To improve security, we recently moved our entire website to a different server. As I was checking it out to make sure everything was up and running, I came across the testimonials page where a couple talked about how they went round and round on the same issues, and took turns feeling disconnected and shut down before they came to work with us.
Just today, a woman called me to say that if she could do it over, she would have picked a different man to be her husband. “He just doesn’t hear me when I communicate”, she said.
Another gentleman told me that after an almost-separation from his long-time girlfriend, he is finally ready to work on his relationship. “We both feel so judged by each other. We need to learn how to listen better to each other.”
Relationships can be hard. It’s easy to fight about the same things over and over. It is tempting to lose ourselves in our favorite screen and hope our problems will get better by themselves. It takes courage to improve our relationships and to dare learn a new way to communicate with each other.
One of the questions we hear often from the people we work with, is “How can we create more intimacy and connection in relationship with less reactivity and judgment?” In this article, we will offer a few different ways to increase intimacy and improve communication in relationship.
Get curious about your partner
To create more intimacy, it is imperative that we take time to step into each other’s worlds: to listen, to ask questions, to encourage the sharing of feelings, desires and thoughts without limitation or restraint, and to safely explore and discover the other person with curiosity, mindfulness and an open heart.
Often, we are oddly reticent to spend too much time just listening to our partner, or someone else. We are afraid to step into another person’s world. There is a concern, that if we really hear and understand our partner, really get their needs and concerns, our needs and opinions will get lost. We are afraid that we won’t get what we want if we don’t get our own needs across.
Consequently, with both parties fighting to be heard and no one listening, conversations tend to stalemate and go nowhere.
Therefore, any structured conversation that interrupts the usual batting back-and-forth style of communication and allows for both people to be heard, will be useful for creating deeper intimacy and connection.
Focused Exploration One Person At A Time
One way to deepen intimacy and interrupt fights is to take turns asking questions with the intent to learn more about each other. Agree that you will focus on one person at a time for, say, 10 minutes before shifting to the other. Knowing that you will both get to talk and be heard will help you feel relaxed.
Pretend you are listening to someone you don’t know at all. Be committed to discover something that surprises you. That will help you cultivate a curious mood as you explore.
Ask questions you authentically want to know more about. Any open-ended curious question will do. “How is that for you? How do you feel about that? What do you want? What are you afraid will happen if you don’t get that? What do you want me to really know? If you could have it your way, what would you change? Would you be willing to say more about that? Why is this really important to you? If you could go back and change anything, what would you change?”
Once one person has had a chance to share and be heard, switch roles.
Heart Shares are a variation of the Native American talk circle, where the person with the ceremonial pipe has the floor to talk without interruption. Everyone else just listens until the pipe is passed.
Heart Shares are great practice for learning how to not react when triggered, and how to share from your heart without blame, criticism or complaint.
For couples, one way to do Heart Shares is to sit near or in front of each other with eyes closed, to eliminate visual distractions, and having cleared away all other distractions. Speak honestly and vulnerably in “I” statements as you go inward to discover and reveal your self. Avoid “you” statements and put-downs to make it easy for your partner to stay with you. Whoever has the floor first speaks until they declare they are complete, or when the agreed-upon time is up. Their partner then only says “Thank you” with great sincerity before taking their turn to share. (To keep Heart Shares safe, it is imperative both parties agree to not use against each other whatever is said in a Heart Share.)
Share. Then Respond.
Yet another way to increase intimacy is to take turns, sharing and responding without interruption, so that both people feel heard and both have a chance to respond on a topic. One speaks his or her mind and the other responds, after which they both repeat that same sequence. Then both parties switch roles.
Take turns sharing and repeating back what you heard to be sure you are getting what the other person is saying correctly.
Light-Hearted Questions Practice
You can ask light-hearted questions to help create connection on non-triggering topics as a way to practice listening and exploring, which will make it easier to tackle more challenging topics later. Questions like, “If you could have any super power, what would you choose and why?” or “If you could go any place in the world for three weeks on a paid vacation, where would you go?” or “What is your sweetest memory of us?”
Remember that whatever the other person thinks or does makes sense from their point of view, and that there is a positive intent and desire underneath their feelings and behaviors. Taking time to listen and explore will increase understanding, build compassion and open you up new possibilities for connection.
We recommend you pick just one of the suggestions above and try it. Just see what happens. You might just surprise yourself with how quickly you can produce a sense of shared intimacy.