It is more than half-way through another year and nothing has changed. You thought it would “just get better” eventually. At times life happens and suddenly you find yourself staring at your partner thinking, “How did we get here?” “Can we reconnect or is this over?” “What about the kids?”
My question is not “How did you get here,” my question is “Where do you go next?”
Of course, you have the choice to stay or to leave, but I caution making either one of those decisions until you can reflect in both your headspace and heart space. As humans with defenses, we often end up in one space or the other.
Thinkers may get locked into thoughts, feeling little to nothing anymore. Maybe anxiety seeps in just to keep some part of you alert and feeling. For the Feelers maybe you can’t stop crying or blaming. Your emotions are so big that even you are scared and feeling hopeless. Maybe sadness or depression overwhelms you, leaving little to no hope for change.
There are tons of variations of this, but you’re reading this because you are interested in healthy intimacy.
One of my favorite quotes by relationship expert Dr. Sue Johnson regarding healthy relationship is, “Being the ‘best you can be’ is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.” IF this is true, how can we reconnect intimately?
Intimacy can be defined as “a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of.” This means it is more than sex. Sex can actually contain no intimacy whatsoever.
The intimacy triad is comprised of these types of intimacy: emotional, physical, and sexual. All are equally important for a relationship to be fully connected and healthy. The following four tips suggest where you might go next.
How to Reroute Intimacy and Connection
1. Actively Listen, Don’t Just Hear
Often, I think couples get lost in fighting to explain themselves. Most of us can relate that sometimes we just rage on the other person because we are so hurt or sad that our relationship is disconnected or feeling “off.”
Instead of butting in while your partner tries to share his or her perspective, why not listen? You may be thinking all you do is listen, but let’s not get that confused with hearing.
Active listening is, “fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker.” This seemingly simple skill will help your partner get the sense you are engaging with them, which creates a safer environment.
Listening does not mean you give up your right to disagree, it means you are actively trying to connect and draw closer to your partner.
2. Acceptance of Self
This probably sounds odd. What does accepting myself have to do with becoming more intimately connected with my partner? When we accept ourselves for who we are, we are much less likely to react so negatively to our partner’s questions.
Acceptance means we already have built insight about the “bones in our closet” or where we struggle in relationships. That insight is everything! It helps you to work on strengthening self-worth and focus more on why you do what you do rather than playing the blame game.
Sometimes we get triggered by others blaming us because we know they are right. It does not give them permission to blame, but what acceptance of self does is allow us to be more in control of how we react.
3. Acceptance of Others, Even When You Don’t Agree
Accepting the other does not mean we agree with all they do, have done, or will do. It simply means we let go of trying to change or control them into who we think they should be, and move toward letting them feel as they feel. We allow them to feel safe to express themselves in their own way.
Acceptance decreases your need to perform or fix and creates safety for honesty in the relationship. Sometimes we hide because we are scared we won’t be accepted by the very people we want to be known by the most.
Being able to be fully known and accepted causes some kind of magic to happen. Suddenly, it’s safe to be you or for them to be them. We can be imperfect or quirky without fear of being left or betrayed.
Of course, there are times when betrayal does happen. Someone steps out of the relationship to find what may be missing or to soothe themselves.
These steps are still the ones you take to restart after betrayal. It allows safety to occur so that both partners can share and be truly heard. Sharing more and blaming less can change a relationship pattern and direct it into new, exciting places.
Don’t forget this three letter word. Often couples get busy with careers, family, or trying to pick apart the relationship. Dating your partner for life is not just some cliché. (Okay, maybe it is, but there is truth to it.)
When you go to a new place to eat, do a weekend getaway, or even just go to a coffee shop and play board games together, you shake up the mundane. The stale gets kicked out! You’ll be a better person for it, a better parent, and a better partner.
Fun means we take care of the couplehood. We choose to care over neglect. Anything that’s neglected will eventually get sick or become unhealthy, right?
Caring for the couple does not make you less of a parent. Research actually shows that this increases the family dynamic and helps parents to become better connected even leading to healthier children. Our children need to see their parents taking time to care for themselves, not have it together, and loving big!
The couplehood longs for connection and intimacy. Not in one capacity but all three: emotionally, physically and sexually. These four tips drive connection, leaves room for mistakes, and can bring the couple back to the joy of being together. These tips are not a cure-all, but rather a guide for a couple’s journey to greater and healthier intimacy.