As a couples therapist, I fairly regularly talk to romantic partners about the different ways they feel distant from one another. Sometimes it is sexually, other times it is about a mismatch in coparenting styles, but mostly couples simply say they do not feel “intimate” anymore.
For almost all couples, there was at some point in their relationship an intimate connection. Usually if we delve into this we discover that, in the beginning of the relationship, both partners felt enthralled by the other, interested in one another’s lives, having a great sexual chemistry, and really hanging on one another’s every word. The unfortunate thing is that, over the course of a long-term relationship, these kinds of behaviors will not always be there. We get to know one another’s history in such a way that learning about one another is just not as exciting, sex can sometimes be less than perfect, and the mundane aspects of daily life take the zest out of the partnership.
The good news is, when these changes happen, it does not mean that you and your partner are doomed to disconnect. The ways we build connection in a long-term relationship just looks different than it does earlier on in the relationship. If you are feeling that the connection between you and your partner is fading, challenge yourself to practice some of these small changes listed below. Remind yourself that connection between partners can be expressed and felt even in the smallest moments.
- Show that you are listening. Even in small moments. Nonverbal cues like looking at your partner when he or she is talking, nodding your head, or stopping what you are doing in order to devote attention to your partner are all ways to build connection. Even when your partner is just talking about how much she likes her new shoes, and you are busy getting ready for work, at the very least, look her way and smile. Acknowledge your partner’s existence and communication.
- Be engaged, even when it seems insignificant. Why not engage your partner in a quick conversation about what she likes most about her shoes? Or share with her how much you like how they look, as well? Even in this small, seemingly insignificant moment, you can build your connection with your partner by being open, interested, and engaged. It takes only a moment to do this.
- Pick up on conversations from earlier. Your partner will feel considered, thought of, and loved when you casually pick up on something he or she said to you earlier. If this morning he was talking about his favorite basketball team, later that night at dinner, you can ask him how his team is doing or tell him a story you heard on the news about one of the players. This small exchange can build a great deal of connection.
- Tell your partner when you are feeling close and connected. Sometimes we feel disconnected because one or both partners simply isn’t identifying the moments where there is a felt sense of connection. Actively saying, “I feel really close to you right now,” or “When you talked to me about my job the other day, it meant a lot to me,” can bookmark important, connecting moments for you and help your partner know what to do more of.
- Share your emotions as you have them. One important element of connection is being open and sharing your feelings with one another. It is about trusting your partner enough to be vulnerable around him or her. When partners share like that, it builds emotional intimacy and connection. Tell your partner your feelings, whether they are positive and negative, as a way of revealing who you are to your loved one.
- See conflict as an opportunity to connect and learn more about one another. Did you know that conflict can be an opportunity for connection? It can if you view conflict as a way to know more about your partner’s experience and join together as a team to fix a problem. If your partner is upset, get curious about why rather than defensive about why he or she has no reason to be feeling that way.