What Couples Can Do To Improve Their Intimacy (Gottman)
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
When you see the word “intimacy,” you probably have an immediate reaction and definition of what intimacy means to you. For many, intimacy means sex. Although an essential part of intimacy, sex is not the only way to express closeness and connectivity. For some of you, the other parts of intimacy need to be present before sex, and for others, sex facilitates intimacy.
What is Intimacy?
There are many definitions of intimacy, but some broad characteristics build the foundation for more closeness in a relationship.
Trust is based on knowing that your partner “has your back” and that you can express your deepest fears and feelings. Trust means that you can express yourself without judgment or recrimination. You can be vulnerable, knowing that you will be loved and cared for.
Acceptance for who you are is the bedrock of an intimate relationship. Your partner accepts your quirks and differences and doesn’t try to change you. They love you for who you are.
Honesty and integrity go together. At its very basic, honesty means not lying or deceiving. It is expressing yourself with authenticity.
Sharing your deepest self is being vulnerable. Feeling confident that you can do so and be cared for is feeling safe.
Solid, truthful communication builds trust and intimacy. Without honest and consistent communication, things stagnate, and you can grow further apart from your partner.
Caring is one thing, but showing it is another. You can have feelings of caring for your partner, but you need to express it. Affection can be physical or by acts of kindness and thoughtfulness.
Yes, sex is a common expression of intimacy. But, the fact is, some people don’t view sex as the primary mode of intimacy. People vary widely in their need for and comfort with sex, and this can change over time.
How to Improve Intimacy
Intimacy is a work in progress. It takes continuous effort and attention to the details. These tips will help you improve intimacy in your relationship and create a happier and more stable partnership.
Communicate Your Needs
Why make it a guessing game? If you both communicate what intimacy means, then you have a path to follow. You could even consider making scheduled “intimacy moments” where each of you gets to decide on an activity that fosters closeness.
Turn off the Electronics
Looking at your phone, computer, or TV is passive and distracting. Turn off the electronics and do something together like going for a walk, talking about a book you are reading, massage, or even napping together!
Show Physical Affection
Hugging and other forms of nonsexual touching cause your brain to release oxytocin, known as the "bonding hormone." This stimulates the release of other hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, which reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine.
Spend More Time Together
We mean quality time! You and your partner might have plenty of time in one another’s company, but is it quality time? Try putting together a “fun list” of activities you each enjoy and schedule them. If you don’t plan these activities, they are unlikely to happen.
Couples have differing needs, wants, and desires when it comes to sex. Sexual frequency often lessens through time. Stress, kids, lack of desire are a few culprits. Another one? Hormonal changes. Hormones are a critical part of sexual desire. Men and women both have decreasing hormone levels as they age. Have your hormones checked and consider bioidentical hormone replacement.
If you need sex more than your partner does, think about ways to negotiate that need. You don’t want your partner to feel pressured, but expressing your desire is important. Sometimes just getting started is all it takes for a very satisfying experience for both of you. If you have a strong sexual need, there is nothing wrong with masturbation. Perhaps your partner might want to watch you masturbate or participate in some other way. Think outside the box and be creative in your approach.
Get Help if you Need it
Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, are pioneering psychologists who have studied and collected data on relationships for over 40 years. Their work shows that there are basic elements of a lasting relationship.
Dr. Gottman’s primary tenant is that anger is a part of any relationship. It is how that anger and conflict are handled that predicts longevity in a relationship. Dr. Gottman’s research shows that 69% of “happy couples” have the same unresolved conflicts years later but remain happy because they know how to get around their conflicts.
If you need help in your relationship, reach out to a couple's therapist. There is no shame in getting back on track with the help of a skilled therapist. Even the Obama’s had couples therapy!
Improve Your Intimacy and Improve Your Relationship
Just like anything else in life worth having, improving intimacy in your relationship takes work. Following our tips will not only help your relationship, but it will also improve your self-esteem and well-being.