When I was younger, my mom used to tell me, “Honey, marriage is work.” I never understood what she meant until I became a married woman myself. Since marrying my spouse nearly two years ago now, I've figured out a lot, including the fact that achieving intimacy — even when you’re married to your best friend — is difficult.
Understanding intimacy is tricky because it can feel and mean different things for different people. Here’s how I describe it for myself: You know that feeling you get when you’re with someone physically, but you still miss them? That’s what a desire for intimacy feels like to me.
What is intimacy?
If you look “intimacy” up online, you’ll find several entries attempting to define the word. Most allude to “a closeness between two people.” For me, that’s a bit too vague. While some people equate intimacy with sex or physical touch, that’s not how I see it. Intimacy, in my opinion, means truly knowing your partner, accepting them, connecting with them, appreciating them, and feeling safe in their presence.
It sounds beautiful, right? Unfortunately, maintaining intimacy is also a balancing act. While you and your partner may feel all of these things for each other at separate times, there may be moments in your relationship when one of you is distant — emotionally, physically, or verbally. But even if you’ve hit a rough patch, you can still have a healthy, well-rounded, and intimate relationship with your partner — it just takes some work.
Intimacy isn’t one-dimensional. It’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
Intimacy is individualistic, but I’ve learned what intimacy looks like to me. Here is how I let my partner know I’m craving more of it.
We adapt to each other’s strict sleeping schedule.
My husband and I have completely different schedules. He gets up and goes to work at 5 a.m. each morning, and I usually work on my laptop until the sun comes up. But whether I’m actually going to sleep or not, bedtime has become somewhat of a ritual. I cook us an early dinner, we put on two or three episodes of whatever show we’re watching that week, and then we go to bed.
I normally get up and begin working as soon as he falls asleep, but that quick moment we get alone together, snuggled up underneath the weight of the comforter, is my favorite part of the day, every day. Without it, I don’t know what I’d do because sleeping together — even briefly — is one way that I feel intimate in our relationship.
So, if your partner makes it a point to go to sleep at the same time every night, take note. “[Your partner] may be looking forward to making themselves available to intimacy,” says Stephanie Wijkstrom, a nationally certified counselor and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh. “In fact, shared sleep schedules are correlated with higher frequency of sexual intimacy which makes perfect sense.”
Even though we’re married, we still make tweaks to our “beauty routines,” hoping the other will notice.
If you’ve ever bought a new negligee to subtly impress your S.O., then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes, partners just want to feel sexy and needed. (Who hasn’t felt that way? I know I have.) So whenever I’m feeling particularly needy, I’ll spritz on my husband’s favorite perfume, get my nails done, and slip into something silky when I get home. Then, when he says something like, “Your nails look nice,” or “God, you smell so good,” I get all tingly inside; his simple one-liner can give me the intimacy fix I need.
“A spouse might start updating their wardrobe, getting their hair styled, maybe even going to the gym or trying that new diet,” says April Davis, founder of LUMA–Luxury Matchmaking. “These changes to them will make them look and feel better, and maybe catch the eye of their spouse, hopefully leading to more intimacy.”
We cherish whatever time we get to spend together, even if we’re just going grocery shopping.
Getting away from it all is a great feeling. But getting away from it all with someone can be even greater.
“A desire to spend more bonding time together — whether exercising, going on dates, or having a getaway, is a common sign for those who want more intimacy,” says Carla Marie, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert.
While taking a vacation sounds wonderful, your partner’s cry for intimacy doesn’t have to be this extravagant. For me, it’s doing our weekend grocery shopping together. Whenever we’re not able to do this, as mundane as it sounds, I’m left feeling disappointed. I’ve come to adore the time we spend getting breakfast and taking our dog to the dog park before making a final stop at Trader Joe’s.
Remember, intimacy is different for everyone. So the next time your partner makes a big deal out of not going to the bodega on the corner one Sunday morning, you may want to re-evaluate why they may be upset.
We make an effort to check-in with each other.
Intimacy isn’t always about being close to one another and vying for the other’s attention. Sometimes, it’s just saying how you’re doing, and poor communication can put a wedge in any relationship. If you’re unable to voice your opinion, describe what you’re feeling, or open up to your partner when you’re upset or just need to vent, it can get ugly quick. Taking the time to check-in with one another is crucial, if you want your relationship to work.
Right before my husband and I got married, I was going through a lot, both personally and professionally. I spent months in-and-out of the hospital (he didn’t come to any of my appointments) and my medical issues were interfering not only with our sex life, but my job. (I was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis and interstitial cystitis.) But instead of telling him how upset I was about his nonchalant attitude and that physical intimacy sent me into a world of pain, I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t tell him how alone I felt or that it pissed me off when he didn’t even care to ask how I was doing. Then, one evening, I snapped. I fell into his arms in a fit of tears and ugly-cry-sobs and told him everything. Had I not done that, we probably wouldn’t be married today.
Being open and honest with your partner, even if it hurts, is better than holding it in. Trust me, and take it from marriage bloggers Marcus and Ash Kusi:
“We began check-ins with each other,” says Ash. “Rating how satisfied we were with the different areas of our marriage: Sex, fun, emotional, intellectual/friendship, and spiritual. We made a plan when one wasn’t high enough on the 0-10 scale. How could we make it better? We talked about specifics because vagueness wasn’t going to cut it.”
Sometimes, we’re irrationally irritable and snappy if we’re feeling deprived of intimacy.
Unfortunately, I’m guilty of this. I’ve been known to get a bit crabby if I’m feeling emotionally, intellectually, or physically unappreciated. Here’s a quick example: My husband has never read anything I’ve written. That makes me feel like he doesn’t care about what I do, which in turn makes me feel like he doesn’t want to be a part of my life since he’s not interested in what’s important to me.
To be honest, I don’t really care whether he reads my listicles or lifestyle articles. But I would appreciate it if he glanced at the pieces I write about him specifically. I’ve tried casually mentioning it: “Hey, I published another piece on O.school today.” I’ve also been more straightforward: “I wrote an article about you; don’t you want to read it?”
Instead of saying “Yes” or reaching for his phone, all I ever get is: “That’s cool, babe.” So, this Thanksgiving I took my phone out, looked up the article I wanted him to read, and threw my phone in front of him, and said: “Read this. I wrote it about you and it would mean a lot to me if you read it.”
The first thing he said was, “That was long.” Not exactly the response I wanted, but at least he read it — and then he pulled me into his lap and said, “I love you.” So, it turns out throwing it in his face was totally worth it.
“Increased irritability and critical behavior toward a partner may indicate a person actually craves more intimacy,” says Lee Katz Maxwell, a New York-based psychotherapist. “This type of behavior can lead to a vicious cycle that makes it more difficult for a couple to achieve the intimacy they desire. The challenge then is for couples to learn to communicate more directly and come to understand what fears, past disappointments, and anxieties may get in the way of doing so.”