Sometimes, a trip to Paris isn't enough to solve the problems in your relationship.
Intimacy: everyone wants it, and alluring advertisements suggest that you can easily have it if you go to the right beautiful spot. You only need to get to the beach of a particular resort or the right romantic bed and breakfast, and you can be like the couples in the pictures, who are walking on the sand, arms around each other, toasting over dinner with their eyes locked.
Sadly, it's not really that easy. I knew a couple who saved for a vacation in Hawaii where they had honeymooned 15 years earlier. When they returned from the trip, the man told me, "I know now I have to leave the relationship; even in Hawaii, in such a beautiful place where we'd had our best time, I couldn't feel 'it.'"
And many of us have had the same experience. We've been in a beautiful couple picture having dinner, laughing at the pool, looking great in a beautiful place. But inside we were lonely, wishing that he was easier to talk to, or listened better or that she didn't complain so much. Or we were just bored. It was too hard to engage each other. We felt we couldn't leave, but we also couldn't get back the feelings of excitement and safety, the feelings of closeness and, of course, intimacy.
Intimacy is closeness even though you are separate beings; two people who can feel like one. But after the giddy initial stages of a relationship when everything's new, intimacy changes and is different for every couple. It involves knowing who you are, who your partner is, what you have created together and what you can create. It involves having a plan for doing that.
And vacation, unfortunately, is not enough to build intimacy once it has been lost. The good news is that there are steps you can take to create intimacy at home — before you need to go to the therapist's office. Here are 3 exercises to help you create and build intimacy in your relationship:
1) Remember the past. Come up with a list of five specific times when you felt particulary close to your partner and ask him or her to do the same. Think about what each time was like for you, but don't overthink it. Instead, let memories surface. Then, when you both have a number of times in mind, sit down with each other and share. Don't worry that you may have selected different times. Just try to know what was special to each of you so you can know yourselves better separately and as a couple.
For most people, it helps to jot things down as you identify what you need and what you want out of the relationship. When you talk to your partner, it's important to give each other safely and attention. This is a time for exploring, not for challenging.
For my clients Rose and Dan, this exercise helped them realize that the most important intimate moments they had together were the long trips they have taken twice a year for nine years to visit family.
"It's just Dan and me in the car and we end up catching up on everything, even on fights that we didn't finish." Rose said. "It's when I feel closest to him."
Dan laughed, "That's the first thing on my list too. What I realized is that sometimes we started out mad at each other, and I expected hell, but by the end of the ride we were holding hands. It's just the two of us like when we were first together,"
"Sounds like a recipe for disaster for a lot of couples," I said. "Driving together for hours, no distractions. What makes it intimate for you?"
"I guess I always remember that I really like her," Dan said. Rose nodded.
"It's like when we were young, just you and me in a bubble," she added.
Once they both identified their experience during these rides, they were more conscious of what had gotten them into trouble as a couple. They had gotten into a pattern of not giving each other enough time. It seems so obvious that anything as important as love and as being a good couple takes ongoing time and attention. No one would expect their work to do well if they ignored it and yet it's all too easy for couples to expect love and closeness to just feed itself.
2) Do something special. Another couple intimacy building exercise that can bring you closer to your partner is doing something that your partner loves in an effort to know more about who he or she is. You may hate boats, but if your partner loves sailing, you should go with him on a trip in order to see why he loves it so much. Talk to each other about the experience and see if you at all got who the other is in those moments, instead of just rejecting the idea outright.
3) Be open and honest with each other. While websites like Facebook and Twitter encourage us to share all of our deepest thoughts and feelings with everyone we know, one great way to build intimacy with your partner is to save parts of your day, your experiences, your thoughts and your feelings for your partner only. This will designate your partner as having a special place in your life and in heart.
4) Express interest in each other without looking for common ground. Often couples seem to find it threatening if they're different from each other. They feel as though one is wrong and the other right, but that's simply not true. It's really OK to be different from each other. The great poet Rilke said that once people can accept their differences "a wonderful living side by side can grow up," and each person can see the other as whole.
5) Remember why you like your partner. Think about the things you like that your partner has done or said. You know how easy that is when you first love someone? You can't help but mention their name or something they said or did all the time. Try to recreate that feeling. Even if you don't say it aloud, think it: keep him/her in your mind in a positive way.
And, of course, once you've done these things, there's nothing wrong with booking a romantic couple getaway in a beautiful place. But this time, the photos will reflect real happiness — not just the image of it.
Carol Freund is a psychotherapist who sees couples, and, if you think she could be helpful to you, she invites you to contact her through her expert page on YourTango, or through the e mail or phone number on her web site: www.carolfreund.com.