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Bringing Vulnerability Into Relationships

One of the most intimate qualities we can bring to our relationships is vulnerability.  By definition, we are putting ourselves out on the line in a weak or susceptible position.  With that being said, many people are afraid of vulnerability and tend to push it away as they are afraid of rejection.  However, what if being vulnerable is what brings in more joy and even more love to our relationships?

Intimacy comes in different forms and definitions for both men and women, one of the most important links to fulfilling intimacy is to be vulnerable.  If intimacy is about building up the relationship and establishing a connection with one another, vulnerability is ingredient that really makes you be seen and understood by your partner.

In order to experience vulnerability to the fullest, one should feel worthy of love.  Being whole-hearted and present in our connections and relationships will help to increase the worthiness feeling.  Often times this is difficult as there is no guarantee that when you open up to being whole-hearted that you won’t get hurt.  To feel vulnerable is to be present, as in those moments, we are raw with the available space open for intimacy.

The connection to our own vulnerability is the authenticity of not being perfect and accepting that.  Not being true to ourselves has it’s physicality’s as well.  As body language changes and blood pressure rises, the person you are not being authentic in front of will likely notice.  But that’s what vulnerability is – and if your partner is also worthy of love themselves, then you are more likely to be on the same page and accept one another which leads to open up more intimacy between the two of you.

We tend to numb vulnerability as it is the core of fear, shame and struggle for worthiness.  Think of the ways that we, as a collective whole, numb out not only in relationships but also other situations around us.   Did you know that America has the most in-debt, addicted, medicated, obese, cohort adults in our history?  Part of the reason why this could be is because we do not want to feel these emotions, so we numb them out with other substances (i.e., food, alcohol, medications).  When we numb out parts of of life, we also numb joy, gratitude, and happiness.

One way to practice vulnerability, and to un-numb ourselves, is to believe that we ourselves are enough.  That what we have to offer and what we are open to receive is enough. When we believe this, we are kinder to ourselves and those around us.  Connect into your own vulnerability by being honest with yourself.  This will help to bring in the joy and happiness, not only to your relationship, but to your whole life.

When connecting and concentrating on being vulnerable with your partner, remember to create a safe space for communication.  You want to feel safe and trusted, as well as offer a safe haven and trust for your partner.  Be open and honest with one another, while keeping an open mind for your partners opinions and beliefs.  Remember in those moments that vulnerability is the core of fear, shame & struggle for worthiness, but it is also the birth place of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.

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Relationship Communication Through Today’s Technology

Our society has had a drastic shift in the last century that has lead to typing and reading this very article – the aggressive development in technology.  While technology has helped advance many parts of our lives further (we are able to speak to a loved one 3000 miles away from us through video chat and we are able to find diseases faster therefor helping lives to be saved), what has technology done to our relationships?

Often times technology has granted us easier access to communicating with our partner and children.  We are able to send quick texts to our partner regarding grocery shopping and dinner, amongst other kinds of typical household errands.  With children, they are able to send parents quick texts saying they have arrived safely at their destination or that they have an extra curricular after school event to attend and will not need to be picked up until later.  These are all positive ways that technology has improved some of our day to day activities.

At home, many families now sit together texting and reading emails compared to just a decade ago they were watching the old fashioned television, and nearly two decades ago, gathering around the dinner table for a wholesome meal.  Not that some families do not still share meals together, it just seems to be a lost art in much of our culture since the rapid expansion of technology has entered our lives.  Our society craves instant gratification and with technology there is always access – but is this access depleting our communication in our relationships?

Technological Issues To Be Aware Of  In Relationships

– Are you often checking online at your social media sites to see if you have new messages, “likes”, and to view what the general social media population is up to?  Maintaining all these connections can cut into your quality time with your partner and children. Each and every interruption to your time alone with you partner or together with your family will likely not help to build relationship connection. Cultivate awareness of how often you are checking in while with your partner or children.

– Often times when a text or an email is received, all you get is the information you read.  There are no smiles, hugs, laughter, or physical intimacy in a virtual message.  What nurtures loving feelings with significant others usually involves physical contact—simple things like gazing lovingly at each other, holding hands, whispering sweet nothings.  Eye-to-eye and skin-to-skin contact all turn on the love hormone, oxytocin. This chemical in your brain enhances your feelings of affection and increases your sense of bonding with your partner. This is something that simply cannot be expressed over a text message or email.

– Texts and emails can easily be misinterpreted.  In this regard, phone calls (which add voice and character to the conversation) are less likely to create upsets from misperceptions.  Becoming mindful of this when you go to write a quick message to your partner by being as clear as you can be.

Sharing thoughts and having conversation with another person makes a connection, regardless if it is in person or through a technology outlet.  However, talking enhances connection power when you are physically together, because you can see each other, hear each other and touch each other.  That connection can never be conveyed over any kind of technology, as it is part of our humanity.

 

Photo Courtesy of: patrisyu from freedigitalphotos.net

Author: Toni Parker PhD Certifed Gottman Therapist, Psychotherapist, and Speaker.  She teaches Level 1 Gottman Trainings and Art and Science of Love workshops in the United States and Abroad. Toni has been in private practice for over 20 years and has spoken for various organizations as well as Fortune 500 companies. Visit ThrivingRelationships.org to pick up your complimentary copy of “Don’t Just Survive…Sur-Thrive”.  5 simple steps to effectively re-connect with yourself & others to cultivate thriving relationships…in Life and Business.

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What is my Heart Saying?

I awoke yesterday morning with an all-encompassing sense of overwhelm. My mind was racing over all of the things I had to accomplish. As a marriage and family therapist, I love what I do and, as a result, I was thinking about who and how I was going to help that day. Everything I had to get done before going into the office snuck up on me, like answering a phone call from my accountant, responding to emails, and taking my daughter’s dog for a walk. The stacking of all of these small things made for a largely hectic and stressful morning!

If you’ve had experiences like this then you know that the smallest daily tasks or larger scale challenges – like an argument with your partner, being yelled at by your boss for something going wrong at work, or even coping with the loss of a loved one – can become completely overwhelming. It’s not uncommon to feel isolated, forgetting that others are dealing with challenges in their own lives.

It’s during situations like these that it’s important to stop the mental clamoring, get out of your head, and ask, “What is my heart saying?”

All too often we rely upon our brains to rationalize and solve all of our problems when in fact our hearts offer a more effective solution! Decades of research have shown that our hearts are powerful communicators. Studies conducted by the HeartMath Institute reveal that the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neurologically through the transmission of nerve impulses, biochemically through hormones and neurotransmitters, biophysically through pressure waves, and energetically through electromagnetic field interactions. What’s more, science has also revealed that our hearts have their own “heart-brain,” equipped with 40,000 neurons that can sense and feel more effectively than your actual brain.

Dr. John Gottman references this power in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, explaining that the most important trait of highly effective, empathetic parents is that they “use their hearts to feel what their children are feeling.” If using your heart can help you more effectively connect with your children and others, why not try using it to express a little self-compassion?

Compassionate Heart Breathing

Here is a simple and powerful exercise that I like to share with clients to get them out of their heads and back into their hearts. It’s called compassionate heart breathing and it combines the practices of self-compassion and mindfulness while tapping into the power of your heart. It effectively opens and softens your heart, oxygenates your blood, and activates the calming and restorative powers of your parasympathetic nervous system – the one that is responsible for calming you down.

Start by placing one or both of your hands on your heart. Take two to three deep, satisfying breaths, slowly tapping into your “heart-brain.” Applying gentle pressure, make small circles with your hand over your heart, feeling the natural rising and falling as you breathe in and out. Stay with that feeling as long as you like. If this makes you feel uneasy, explore where on your body a gentle touch is soothing. This could be on your abdomen, cheek, or stroking your arms. You can even cup one hand in another while resting them both on your lap.

Now, as you continue to breathe and soothe yourself, acknowledge what is happening and how you are feeling. Follow up with a supportive statement such as, “What I am experiencing is tough and I am suffering. May I be kind and loving to myself as I gain clarity and strength.” Find a statement that works for you, like one that you would say to a dear friend. Feel the words roll gently through your heart, eventually making their way to your brain.

Practice compassionate heart breathing any time you feel angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, or are experiencing any kind of emotional or physical discomfort. Remaining open to your heart’s voice will help you wake up to your true self, while simultaneously influencing your brain and body in beneficial ways.

Resources:  Gottman Blog
Photo:  by Stuart Miles

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Communication in your Relationship

As we are right in the middle of the “digital age,” communication is something we are always partaking in.  How we communicate is really how we share ourselves to the world.  When taking conscious breaks away from technology and letting our devices charge up, it is important that we, too, plug in to see how we are connecting with one another.  Our communication with each other, especially in our relationships we have with our partners, helps to maintain and balance the relationship.

Here are some basic communication principles for a healthy dialog between partners.

Active Listening – Allowing the listener to be involved with the speaker, active listening is to better understand what is being said and gives us the opportunity to be fully present for the speaker.  Focus on what the other person is saying by establishing eye contact, nodding and using encouraging phrases.  Also take the time and consideration to really acknowledge the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.

Nonverbal Communication – Communication experts estimate that 90 percent of our messages is not what we say, but rather how we say it.  Our body language carries the credibility of the messages we send and will either reinforce or contradict our words.  Often times, when we are not talking is when we are saying the most.  Use eye contact to establish a connection and keep your body posture open and accepting rather than closed and defensive (i.e. – arms crossed over your chest).

Own Your Messages – Take responsibility for your feelings, thoughts, and behavior. Owning your message allows us to express ourselves without attacking others.  It also prevents judging – or assuming we know – what the other person is thinking or feeling.  It invites continued dialogue and is a vehicle for communicating our own subjective awareness.  Taking responsibility for your choices is a powerful way to really tune into who you are and what impact you are having on your partner.

Keep Anger Contained – Remember that when a difference of opinion occurs, it is not an issue of “winning” or “losing” with your partner; it is a matter of creating understanding and/or resolution.  Create boundaries around disagreements, or in other words, rules for when you are fighting.  Share your feelings with one another and take a time out if needed. Always remember that relationships are an equal balance of give and take; negotiating can be very useful during a disagreement.

Remember To Have Fun! – Make sure you are having fun with your partner!  Do things that are stimulating, that create anticipation – and memories – that allow you to enjoy each other’s company and that let you laugh!

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How to Foster a Great Relationship with your Partner

Maintaining a healthy relationship takes time, energy, and work.  With these guidelines to lead as an example, relationships can not only maintain, but also blossom.

Have A Solid Friendship – Ask yourself what kind of friend you are being to your partner.  Apply the same openness that you have in your other friendships to the partnership.  Think about the “get what you give” philosophy – if you want a good friend in your partner, then be a good friend to them.   Provide encouragement and support to your mate to make them feel special and show them that they make a difference in your world.

Know Your Partner – Your partner possesses qualities that make them special to you, as well as a unique person in their own right.  Your partner likely has areas of sensitivities and vulnerability, in addition to their preferences, interests, and values.  Being aware of what makes them “tick” and engaging in behaviors that nurture and support those special qualities can enhance the intimacy and vibrancy of the relationship.  Remember what you honor and respect about your partner.

Strive For Emotional Intimacy – Emotional intimacy has been described as “unbridled mutual self-disclosure” – which implies a willingness to share from the heart.  It means getting in touch with and letting the other person know our feelings.  It is also being authentic; it is through emotional intimacy that relationships grow.

Make Time To Be Together – Cultivate passion and intimacy.  Make time for dates and romance while treating that time together as special and sacred.  Find strategies to create time together that work best for you as a couple.  Some couples devote the first 15 minutes of their morning or last 15 minutes of their evening “their time”; others have a standing date night.  A daily ritual that you both can look forward to being together, while being uninterrupted, will help intimacy and attachment grow.

Let Your Partner Influence You – Many issues in relationships have nothing to do with the “facts” and everything to do with the feelings about the issue.  We are emotional beings, emotions are bound to rise up, especially in our relationships.  It is important that you both understand each others positions.  Some issues have no solutions and oftentimes understanding and mutual respect are all that you really need.  Couples learn to simply contain the issues and not let them escalate through positive communication and empathy.

Solve The Solvable Issue – All couples will likely have a few issues that will never be resolved fully, due to difference of opinion and background.  What is important is to develop a dialog with your partner about this set of irreconcilable differences.  Treat them as you would if you were coping with a chronic bad back or trick knee – you don’t like them, you wish they were not there, but you learn to work around them by talking and learning how to live with them.  Having patience will be helpful in these situations, as well.

Create Shared Meaning – As a couple, having some concept of what you both think a relationship and a partnership are supposed to be would be useful.  Perhaps write down your definitions of a successful relationship and do your best to live up to those definitions.  Focus on the fundamental things that are going to make a difference in the long run.  Create specific goals as a couple, and also individually, on how you want to improve your relationship, and then follow through with them.

Maintaining a healthy relationship requires, well, maintenance.  Using these tips and tools will help keep your relationship in balance and maintained.

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Behaviors that Increase or Decrease Conflict in Relationships

In maintaining a health relationship, we previously discussed the stages of relationships.  This time we will round out the topic by going over the behaviors that intensify conflict along with the behaviors that diminish conflict.  There are many areas in which differences may appear in our relationships.  We may find that we disagree about politics or religion, or we may have different styles of communication which could become problematic over time.  Healthy relationships expect and allow for differences – in a healthy relationship, you will find ways to work through them together.

Behaviors That Intensify Conflict

Criticism – Negating or blaming your partner in issuing a complaint.  “You are so inconsiderate when…” is a criticism that could provoke defensiveness in your partner.

Contempt – Scorn, disrespect, or disgracing your partner.  Some forms of contempt underlie verbal abuse.  “You are so dumb…”

Defensiveness – Denying a problem or denying your share of personal responsibility for problems in the relationship.

Stonewalling – When a partner is stonewalling in communication in a relationship, they are usually using delaying or stalling tactics, refusing to answer questions, doing what can be done to hinder or obstruct a discussion, or bluntly refusing to cooperate with their partner.  This behavior usually drives away and rejects their partner.

Flooding – Overwhelming the other person with a bombardment of words or emotional outbursts that do not allow a true dialogue between the two of you.

Behaviors That Diminish Conflict

Set Boundaries – Boundaries are the limits we set to protect ourselves.  Some examples of boundary-setting for conflict are:  No name calling; no use of obscenities; no yelling; no going to bed angry; and, keep past arguments in the past.

Clearly Communicate Your Needs – If you want or need something from your partner, it should be your responsibility to communicate those needs clearly and directly.

Identify And Own Your Feelings – Using “I” statements helps describe your feelings.  For example – “I feel upset when you forget to call and tell me that you will be late for dinner.”  Describe your emotional reactions to behaviors and events.  Try not to attack the person or personality of your partner.

Learn The Art Of Negotiation – Every relationship we have with each other has a give and a take.  When you have differences, find ways to come to an agreement together that you can both be satisfied with.

Drop Your Assumptions – Step back from judging or assuming that you know what the other is thinking or feeling.  When we assume we know why someone said or did something, and then proceed with that as “fact”, it causes us to react to our assumptions rather than understand the facts of the situation.

Consider The Other Person’s Point Of View – Do not lose sight of the other person’s perspective – learn to value it.  Listen and acknowledge the other person’s concerns, then talk about why you perceive the situation differently.  Encourage your partner to explain their feelings and make assurances that you want to understand their perspective.  Then make an honest attempt to listen and honor their perspective.

Create Win-Win Solutions – Sometimes when dealing with differences or conflict in a relationship, we can get ourselves locked into position of needing to be “right” and make the other person “wrong”.  With your partner, forget “right” and “wrong”; the question should become whether or not what the two of you are doing is working in the relationship.  The disagreement then is transformed into a problem that the two of you can work on together to improve.  Be flexible; be open to new approaches in addressing conflict in the relationship.

Maintaining a healthy relationship takes time, energy, and work.  With these guidelines to lead as an example, relationships can not only maintain, but also grow.

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Relationship Stages

Creating and maintaining a healthy relationship is something that can be continually worked on.  These are the stages of relationships, as defined by Harville Hendrix.  Harville has crafted relationships into five significant stages.  As you read over them, begin to think about where you are currently in your relationship.

Romantic Love
Couples begin marriage in a state of romantic bliss.  During this euphoric phase, which usually lasts the first to third years or marriage, newlyweds wear the proverbial “rose-colored” glasses –  life and love are perfect.  Differences tend to be discounted and faults are few.  This is the time that spouses seek the intimacy they crave.

Disillusionment or The Power Struggle
This second stage is disappointment time, often with faultfinding.  Partners realize that the other’s behavior is irritating or even hurtful.  This stage can be frightening and it is when many couples see divorce as the only option.  Often, the lack of effective communication skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to compromise and negotiate leave many couples stuck indefinitely in this stage.  Also, the battle of wills occur, and to successfully leave this stage each individual must find a way to adjust to the ways of his/her partner.

Cooperation: Knowledge and Awareness
Stage three can leave the couple feeling stung and hurt by the damage rendered by the turbulent times.  If the couple perseveres and is willing to learn the communication and negotiation skills to navigate the power struggle, a new sense of acceptance and willingness to change enters the relationship.  Learning new relationship skills, and cultivating creativity within the relationship often accompany this shift in thought.  Partners take responsibility for their own problems and shed the illusion that their partner is the key to their happiness.

Acceptance
Stage four is often called acceptance, commitment or mutuality.  You and your partner realize that regardless of whom you are with, there will be problems, so you might as well stay in the relationship and work them out.  Togetherness just feels secure, and there exists a heightened sense of belonging.  The unhealthy patterns that dogged their relationship seem like ancient history.  This acceptance is the bridge to ultimate transformation and a love that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Transformation
Couples who put in the time and effort reap this final reward.  Intimacy is second nature.  The attitude is “we grow together.”  This is also called “co-creativity.”  Stage five couples develop a web of meaningful relationships that support the marriage and deepen the joy.  In this final stage, couples know what the fairy tales neglected to mention: Love is hard work.

Were you able to identify where you currently are?

 

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Knowing your True Self in a Relationship

Each person is completely unique, even if he or she has something in common with others, especially their significant other. Individuality is important, and knowing who you are plays a key role in your relationship, as well as the choices you make for yourself. If you are unsure about yourself or insecure in anyway, this can have a detrimental effect on the choices you make, as well as the strength and stability of your relationship.

Standards and Expectations  
Setting standards and expectations for yourself is a good way to ensure success. When it comes to relationships, this will help you to weed out those toads in order to find your true love hiding deep within the lily pads. If you do not know who you really are, there is no way you can definitely set forth your standards and expectations.

And if you enter into a relationship unsure of yourself, you cannot possibly know what you want and are almost guaranteed to encounter difficult relationships filled with incompatibility, struggle, and strife.   Being able to say,  I know who I am, I know who I want, and I will not settle for anything less,  will help you to be more discerning in your choice of mate, and will enable you to find someone you can build a strong partnership with; standing beside them for all the right reasons, as opposed to leaning on one another for the wrong reasons and wallowing in a miserable relationship that will inevitable come to a bitter end.

Conflict in Relationships
No relationship is without its fair share of conflict. However, there is a fine line between a healthy amount of conflict and navigating some seriously rocky terrain. If you do not know whom you really are and cannot set forth your standards and expectations, you run a high risk of allowing insecurities to creep into your relationship causing undue conflict. Insecure people tend to be vulnerable, choosing mates who are not always the best choice for them, and failing to stand their ground about what they believe and want, as well as being susceptible to tolerating things they should not tolerate simply because they are too insecure to believe they deserve any better. For those who do find a kind and loving mate, despite their insecurities, conflict can creep in because insecurities tend to make people paranoid, causing them to start fights and aim accusations at their partner, even when unfounded and often ludicrous. And while such petty conflict can be the insecure partners way of reassuring themselves of the others devotion and love, over time, this same type of conflict can drive the other partner away because of the constant arguing, clingy-ness, and need for unnecessary reassurances.

Commitment  
If you do not know who you really are, you cannot possibly make a commitment to yourself. This means you cannot set forth those important standards and expectations for yourself or a relationship. If you cannot commit to yourself, you certainly cannot commit to a long-term relationship, nor can you expect that relationship to be strong and healthy with only a reasonable amount of conflict. The bottom line, no matter what your age and experiences in life, find out whom you really are, committing to yourself first, and then find that special someone who will love and appreciate you for who you really are.

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Relationship Connection

Connected relationships lead to a greater stability in all of your relationships – including family, friends and coworkers. To create shared meanings and values in your relationships, identify the shared meanings you already have and decide what new meanings you may want to add. Shared meanings help people, whether family or friend, settle conflicts and collectively pursue the goals that really matter to them and the relationship.

Some examples of shared meaning goals are raising a healthy child, building a successful business, or helping an elderly relative pass peacefully – all depending on what is being presented by each specific relationship. When two people find a shared meaning, they are willing to support each others dreams, even when there is little to gain personally from doing so, which is important for satisfying relationships.

Attaining A Shared Meaning In Your Relationships

Recognize The Conflict – Conflict often stems from inner dreams and ideals. If you uncover the ideals hidden behind another person’s position during a conflict, you can often find some common meaning. However, this strategy does not come easily for most people. Practice self-compassion and mindfulness to really take notice of what conflicts you may need to resolve within yourself. Looking inward is a great first step to solving anything. Once you are able to broaden your discussion to include dreams and hopes, you can see where your visions merge and find room for compromise.

Talk About Your Dreams – Encourage one another’s support for these aspirations. Keep in mind that talking about life dreams and what they mean to you requires some degree of trust between you and your partner (or friend/coworker). Such discussions can bring up issues so important and deeply felt that you may feel vulnerable. Just as with many high-risk propositions, there is also potential for high gain. Talking about your dreams and aspirations can lead to stronger emotional connections with the people in your life who matter most.

Meaningful Activities – Regularly engage in planned meaningful activities that draw people together emotionally. Most of us were raised in families in which some rituals were considered important (religions holidays for example). Create your own rituals – whatever you wish for them to be – it could be as simple as the ritual of a shared family dinner once a week. Rituals with family and friends will give those relationships more shared meanings.

Shared meanings are a big reason why we connect in our relationships in the first place. Harvesting these meanings will only create better connection.

Five Creative Ways to Increase the Intimacy

Five Creative Ways to Increase the Intimacy

Many couples hit a snag in their relationship where they feel as though there is nothing more to increase when it comes to intimacy. Believe it or not, there are plenty of ways to boost your relationship – whether you’ve been together one year or 20 years. If you feel as though your relationship is stagnant, consider these tips for boosting your love.

Cure Exhaustion

The biggest mood killer among couples is exhaustion. Whether it’s from children or career, there comes a time where you are too tired or too busy for your partner. Sometimes putting that exhaustion aside is too difficult, but often you can put aside what is causing the exhaustion. Today’s couple tends to act like a power couple, which means days that are longer than eight hours at work. By the time you get home, you’re too exhausted for your partner. If, however, you cut back by even four hours per week you may notice a great difference in your energy level and you and your partner will have four spare hours per week to spend with one another.

Be in the Moment

How often do you and your partner try to be intimate only to find yourself thinking about all you have to get done? If you’re not concentrating on the moment, you’re not going to enjoy it. Be in the moment by only focusing on what is going on – right then and there. Forget about what you need to do after or what else there is to do for the day.

Timing

You may have noticed that intimacy isn’t something you both time simultaneously. When you’re ready to be intimate, your partner may not be and vice-versa. You can overcome this lack of scheduling by talking with your partner. Find out when they’re feeling most intimate and desire you the most. By knowing when it works you can avoid any frustrations of either person being shot down when they’re in the moment.

Be the Best of Friends

If your partner is your best friend, you’re off to the right start. Many people have the misconception that if your partner is your best friend, it means you won’t be romantic with one another – but this isn’t true. In fact, having a partner in the bedroom who is your best friend creates more intimacy than a couple that isn’t comfortable and close with one another on a physical and emotional level.

Laugh

A sense of humor can actually improve intimacy in a relationship. Humor is, in fact, one of the keys to making a relationship thrive long-term. Since life is full of unexpected events, stressors and times of feeling down, having the ability to simply laugh, appreciate the irony in a situation, etc. can help any couple. Letting go and enjoying life together – regardless of what curveballs come your way, can help improve the relationship a lot more than you would expect.

In any relationship there will be times where you’re on the same page and times where you can’t seem to get along. Staying focused and working hard to improve intimacy between the two of you can help improve those “down times” and make the time between them much further.

 


 

Photo Source: courtesy of Stuart Miles / Free Digital Photos