By its very definition, being in a relationship with someone means that it can be messy. There are two human beings with their own set of ideas, beliefs, feelings, desires and, of course, baggage. It makes for a colourful mix of perceptions and experience and, sometimes, this can get messy. Communication and intimacy in the relationship is one way of keeping the mess manageable and coming out the other end of conflict closer and stronger for it. But just how do couples ensure that their communication and intimacy is healthy?
Just speaking to one another does not really entail healthy communication and neither does it foster any sort of intimacy. Truly communicating, in other words, really hearing what your partner has to say and being able to speak your truth to your partner from your heart, is what fosters intimacy and brings couples closer. The first and most important step that most of us miss is to stop and just listen. We are often so busy with other things, or thinking about our own replies that we don’t stop and really listen. See if you can really hear the message your partner is sending you. Sometimes there may be a tendency to argue or get defensive and retort, but give your partner space and time to really explain things from their perspective. And listen. Often when we are able to get ourselves into our partner’s shoes, we are less defensive and more empathic. It changes the level of closeness in a relationship when partners are able to empathise with one another and share their perspectives and feelings in a safe space. But listening is not all there is to it. Talking and speaking in an honest way is just as important in fostering good communication and intimacy. Try to be honest and as open as possible with your partner about your feelings and perceptions. Allow them into your space in an empathic way by speaking in a non-criticising yet assertive manner. When we deal with issues in a ‘soft’ way, we are more likely to be heard and understood so the way in which you speak is also important.
Closeness and good communication are not only about being able to speak about the issues and the ‘stuff’ in the relationship. Intimacy and closeness are about knowing your partner intimately and sharing things with each other. Communicating about things such as daily stressful experiences, fears, goals, ambitions and dreams. How often do you truly know what has happened in your partner’s day? Do you know what their worst fear is? Their biggest dream? These are topics of conversation that couples often overlook, thinking that they know each other, or perhaps they are simply too busy to talk about these things. Making time in the relationship to connect and communicate about issues as well as personal views and desires is one of the most powerful tools in maintaining connectedness and intimacy in the relationship.
Of course, once the communication in the relationship is established as being ‘safe’ – in other words, arguments don’t easily ensue and issues are dealt with respectfully, then sexual intimacy also improves. After all, sex is the most primal and vulnerable way of communicating so it is unlikely that this form of communication will happen when things are unsafe in the relationship. Find out more about couples counselling.