Intimate love — 27 November 2006
How to recoup intimacy in your relationship

Even happily married people note periods in their relationship that are not sufficiently intimate. Others feel that the deep, close connection they used to have has been permanently lost and keep yearning for the tender bond they imagined would be theirs for life. All pairs can restore their desired intimacy by reactivating the sequence of connection.

The stages of human attachment are initiated in infancy with EYE CONTACT. Dr. Mary Ainsworth, a developmental researcher wrote: “The baby, when apart from his mother but able to see her, keeps his eyes more or less continuously oriented toward her.” Dr. John Bowlby, the British psychoanalyst who studied mothers and infants interactions added: “There is, however, no evidence that food in fact reinforces visual orientation to mother. What seems more likely is that the more a baby watches mother the more she is likely to move toward him and to gesture, to talk or sing to him, to pat him or hug him”.

In adulthood, all relationships also begin with eye contact. In attraction, the eyes reflect interest, which then leads to the second stage of TALKING. In infancy, parents model speech for the attentive infant, who through imitation responds with sounds to complete the interpersonal connection. In adulthood, the speech is the initial inquiry about further interest.

PLAY is the third phase of interpersonal connection. Parents play with their babies to the delight of all. In dating, after a short conversation, an offer to engage in an activity is proposed. A positive experience of shared conversation and fun play often cements the interest in continuing the relationship.

TOUCH is the fourth step based on the comfort both people have established in the previous three phases. Touch occurs respectfully and by mutual consent. It continues to incorporate deeper eye contact, talk and playful behavior. With time the relationship either ends or further deepens.

INTIMACY is the fifth and highest stage of an evolved connection. It adds commitment, which deepens the level of connection based on trust and acceptance. Each person feels safe enough to be him/herself with sufficient comfort about being heard, understood and respected. The fear of disapproval, rejection or abandonment is at a very low level. It feels intoxicating to be so authentically loved and safe.

The ideal relationship between parents and their infant changes with time as do love relationships. As life demands and responsibilities expand, as the euphoria about having the perfect mate fades and as disappointments about need fulfillment spring forth, couples withdraw from the “oneness” they felt early in their relationship. Anger and hurt are born with the advent of criticism, discontent and misunderstanding.

The fear behind anger and hurt is that one is no longer as valued as one used to be. When safety is reduced and fear of being less important and loved is increased – distance is created. Intimacy and distance are incompatible.

To restore intimacy:

• Couples need to understand that the four stages leading to intimacy must be practiced regularly. It is not a ‘once achieved –always there’ phenomenon.
• Ask yourself when did you last make eye contact with your partner that was open, inviting, curious and accepting? You can will yourself to do so today and every day, even if you harbor some frustrations and unresolved hurts.
• How would you define your conversations? Business exchanges, demands, complaints, orders, critical, angry, or accepting, curious and loving? Are you talking to your mate the way you would appreciate being spoken to? Could others detect the tenderness you have toward your partner?
• How much togetherness do you feel? What is your part in the state of your connection/disconnection? What do you need to give to improve your bond? (Not what your partner should do).
• When was the last time you initiated a fun activity that would also please your mate?
• How often are you in a happy, playful and positive mood? How do you use your joyous style in an inclusive way and help your mate smile?
• What is the frequency of your appreciative comments of your partner about his/her looks, actions, feelings and thoughts?
• When last did you speak enthusiastically about the merits and blessings of your union? Your family? And your partner’s contributions to the good life you have?
• Positive talk and actions help the hurt subside, the anger decrease and enables resolution of the pain toward deeper connection and love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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