Blog Short #173: How to Maintain Closeness in a Relationship
Photo by kali9, Courtesy of iStock Photo
Relationships that thrive do so in part because the people involved develop deep levels of emotional intimacy and closeness with each other as the relationship evolves.
We like to think that closeness will naturally build as an outgrowth of love and commitment, and it does to an extent, but some other key components are necessary.
Today, we’ll review six essential practices that help develop closeness and intimacy and ultimately create an unbreakable bond.
I’ll start with the practices and then give you some strategies to facilitate them.
A quick note: Before we start, it’s important to note that all these practices work best when both partners participate and use them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them on your own, but you’ll be more successful if you both agree to work on them together.
1. Prioritize the relationship.
When you first get together with someone, it’s easy to prioritize the relationship because it’s new, and both partners want to give their full attention to each other.
However, as we all know, over time, other things intrude and demand attention, pulling each person’s attention elsewhere. Work, kids, finances, homemaking, etc., are all activities that demand time and attention on everyone’s part.
Relationships easily take a back seat to these demands unless a couple makes a concerted effort to carve out time and attention for their relationship.
2. Recognize and accept you both will change and evolve.
How you both were when you first met and became involved will change as time passes. Interests, values, beliefs, expectations, and goals shift. Your 25-year-old self may look quite different from your 45-year-old self.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have a core self that runs through the variations as you age, but it’s tweaked and refined by experiences, growth, and new insights.
Not only are you evolving individually but also as a couple, which requires staying abreast of individual developments and incorporating them into the growth of your relationship.
People who grow apart don’t do that. They neglect to ensure that individual growth and shifts align with relationship growth. It’s like a tree whose branches sprout in different directions while the trunk slowly rots until it eventually falls.
3. You must communicate.
Communicating involves both listening and talking and couples who are close do a lot of both. They share their deepest thoughts, concerns, emotions, desires, values, and beliefs with each other.
This is an ongoing process, something that happens so regularly that it’s part of your everyday contact. You become each other’s best friend, whom you tell everything and whom you trust and confide in.
Most importantly, the better each person becomes at listening with interest and acceptance, the stronger the connection.
It takes practice. It’s not something that necessarily comes easily, especially in the earlier years of a relationship.
You must talk a lot, listen more, and allow each other to open up and unfold. It takes consistent attention and work. Over time, as you both reveal more and more of who you are and feel accepted and loved, trust builds, and intimacy grows.
4. Face problems.
Close couples don’t avoid problems. They face them and work at them until they overcome them.
However, they don’t expect magic! They know that some issues take longer to resolve, and even when there’s no apparent solution, they have faith that they can find one.
In addition, they listen intently to what their partner needs and wants from them, and both do their best to meet those needs.
Also, close couples don’t compete with each other. They’re not happy when one person’s right and the other’s wrong. They want to find solutions in both partners’ best interests and work towards win-wins. Neither of them wants to win at the other’s expense.
5. Actively show appreciation.
Showing genuine appreciation for each other and the relationship is as important, if not more so, than solving problems. There needs to be as much or more focus on what’s going right and on each person’s contributions than on what’s going wrong.
A couple who spends most of their time hovering over every minor issue that arises at the expense of relaxed, positive interaction will eventually burn out.
Verbalizing appreciation for each other often deepens closeness and builds stability. It’s like having a substantial savings account to cover recessions or, more accurately, relationship regressions.
6. Stay committed.
Most people think of commitment as staying in a relationship no matter what, but there’s more to it. It means commitment to:
- Working at and prioritizing the relationship.
- Avoiding deception or betrayal.
- Honoring each other’s confidentiality.
- Treating each other with respect.
- Upholding agreed-upon expectations and boundaries.
Now for the strategies.
1. The Weekly Meetup
Once a week, set aside an hour or more, if you need it, to check in and go over any relationship issues that need attention. Some people don’t like this formality, but when you do it regularly, you can rely on knowing you’ll have a chance to talk about anything that’s on your mind or needs attention.
To make this work, it helps to set up some rules. Here are some you can start with and adapt to your particular needs.
- Each person gets equal time and can say whatever’s on their mind without interruption. Listening is the most critical skill here.
- Every problem doesn’t need to be resolved in one sitting. You can bring something up, and both think about it over the next week and revisit it.
- Talk about at least one (or more) positive things that are going well between you. You might have each person say at least one thing they appreciate about the other each week.
- Make arguing off-limits. Use this time to find out what you’re both thinking and feeling and what, if anything, needs work. Approach hot issues over time rather than in one sitting.
2. Make a “Like” List
At least once a month, make a list of everything you appreciate and like about your partner.
We have an automatic negativity bias, which keeps us focused on things that irritate and annoy us. By making this list, you’ll give equal time to remembering those things that initially attracted you and that you still appreciate.
3. Outlaw Contempt
Contempt is the destroyer of any relationship. If it’s a regular practice, you can count on the relationship ending, whether you do that legally or not.
Contempt includes personal attacks, insults, stinging sarcasm, scorn, and hatefulness. It also includes talking about each other to friends or family members in a contemptuous or overly critical way.
Maintain kindness toward your partner even when talking about them to someone else. And don’t divulge information about your partner that would upset them if they knew you were doing it.
4. Daily check-in
Check in with your partner every day. You might think you do this already, and maybe you do, but the quality of it is the issue. Checking in means not just asking how your day was, but also how you’re doing emotionally. What’s going on internally?
5. Use Humor
People who laugh together are closer. Humor connects us with ease. Close couples usually have quite a few inside jokes. They look at each other across a room and know what the other one’s thinking, especially when it’s something they both find humorous.
6. Spend Quality Time with Each Other at Least Once a Week
Make a date either out of the house or stay in, but focus on time together. This is different than the time used to approach relationship issues. This is relaxed quality time.
Spend time talking and being with each other, not just watching TV. It’s OK to watch TV together, but don’t do that in lieu of talking. Make sure you’re connecting, not just sitting in the same room.
Now put it all together.
In a sentence . . .
Be kind, attentive, loyal, show appreciation, face problems, talk, listen, and prioritize.
There you go!
That’s all for today.
Have a great week!
All my best,