Here’s the thing: I am 40-something, married to the same guy for 20 years, mommy to a 9-year old, working a couple of part-time jobs, and helping my husband care for his elderly grandparents. My idea of the perfect date night includes tacos (thank you Baby Jesus for Uber Eats), stretchy pants, a glass of Franzia, a good book, and bed by 9:00 pm. Oh, and to be left completely alone. Can I get an Amen?
I love my husband dearly but the spark has dulled and I blame parent-teacher conferences, hormones, SSRI’s, laundry, and general adulting. Intimacy for us usually means sharing the We Finally Got Our Kid to Bed Secret Snacks. And, no, that is not code for sex. These days it’s all about the snacks. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I am pretty sure our last date night involved a feeble attempt to administer the Heimlich maneuver on my husband due to some lodged Korean beef (again, not code for sex). Oh, we laugh about it now, but come on – talk about a lame date night!
I genuinely enjoy bonding with my partner: he makes me laugh and totally gets my dark sense of humor (see Korean beef story above), he’s an amazing dad to our sweet, but needy, 9-year old, and never (read: rarely) gripes when he takes my car somewhere only to discover there’s no gas in the tank. We’ve grown comfortable with our life and daily routine and while that’s not altogether a terrible thing we know that emotional intimacy is a necessary ingredient to a healthy relationship. Also, when we choose to increase our emotional intimacy we communicate better and find it easier to be physically intimate as well.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to start rebuilding connection with your partner and in the spirit of the ‘season of love’ (and in anticipation of writing this post), my husband and I decided to try out a couple of strategies for one week to help improve connection and intimacy in our marriage. Here’s what we learned:
Strategy #1: Schedule a Date Night
Oh, the elusive date night. Sadly our track record isn’t great (again, Korean beef). There was this one time my husband won a 3-month subscription for a date night kit – a service that is mailed to your home and includes what you need to have a unique and customized date night experience. My first thought was, “Why didn’t I think of that idea?” and then I thought, “Ugh – we’ll have to find a babysitter.” It was around the 3-month timeframe that we realized the subscription never showed up in the mailbox.
What we learned: Planning is Key
Believe it or not date nights don’t schedule themselves and planning ahead was the key to our success. I reached out to a friend and offered a childcare swap: if she would take my kid for the evening we would return the favor on a future date. Once childcare arrangements were made I realized we became increasingly more excited about the possibilities of the evening. Our date night was nearly perfect: I wore my nice stretchy pants, we ate at our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, enjoyed conversation, sans the opinion of our dear 9-year old, and relished in each other’s company free from the burden of any immediate responsibilities. It was simple and exactly what we needed. We also learned that date night doesn’t have to be spontaneous in order to be romantic. In fact, some preparation and planning is more likely to secure a romantic date.
Strategy #2: Offer Sincere Praise
My husband and I are the poster children for the Sandwich Generation (those of us, typically in our 30’s and 40’s, who are raising children while also caring for aging relatives). Pulled in many, many different directions every day, we rarely, deliberately, make time for each other, let alone offer words of appreciation. For some reason we tend to focus on the negative and forget that expressing sincere, genuine gratitude for another person helps to build trust and strengthen relationships.
What we learned: It Never Gets Old
A few weeks ago my husband assisted his elderly grandfather with a much needed bath while also maintaining his dignity, autonomy and privacy as much as possible. It was a remarkable moment to witness. During our date night I took the opportunity to share with him how grateful I was for the loving care he gives to his family. This, in turn, opened the door to a vulnerable conversation regarding his feelings about caring for his grandparents at the end of their life. It was a sweet, connecting moment that likely would not have occurred had I not been intentional with praise. The feelings of gratitude reverberated throughout the week and we found it easier to not only notice what was working well, but to quickly point it out. The aging process can be cruel but we learned that expressing thankful feelings with each other never grows old.
The heart of intimacy includes vulnerability, empathy, and compassion.
In any relationship these qualities can be in short supply when the kids are fighting, no one has clean socks and underwear, and someone is, yet again, asking the worst question ever: What’s for dinner? If there was one take away from our little experiment it was this: Intimacy is a practice requiring a mindful, deliberate approach. The time, energy and effort required to invest in a healthy relationship can seem like a chore, but our experience proved the payoff can be really great. By choosing intimacy we realized we would happily choose each other all over again, stretchy pants, Korean beef and all.
If you and your partner are interested in increasing your own emotional intimacy read about more strategies here. Also, the Balance Women’s Health website has an abundance of resources regarding sexual health and intimacy.
Balance Women’s Health specializes in sexual health, which includes exploring the challenges of sexual and emotional intimacy. The idea of a sexual health assessment may make you nervous which is why Balance is truly committed to making the process as comfortable and pleasant as possible. Call (405) 378-2727 for an appointment with one of our providers.