Are you looking to improve your intimacy? Enhance your sex life? It may be easy for some couples, and seemingly impossible for others.
While physical intimacy is important to the wellbeing of a happy marriage, it is usually a component of emotional intimacy and intellectual intimacy. A healthy marriage has all of these variables. Sex and intimacy are phrases often used interchangeably. But intimacy in a relationship is more than sexual intimacy. Or a weekly date night.
One researcher that has studied intimacy for more than 40 years, John Gottman, describes intimacy as a combination of shared meaning and helping to make each other’s life dreams come true. A sense of greater purpose and legacy provide intimacy.
Spend Time Together
But a couple can watch TV every evening and experience not experience an increase in intimacy. So much more is required.
Because it’s not proximity that matters. It’s the sharing of thoughts and feelings that matter.
Can you talk about anything and still enhance intimacy?
But intimacy is more than requesting: “Pick up the dry cleaning tomorrow.” It’s sharing your inner world, thoughts about that world, and about yourself that matters.
Shared experiences and novel activities co-create meaning. Even making up a secret language, or referring to some shared phenomenon with coded language can create this type of intimacy.
Novelty jump-starts positive emotions because on a biological level, novelty is good for the mood and brain chemistry. Novelty enhances dopamine.
One researcher believes that when the brain’s “play circuitry” is activated, it triggers the reward system in the brain, linking the sense of pleasure with being in the presence of their partner. For this reason alone, sharing novel experiences together is essential.
Not sure what’s “fun” anymore? While you can think back on what you did when you were first dating for clues, you may have to reflect further back.
Think about what you enjoyed doing as a child or teen.
Linking a sense of shared pleasure with what are called “mirror neurons” enhances the feelings of intimate connection.
One clinician called it “Intimacy Anorexia.” It’s often linked to both early trauma (called “Developmental Trauma“) and sex addiction. Imagine if heading out to a day at the beach resulted in a violent incident between your parents. What if the only “novelty” you experienced was terrifying?
Can you imagine how challenging it would be to share deeper thoughts and feelings as an adult if you have a history of abuse when you “told them what you thought” and you were guilt-tripped as a child for doing it? Or even punished?
Knowing your partner’s inner world requires not only sharing positive thoughts and feelings but also essential is the capacity to complain safely to each other. Living with anyone can be an annoying experience. Increasing emotional intimacy requires candor and openness. Openness means “vulnerability” for many couples.
When we can tell our partner with kindness and candor how we want them to change, the resentments fade and we become more interested in kissing with full tenderness.
Not all men and women value spiritual intimacy. However, married couples who share spiritual intimacy, along with bathing together and having physical intimacy report being happiest in one research study.
One exercise we suggest to couples who want to integrate more spiritual intimacy into their marriage we call “Dashnaw’s Prayer.”
In this nightly exercise, each person takes turns saying: “Dear God, thank you for this woman.” They then thank God for one specific act that their spouse did that they are grateful for over that day. Then they reverse it: “Dear God, thank you for this man.”
The only conversation is a simple “Amen” at the end of each person’s turn.
Being truly intimate in marriage is more than physical closeness. “Knowing” someone and allowing them to “know” you, as well as when your spouse shares novel experiences is important to overall intimate relating.
Dr. K is the President and CEO of Couples Therapy Inc. She maintains her online couples therapy and sex therapy practice for couples in Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona and California. She is a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist, has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and has been a AASECT board-certified sex therapist from 1982-2017. She continues to work as a sex therapist.