Looking at the emotional obstacles in marriage could be useful, says family and relationships counsellor Bryan Craig .
The early days of marriage are nearly always filled with intoxicating feelings of romance, desire and passion. These feelings create such an aura of excitement and uncertainty that they greatly enhance a couple’s awareness of the intimate experiences they share with their partner. However, even in the best of marriages, familiarity and predictability come to characterise the relationship more and more as the sense of novelty and the intensity of emotion wear off.
Gradually, the excitement and enthusiasm that once stimulated the marriage now begin to decline. Before long the marriage relationship begins to spiral downward.
Frequently, when things start to go wrong, couples try to get closer sexually, hoping to recapture intimacy and closeness. Others may try to talk it out, without realising that intimacy is an intensely emotional or affective experience that requires more than words and reasons. Still others will shift their focus away from the relationship to their involvement with their children, career, sports or other interests.
So what does it take to keep love alive? What are the factors that develop a greater sense of intimacy in marriage? Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship in which two people mutually respect and enjoy each other’s company.
These are the couples who know each other intimately, who are well versed in their likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams, and who have an abiding regard and fondness for each other that is expressed in big and little ways. Following are 10 ways that will help you to develop such a relationship.
The most important quality for enhancing intimacy in marriage is an attitude of goodwill and cooperation.
Displaying goodwill toward your partner is absolutely fundamental to the survival and health of your relationship. Showing your partner goodwill means that you are on their side and just as concerned about meeting their needs as you are your own. It means your spirits are open to each other and that you have empathy for your partner’s point of view. It means demonstrating feelings of fair play and a willingness not to impugn your partner’s motives.
2. Respect and trust
Mutual respect is a central ingredient in all satisfying, long-term marriage relationships. To have respect means to “look at” another and to see what is really there and what potential exists. So to show respect for your partner means that you recognise and accept them as separate individuals and that you value and esteem them for who they are, not for what you can get from them. Showing respect is not the same as romantic admiration, which is based on your idealisation of your partner. Respect is clearly about honouring and appreciating your partner’s separateness and the ways in which they are unique
If two individuals are able to develop a relationship based on mutual respect, a sense of love and trust will begin to emerge. Their trust in each other becomes a critical ingredient in creating emotional safety and fostering true intimacy within their relationship, as the genuine individuality and true selves of each partner blossom and flourish.
3. Effective communication
Social psychologist Elaine Hatfield maintains that intimacy is a process in which a couple attempts to move toward complete communication on all levels, and that the verbal expression of feelings within a relationship becomes the actual bedrock of intimacy.
Communicating effectively with each other involves the following skills: being sensitive to and empathising with your partner’s feelings; being able to talk with measured honesty of your own inner experience and feelings; actively listening; speaking and responding non-defensively; being able to validate what you have heard, understood and accepted as your partner’s message; being able to affirm and encourage your partner and demonstrate your affection for them; being assertive and asking for what you want; and being able to share honestly your beliefs, values, difficulties and accomplishments.
4. Mutual commitment
Commitment is the one quality that contributes most to the continuing development of intimacy and growth in marriage. In marriages that last, intimacy and commitment go hand in hand. A lack of commitment on the part of one or both partners is one of the surest and quickest ways of undermining a marriage relationship.
Any indication that there may be ambivalence or pretence about one’s dedication, loyalty or faithfulness only creates a sense of uncertainty and insecurity, causing a partner to become preoccupied with concerns about abandonment.
5. Expressing love
Couples who spend time together enjoying leisure activities or who consistently spend quality time with each other tend to enjoy a greater sense of happiness and marital satisfaction than those who have little time to be together. Couples need to be intentional in promoting their partner’s wellbeing and in improving the sense of bonding, attachment and intimacy in their relationship, by using the following “minimum daily requirements”:
a. Show that you accept their ideas, suggestions, solutions and feelings.
b. Voice your feelings of love and romantic passion. Say, “I love you” at least once a day.
c. Express your appreciation—give compliments and affirmation to your partner at least once a day.
d. Share your feelings. Give your partner one full-bodied hug at least once a day; kiss your partner at least two different ways each day; touch each other tenderly each day to express your love and appreciation.
Intimacy is very much related to an individual’s ability to be open to change and embrace new ideas. The fine art of compromise and the skill of shifting one’s attitude or behaviour to deal with changing circumstances and to cope with stress or crises are important parts of keeping love alive. Individuals who are rigid and insist on always being right are usually not people who are well loved.
Successful couples are also flexible about the roles they play in their relationship.
The way they adjust to situations and needs that change over time and the way they handle difficulties as they arise are critical to relational harmony and happiness.
Where both partners work outside the home, efforts need to be made to share the workload at home, if misunderstandings are to be avoided.
7. Resolve conflicts
Conflict is the gateway to intimacy.
Couples who are willing to face their differences and work through their conflicts to find mutually acceptable solutions to their problems, without being overwhelmed by negative emotions or causing each other to feel angry, criticised, misunderstood, ignored or put down, have found the way to develop a greater sense of understanding and intimacy.
While conflict can be a challenge to any relationship, it can also be a creative, growth-producing process that gives people the opportunity to say, “I’m sorry,” and restore the much-needed equilibrium to their marriage.
8. Sexual satisfaction
Giving expression to sexual passion is a core aspect of marriage and includes a desire for intimacy and closeness, both physically and emotionally. The level of sexual intimacy achieved is itself influenced by the overall state of the relationship and indicates how willing a couple is to respect, trust and cooperate with each other.
When marital partners understand and accommodate each other’s sexual needs, their lovemaking activities have the ability to strengthen the bonds of their relationship far beyond the bedroom.
Couples who lack the ability to pleasure each other and nurture a sense of spontaneity, curiosity and playfulness often find that their sex life is unexciting, unsatisfying, and boring, and that the relational bond they experience is diminished.
9. Spiritual values
Religious and spiritual values play a much more important role in marital stability and happiness than most people realise. The fact is that a couple’s spiritual orientation helps them make sense of life and provides meaning and purpose for virtually every aspect of their lives. While a person may be virtuous without being religious, religion does emphasise those qualities most of us would consider virtuous— honesty, integrity, responsibility, commitment, forgiveness and compassion.
Sociologist Andrew Greeley hypothesised that the warmer and more passionate one’s religious imaging, the warmer and more passionate one’s marriage—and that the higher one’s scores on the “grace” scale, the more satisfying and intense the sexual relationship with one’s partner is likely to be. He sees a direct correlation between marital intimacy and warm images of God.
10. Social connectedness
Within all human beings is an innate drive to connect with another—a drive crucial to one’s esteem and survival.
Couples who develop and maintain a healthy relationship with extended family and friends and who feel part of the wider community in which they live find that this involvement in other relationships typically makes available additional resources that energise and empower their marital relationship, by creating a greater sense of adaptability, tolerance, and openness to sharing. The improvement in self-esteem and relational skills enables couples to pursue and achieve a greater sense of intimacy and connectedness in their own marriage.
Couples who develop these intimate connections with each other are able to maintain a relational bond that grows and strengthens over the life of their marriage. They are able to give and receive love and be affectionate, playful and adventuresome. They can collaborate, cooperate, negotiate and communicate in effective ways with each other.
These couples are able to soothe, stimulate, touch, hug, hold, gaze, comfort, validate, listen, respond, support and honour one another and thereby create a safe, secure emotional environment in which love can flourish.Without question, intimacy has become one of the real casualties in our busy, high-tech culture. In
fact, many people have come to view the idea of achieving a happy, intimate marriage with some degree of caution, cynicism and suspicion.
In spite of all our unrealistic expectations and fears, marriage is still popular. Those who set out on the journey continue to see the marriage relationship as a wonderful way of meeting their personal need for love, friendship and belonging.
Men and Women
Communication is an important aspect in the quest for intimace in marriage. Communication allows the transfew of not only information, but also feelings.
Consequently, it is important to understand the differences men and women exhib in communication.