.
Being there both emotionally and physically is hard-work, and this is the cultivating part. Setting aside time intentionally to be with your spouse both emotionally and physically creates an opportunity to deepen your connection with one another. Intimacy is not easy and never will be. It takes time to build close relationships and that’s okay! Let the commitment of marriage be the foundation to create a safe place for both of you to make mistakes and learn. If you feel like your relationship is in need of help in building connectedness, reach out! Whether it be a therapist or trusted friend, finding someone is always more helpful than going about it alone.
Written by therapist Daniel Pak
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