At some point in your life, you may have been lucky enough to fall into an easy intimacy with a friend or partner. It can seem like a perfect relationship, full of effortless conversations, shared secrets and a sense of certainty that you'll be together, either platonically or romantically, for the long haul. But not every relationship starts out with such a deep connection -- and not all intimate relationships manage to keep that closeness going as time moves on.
Relationships take work, and there are things you can do to encourage intimacy as your relationship develops. Whether you're looking to reconnect with your partner or deepen the bond you already have, we have 10 suggestions for creating a more intimate relationship. Let's start with turning off technology.
Be Present When You're with Your Partner
Using a cell phone while driving can be dangerous -- but according to a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, it may also put your family relationships at risk [source: Rosenblatt]. Here's why. Using your cell phone may seem like no big deal, but it can make you less available to your partner. When you're multitasking -- driving and talking on the phone, for example -- you're not focusing on the conversation and are unable to pick up on important social cues, which can lead to misunderstandings and a partner who is left feeling emotionally isolated and hurt. You're not present with your partner. You're dividing your time between the phone, the road and the conversation. To build and maintain intimacy, choose one thing at a time.
So, think about it. Does your iPhone get more attention than your partner does? Do you reach for it despite the fact that you're sharing a meal with your spouse or good friend? Do you bring your BlackBerry to bed? If so, you may find that unplugging gives you more attention to devote to your relationship.
Maintain Eye Contact
The eyes are the window to the soul -- or is it that the eyes are the window to intimacy? When you gaze into the eyes of your partner from across the table, you're doing more than just being attentive in the conversation: You're being intimate.
Eye contact is a key component to how we socialize with other people, and it's one of the most important pieces of creating an intimate relationship, romantic or otherwise. Known as the "anchoring gaze," face-to-face, eye-to-eye communication is a subtle, non-verbal way of making yourself vulnerable to another person. Eye contact shows trust and emotional openness, and it also increases our feeling of being understood by another person.
Be Physically Affectionate
Being physically affectionate not only feels good, but it also triggers our bodies to increase the amount of oxytocin produced. Oxytocin is often affectionately known as the "love hormone" because of that feel-good effect, but it also helps to promote a monogamous romantic relationship. And physical affection isn't limited to sexual intercourse -- even small gestures like holding hands or hugging count.
In addition to oxytocin, sex also increases the level of a specific neuropeptide -- a molecule in the brain that helps regulate areas such as learning, memory and reward -- called arginine vasopressin (AVP), which also facilitates bonding with your partner. Both substances play an important role not only in promoting intimacy between you and your partner but also in socialization skills.
Be Spiritual Together
Sharing your faith -- either a specific religion or general feelings of spirituality -- with another person opens life in not only a secular way but spiritually as well. A belief in a specific higher power isn't a requirement: On its own, a shared life philosophy can help build a connection to something greater.
Research has also found correlations between some religions and the romantic relationships of their adherents. For example, according to data collected between 1991 and 2004 by General Social Survey (GSS), couples who identified themselves as Catholic or with a conservative religious faith had a lower likelihood of cheating on their partner than their peers who had no particular religious affiliation [source: Burdette].
Being emotionally, mentally or physically intimate with a partner begins with listening to what he or she is saying and paying attention to his or her actions. It sounds simple, but it's not. To properly pay attention, you need to tune everything else out ... from your work stress and to-do list to your thoughts about what you'd like for dinner. Tune out your personal immediate needs, and then listen.
Active listening means being attentive, not thinking about what you'd like to say next. Look your partner in the eye. Be silent while your partner is talking, and when you do speak, be courteous and reassuring.
Be Emotionally Available
When you aren't emotionally available to your partner, you're withholding the intimate details of your life: the very opposite of what you should be doing to build a more intimate connection. What comes along with that is a decreased feeling of appreciation and value -- that specialness that comes along with an intimate relationship -- on your partner's behalf. After a while, that can have detrimental effects not only on emotional intimacy but also on sexual intimacy as well.
Make it a priority to share the daily details of your life with your partner, such as what's going on in your work life, as well as your secrets. Sharing the feelings and dreams that are unique to you shows your vulnerability as well as how much you trust your partner to accept the real you.
It's easy to get into a relationship with the idea that you'll be able to encourage your partner to change -- just a little -- to be closer to your ideal. But that idea isn't usually realistic or very fair to you or your partner. On top of that, the little projects you have in mind, like getting your partner to get a haircut, become a fan of your favorite band or stop wearing those awful shirts, are an obstacle to intimacy.
Acceptance goes hand-in-hand with encouraging another person to share the most intimate details of his or her self: hopes, dreams, goals, feelings and personal history. Your partner needs to feel confident that you'll accept and appreciate all those thoughts and feelings, not dismiss or make fun of them. And the same goes in reverse: Your partner should accept your thoughts and feelings, too.
Of course, there are times when change is necessary and important, like if you want to become thriftier so you can save up enough to buy a house, or if you or your partner's habits are causing health problems. But even then, your work should be based on trust and acceptance rather than criticism and judgment.
In a 5-year study, researchers at the University of Iowa found that newlyweds describe four different types of support, what they've labeled:
- Physical and emotional support: Sharing and listening as well as hand holding and hugging
- Esteem: Offering self-esteem boosts and confidence
- Informational: General advice-giving
- Tangible: Helping with additional responsibilities or problem solving
The trick is to supply the right kind and level of support as needed -- and to watch out for too much informational support. No one likes to feel they're being told what to do. Everyone has a different idea of the perfect amount -- and type -- of support. So, be sure to let your partner know what type and how much fits your bill -- and listen to what he or she tells you about the support you provide.
Laughter is contagious, and when we hear it, our brain automatically wants to get in on the action. According to multiple studies, including studies at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, we naturally mimic the gestures and facial expressions of those we talk to, a trait that is now also thought to include laughing [source: ScienceDaily]. We laugh when we hear a funny joke, when we play, when we're tickled … but laughing isn't just an indication we think something is funny. It's also one of the ways we bond with other people. Laughter is universal and a social lubricant, so go ahead and see that new Seth Rogen movie on date night -- not only will your laughter boost your mood, but it just might boost your bonding.
Find Common Interests and Pursue Them Together
The seven-year itch, the witching hour when couples are said to lose interest in their relationship, isn't necessarily a myth. According to 2001 data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, first marriages that ultimately end in divorce last an average of eight years, with separation happening after seven years of marriage [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. And researchers at the University of Michigan and Stony Brook University found that couples who were growing bored with their relationship after seven years together were less close to each other and less satisfied with their marriage [source: ScienceDaily].
Nip the boredom bug before it bites by sharing experiences together. What common interests do you have? These experiences not only increase your closeness because you're actively engaging in an activity together but they also give you a shared history, and if you're lucky a few inside jokes.
Find out more relationship tips by following the links on the next page.
Losing a loved one through death or a breakup is always painful. HowStuffWorks looks at whether seeking 'closure' is the healthy way to move on.
- 10 Reasons Long-distance Relationships Just Don't Work
- Top 10 Marriage Myths
- Top 5 Science of Sex Appeal Videos
- "Anticipate the positive--and health benefits may follow." Loma Linda University News. Loma Linda University Medical Center. 2006.http://www.llu.edu/news/today/today_story.page?id=925
- "The Art of Active Listening." National Association of State Units on Aging.http://www.nasua.org/pdf/TipSheet1ActiveListening.pdf
- Brock, RL.; Lawrence, E. "Too much of a good thing: underprovision versus overprovision of partner support." Journal of Family Psychology. 2009.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776033/
- "Building Intimacy." San Jose Couples Counseling.http://www.sanjosecouplescounseling.com/sjcouples/intimacy.cfm
- Burdette, A. M.; Ellison, C. G.; Sherkat, D. E.; Gore, K. A."Are There Religious Variations in Marital Infidelity" Journal of Family Issues. Vol. 28, No. 12. 2007.http://jfi.sagepub.com/content/28/12/1553.full.pdf+html
- Cassens Weiss, Debra. "Some Experts Fear Technology Is Like Catnip, And It's Harming Our Ability to Focus." American Bar Association Journal, 2010.http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/some_experts_fear_technology_is_like_catnip_and_its_harming_our_ability_to_/
- Davidhizar, R. "Interpersonal communication: a review of eye contact." Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. Vol. 13, No. 4. 1992.http://www.jstor.org/pss/30147101
- Ebstein, RP; Israel, S; Lerer, E; Uzefovsky, F; Shalev, I; Gritsenko, I; Riebold, M; Salomon, S; Yirmiya, N. "Arginine vasopressin and oxytocin modulate human social behavior." Department of Psychology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Herzog Memorial Hospital. 2009.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19580556
- Harmon, Katherine. "Motivated Multitasking: How the Brain Keeps Tabs on Two Tasks at Once." Scientific American. 2010.http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=multitasking-two-tasks
- Kain, Debra. "'Love Hormone' Promotes Bonding." University of San Diego, San Diego School of Medicine. 2008.http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/newsrel/health/02-08LoveHormone.asp
- "Laugh And The Whole World Laughs With You: Why The Brain Just Can't Help Itself." ScienceDaily. 2006.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061212213922.htm
- "Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2001." U.S. Census Bureau. 2005.http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p70-97.pdf
- "Oxytocin." Psychology Today.http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/oxytocin
- Rosenblatt, Paul C.; Li, Xiaohui. "Hazards to Family Relationships from Cell Phone Usage While Driving." Family Science Review. Vol. 15, No. 2. 2010.http://www.familyscienceassociation.org/archived%20journal%20articles/FSR_vol15_2_2010/Rosenblatt%20final%20.pdf
- "Seven-Year Itch? Boredom Can Hurt a Marriage." ScienceDaily. 2009.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090429172241.htm
- Young, Larry; Wang, Zuoxin. "The neurobiology of pair bonding." Nature Neuroscience. Vol. 7 No. 10. 2004.http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v7/n10/abs/nn1327.html