Remember those first amazing weeks and months together as a couple? You only saw the best parts of each other. But now, has that all-consuming intimacy faded away? Did it take your sex life down into the abyss with it?
In a recent “Happy, Healthy Sex in Marriage” survey, 77 percent of YourTango experts said the top relationship advice they give their clients seeking to sustain a hot, healthy sex life is this: “connect emotionally before initiating sex.”
Intimacy ebbs and flows in all long-term relationships. It’s entirely normal. But there’s no need to settle for disconnect.
My clients —both, men and women — say they long for “more intimacy” with their partners. But what they often mean is: She wants discussion before sex. He wants sex before discussion.
After 30 years of working with couples, I’m convinced that what we each desire from “emotional connection” is compassion. We’re each saying that we want to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with our partners. We long to intimately reveal ourselves to our beloved — mind, body and soul.
Paul Gilbert, PhD, OBE, the creator of Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and one of the foremost researchers in the science of compassion in human relationships, describes a collection or “Circle of Components” which must consciously and creatively be practiced. Many of these are forms of intimacy we shared once upon a time. (Note: I highly recommend his book Mindful Compassion for more insights and guidance.)
If you’re ready to reconnect with your partner and learn how to save your marriage, here are 8 compassion-building activities. By practicing them, you’ll revitalize the “talk to me, share with me, make love to me” energy that helped you know you were right for each other in the first place.
1. Practice self-compassion
First and foremost, take care of you. Cultivate gentle kindness in the way you speak to yourself. Have a daily ritual or practice that brings you peace. If you’re bullying and hard on yourself you’re probably making your mate miserable, too.
There are thousands of books on ways to relax, meditate and become more centered: breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, a walk around the block. Find what works for you. Make it a part of your daily life. The better you feel, the more present you are in your relationship.
2. Turn off and tune out distractions
In today’s high-tech culture, “turn off, tune in, catch up” might be an apt axiom for getting emotionally in touch with our significant others. It’s hard, if not impossible, to pay attention in meaningful ways with the constant interruptions and distractions of modern technology.
For 20 minutes each day, make time to turn off your smart phones, computers and TVs. Stop texting friends. Stop answering emails from work. TiVo your favorite show for later. Tune in to what is happening with your partner. Maybe put on some soft music you both like.
3. Talk with open hearts (and open minds)
Really talk. Share happy moments, little victories, concerns. Ask questions. Then, listen (without judgment). True listening is an act of love. It is so rare in our media-jammed world. If you remember only one thing, let it be this: listen to understand, rather than the sole intent of being understood.
Listening is not a performance. Don’t fix, debate or personalize. Simply hold the space with your partner. Name 3 things you appreciate about him. Thank him for those special things you forgot to mention.
4. Look each other in they eye
Not around the room, or at his chest. Connect with compassion and fondness through your gaze. A loving look is often the most intimate communication of all. Remember how you gazed into each other’s eyes when you first met. See that person again.
5. Touch each other
This is a language that needs no words. Touch each other as a form of encouragement and support. An understanding hand on his arm. A gentle caress of her face.
Highly recommended: extended snuggling in each other’s arms. Share that comforting, connecting hormone, oxytocin, that makes us feel so secure.
6. Share your dreams
Revive and revitalize the things you wanted at the beginning of your relationship. Talk about plans seemingly forgotten, or a new secret wish. Don’t critique each other’s dreams, just listen and hear the “real want/need” under their big idea.
7. Mix things up — in life and in the bedroom
Novelty is important. Talk about sex. Remember your first time together (every detail!). Revisit moments when you hungered for each other in every way.
Want something new in the bedroom? Start by recalling sexy moments from your relationship’s “Greatest Bedroom Hits” and then try sharing new fantasies.
8. Schedule play dates
Go outside together. We can’t solve a relationship problem in the environment in which it was initially created. Take walks in the park, a hike in the woods. Get a new perspective. In 20 minutes your brains will have switched to a different frequency and other creative brain centers will fire up and get the opportunity to problem solve.
Does this take some effort on your part? Yes. A long-term relationship is the biggest single commitment you will ever make. Not only can it but it should genuinely be intimate, emotional, compassionate and sexual. These things are not guaranteed just because you once upon a time said, “I do.”
So, look over these suggestions and try saying, “We will.”