I have learned that each of us has developed our own tolerance for closeness and intimacy. We often find partners that complement this tolerance and meet our needs for intimacy. However, intimacy can be fragile and subject to the stresses we experience day to day, week to week and year to year. Over time, we can develop confidence and satisfaction even though these pressures challenge our intimacy and closeness. It is easy for us to get into comfortable habits that maintain stability and security. However, such habits can become rigid and nonconscious. When that happens, we are in danger of being vulnerable to outside influences such as one of us having an affair, working longer hours, making outside activities more important, having less time for each other and having more conflict and unhappiness.
The change in the regularity of the Petraues couple, the normal life and dinner together most nights are flags that are reminiscent of changes that profoundly influence the quality and security of their relationship even though they seem positive. That combined with their daughter’s upcoming marriage and its effect on their relationship could have been triggers for great challenges to their relationship and potentially serious problems.
In my work, I remind couples how important it is to nurture their relationship. Schedule time including playful and mindful activities that acknowledge how much we mean to each. Recognize that openness and empathic understanding are keys to maintaining closeness. Pay attention to how we talk and respond to each other. Howard Markman and colleagues have stated that, “one zinger is worth 20 good deeds.” Criticism builds walls between us over time.
Most importantly, take time to cool down after a conflict, then come together collaboratively to understand each other’s feelings. We can’t avoid conflict but the more we understand, respect and accept each other’s feelings, the quicker we can recover, recognizing how important we are to each other.