Reimagining Intimacy in Your Relationship

This issue of The Drop is a part of a three-part series on intimacy and relationships from contemplative guide Kirat Randhawa

Intimacy resembles an experience that no longer feels quite intimate for many people. Its presence may feel like a long-lost friend amidst the difficulties of the past year, and with usual methods of connection becoming increasingly more difficult to rely on, couples are invited to look beyond the everyday world to find ways to feel close. Intimacy can manifest in a variety of ways (spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and sexually/physically), although within the context of partnership, it is typically understood as a form of connection that emerges through the gradual development of vulnerability, openness, and romantic harmony. Research shows that building long-term intimacy requires patience and communication and can be especially helpful when viewed as a garden - something that both partners must tend to in order for the relationship to flourish. 

From an emotional point of view, intimacy between two or more individuals can be heightened when each individual has learned to develop a kind of intimacy with themselves. For example, before one can learn to meet their partner with undistracted awareness, it is likely necessary to develop a certain amount of self-awareness first. Also, there are many things that can get in the way of cultivating intimacy in partnership and looking inward can be especially helpful when faced with them. These obstacles may take the shape of fear, which can appear as distrustful, withdrawal, or controlling tendencies. In addition, the absence of clarity (knowing what one wants) can also contribute to difficulties with intimacy, such as miscommunication, unclear boundaries, and a lack of self-awareness. 

Megan Laslocky, author of The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages, suggests that when managing fear in romantic relationships, working with a therapist who has expertise on attachment theory and learning more about one’s attachment style can be incredibly beneficial in identifying the root cause of why we navigate relationships the way we do and how to slowly transition into a space of secure, open attachment. Working with a couples therapist on refining communication styles may also be supportive while learning to identify one’s needs, sharing needs within the partnership, and creating and maintaining boundaries. Practice is key here - and the more practice one commits to, the easier it can become over time.

Experts also emphasize the importance of developing nonverbal communication cues while working to strengthen bonding opportunities between two or more individuals within a romantic dynamic. Nonverbal communication refers to facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, body language, posture, and other ways that people can communicate without using language. This form of communication may also include touch, movement, taste, role-play, and environmental factors like scent, sound, and lighting. Eye-gazing, inspired by ancient tantric practices, is one of the more powerful forms of communicating without language and has been shown to foster affection and build intimacy fairly quickly. The practice involves two people sitting across from each other in a relaxed, present state while gently locking their eyes with one another for a set period of time. Each person is invited to attend to the full sensory domain of the experience and notice how the breath feels in the body, the feeling of the ground below, what emotions arise and where, what thoughts arise, the impulses that emerge to look away or resort to language, and much more. Other ways to cultivate nonverbal communication is partner massage (taking turns to massage one another), slow dancing, dressing-up, bath rituals, and choosing curated objects for the space to set the tone. This can enhance positive interaction within the relationship and set the tone for a more vulnerable and ultimately sexier relationship. 

As couples naturally explore new ways to spend time together, relationship therapists often advise their clients to introduce novelty into the dynamic by trying something new or learning something about one’s partner within a new context. Developing intimacy outside of the bedroom is just as important as finding harmony within. For example, spending time cooking, trying new recipes, making homemade cocktails or lattes can be an excellent way to play with food, taste, and feel connected in the kitchen. Incorporating music and dance into the routine can be an effective way to boost flirtation and have more fun. Participating in a couple’s meditation, especially with sound, can promote relaxation and emotional connection. Choosing to make a playlist together (or for one another) can provide insight into your partner’s taste in music and what naturally brings them joy and ease. If you’re navigating a long-distance relationship, focusing on a precise intention for the conversation can change the dynamic of the interaction and enhance the quality and level of presence in accordance to your needs/desires. Other helpful tools for long-distance lovers include playing with letter-writing, dressing-up and setting up your space while on FaceTime, scheduling a virtual dinner and movie date, leaving flirtatious voice memos, and sharing joyful moments throughout the day. 

For more support on where to begin with activities, check out our recommended film list below:

The Before Trilogy
Harold and Maude
HER
In the Mood for Love
Punch Drunk Love
A Ghost Story
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Carol
A Marriage Story
Sylvie's Love
The Philadelphia Story
UP
Ghost 
Blue is the Warmest Color
Charade
Something’s Gotta Give
Amelie
Sleepless in Seattle
Notting Hill