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You Can Get Closer by Synchronizing Your Breath

Simple actions, like gazing into your partner's eyes, can go a long way.

Robert Epstein, a behavioral psychologist and former editor of Psychology Today, has created a number of exercises, based on research about intimacy, to help build a romantic relationship.

He was inspired by his interviews with couples in arranged marriages—who fell in love and stayed that way. You don’t have to let it “just happen.” You can also take steps to revive love that is fading.

Here are a few of the exercises, some of which I have tried myself, and my own experiences with them.

1. Synchronize your breath. Hold each other close enough so that you can sense each other’s breathing. Gradually synchronize yours to your partner’s. I once was in bed with a man for the first time who was clearly terrified. On instinct, I synchronized my breath with his and he calmed down. We were able to decide that we'd be better off sleeping separately, and in retrospect I'm very glad we did.

2. Gaze into each other’s eyes while standing or sitting about two feet away from each other. This reminds me of the game “Serious” we play with kids, where the trick is not to be the one who laughs first. In this version, gaze at each other for two minutes and then talk about what you felt. My boyfriend and I do this all the time naturally.

3. Synchronize your movements. Take turns leading and following, with one person synchronizing her movements to the other. I experienced this by happenstance recently when I my boyfriend and I rented a tandem kayak, and we needed to synchronize our strokes. He had to tell me that I was going too fast, as my arms are shorter than his and it took him longer to complete a stroke. I found that the experience helped me slow down as well when we were in other situations where I tend to be quick—although not necessarily as clear-headed or thorough.

4. The classic trust exercise where you fall backwards into your partner’s arms. Trade places.

5. Trade secrets. But first write them down and trade the pieces of paper.

6. Practice empathy. Write down a thought and then spend a few minutes wordlessly trying to communicate it to your partner, who tries to guess what you are thinking. Then switch roles. The point here isn’t to get it “right”—but to practice looking at each other’s body language carefully and “putting yourself in her shoes,” imagining what he or she might be likely to think about.

7. Move physically closer. Stand about four feet away from each other and focus on each other. Every 10 seconds or so move a bit closer until, after several shifts, you are well inside each other’s personal space (the boundary is about 18 inches). Get as close as you can without touching. Often this exercise ends in kissing. I have tried this exercise in reverse—where my partner slowly moved away from me. I found that I became quite anxious. We talked about my anxiety about being abandoned and the relationship improved.

8. Bring your palms to your partner’s without actually touching. After several minutes, you will feel heat and sometimes even sparks!

All of this may seem gimmicky—not normal things you would do. But you can do the gazing, breath synchronizing, or palms exercise in many situations, even while waiting on a movie line or sitting on a subway. And simply bringing up the idea of the exercises and trying them together is a statement that you care about getting closer. If you find that you get very anxious during any of these exercises, that’s information, too. Perhaps you don’t want to be so close. Why? Should you listen to the feeling or move through it?

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