The Intimacy Project
By D’Arcy Vanderpool, MA, MFT, PCC
George and I have recently returned from an amazing vacation to Europe admiring castles, visiting palaces and museums, walking along cobblestone streets in medieval towns, experiencing awe in cathedrals and churches, and eating too much gourmet food paired with great regional wines.
During our time on the Danube, Main, and Rhine we also had a splendid opportunity to relax, communicate, connect, laugh, enjoy and bask in the moonlight of our relationship. We continue to savor and luxuriate in our loving bond.
Every relationship needs a boost of romance and an enhancement of reconnection. In my marriage counseling practice I am often helping couples to repair the damage they have done to their relationship. We focus on improving their communication, deepening their friendship, and repairing their bond. In this article I want to encourage you to find ways of enhancing your connection and love.
Five Keys for More Romance
There are many keys for improving your connection, romance and intimacy. Today I am focusing on only five:
- diagnose what is wrong
- make your relationship enhancement a priority project
- improve your communication
- repair your emotional connection
- revitalize your passion and sex
Diagnose What is Wrong
Take some time for both of you to consider what is wrong in your relationship. Do some writing and then try to have sensitive listening sessions around topics of unhappiness or possible discord. Share about your expectations of marriage, your needs and desires, how well your needs are being fulfilled, what you believe you and your partner are each doing to create emotional distance in the relationship and statements about the biggest hurts or disappointments in the relationship.
This is not yet a conversation – just compassionate listening. You do not have to agree on any of these things and you should not disagree, be defensive or argue. This part of creating more connection is about sharing your perceptions. Only respond with compassion and kindness about the other’s perceived experience and feelings. If you have difficulty with this step, please see a marriage counselor for assistance.
IF ONLY ONE OF YOU IS DOING THIS: Do the analysis of yourself through writing or in individual counseling. Use your curiosity and kindness to ask your partner questions getting his or her perspective without defensiveness on your part. Be grateful for any feedback you get and let them know it. Also do a great job of recalling the things they have said previously as well as understanding their perspective because you know them.
Make This a Priority Project
If both of you agree to make this the highest priority currently in your life, devote a minimum of 5-8 hours a week to doing activities leading to more connection and intimacy. If you don’t devote enough time to this, you won’t feel a change soon enough. Other responsibilities in life remain important but it is essential you put your intimacy needs at the top of the priority list to get things on the right track.
Outline the goals for this project. Tackle your Intimacy Project like you would a project management task for work – until you have it organized. Then let yourself get into the emotions of the project.
Schedule the time for this project. Perhaps you can devote an hour after the kids go to bed while you still have energy. Or 30 minutes in the evening might be sufficient. I hope you can at least create 10 minutes for sharing positive, good events of the day and compliments for each other. Schedule a standing date night and separate weekend time for communication (not logistics of life).
IF ONLY ONE OF YOU IS DOING THIS: Make this your priority and schedule the time yourself without telling your partner what you are doing. You can simply start doing things to complete your goals and encouraging your partner to join in. Lots of praise and positivity are needed. Ask them for date time and make it an enjoyable experience. When you communicate about the relationship make it positive. If you have a complaint, say it as a “want”. “I want to ride bikes together this weekend.” Or, “I would like some couple time for fun.” Or, “I want a sex date this Saturday. How about it?”
Improve Your Communication
To begin this intimacy project it is very important to set aside about 10 minutes a day for good communication. Make uninterrupted time for each of you to share 3 good things that happened in your day and why they are good. This will help you be more positive throughout the day as well as making your sharing about positive things instead of complaints.
Listen to each other and respond with attentiveness, interest, curiosity and excitement. It is important to be constructive and say positive things about your partner, as well as being happy for the situations and causes. Celebrate the other’s successes.
It is very important to talk in “I” statements about yourself not “you” statements about the other person. It will be better received and makes it difficult to argue over.
Anytime you decide to share something negative, try putting it into an “I want” or “I need” statement. Be sure to give many compliments and praise to your partner, Begin with one a day and move up to three as soon as possible. One loving text a day goes a long way. Just “kisses” is a great text to get.
When you discuss sensitive topics or things over which one of you is already angry, slow the conversation down and follow time-tested active listening. Follow these steps LSVAO:
- Summarize what the other just said
- Validate their feelings about what they just said
- Agree with anything you can, even if only how it makes sense to feel that
- Give your own opinion after these are accepted by the speaker. At this point you change roles of Speaker-Listener.
Understanding your partner’s perceptions and points of view allow you to resonate in their world. If you become an expert in doing this technique you have the opportunity to understand, feel closer, and not argue about right and wrong. You will know your partner better and can therefore make better decisions about how to handle and approach situations. It will create openness to each other and will bring down walls that you both have created in your emotional connectedness.
IF YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE DOING THIS: Do everything above and remember that you have to allow your partner to not know how to do these things. Be patient. Over time, as you use good communication skills the other person may be open to you teaching them skills, one at a time and with much kindness . If they see your effort, they may even ask you what you are doing and you can share this intimacy project with them.
Repair Your Emotional Connection
Think, speak and act with positivity. This is the time to try to become very optimistic and positive in your approach to life and your partner. You have to make life easy, enjoyable, peaceful and loving.
If you continue growing and learning you open your relationship to mystery, like it was when you first began dating and the romance was high. Mystery in an old relationship is difficult. If you provide something new about yourself, your spouse gets interested again.
Use all the above ideas to create positive, kind and interested communication and fun together. Spend time improving the friendship you have developed over your time together.
This is the time to try old and new things together. Take golf lessons. Hire a tennis pro to improve your game. Hike, ride bikes, tango, talk politics, talk the other’s interests, see local and international talent, attend the ballet, enjoy concerts, go to the symphony, jump out of planes, race on dirt roads, enjoy Razors, build a car, become French pastry chefs, put on international dinners for your friends, become wine aficionados, learn mixology together, have a sex date, and jump out of planes again… Find a couple activities you enjoy doing with your best friend.
Have a date with your best friend-spouse every week for the rest of your life. Begin by each of you alternating planning the dates. Select something enjoyable and don’t fall in a rut with movies and dinner. Those two are okay occasionally. Also don’t spend every weekend with your friends. Those dates are also okay a lot of the times but also give yourselves dates for just the two of you. Dates are for the couple to renew their friendship and enjoy each other’s company.
Be playful, tease each other, laugh a lot – be contagious with your happiness and love.
IF ONLY ONE OF YOU IS DOING THIS: Do everything above. You have to be the initiator and ask for what you want. If you aren’t getting it, do it with more kindness and love. If you aren’t getting it, do it with more and better communication. If you still aren’t getting it, set up a marriage counseling appointment and ask the other to go. If that doesn’t do it, go to counseling yourself and get a professional’s assistance. The wall between you is too thick to get through yourselves.
Revive Your Passion and Sex
Both your communication and friendship need to be at their best to revive your sexual interest and passion.
In these steps we are trying to prime the pump to get your sexual interest aroused and your passion re-ignited. Usually that will happen if you have done all the previous steps and developed skills in your Intimacy Project. Remember that the passion you felt in the beginning of your relationship – before you knew each other well and before you had real love for each other is not what you will get at this stage. There probably won’t be a lot of fireworks but there should be a flame. Usually you can rekindle the flame with your Intimacy Project time and effort unless you two did too much damage or one or both of you does not want to rekindle it.
Start with more affection. Hold hands; put your arms around each other. Sit close and touch on the couch. Snuggle. Cuddle in bed. Kiss. Kiss with some feeling. Use tongues and be in the moment. Hug. Hug some more. Say sweet things to each other. Be patient.
Talk about sex. Share what you like and what you don’t like. If you have some hurts or previous experiences that were painful or abusive, go back to communication skills before you move forward with sexual skills. Be patient.
If you haven’t been having sex all these activities will feel awkward. Let them feel awkward for many times but keep doing them and communicating about them with each other. The awkwardness will go away soon. If not, go to counseling together and get professional help. You may also need to see a physician. Be patient.
Be naked together. Massage one at a time without intercourse. Get feedback on what your partner likes or doesn’t like. Be patient.
Think of sexual activities like the Cheesecake Factory menu. It is big! It has many pages of things from which you can select. Write out your menu. Research lots of sex books. Go to the library or bookstore and on-line and look at sex manuals. Get ideas and write your menu. Make it as big as you both can do. Ask close friends for ideas. Eliminate items one or both of you do not want. This project is all about discovering and agreeing to mutual desire and sexual activities.
Do activities on your menu. Start with showers, baths, touching, sucking toes, stimulating activities, all the appetizers. Amp up the romance so your lover feels special and loved. Then move into your side dishes, salads and soups. If you missed tapas, do those too. Be patient.
Now you want to move into entrees and begin intercourse activities. Try it in different rooms. On different surfaces. In different positions. With and without toys. I do not recommend you bring in additional people.
Share three fantasies you each have. Act them out if you are both willing. Then share more. Always be sensitive to trying new things and make sure your partner also desires the new activity. Keep your communication kind, sensitive and completely honest. Be patient.
What do you have on your menu for desserts? Try them all; they are not fattening. Or are they?
Your Intimacy Project is complete for the moment. Now all you have to do is continue great communication and repair, great friendship and repair, great emotional connection and repair, and great sexual interest and activities.