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How Happy Couples Connect and Thrive by Mary Cantrill, Couple Therapist

Posted by admin 12:05 am, 2 May 2020

What is intimacy?
Often when we think about intimacy, sex comes to mind. This is quite a normal link as the words “sex” and “intimacy” are frequently used interchangeably. However, the true meaning of intimacy is “in to me see”. It is foundational for a long lasting relationship throughout life’s ups and downs. Longevity in relationships encompasses a combination of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical intimacy that fosters a deep closeness between happy couples. Sex is one way (of many) to achieve increased intimacy in your relationship.

The changing nature of relationships:
Relationships often start with lust and passion. The early stages (known as the honeymoon period) involve each person showing the best of themselves. It’s a fun and exciting time fuelled by endorphins, hormones and chemicals – making that closeness so enjoyable and easy.

Fast forward 12-18 months and the newness begins to fade. Couples start to bicker or argue. They may have sex less often. Things like flirting and trying to wow each other also subside. Each individual sees their partner as they are – warts and all. This stage involves falling in love again with the person as they truly are.

While it can feel as though the relationship has taken a turn for the worse, this stage is a normal stage of progression. It’s a time where couples are strongly committed to face life together. If everything has gone well during that initial courtship period, there is a bond that has formed, and steps are being taken toward mutual goals. Things are getting serious. It’s about love and living life together. The relationship has become more authentic.

Fast forward a decade or two and couples have experienced growth and transformation. They might have gotten married, had a child or children, experienced grief and loss together, and had a few other curve balls thrown their way. These experiences are revelations about the level of support available within the relationship to get through tough times. When faced with life stressors happy couples talk to about their emotions, can be a sounding board for each other to process what is going on, and/or to find meaning about their experiences. What is essential (particularly through the tough times) is having a partner who is able to be a confidante and primary source of support.

Resilient relationships and intimacy:
Resilient relationships are couples who engage in strategies that strengthen and/or maintain their relationship and promote adaptation to real life challenges. There are 5 strategies that have been found to be effective in preserving and improving the quality of relationships. These are:

1) Positivity: Interacting with each other in a cheerful and optimistic manner;
2) Openness: Discussing and disclosing information about the relationship with one another;
3) Assurances: Statements of commitment and love;
4) Social networks: Interacting with common friends and relatives;
5) Shared tasks: Engaging in everyday activities together.

These strategies promote higher levels of happiness, feelings of love, and reinforce cooperation and commitment between couples.

Alongside these strategies are key components for intimacy. These are (1) self-disclosure (revealing personal fact, thoughts or feelings) and (2) partner responsiveness. That is, the ability to attentively listen and convey understanding. It’s the degree to which one partner can disclose something important and revealing and the other is able to respond in a way that promotes feeling understood, accepted and cared for.

When to seek couple therapy?
When emotional intimacy feels it has diminished, and you are becoming more like roommates that soul mates, it is time to re-prioritise your relationship. Couple therapy offers skills and knowledge tailored to your relationship, to break unhealthy patterns of interacting and replacing these with approaches that will greatly assist you in forging a closer emotional bond. Letting hurtful interactions manifest over time will likely result dysfunctional behaviour such as lashing out or shutting down during conflict which become barriers to communication and feed into resentment, defensiveness, criticism, and contempt, making the original problem much worse.

Couple therapy is a safe and supportive setting where you can bring up difficult things. I am a trained professional with a warm presence ready to help you overcome your fears of sharing with your partner and getting the love that you want and deserve.

Author: Mary Cantrill, Couple and Family Therapist