Most people think of a love affair as a passionate interlude between two people who are not married-at least not to each other. A few seem to be fortunate enough to keep this spark alive and we tend to think it is some chance or random event. People wonder how do people stay in love? What keeps a couple together for a lifetime? A lasting loving relationship is a prominent desire of most people. I wish to say that a relationship like that can happen, but it will not happen by accident.

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “a successful marriage?” For most people the answer seems to depend on whether we are describing someone else’s marriage or our own. In the case of someone else, we are likely to measure success by how long they have been married, how well the children have turned out and their willingness to still talk to each other. But when it comes to our own relationship, we want more. My conversations with hundreds of couples indicates that , in general people in a relationship want to be understood, loved and cared for by their partner. In short they want their needs met. People marry to cure loneliness, to feel there is someone out there to look out for them and to share life’s joys and sorrows, someone who will be loyal and trustworthy. For this to happen we need an emotional climate of love and nurturing, growing intimacy, a sense of safety and security in the relationship, trust, respect, a sense of partnership, a sense of meaning and purpose. We want our marriages to be exclusive in that we want to occupy a special and unique place in our lover’s life. We want union and oneness.

Although we want a good relationship now, a successful relationship does not happen overnight, but is the product of our choices. Some choices relate to major decisions such as where to live and how many kids to have. Others are more subtle, such as whether you will greet your mate at the door when he/she arrives or whether you will do the small things that are important to your partner. While most of us handle major decisions with great care and thought, but we seldom consider that a relationship is the product of numerous small choices and actions that accumulate over a period of time. Every choice has consequences. In addition, we cannot NOT communicate. Everything we say and every single action communicates something. Even silence sends a message. We seldom stop to consider whether our small daily choices are feeding or destroying our relationship. These small, more hidden choices reflect something about the emotional climate you are creating and reflect an inner attitude to your mate.

To experience growing love and intimacy, the first question to ask is “are my secret choices bringing us closer or driving us apart?” Secondly, we need to ask “what sort of emotional climate am I creating in my relationship? Is it an environment of love, care and nurturing or of distance, neglect and indifference?” Most people believe they are somewhere in between, but in reality we are always moving in one direction or the other. Even a small choice, such as whether to curl up on the couch next to your mate or whether to flop down in the chair across the room is taking you in one direction or the other. Suddenly, you may find yourself criticizing your partner or siding with the boss after a disagreement your mate had at work. These subtle choices influence your mate’s sense of security and contentment in the relationship.

The dramatic emotion we call falling in love is accompanied by physiological reactions like quickened breathing, a racing heart and strong attraction. We wonder, how can people caught in the mundane routine of life keep on loving each other. Many people experience a fading of the emotional closeness shared during courtship once they marry or move in together. This is often because our expectations are unrealistic. Dating affords us the opportunity to put on our best face, but in the reality of living together 24/7 we find we really need to accept our partners as they are. Love seems so easy when we are together for brief periods of time. We feel as if we are the centre of our partner’s world. People who are in love share feelings, secrets, touch often, look at each other and idealise each other. Through this idealised view, lovers tend to complement each other and affirm each other’s strengths. In truth, loving is a way of interacting and it is a skill that can be learned. First you need to be willing to surrender to the compelling feeling of love and be vulnerable to the chance of being hurt, realising that love also offers the chance of great happiness. Secondly you need to set up a climate in which love can grow. To create this climate, you need to set up conditions for intimacy, belonging, nurture, respect and successful negotiation of conflict. Each of these ingredients is essential in maintaining a good relationship. People use the phrase ‘”work on the relationship “without really knowing what effort or concrete changes need to be made to foster growth in the partnership. So over the next few issues, I will look at these factors one at a time, beginning with intimacy.

Developing intimacy in your relationship.

1 Establish a climate of acceptance
The first step in developing intimacy in a relationship involves creating an atmosphere of acceptance and trustworthiness. As indicated, living together seems to place our flaws under a spotlight. Minor irritations and quirks can become a source of disappointment and conflict. One of the first steps in creating a successful relationship is to see your partner realistically and accept him or her as he or she is. Before you commit, explore what issues are not negotiable for you. Any violation of your value system will sabotage the relationship. These things vary from person to person, but may include, for example, whether or not to have children. Other issues may be values surrounding money, dishonesty, fits of rage, different spiritual or religious beliefs, selfishness, addictions, gambling, tardiness in paying debts, prejudices – the list depends on you and your values.

Assuming you have acceptable compatibility in these areas, there will always be things about your mate you need to accept and tolerate. Constant criticism and judgment will destroy the climate of safety in the relationship that is the soil in which intimacy can grow.

Build trust by doing what you say you will do. Never use anything your mate confides in you against him and never betray confidences to other parties. Work on your fear of needing someone or your own trust issues.

2 Share feelings

Intimacy depends on the experience of shared feelings. You need to become adept at sensing your mates feelings and letting them know you understand. This means you need to listen attentively and kindly to your mate and often reflect their feelings back to them so they know you “got it.”This entails learning the skill of saying something like “it seems as if you feel delighted about that.”Be tentative in y9ur response. If you got the feeling wrong, your mate will correct you.

3. Learn by practice to express your feelings to one another.

In shallow relationships, there is little disclosure about one’s inner world. In an intimate relationship, people let each other know what is going on in their private thoughts and emotions. There is a lesson in this. Be cautious about sharing deeply about these experiences with someone other than your mate.

4 Display respect and a desire to know your mate better.
Intimacy cannot grow if there is any exploitation in the relationship. Be careful to convey, by word and deed “I love you and I don’t want to use you.” Intimacy develops because of a genuine concern for each other’s welfare, a true interest in the other person. If one party is indifferent, the other is likely to withdraw.
If you want to discourage a unwanted relationship
Don’t look at the person
Don’t listen
Turn down her offers
Do the opposite of what the person wants
Be rushed and busy
Never offer encouragement
Be critical and spark a fight by bringing up touchy subjects.
Of course to encourage intimacy, you need to avoid these tendencies and do the opposite. It is important to convey a sense of delight in the other person, as courting couples do, by offering praise, compliments and being available and really listening and focusing on the beloved.

5 Remember sex is not a substitute for intimacy
It is important to establish emotional connection and closeness before becoming sexual. Impersonal sex, divorced from emotional connection tends to intensify rather than relieve loneliness.

6. Practice tender, non sexual touching.
Touch is a powerful means of expressing closeness and tenderness. To touch tenderly, softly and soothingly as communication, not always as a sexual signal becomes a tangible sign of closeness. A smile, goodbye of hello kiss a wink and other non verbal messages convey closeness and mutual understanding and should be maintained in the relationship. Convey to your mate that your relationship is treasured and valued.

7. Think of yourselves as a unit.
When we speak to couples who have problems, their statements frequently begin with “I’. In contrast, Newlyweds find it easy to say “we.”
Intimacy depends on knowing you will look out for each other. It presupposes that you realise that in a partnership you become one and fighting against your mate will also affect you in the long run. Watch out that you don’t use threats of divorce and abandonment as a means of getting your own way. Build a mutual support system.

8. Maintain novelty and newness in the relationship.
It is essential to do things to create change and spark interest throughout the relationship. All our lives we change. Keep exploring and introduce the breaks, fun times, trips and interests that keep the relationship refreshed and novel. While there has been a lot of emphasis on togetherness in this article, it must be recognised that relationships also have to breathe. Each person needs space to be and individual. Sometimes you and your mate will enjoy different hobbies and activities. That is fine. You can share them by talking about them. There is always a balance between time together and time apart, which reflects our priorities and expresses our individuality. Intimacy should not be confused with fusion and smothering, which reflects selfishness and meeting one’s own needs rather than those of our mate. Remember love is about seeking what is best for your partner, not yourself.

Intimacy can be developed and maintained as an aspect of a loving relationship. Test yourself by considering whether you bring out a positive or negative response in your mate. Security is vital to intimacy. Think about whether what you say and do builds trust and closeness whether it destroys the bedrock of safety on which intimacy rests. Reflect on whether you create emotional closeness or distance with small subtle day to day choices which all communicate something about your attitude to your mate and, in turn, slowly but surely move the relationship towards growing closeness or distance.
Reference : Wheat E 1993. Love life Zondervan USA .

Compiled by DR. B.L. WADE


Olive Branch 37 Wordsworth Avenue Farrarmere Benoni
Tel: 072 122 4766 / 011 849-7473.
Email: drwade@olivebranch.co.za
Dr Barbara Wade is an accredited member of Saaswipp (the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice) and practices in the field of individual and family therapy, as well as specializing in all forms of trauma