Intimacy in and out of the bedroom

It’s normal for couples to sense peaks and valleys in their intimacy levels every so often, so here are some ideas for getting your intimacy back on track when you’re in one of those valleys. Sex is one way to build the intimacy that helps two people establish and maintain a long-term relationship. However, it’s also important to pay attention regularly to creating and maintaining connection with your partner outside the bedroom. Exchanges of appreciation and compliments can increase your bond.

Spicing it up inside the bedroom

Books, websites, and magazines offer thousands of sex tips. The Kama Sutra, “100 best sex positions,” and “sex games” are easy to find on the Internet or in a local magazine rack. Some of them work, and some don’t. Everyone differs on what "spices things up" in the bedroom. However, here are a few tips that might help you build sexual intimacy with your partner, whatever your preferences:

  • First, make sure you communicate your thoughts, wants, and needs about sex. That includes listening to your partner’s. To brush up on your communication skills, read “Talking about your sex needs.”
  • Define what’s "spicy" to you. What are some things you think will improve your sex life? What do you fantasize about? Then communicate that "spice" to your partner and vice versa. Consider your comfort level with typical as well as other kinds of sexual behavior. Present options to your partner and discuss whether you’re each willing try new things.
  • Be open to your partner’s version of "spice." It might not be your thing, but at least listen. Good listening improves intimacy in a relationship. It’s important you both feel you’ve been heard and your ideas have been considered.
  • Finally, have fun with sex and your conversations about it. It might take a few conversations about sex to really loosen things up. That’s okay! Be open to trying things your partner is interested in, even if you’re not sure at first. If you can get comfortable with an idea, then experiment. Remember: You might want your partner to try things you’re interested in too, within reason. Be respectful of each other’s requests and comfort level.

Spicing it up outside the bedroom

Holding hands, kissing, cuddling, and other affectionate behaviors can build intimacy outside the bedroom. Appreciative words and tasks show others you love them and are thinking about them. Such thoughtful expressions will build intimacy and, often, the desire to have sex.

One trap to watch out for is giving affection to your partner in ways that you find meaningful but he/she might not. For example, you enjoy nurturing words (“I love you so much”), but your partner looks instead for you to help with responsibilities (for example, cleaning the kitchen or running errands). Couples commonly get disconnected when one partner gives the other what the giver wants instead of what the recipient really needs. To effectively build intimacy, ask—and then do things for your partner that you know she or he likes.

A deep conversation can also build intimacy. Exchanging ideas, challenging each other, and sharing your own perspective can build connection because each of you feels heard and respected. Opening up with your own thoughts and feelings shows your partner you trust her or him. Ask your partner questions such as:

  • What are you most grateful for in your life, and why?
  • If you had a crystal ball to tell you the truth about yourself, your life, or the future, what would you want to know?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

Other ideas to build intimacy without sex include:

  • Hang out in your undergarments with your partner.
  • Take turn “spooning” each other.
  • Give a spontaneous massage—that is, without your partner asking.
  • Play-wrestle each other.
  • Get dressed in front of each other.
  • Let your feet find each other under a table when you’re out to eat.

References

Blue Star Families. (2017). 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey: Executive Summary. Blue Star Families, Retrieved from: https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/ExecutiveSummary-Survey16-Finalpages.pdf

Chang, B.-H., Dusek, J. A., & Benson, H. (2011). Psychobiological changes from relaxation response elicitation: Long-term practitioners vs. novices. Psychosomatics, 52(6), 550–559. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2011.05.001

Moorhouse, A., & Caltabiano, M. L. (2007). Resilience and unemployment: Exploring risk and protective influences for the outcome variables of depression and assertive job searching. Journal of Employment Counseling, 44(3), 115–125. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1920.2007.tb00030.x

National Center for PTSD. (2013). Learn to Communicate Assertively at Work. Veterans Employment Toolkit Handout. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/vetsinworkplace/docs/em_eap_assertive.html

Robson, J. P., & Troutman-Jordan, M. (2012). A concept analysis of cognitive reframing. Journal of Theory Construction & Testing, 18(2), 55–59.

Ślebarska, K., Moser, K., & Gunnesch-Luca, G. (2009). Unemployment, social support, individual resources, and job search behavior. Journal of Employment Counseling, 46(4), 159–170. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1920.2009.tb00079.x