In honor of Valentine’s week, here is a continuation of some of the basic intimacy skills a healthy relationship requires of us:
- Make your relationship a top priority. Don’t spend your “prime time” consistently preoccupied with other things, and don’t permit yourself to be too tired when you’re around your partner. Consistently show up both emotionally and physically. Take an active interest in the other person and his/her feelings, hopes, hurts, angers and fears, and offer your emotional presence.
- You offer emotional presence by trying to deepen your understanding of your partner, and inviting him or her to talk about his/her struggles, aspirations and dreams. What does s/he worry about? Which activities, events or people bring him/her the most satisfaction in life? The most joy? The most pain? What is s/he most looking forward to? What are his/her goals and dreams over the next five years?
- Express warmth and be physically affectionate on a consistent basis. Being “sweet,” using endearments, being romantic, affectionate touch, cards, gifts, flowers, compliments, date nights—don’t underestimate the power of these behaviors if they’re done consistently.
- Address problems in a civil and constructive way. Many people respond to a disagreement or hurt feelings with anger, rage, name-calling, sarcasm, harsh judgements, criticisms, threats, disrespectful behaviors or words, or defensiveness—which poisons the whole environment between the two of you, and discourages open and honest communication. Make this mistake and your relationship will not be close, friendly or intimate. You cannot be disrespectful to another person and then expect closeness and affection.
- Listen for the longing behind your partner’s complaints. Some examples: “If we can’t control our spending, we’ll go bankrupt.” “We’re not having sex often enough.” “Life has too many chores and not enough fun.” In those examples, what would you guess that person is longing for? Yes, s/he might be asking for less spending, more sex and more fun, but s/he may also be longing for more of a financial partnership, more warmth, affection and romance, for a more equal division of chores and for more activities that you can enjoy together. If you address the longing rather than just the complaint, you are far more likely to fix the problem.
- Act loving: don’t just say the words: Nathaniel Branden, in his book Taking Responsibility (Fireside), reminds us that if we are in a serious relationship, and I say “I Love You,” you have the right to expect that I will be interested in your thoughts and feelings, and that when you speak that I will give you a respectful and attentive hearing. Furthermore, if I say I love you, you have the right to assume that I will treat you kindly and benevolently, and that I will be an emotional support system for you in times of need or distress. I am not promising to always agree with you, but I am promising to be on your side, to give you empathy and compassion, and to treat your feelings and needs as important to me.