Intimacy can be learned

Marital therapy literature has shown that as couples begin to get more comfortable with each other, they act less politely.

Elderly couple 520 (photo credit: Paul E. Rodriguez/Orange County Register/MCT)
Elderly couple 520
(photo credit: Paul E. Rodriguez/Orange County Register/MCT)
Maintaining intimacy in your marital relationship is a challenge for most couples. Sure, in the beginning of your relationship, there is often excitement and lust for each other. Even so, the marital therapy literature has shown that as couples begin to get more comfortable with each other, they act less politely in their communications. Couples often fall off the intimacy track as their lives become more demanding, especially with the birth of the first child, new financial pressures, career challenges, and other demands that are part of becoming a family unit.
There is also a second type of couple, one in which the beginning of their marriage was not grounded in excitement or intimacy. Some of these individuals have never felt “in love” with their spouse, and often do not desire intimacy and/or sexual relations with their partner. They stay married mainly because of their obligation to be in the marriage, whether for religious reasons, raising the children, a moral belief that divorce is wrong or fear of the unknown.
Nevertheless, there is good news from the marital therapy field for both types of couples who desire intimacy in their relationships.
It can be learned. Here are some useful ideas: 1. Try to let go and just have some fun together. Be impulsive. Go out and do something different with one another, something off the usual routine. One couple decided to do something they never did before, go to the sea at midnight and take a swim. One man I treated decided to surprise his wife with a weekend trip to Rome. The wife at first hesitated, but finally agreed to go and later described this as one of the most memorable experiences in her marriage.
2. Share your dreams together. One indicator of intimacy is the ability to openly listen to and/or share your dreams for the future together. When was the last time you asked your partner, “What are you thinking of right now? What would you like to be doing instead?” 3. Engage in productive fights. Fighting does not have to be seen as a bad thing.
People are not the same. Couples don’t always agree. There will be arguments.
This is okay; just remember, stay focused on defining the problem that you are fighting about and then solving it together.
Think- team.
4. Share your most vulnerable feelings with one another. Pride or fear often blocks couples from sharing their most vulnerable feelings. The core of good communication is to be receptive to your partner and to encourage open and honest communication about anything. This takes some work and trust, but couples who learn to share openly and honestly with each other feel like their partner is their best friend.
5. Work together on something that is important or even less important. No matter what the task is, try to work together on it in amicable way. I often encourage couples to try to do a project together. This could be something like remodeling a room in their home or studying a subject of common interest together. Working together on a common task can help bring about closeness if people remember to put their own egos on the side and try to stay focused on the relationship.
6. Be a loving “parent” to your partner when he/she needs support. One of the most powerful indicators of emotional intimacy in a relationship is to be able to take care of your partner’s emotional needs during times of crisis.
7. Be a safe child within the arms of your partner. The opposite side of giving is receiving. Allowing your partner to nurture you when you are in need can also foster a tremendous amount of closeness.
8. Surprise your partner when he/or she needs more support. This can be done in so many ways – offering your partner a back rub or offering to watch the kids so your partner can get some extra rest on the weekend; planning a romantic evening without telling your partner ahead of time; buying a small gift or surprising your partner with tickets to a show. These are all ways to build intimacy.
9. Ask your partner how his/her day went. Afterward, listen attentively and show concern and empathy.
10. Make love and be very communicative with each other about what makes you feel good. The marital therapy literature clearly shows that love-making and good communication are essential ingredients of a good and healthy marriage.

The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist practicing in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.