Intimate relationships are one of the greatest – if not THE greatest – sources of joy in life. But creating and maintaining a successful relationship takes time and energy – and growing it to the point of true intimacy takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable. With so many different things competing for our attention these days, it’s all too easy to find excuses not to put in the effort needed to grow and maintain the relationships we need to thrive. And so we find ourselves in a world where too many relationships fall apart before they’ve reached their true potential. Lovers drift apart because they’ve never developed the deep sense of connection required to overcome the stumbling blocks that occur in every relationship. Partners share a bed but not a life. Spouses sit side by side on the sofa but never share their deepest thoughts and feelings with each other – then wake up one day to discover that the person sleeping beside them is a stranger. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can easily grow and maintain healthy intimate relationships using these simple yet effective practices.
Listen. Listen deeply with focused attention to your partner eliminate other distractions so that you and your partner both feel heard. Sometimes when we have been with someone for awhile we think we already know how they feel, what they think or what they are going to say. Really LISTEN to your partner like it is the first time you are ever talking with them.
Be Curious. When a relationship matures we can think we already know everything about our partner but this is rarely ever the case. We might know a lot, at least the big stuff but get curious about what makes them tick. Ask them about their passions, dreams, fears and joys. Dive deep into who they are not just what they have done. Remember even after 50 years you can still learn something new about your partner if you are curious.
Fight. It is okay to fight if you do it the right way. Most experts agree that it is healthy to fight if you fight fair. It is not good for you or your relationship if you don't share the things that upset you. I am not talking about complaining about every little thing,(you also have to learn to let the little stuff go) but if there is a big hurt, something you don't think you will be able to get over without talking about it then by all means talk about it. It won't do you any good to hold it in and let the anger and resentment build inside of you. It will end up coming out later somewhere it doesn't belong and creating a bigger issue. Before talking consider taking some time (even for a day or two) until you can approach the subject calmly. If you are full of fresh emotions your true message may be lost. Ground rules: be respectful, don't say anything you may later regret, don't criticize or belittle the other person and stick to the subject at hand. This is not the time to bring up past arguments, stick to the current topic! Approach the disagreement with an intention of learning where your partner is coming from and sharing where you are coming from. It is not about right and wrong, consider that it is more about saying this is my experience and feelings how about you? Make sure each one of you feels heard. Then come up with a solution to prevent this same disagreement in the future. Believe it or not most arguments couples have are really the same thing over and over again dressed up in different circumstances. Always end with a solution both people feel good about that will be implemented in the future.
Be intimate. Intimacy with our partner releases the hormone Oxytocin in our body that acts as pair bonding to help form, and maintain the bond two people have together. Intimacy can be hand holding, kissing, cuddling, lovemaking or even a hug of at least 30 seconds can release the hormone and help to maintain or increase your bond.
Say kind, loving, positive things to each other. The brain unfortunately remembers negative words, actions, circumstances, experiences, etc. much easier than it does positive. Research tells us that when talking with our partner the ratio is 5 to 1 positive compliments to negative criticisms. How many times a day do you praise your partner? How many times a day do you complain to your partner? It takes FIVE kind comments to equal the impact of ONE negative comment! Remember the 5 to 1 ratio. If you are not saying 5 positive things to every 1 negative thing to your partner throughout the day, you are slowing eroding your relationship and turning your loving connection upside-down. Build up the love, not the negativity.
The effort and risk are more than worth it. Cultivating an authentic intimate connection with another person is one of the most profoundly enriching experiences life has to offer. But you can’t expect such relationships to just fall into your lap. You have to take action and make them happen! If you continually invest in your relationship and your partner you will experience lasting joy.