Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series.
In honor of Valentine’s week, here is a continuation of some of the basic intimacy skills a healthy relationship requires of us:
Make your relationship a top priority. Don’t spend your “prime time” consistently preoccupied with other things, and don’t permit yourself to be too tired when you’re around your partner. Consistently show up both emotionally and physically. Take an active interest in the other person and his or her feelings, hopes, hurts, angers and fears and offer your emotional presence.
You offer emotional presence by trying to deepen your understanding of your partner, and inviting him or her to talk about his or her struggles, aspirations and dreams. What does she or he worry about? Which activities, events or people bring him or her the most satisfaction in life? The most joy? The most pain? What is she or he most looking forward to? What are his or her goals and dreams for the next five years?
Be Physically Affectionate
Express warmth and be physically affectionate on a consistent basis. Being “sweet,” using endearments, being romantic, affectionate touch, cards, gifts, flowers, compliments and date nights — don’t underestimate the power of these behaviors if they’re done consistently.
aim for civility
Address problems in a civil and constructive way. Many people respond to a disagreement or hurt feelings with anger, rage, name-calling, sarcasm, harsh judgements, criticisms, threats, disrespectful behaviors or words, or defensiveness, which poisons the whole environment between the two of you and discourages open and honest communication. Make this mistake and your relationship will not be close, friendly or intimate. You cannot be disrespectful to another person and then expect closeness and affection.
Listen for the longing behind your partner’s complaints. Some examples: “If we can’t control our spending, then we’ll go bankrupt.” “We’re not having sex often enough.” “Life has too many chores and not enough fun.” In those examples, what would you guess that person is longing for? Yes, she or he might be asking for less spending, more sex and more fun, but she or he may also be longing for more of a financial partnership, more warmth, affection and romance, for a more equal division of chores and for more activities that you can enjoy together. If you address the longing rather than just the complaint, then you are far more likely to fix the problem.
Don’t Just Say ‘I Love You’
Act loving: don’t just say the words: Nathaniel Branden, in his book “Taking Responsibility” (Fireside), reminds us that if we are in a serious relationship, and I say “I love you,” then you have the right to expect that I will be interested in your thoughts and feelings, and that when you speak that I will give you a respectful and attentive hearing. Furthermore, if I say I love you, then you have the right to assume that I will treat you kindly and benevolently, and that I will be an emotional support system for you in times of need or distress. I am not promising to always agree with you, but I am promising to be on your side, to give you empathy and compassion, and to treat your feelings and needs as important to me.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 22nd year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.