What's the difference between couples who remain madly in love, stay together and work through their differences versus couples who break up?
It's not dumb luck. It's ... intimacy.
I know, "intimacy" is such a clunky, awkward word. What does it really even mean? I'll tell you what it isn't. Intimacy is not just hugging and kissing after sex. True intimacy stretches beyond sex and is more about the deep personal connection between two people.
Lasting intimacy (the kind that happily binds people together) involves seeing the other person — really seeing them — in all their imperfect glory and loving them because of it, not in spite of it. It's seeing them in a spotlight with all their imperfections exposed (from quirky habits to snorted laughter), and wanting, and loving them more for it. Deep intimacy helps you see the true essence in one another, revealing a partner (and a relationship) worth fighting for.
In many ways, the crowning goal of a relationship is establishing and maintaining this deep intimacy. When couples say they broke up because "something" was missing or a spark simply wasn't there, a lack of deep intimacy is typically the culprit.
So, how do you create this deep connection and grow intimacy with your lover? How do you begin to drop the protective shields and defensive games that keep lasting love at arm's length? Here are 9 things truly connected and genuinely happy couples do to create that magical (even if awkwardly named) "intimacy:"
1. They share vulnerable things with each other
Vulnerability is often misunderstood as weakness. But actually, it's the opposite; it's essential in a relationship. Acclaimed author and researcher Brene Brown says, "“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection [e.g. intimacy] that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection."
When you're vulnerable with someone, you give your true self and not just a facade, not just the part that feels safe to show. And that takes incredible courage. But in exchange, you get your lover's heart. And, you lift your connection to a higher level by creating bonds with your partner in the places you feel most alone ... your weaknesses.
Vulnerability is the willingness to say "I love you" first. It's the decision to invest fully with all of your heart in a relationship when there are no guarantees. It's leading, even when you risk being wrong, or failing. It's asking for help, choosing to say how you feel instead of holding it in. It's discussing the things in your past that make you nervous for your future.
Trusting someone with your heart creates more trust, and trust is like a mirror — it reflects what's in front of it.
2. They play like kids
As the old adage says: Couples who play together stay together. And now, science backs that up. But why does playfulness keep couples together? Perhaps because play returns us to that carefree time of childhood, long before mortgage payments, 40-hour work weeks, and taxes.
When we play, we're present, fully focused on the joy of the moment, and curious about what comes next — all the ingredients that make the beautiful cocktail of intimacy.
In playing together, we create a freedom to express ourselves past the persona that we want the world to see. We step into the world of our imagination and connect with our partner in new ways (outside the box).
You don't have to join a sports team or bust out Candy Land to play together. Simply spraying your partner with water as you wash the dishes or getting in a wrestling match when both of you want the last piece of cake will do the trick.
3. They give, give and give some more
Generosity removes competition from a relationship, unplugging the "scoreboard" and replacing it with support and the feeling that there is more than enough (time, energy, attention, etc.) for each of you to feel abundant in the relationship. Being generous with your partner. You give, not to get ... but rather, because giving feels good. Helping your partner, or seeing him or her happy feels good.
Generosity alters your relationship from a transactional one to a loving one. Sometimes, being generous simply means giving your lover the benefit of the doubt, forgiving him or her when you feel hurt, or offering the one you love a sincere apology when you mess up.
4. They surprise each other
Surprise breathes life into relationships, creating unexpected magical moments. The element of surprise injects "good drama" into your lives, which helps flush out the mundane without contaminating your relationship with hurt or craziness.
At the beginning of a relationship, your dates, conversations, and bedroom romps were full of surprises. Really healthy, happy couples sprinkle surprise into their relationship regularly. It allows partners to summon their creativity, to see who can plan the bigger sweet shock, the most exciting adventure.
Of course, there is no need for anything overly epic: a surprise movie dinner date for no reason speaks as loud as tickets to Paris (well, maybe just a decibel or two lower). Fun and thoughtful surprises keep the honeymoon phase alive and thriving.
5. They stay in the moment together
Social media, Hulu (or Netflix or Amazon), work, kids, chores, community obligations — every day couples are pulled apart by countless distractions. But, carving out time to remain fully present with your lover is one of the most important ingredients to creating deep, lasting connection. Only when you stay in the moment can you fully see your partner and him or her see you.
Your full presence shows that you value your partner's company, thoughts, feelings, as well as his or her wants and needs. In practice, this looks like listening without fixing, and not walking out of the room when the one you love is still talking.
Staying present helps you tune with your partner well enough to know when something is wrong. At which, love grows when you asking about what's troubling him or her, even without your partner having to first say it.
6. They're super touchy-feely
Infants who aren't physically cared for literally shrivel up, and can even die. Although the consequences of not being touched aren't the same for adults (no matter what men might tell you), touch does have the power to heal, to lift your lover from depression, ease pain, and soothe a tired mind.
In the same vein, skin to skin contact floods your brain with bonding chemicals and, from there, it's a slippery slide to sex. For deeply intimate couples, sex becomes the reset button for their relationship. They know that more times than not, the root of problems between couples stem from subtle feelings of disconnection. That's why problems and conflicts that seem unsolvable shift and dissolve during pillow talk. Once you've restored intimacy, the friction washes away.
7. They fight hard for their love
Believe it or not, the right kind of fighting is healthy and supercharges intimacy.
Fighting defines healthy boundaries. Letting your partner know what hurts you, and what you're willing — and not willing — to put up with helps you both love each other better. An argument can serve as a platform for your true feelings to surface, thus revealing a deeper understanding of who you are rather than who you're pretending to be.
Healthy fighting is not fighting for yourself or because you're right; it's fighting to better understand (each other and the situation). If you're fighting to win, you've already lost. So, before you pick a fight with your honey, make sure it's for the right reasons.
8. They nurture a shared dream
A shared vision or dream inspires relationship growth, expansion and puts the two of you on the same team moving toward a common goal. A shared vision lets you travel down the road together fearlessly facing challenges as they arise (always having each other's back). Vision turns your relationship into an "us versus the world" game, bonding you together. Talking about past positive experiences and planning future events together creates and strengthens intimacy in powerful ways.
There is no need for large or life-changing future events; your shared vision might be something as small as going to the farmer's market, redecorating a room, taking a trip together, or starting a new challenging hobby together.
9. They hold their relationship sacred
Treating your relationship like it's sacred means honoring it in all its glory. This involves being selective about what (and who) you let in and out of the space around your relationship. It means not airing each other's dirty laundry to your friends or revealing secrets.
When you hold your relationship sacred, you raise it to a higher standard by saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Your partner knows where he or she stand with you. There is space for you both to relax and open up. This creates a faith in the relationship that is strong enough to carry couples through times when all seems lost.
Relationships, even the best ones, take continual effort.
You'll both make mistakes, you'll do things and say things you regret, and you'll hurt and get hurt. But, if intimacy sits at the root of your relationship — true, no holds bar intimacy — you will have the tools and rock solid bond needed to see your relationship past the problems and back what really matters.