Many advice columns chalk intimacy challenges up to being too busy or distracted. But that is only the surface level of why you might not feel the full depth of your connection. So how can you improve your relationship?
Long-term relationships can be amazing, fulfilling, and life-enhancing. It’s meaningful to know you are lovable – even once all of our flaws are revealed. Having a sense of safety, attachment and the support of a loving partner makes you feel like you’re not alone.
At the same time, long-term relationships can be very challenging. Without attention, couples can end up with negative communication and interaction patterns that lead to resentment. You might start to take your partner for granted, and the sexual excitement you felt early on can wane over time.
Here are 3 essential tools to help you improve your relationship right now:
1. Put Yourself in Your Partner’s Shoes
One of the best ways to get out of those negative communication and interaction patterns is to put yourself in your partner’s shoes.
When you and your partner have contrasting needs or differences of opinion, you start seeing each other as the enemy. You could even believe that, in their attempt to get a desire met or share an opinion, they are purposely trying to hurt you. We have found this is almost never the case. The only time we see a person hurting their partner intentionally is when they feel so hurt or backed into a corner that they lash out.
Improve your relationship by seeing what it’s like to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Start with the premise “my partner and I sometimes want different things or have different opinions. This is normal. They are NOT PURPOSELY TRYING TO HURT ME.”
With this in mind, try one of our favorite games: Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. You can do this together or, if it feels too vulnerable, do it as a writing exercise. Imagine that you are your partner. Without interjecting your opinion, evaluation, or spin, try to make the argument they are making from their side. See how much empathy you can have and how non-judgmental you can be as you take their point of view. Allow their needs and opinions to be okay.
Think of your partner’s needs and boundaries as something that is for them — not against you. Bonus points if you can take some humor and distance to the situation! This can relieve a lot of stress and tension. When done well, putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and arguing their point of view will help each of you feel more heard, understood and ultimately improve the relationship..
2. Generously Offer Your Partner What They Want (Instead of What You Want)
Frequently, when we reach out to connect we do so to meet our own needs. Even if you know intellectually it is better to give a person what they want, it is much easier to stay within your comfort zone. Furthermore, if you are feeling deprived of what you need, you may be chasing after it from a place of urgency and scarcity — making you even less likely to get it.
This is where generosity is crucial. We find that taking the time to connect to your partner can hugely improve your relationship. And it will increase the likelihood they will want to be generous with you in return!
3. Create a Safe Container Where You Can Ask for One Thing Sexually
We can never say it to couples enough: if you don’t get intentional, communicate, and be creative, you will likely end up in a low sex, sexless or sexually boring relationship.
The time you can expect sex to happen spontaneously is over. The time to have honest, non-judgmental, supportive conversations about what each of you wants is NOW. Creating a safe container means that you and your partner get to ask for something they want without judgment.
While something that your partner wants might feel scary, there is nothing inherently wrong with what they desire. It is important to talk about it and not to shame them. It’s ok to have your own boundaries. If there is something they ask you don’t want to give, see if there is a way to play with it. For example, if you don’t want to do what they asked, are you willing to verbally fantasize about doing it together?
Finally – it’s possible you’ve asked for something from your partner they don’t know how to give it to. In those cases, lovingly, patiently, and non-critically teach them how to give it to you.
If you need help with improving your relationship, our books Coming Together and Making Love Real provide lots of guidance. For more personalized guidance, work with us.