Successful long-term intimate relationships or marriages can offer us certain forms of comfort, security and stability. Within the framework of commitment, we have cherished routines that perpetuate the sense of togetherness. These shared expectations in how we spend our time together (what, where and when) can form the foundation of a good intimate relationship – one that mutually meets our needs. We develop rituals based on shared goals, values, likes and pleasures from the most basic like how we get up in the morning, when and what we enjoy eating at meals to more intimate time together in the bedroom. The things we do together help us bond in intimacy and companionability. For example, one couple may feel their special quality time on the weekend is when they bike ride together – something they both love to do with one another. Another couple may look forward to the quiet time in the evening when they are reading at home or going on an outing with the kids. It doesn’t matter exactly what it is…But each couple finds their own routine that they can look forward to regularly and appreciate as “bonding time”. Problems arise however when that time is disrupted.
Life is about change. Sometimes that change is caused by circumstances beyond our control like the loss of a job, an illness or extended family responsibilities. Other times it is by choice or part of a natural maturation process like expanding a business, starting a family or going back to school. Either way life’s changes are stressful and can have profound effects on relationship. The structures in our daily routines that form the web of connectedness in relating get disturbed and challenged. Even a relatively small change can have effects that we didn’t anticipate. For example, consider when someone in a marriage decides to go on a more restrictive (and healthier diet). That person wants and expects support and encouragement in making that change. Yet they may find their partner (though wanting to be supportive) is basically disappointed – the ritual of eating together, cooking and enjoying certain food gets disturbed and there is a feeling of loss. This kind of pattern gets acted out on a much larger scale depending on the circumstances. When someone’s work schedule is shifted to more travel, later hours or weekend work, the bonding time of being together can feel very threatened. Feelings of abandonment, fears about the future, pressure to succeed – all add to the stress level. It takes energy to make changes to adjust to new outside circumstances. Each partner can have different needs and desires that all deserve attention. This is in addition to actually making the practical real life adjustments. It can just feel absolutely overwhelming!
Successful marriages seem to have the skills to cope with the life’s stresses and even have it add to the intimacy… How do they do it??? One way is allowing for differences. Each partner is respectful of the other and able to communicate in a safe, open way. That is the dance of intimacy – getting that right balance between separateness and togetherness.
by Marlena Kushner, MFT
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