One of my clients recently asked me how she could deepen the intimacy in her relationship. This got me to thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice to have a step-by-step guide to intimacy?" Here are some steps I think might be useful.
- Listening Empathically
- Time Together/Time Apart
- Working as a Team
Self-Awareness is actually harder than it sounds. I think we all go through life unconsciously repeating patterns. The question is, "How do you improve your relationship with yourself?" "How can you feel more present in your own life? Self-awareness means understanding yourself without judgement. This involves knowing how you're feeling at any given moment, understanding your relationship patterns, and understanding your hot button issues and how to handle them when they're being pushed. Two good ways to improve self-awareness include individual and/or group therapy and writing in a journal daily. Sometimes I give people the homework assignment of setting the alarm on their phones to go off four times a day. The specific times don't matter. When the phone goes off, ask yourself the following questions: "What am I feeling?" "Why?" and "What do I want?" This simple check-in increases your emotional awareness in the moment.
Deepening your self-understanding is a prerequisite to sharing yourself with someone else. Sharing yourself with someone does not necessarily involve disclosing deep, dark secrets. It involves being present with yourself and what you're feeling in the moment, with someone else. Good communication involves blurting diplomatically. In other words, thoughtfully sharing what you're thinking or feeling in the moment as appropriate. In addition, having really good boundaries, and being comfortable saying "no" when you need or want to, goes a long way in helping you feel comfortable in your own skin around the other person. Self-betrayal. or crossing your own boundaries, just breeds resentment.
Listening empathically involves paying attention to your partner and trying to really understand what they're saying and how they're feeling, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Unless someone asks for advice, don't give it. Statements that reflect feelings are much more supportive and tend to deepen the connection.
M favorite of these steps, and I think the most important one, is repair. Hurting someones feelings happens regularly in relationships. It may not be what we're shooting for, but it can't be avoided. This is where repair comes in. If hurts go unaddressed over time, they start to poke holes in the foundation of the relationship. If you're partner is hurt by something you did or said, even if that was not your intent, acknowledge their feelings and apologize. Explanation is OK, but only after you've said "I'm sorry." This process goes a long way towards rebuilding trust and maintaining a strong foundation.
Balancing time together and time apart is good for the relationship. I'm thinking of a tree metaphor. Time together is about deepening the connection, or building roots, while time apart develops the limbs and enriches the crown. Time apart keeps things fresh and new between you. A tree can't thrive without both.
And then of course there's working as a team , or maintaining a united front. This is especially important if you have children. Children need to know they can't divide and conquer (but that's another topic). This step is the belief that your partner has your back in all interactions with the outside world. Nothing and no-one can come between you. It feels like an imaginary boundary that separates the two of you from the rest of the world. It's not rigid, and both people can have their own relationships, but it is secure.
I've tried to keep it short, but there's so much more to say. Let me know what you think.