Long-term relationships and intimacy can be unique and challenging to manage. Despite some of the hardships, it can be a beautiful testament to how you and your partner can grow and mature. Intimacy is the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual connection between you and your partner. In many cases, this level of intimacy is a unique experience to the romantic partnership. There is a level of authenticity and vulnerability that aligns with this experience of intimacy that develops, enhances, and evolves long-term relationships over time. Long-term relationships are significant for many, as choosing a partner to live your life with provides a certain level of companionship and stability that many feel comforted by. There is often a debate about what classifies a long-term relationship, but a large consensus is that the participants can individually define it. Many people say long-term relationships require work; a lot of that stems from keeping intimacy and connection alive. This blog will aim to understand how intimacy evolves throughout the different stages of long-term relationships and how to identify tools to strengthen your relationship.
The first stage, often identified at the beginning of long-term relationships, maybe before they even know that they will be in a long-term relationship, is the honeymoon stage. In this stage, everything is very experiential and new. Many times, you and your partner are doing things for the first time, increasing the positive outlook on how things are going. Often, during this time, the couplehood is going on dates, getting to know each other, and having passionate physical experiences. In this stage, the intimacy is explored and defined. You are figuring out new information about your partner, what they like or don’t like in bed, how they communicate, and many more foundational boundaries for the relationship. The chemistry is most likely at its peak at this point, and the frequency of sexual experiences remains high. When looking at the four factors that make up intimacy: emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual, physical experiences often dominate this stage, as the others are still in progress. The length of this stage may vary depending on the person, but typically, it can be anywhere between six months and two years. If things are going well during this phase, both partners often report having a satisfied view of their relationship.
Something important to highlight is that intimacy may look different for different people and relationships. Defining how you prioritize intimacy with yourself and your relationship can be a first step. It may include identifying what your love language is as well as being aware of your attachment style. The five love languages are acts of service, quality time, receiving/giving gifts, physical touch, and words of affirmation. Understanding where you and your partner fall may influence how you can strengthen an understanding of how intimacy will play out in your relationship. Gender may also impact intimacy, and it’s essential to discuss that with your partner if you are in either a heterosexual, homosexual, or nonbinary relationship. A broad study at Pepperdine University shows that those who identify as female typically prioritize intimacy with communication, affection, safety, and emotional closeness. At the same time, men highlighted the importance of activities in leisure time and physical closeness, including sexuality. The study also reports that women listen more and understand the needs of their partners better. Intimacy is often associated with the hormone produced in the brain called Oxytocin. Oxytocin, when released, produces feelings of trust, safety, comfort, and attachment. It can lead to the creation of intimate emotions. Some people may experience flooding of Oxytocin in different situations, but it can commonly linked to sexual experiences, as well as hand-holding, kissing, and cuddling.
Intimacy may also look different at evolving stages in the relationship. After the honeymoon phase comes the stability stage. The relationship has most likely been challenged to some degree by life, whether with family concerns, work, or other day-to-day activities. The amount of positive new and exciting experiences may decrease, alluding to the sensation that things have changed. The focus of the relationship may shift from the thrill of novelty to building trust, fostering emotional security, and weathering challenges together. This is not to say that physical intimacy continuously decreases. Still, it may be perceived differently than in the honeymoon phase because the novelty has worn off, and other aspects of the intimate relationship have been introduced and begun taking shape. During this stage, the relationship can be strengthened by understanding and identifying the balance between pleasure and comfort and how the patterns of intimacy are evolving. Making time and space for emotional, mental, and spiritual growth in the relationship can strengthen the intimate connection. You can achieve it by focusing on communication between partners. Communication becomes the cornerstone of maintaining intimacy and the health of a long-term relationship. At the core of communication between romantic and life partners is the ability to express themselves and their needs openly and directly.
Focusing on communication to keep intimacy as a priority in the relationship can be achieved in the following ways:
- Managing Negative Emotions: Identifying your triggers and managing your emotions in how you respond to those triggers is incredibly important.
- Assertive communication style: Be sure to communicate assertively, where you are confident in what you are talking about while advocating for your own needs and respecting your partner’s needs. You can also use “I” statements to avoid blaming and clearly identify how the situation makes you feel.
- Clear definition of goals or conflict: When addressing a conflict, be very to the point about the issue and be specific, not vague. If other things come up, remember to redirect to the main resolution goal for the conversation.
- Active Listening: Remember to not only focus on what you are trying to say or the point you are getting across. When having a conversation, don’t focus on what you will say next; make sure you are focusing on what your partner is saying.
- Empathy: Try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand their feelings. It can help understand where they are coming from. You care for this person, and respecting their emotions is a way to show that.
When identifying that the intimacy in a long-term relationship has changed or challenged, whether it be from external stressors, communication breakdown, or monotony, recognizing that it has happened and that there is a desire to address it is the first step. The next step is to focus on stress management techniques and highlight shared experiences for you and your partner. The following are four great ways to revive intimacy when recognizing that it has dwindled.
- Prioritize activities that will foster physical touch: You don’t necessarily want to schedule time for sexual experiences, but make sure that the external challenges of work and day-to-day life aren’t consuming all of your time and mental headspace, setting aside time daily to cuddle on the couch or schedule a date night on the weekend, and focus on gentle touching and eye contact to revive a connection.
- Share fantasies: When entering the stability stage of a relationship, trust, and emotional connection strengthen. It can allow for some exploration into more vulnerable fantasies to rekindle and bring novelty back into the bedroom.
- Embark on new hobbies together: To bring back some novelty, try something new that neither of you has experienced before but is something that you would both enjoy. It could be a cooking class or a new physical activity.
- Prioritize Honesty: Growing a well-rounded intimate connection with honesty and trust must be a priority. It starts with reflecting and being honest with yourself and then feeling able to communicate that with your partner. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, validated, and received by your partner will deepen your connection.
In closing, a certain level of flexibility is significant when choosing to embark on a long-distance relationship. It may not be exactly what you thought it would be all the time; however, partnering with someone you feel comfortable communicating your needs with as the relationship evolves will set you up for success. Intimacy and each partner’s needs may transform over the years, and the ability to adapt to those adjustments prioritizes the health of the relationship as a whole. It will allow you to center intimacy as a bedrock of the couplehood. Remember why you fell in love and figure out a way to reinforce those emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual connections.