Most successful couples have found a balance between time spent together and time apart, but it is an ebb and flow that may be unique to each couple. There is no specific formula that would work for everyone. Once we know who we are and know our partner fairly well, we begin to work out a dance of closeness and independence that works for us. At different stages in a couple’s history together, they may notice subtle changes in their dance such as after a having a child, later on with an empty nest or during a change in career. This blog is going to focus on the period of time after the infatuation has deepened into love and friendship, which I call the Middle, since that is when the wish for greater closeness is most likely to arise.
In my years of working with couples, I have met many who thought that their primary problem, especially later in the relationship, was that they didn’t have common activities to share. I have always felt that shared activities or hobbies such as golf, the opera, or flea markets were not going to be enough to pull a damaged relationship out of the abyss. I consider those options to be enhancement to an already good relationship. I prefer to help couples develop interdependence that balances the need for connection with the need for space.
Intimacy, both emotional and sexual, is the glue that holds a relationship together for the long term. Some couples have a stable and comfortable social structure which they share, but don’t pay enough attention to the things that distinguish a committed romantic relationship from a good friendship. A strong friendship is also very important for couples, but if they lack intimacy the relationship may be more vulnerable to conflicts and affairs.
You may have noticed that at times when you and your partner feel especially close you are much less concerned with the triviality of household duties and annoying habits. Taking a long walk together, laughing after a crazy day at work, holding hands at the mall, or kissing in the kitchen are examples of small things that create connection and remind us of the reason we are together. Many women say that they are much more likely to feel sexually inclined when their emotional bank account has been filled with positive interactions. Men often report that they feel more giving and talkative when sexual needs are met.
Let’s look at closeness and see what it means for you. Check or write down items that would make you feel closer to your partner. Then number them in terms of importance for you. If you are in an intimate relationship, discussing this with your partner might be a good way to improve or maintain your connection.
Private time with eye contact and touch
Being alone together out of the house
Being alone together in the house
Having dinner and talking about the day
Cuddling on the couch or in bed
Sex with intimacy (talking, expressing feelings, laughing)
Sex (not necessarily emotional)
Sharing family time with children, relatives etc.
Enjoying an activity with another couple
Long vacations together just the two of you
Vacationing with others
Sharing any enjoyable activity – golf, bowling, dancing, playing cards
Discussing topics of intellectual interest (such as politics, news, psychology etc)
Talking about us, our future, our feelings, our needs
Doing things side by side (projects at home, decorating, shopping at a home building store, cooking)
Playing with children or grandchildren together
Sharing quiet time at home without children
Time spent in each other’s company doing something but not necessarily talking. (movie, TV, dinner, reading)
It is not unusual for couples to have very different preferences and priorities. Give and take will be required to bring life back into a relationship. If your romantic agenda is vastly different than your partner’s, it will be important that you learn to offer him or her things that make him or her feel loved and loving towards you. For example, if your partner needs touch to feel close to you and you prefer quality time together, you will need to become more conscious and deliberate about touching, which may not be easy for you to do. You are also asking your partner to do the same for you.
It may take time and patience for you to become more mindful of your own and your partner’s needs. However, if you insist that you have it your way, neither of you will be likely to get your needs met. Remember that having regular sexual intimacy creates emotional intimacy and being close emotionally creates sexual interest. It is a win-win because when you give, you receive.