We Need to Talk:
3 Ways to Improve Intimacy in Your Relationship
I have been thinking a lot about intimacy in relationships recently.
Over the past few months, I have widely expanded my network of friends. I have embraced opportunities to meet new people in a business and social context and have formed great new friendships with fantastic, fun, dynamic and generous people all over the world. We talk about entrepreneurial things. We talk about fashion. We talk about travel. And we talk about relationships.
In these discussions about relationships, which often happen well into the night after a few glasses of our favourite drinks, we tend to open up. One of the things that I am realizing more and more as I get older, is that intimacy and sexual desire within relationships is a very complex thing.
Every relationship has its own unique dynamic, but what I am most intrigued by is the dynamic of communication within relationships. More specifically, what happens when you want to change that dynamic in your own relationship.
One of the recent friends I have made impressed me with his very upfront, open and honest relationship with his partner. They are open about attractions they have to other people, declare any infidelity, forgive and move on. They workshop problems and are stronger for it. They are best friends, fiercely attracted to each other, and most importantly, honest communicators. I realize that this is not typical. But it got me thinking.
What happens if the long term relationship you are in has been built on a very safe, even keel, for say 5, 10, 15 years?
You have never wanted to rock the boat. But deep down you have desires and needs that you suppress daily that your partner does not know you even have. All your communication and the conversations to date have all been pretty standard: work, household, family, the kids, mutual interests. Safe even keel.
What happens if you suddenly want to change the conversation?
Because for years you have been suppressing desires, needs, wants. Essentially, you have not been truthful with your partner because he/she sees you as one thing, however deep inside, your internal conversations are very, very different.
HOW, after decades of building a relationship around a certain mode of communicating, do you suddenly raise an entirely new conversation in your relationship?
I wanted to know the answer to this question, so I approached relationship counsellor, Hadass Segal, for her expert advice. Hadass explained to me that:
“People grow at different paces and sometimes they arrive at a point in their relationship where they want more – more depth, intimacy, exploration… But they aren’t used to communicating that need to their partner – or don’t know how to”.
Emotional intimacy involves knowing yourself and your partner deeply, while still sustaining interest and mystery. In Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, Dr Perel explains that we are biologically wired to hunt. When we have been together for a long time, we need to retain something to hunt for or romance will die. So the key is to get the balance of closeness and distance just right.
But how do we do that when our needs have become radically different from our partners?
Below, Hadass Segal shares her ideas on why we need to get honest with each other, and 3 key tips to help you cultivate intimacy:
3 TIPS TO GAINING, RETAINING OR RESTORING INTIMACY
1. GET REAL
Be honest with yourself about who you are and what you want, even if it doesn’t match the perception others have of you.
Have you always been turned on by feet / ears / leather, but too fearful of being judged to tell your partner?
Try giving your partner an opportunity to really know you by asking for what you need.
Relationship expert, Dr John Gottman, suggests a useful structure for talking through tricky subjects:
- I feel… (a feeling not a thought: e.g.: disappointed, frustrated, curious, excited, unsure…)
- About…. (be as specific as possible and avoid blaming. E.g.: My sex drive, my desire to explore different ways of connecting, our lack of regular connection etc.)
- I need… (stated in the positive, rather than “I need you to not…”. E.g.: I need regular affection / sex / massage / talking / chocolate)
- The reason this need is important to me is… (here’s a chance to dig deeper into your story. E.g.: I need to feel attractive / desired / close to you…)
Know your partner’s love language: He buys you roses, but you would rather he takes out the garbage? Chances are your love language is “Tasks” while his is “Tokens”. Marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman suggests we each have a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. Leading Australian sex therapist, Dr Rosie King calls these the five ‘Ts’ concept – Talk, Tasks, Time, Touch and Tokens. To elaborate:
- TALK: Words of affirmation (compliments, praise)
- Quality TIME (spending time together, giving undivided attention)
- TOKENS: Receiving gifts (presents, cards, symbols)
- TASKS: Acts of service (housework, childcare, fixing something)
- Physical TOUCH (kisses, cuddles, massage, sex)
Learning to speak your partner’s Love Language and having them understand yours is vital for intimacy. If you are a Tasks person, housework can be foreplay! Take the Love Language Quiz:http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/
2. BRING BACK THE NOVELTY
It is common to fall into a mundane routine after you have been together a while. Instead of the freshness and excitement of the early days, you get complacent and focus on domestic obligations and chores. How often do you try out new things as a couple? Trying something new activates the brain’s reward system, triggering the release of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, the same brain chemicals that are fired up in the early days of romantic love.
Try the following:
- Take your partner to a place that is new for both of you. This is to put you in the right frame of mind for planning to do things differently in the future. A change of scenery is fantastic for getting the creative juices flowing.
- Now take 10 minutes and write down all the things you would like to do together for the first time that you’ve never experienced. Be realistic but still get outside your comfort zone (e.g. do a different gym class together, organise a weekend away, go dancing).
- Share these with your partner and agree on 10 things to do more often.
- Do one activity every week from your ‘novelty list’ with your partner and have some fun.
- Once you’ve completed the ten items on your novelty list, come up with more so you continue to keep your relationship fresh.
3. PLAN A SURRENDER DATE
This is one of the best ways to experience each other’s’ desires. Set a date. Your partner agrees to do all the planning, and you go along for the ride. This helps you let go of the reigns, and gives your partner a chance to assert authority in a safe, sexy way.
- Your partner picks out your clothes and jewellery (even your underwear!).
- S/he decides when and where you’re going.
- S/he takes charge of all the logistics – the place, the cost, the experience.
The first time you go on a surrender date, it can feel scary to give up control — but that’s the point! A bit of pressure helps to inspire creativity in your partner and a stronger sense of trust in you. Once you’ve had a turn surrendering to your partner’s date, it’s their turn to surrender to yours. Push your boundaries, try something new.
The beauty of intimate relationships is that they are not static. Improvement is possible if we approach our desires and needs with curiosity and clarity, rather than fear. With the tools above, we can communicate more effectively with our partners and improve intimacy in our relationships.
Thank you Hadass Segal for providing the 40 To The Max community with such insight and resources to help us reach a higher level of intimacy in our relationships.
I will leave the final words to the wonderful Esther Perel, whose TED Talks just blow me away.