Relationship Advice: Safety, Intimacy, and Fun

When people come in for marriage counseling, they bring their own expectations. Some people expect the therapist to say one spouse is wrong and the other right. Others expect to talk only about the problems in the marriage. Many come not knowing if they want to stay together or if they want to divorce. They do know they don't want the marriage to continue as it has been.

Playing off of that last expectation, one of the questions I usually ask is, ``If you could design your relationship any way you wanted it, what would it be like?''

Some common themes usually emerge. People often want a sense of connection, feelings of closeness and friendship and/or the passion they once felt for each other.

One of the most common themes I have noticed in recent years can be summed up by the words ``safety, intimacy and fun.'' Each of these ingredients brings a special and important quality to marriage. Let's take a closer look.

Safety

Even though this is a given, it's important to emphasize that safety from any kind of abuse is necessary for a marriage to thrive. If there is any kind of abuse, get help immediately.

Having said that, there are a few other key factors that promote the sense of safety:

Freedom to express emotions. Being able to talk about how you feel without being told you are wrong for feeling that way is crucial in creating an atmosphere of safety.

Hearing about the other person's emotions without interpreting them as a statement of your worth. Many couples get stuck on this one. Sometimes feelings just are; they are not necessarily a comment on the other person.

A growing sense of trust. Sometimes in marriage, trust can be damaged. It's important to make sure that trust is increasing rather than diminishing.

Intimacy

When we talk about intimacy, we often think of sex. While sex is an important (and fun) part of intimacy in marriage, there are many other factors that create intimacy.

Have you ever considered that intimacy is a skill? But it's just not one that most of us are taught while growing up.

Here are a few of the key skills involved in intimacy:

Self-disclosure. This is the ability to talk about how you feel and to let someone into your emotional world. In a sense, this is honoring the other person by saying ``you are important enough for me to share with you my deepest thoughts and feelings.''

Vulnerability. Somehow we get the notion that we have to be tough and strong all the time. In a healthy relationship, there is a trading back and forth of strength and vulnerability. It's a sign of trust in a relationship.

Empathy. The ability to step into others' emotional worlds and ``see through their eyes and feel through their hearts.''

Fun

Many couples complain that they no longer have fun together. They feel like roommates at best and strangers at worst.

Part of the glue that holds marriages together is sharing fun times together. The memories of fun together can keep you going in the rough times as well.

Here are two suggestions for increasing fun in your marriage:

Think back to some of the most fun times you have had as a couple. Choose some of the things you did in the past. Now do them again. I know that sounds too simple, but it really can be.

Each partner should make a list of things he or she likes to do for fun. Exchange lists. Then each person gets to pick two things to do off of the other person's list. Plan on when to do them. Then do them.

More safety, intimacy and fun strengthens your marriage. You might want to try working on each of these over the next few months.

Enjoy the changes.

Visit SecretsofGreatRelationships.com for tips and tools for creating and growing a great relationship. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 10 day e-program on how to enrich your relationship today, from relationship coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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