Learning how to rekindle a relationship is one of the main reasons couples seek therapy. Rediscovering intimacy is a big part of the process. Intimacy doesn’t have to decrease over time. In fact, if you’re in a long-term relationship or marriage, a decrease in intimacy could be a symptom of a larger issue. Sure, you may want to go back to the time when you fell in love, but that’s not how things work. There is good news though. You can rekindle the spark with some intention and hard work.
While sex and intimacy are often used interchangeably, that’s not what I aim to do here. Let’s start by clarifying what I mean by intimacy.
What is intimacy?
Intimacy is a closeness that results from sharing your most vulnerable, authentic self with another person. It can involve sex, touch, sharing of feelings, or a general sense of closeness. For example, when someone tells their partner that they’re nervous about losing a job, that’s intimacy. Intimacy is built on vulnerability. Being able to let your partner see all of who you are, perceived flaws and all.
What can cause a decrease in intimacy?
There are a number of things that can cause a decrease in intimacy in a relationship. Betrayal, substance misuse, communication issues, and blame are just a few of the things that can destroy vulnerability.
Picture this. A couple in their early 40s. They have come into couples therapy because of a betrayal. One member of the couple has been hiring sex workers on the side and lying about it. The betrayal is not just about the sex itself. It’s about the fact that the partner who hired the sex workers was not being honest and open about it. There was probably a sexual need or desire they were not brave enough to communicate to their partner. Now they have some big repair work to do.
Chances are there is something going on under the surface that prevents honest and open communication in the couple described above. It’s easy to look at this situation and be judgmental. Yes, there’s some accountability and repair that needs to happen. But how can this couple have a curious and open conversation that will bring them closer together instead of pulling them farther apart?
Taking a risk
Rebuilding a relationship is a risk. If you’ve been hurt by something your partner has done, it takes a lot of courage to give them another chance. If there’s distance in your relationship, you will need to take a risk in order to have hope for change.
Men don’t have feelings
Young men, are all too often taught to deny our feelings. We learn to be strong and stoic. To keep it all inside and push through the pain.
To be in an intimate relationship as adults, it’s crucial that we learn how to feel, have, understand and communicate our feelings. Our emotions are little bits of critical information that can help us make choices and understand what we want and need. We can’t really connect with our partners until we know ourselves better first.
So many couples come into counseling with the complaint that someone in the relationship is emotionally shut down or distant. In straight couples this is often times the man. Come on guys, it takes some huge courage to jump into the emotional pool. Are you brave enough?
Making space for difference
Tolerating differences can be one of the most difficult tasks for couples to manage. What do I mean by this?
Couples often merge together, to the point where they have trouble holding onto themselves and staying in their own skin. This can create fear of conflict or conflict avoidance. On the other end of the spectrum by not sharing about your inner most wants and needs, you can pave the way for big blow out fights.
Think about the couple mentioned above, coming to therapy for betrayal recovery. There was something going on in their relationship that prevented them from being honest with each other. If they can let go of the judgement and make space for the pain, this couple has a powerful opportunity to grow. To rekindle their intimacy.
We’re growing apart
A lot of conflict or distance can quickly kill intimacy. If you notice that you’re growing apart or having more and more conflict, that could be a sign that your relationship needs attention.
Take a moment and think about how you know you’re growing apart. Are you having less sex? Fewer connected conversations? What is causing you to think you’re growing apart?
How to rekindle a relationship
Once you’ve identified what is pulling you apart, the really hard work begins. It can be challenging to change a pattern or address an issue. It’s taken a long time to get to this point in your relationship and change will not happen overnight. However, here are a few tools you can explore together to help start increasing your intimacy.
- Date night. It’s very important to have regularly scheduled time with your partner. During this time, you should focus on reconnecting and enjoying each other again. Turn off your phones, get away from the TV and find an activity that you can enjoy doing together. If it’s a regularly scheduled weekly walk, talk or dinner, put it on the calendar and make it the last thing you cancel. If you do have to cancel, reschedule. Make it that important. When you fall in love with someone, dating is exciting. Try and bring that energy back into your relationship today.
- Ask questions and really listen to the answers. We all want to be seen and heard by our partners. Ask your partner about something that is important to them and really listen. Pay attention! Follow up with open ending questions. Give them some special, undivided and caring space to share about themselves. If you want some ideas for fun questions, check these out.
- Do some work on yourself. Find a therapist, join a group or do some workshops. If you pay attention to your own self-care, you’ll have more energy to be a present partner. Put on your oxygen mask before you help out anyone else.
- Start a project together. For some couples who have lots of different interests, it can be hard to find overlap. Seek out a project or hobby that they two of you can do together. Whether that’s cooking, gardening or hiking, the time that you spend working together will help create a more intimate bond.
- Plan a trip. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a foreign country, planning something together is another great way to bond. When you work together, you’re getting a chance to hold onto yourself and negotiate with your partner. This will allow you a space to team build together. While this is similar to starting a project, a trip is a smaller thing that can allow you to find more sharing interests.
- Schedule sex. Talk about your sex life. While it can feel forced or silly to schedule sex, that can actually be the best things for some relationships. By putting sex on the calendar, you’re making sure it doesn’t get pushed aside for other things.
Pick one of the items from the list above and talk about it with your partner. Together assess how your intimacy is currently doing. Are you feeling connected? Is there more distance than you’d like? Experimenting with having more open conversations is one big step in how to rekindle a relationship. If you run into trouble or you’d like more support with this, find a couples therapist and begin the process of increasing your intimacy.