Vail relationship column: Essential skills for intimate relationships, part 2
May 2, 2011
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series.
This is a continuation of the skills required in order to keep a relationship close and romantic over time:
Taking an active interest in the other person. Being interested in his/her feelings, thoughts, hopes, wishes, dreams, hurts, angers, yearnings and fears – and sharing yours as well. Giving the other person your emotional presence most of the time (as opposed to your emotional absence). Intimate relationships require both of you to be there for each other in times of illness, crisis, hardship, difficulty and disappointment. We all want someone devoted to our happiness, compassionate about our struggles and looking out for our well-being.
Taking an active interest in the other person’s sense of safety. This means I must remove my reactivity, defensiveness, anger, hostility, sarcasm, mean-spiritedness or negativity from our dialogues. Being emotionally safe also means that I will refrain from threatening the relationship (or hinting that I would be happier without you), that I refrain from name-calling, put-downs, belittling or disrespectful words and behaviors – even in the face of my partner’s insensitivity, withdrawal, anger or bone-headedness. Looking out for your safety also means that when I have a grievance or when I’m angry, I don’t say or do anything that will hurt you or otherwise cause you to feel unsafe around me.
Staying in touch. Being physically affectionate day in and day out. Initiating romance, and being receptive to romantic overtures. Affectionate touch is the aphrodisiac that will keep the fire burning.
Be accountable for what you say and do. No matter what traumas, challenges or pressures I face, it’s my job to maintain my balance and equilibrium so I can be present and loving toward you.
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One skill stands out above all others if you want to have a close, intimate relationship: the willingness to be a “student” husband or wife. Students don’t assume they know all the answers. They are eager to learn the job better, they take feedback and they’re willing to be taught. Accept that you will always be a student – and never the master. You must adopt the attitude that you are always a beginner in a relationship, even if you’ve been together for decades. Accepting that you will always be a student husband/boyfriend/lover/partner – or student wife – is the basis of emotional and romantic intelligence in an intimate relationship.
Any love, when it is ignored, not given a high enough priority or when it is treated poorly – deteriorates. Happy couples make their intimate relationship a top priority in their lives. They don’t spend their “prime time” consistently preoccupied with other concerns – or too tired.
The couple that plays together usually stays together. Another way of saying that is that the two of you must find ways to experience the joy of being alive together. That may include fun, entertainment, raising children, travel, recreation, sex, maintaining and improving a home, romantic pleasures and facing life’s challenges together.
Happy couples have figured out healthy, non-wounding ways of dealing with grievances, disagreements and past wounds – and they don’t clobber each other for mistakes or misunderstandings. Also, they have learned to speak wisely, and at the right time, and they refrain from speaking unwisely, or at the wrong time.
Build and expand “us.” In every troubled relationship, there tends to be a small “us” and a large “you” and “I.” To expand “us,” I must stay focused on our relationship and our partnership, rather than on myself and my own needs. I must look at the world binocular rather than monocular. Each of us must take it upon ourselves to become the guardian of our relationship, protecting and maintaining the union, the connection and the affection between us. You have an obligation to become a leader in your relationship and to grow the intimacy that keeps the two of you close.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His syndicated column is in its 19th year of publication. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com.