Intimacy: Intention, not Intervention

This week we got to talk with Dr. Dave Schramm on the Get Your Marriage On! Podcast. Dr. Schramm is a professor of Family Life in the Human Development and Family Studies department at Utah State University. As a Marriage and Family Therapy student myself, I was so excited to hear from him and add my own thoughts as well. Here, we discuss the “secrets” to intimacy. Spoiler! The secret is not in a new therapeutic intervention, but in your intention.

Why is It Not Working? 

Many people are familiar with the adage that intimacy means, “into-me-you-see.” We understand that intimacy is truly knowing your partner and them knowing you. Researchers and professionals for years have been trying to “crack the formula” or find the perfect prescription for couples who want better, deeper, or more intimacy. However, current research is showing that there is no prescription, no one-size-fits-all script or set of actions, that can build intimacy.

Why? Many couples have been taught lines to say or things to do that have helped them build intimacy. There are therapists and coaches who dedicate a lot of time teaching these to couples. However, no words or actions will be able to solve an intimacy crisis without the right intent behind it. 

Dr. Schramm used a metaphor of a car. The “I feel” statements and acts of service are the body of the car; they provide structure and somewhere for you to sit. However, none of these trappings are what makes the car run. The heart is the engine; what makes your relationship drive towards intimacy is your intention. 

Using the Words without the Intent

A lot of people are familiar with this anecdotal YouTube video “It’s not About the Nail”. A woman has a nail in her forehead and is complaining about it. Her husband keeps trying to tell her to take the nail out, but she doesn’t want a fix. She wants him to validate her feelings. That’s the “right answer.” My husband thinks that video is really funny. On one occasion when I was really frustrated with him, he looked at me and (quoting the video) said, “That sounds really hard,” with a little smirk because he thought he was funny. Needless to say, that was not the “right answer.”

What did my poor husband not understand? That no scripted sentence was going to fix our issue if he didn’t mean what he said or intend to truly hear me out. In fact, sometimes these relationship tools can become weapons we use just to argue better. To really deepen our intimacy, we must start with the right intention and seek to connect emotionally.

Focusing on Emotional Connection

So if we can’t count on specific words or skills, what can we do? We can create purer intentions by centering on our values/virtues and working on our own mental health. Dr. Schramm condensed this process into the following four steps:

# 1 Search Inward

The first step, contrary to what you might think, is to learn more about yourself. A happy “we” starts with a happy and healthy “me.” If your mental health is unstable, it will seep into your relationship. Search inward and examine how you are doing. Do you feel happy and fulfilled? What is holding you back? 

Oftentimes, we discover that in the busy-ness of life we have forgotten to take care of ourselves. We feel we don’t have time for the gym, or to make healthy food, or to do the things we love. We may feel obligated to do so much “extra” because we worry about other people’s judgment. 

Learn to say no to things that don’t need to happen. Learn to say, “that’s good enough” and fight the urge to appear perfect. Make time to take care of you. Look at that time spent on yourself as investing in your relationship by bettering yourself. 

# 2 Turn Outward

Once we feel solid in our mental health, we can turn outward. This is a very selfless process that should be more than just posturing or acting. Be genuine. Honor your commitments. Embody kindness and thoughtfulness. Spend time thinking about what your spouse wants and try to walk in their shoes. 

In arguments or tense moments, take a pause. Give yourself time and space to see their point of view and sort out your own feelings. If you need a break, ask kindly and set a time to come back to the conversation so your spouse doesn’t feel abandoned. As simple as it sounds, simply taking a deep breath can help move oxygen up to your prefrontal cortex and allow for more rational and purposeful thinking. 

When your spouse is hurt, be with them. Find a way to empathize with their situation. Emotional wounds require emotional first aid. Even if you’re not the one that hurt them, be the one to sit with them on the healing journey. That will be more helpful than any pre-scripted phrase or action. 

# 3 Look Upward

Remember that there is hope and meaning in your relationship. I believe that God blesses marriages. He has a plan for who He wants you to be, and the way to get there is often the growth and learning you do in your marriage. Have hope that your relationship can get even better. Believe in your marriage.

#4 Press Forward

With that hope, you can press forward. There will always be hard times in a marriage (and throughout our lives!). The key is to not give up. Choose to believe in and fight for your marriage. You won’t always say or do the right things, but you can be genuine. You can take care of yourself, you can choose to notice and care for your spouse. Trust that God will help you become the person He wants you to be. 

*Please note, this advice is for people in healthy relationships who may struggle. This advice does not apply to abusive or toxic relationships. In this case, stick with step one and take care of yourself.* 

It’s All About Attention

It has been said that love is spelled T-I-M-E. Although there is wisdom in that, spending time in the same space as your spouse is not enough. What they need is your attention. There are so many distractions in our lives: work, kids, sports, social media etc. The best way to deepen our intimacy with our spouse is to give them our full attention. Notice them; let them know you think about them. Share what you love with them, and take part in what they love. Put down your phone and engage with them, or share your favorite social media with them. 

In summary, there is no one phrase or action guaranteed to increase the intimacy and closeness and satisfaction in marriage. But as you foster your intention to elevate intimacy and learn to just pay attention to your spouse, you will find the words and skills to support your specific situation. Above all, have hope that your relationship can get even better!

Phone Screens of Intimately Us App

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<h3>Amanda Severson</h3>

Amanda Severson

Hi, I'm Amanda! I'm a grad student on her way to becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist. I'm a wife and a sex enthusiast. I am a psychology nerd whose life goal is to help every couple find the absolute joy of sharing your life with someone else.

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