Last night I was at Dokebi in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a gaggle of girls slapping raw meat on a Korean BBQ and jamming to throwback tunes from TLC and Missy Elliott. The topic of love came up, as it does, and we got to discussing how to get closer with our partners — specifically, what conversations build intimacy with a partner. One new acquaintance, who had just been putting hash oil directly onto the barbecue grill, trapping the fumes in a pint glass and then inhaling the vapor, announced that she had a shortcut to intimacy bar none: "I get them to tell me the things they're most sensitive and vulnerable about, and then, when they are at their most defenseless, I comfort them," she said. "Guaranteed to make you feel closer." She also acknowledged that this method is sociopathic and manipulative. So — now you know what not to do.
So I tapped experts today with just that question: If someone is looking to "build intimacy" with their partner, whatever the hell that means, what types of subjects should they broach? Here are 20 suggestions from 20 relationship counselors, dating and life coaches, psychologists, a matchmaker and many others.
1. Go First
Share something personal, and this may inspire your partner to do the same, in an I'll-show-you-mine, you-show-me-yours situation. Even if things don't go exactly that way, opening up can only foster intimacy, dating, relationship and lifestyle expert Steven Ward tells Bustle. "Intimacy, by definition, is shared secret knowledge," he says. "Emotional and physical intimacy involve sharing something deeply personal."
So — go out on a limb, and see what happens. "I always recommend that you give to get," he says. Tell your partner something that you've never revealed. "Be vulnerable to see vulnerable. Be open to see open. If you want to get closer to someone tell them something that very few, if any, other people know." And you don't have to bare it all, end of story. If your partner doesn't reciprocate, you're totally allowed to query them. "You can then ask them about the same subject in turn," says Ward.
2. Drum Up Some Fantasy
Try mainlining some intimacy with a specific question, psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. Martinez has one question in mind: "What is your fantasy?" This can spark a connected conversation — but only if you're willing to do the legwork too. "You have to be willing to be open and honest, and the partner has to be willing to grant and try what they share," she says. "If this can be done without either party made to feel awkward, and the episode is enjoyable, more conversations like this are likely to take place, and intimacy can grow between the two of you."
"Fantasy" in this context doesn't have to read in any particular way; rather, discussing fantasy can lead to a conversation about life, love, money, career, the future — really, the possibilities are endless. And don't forget to express your fantasies too. "The conversation should go both ways, meaning you should mutually be discussing and fulfilling the other's wants and needs."
3. Be Grateful
"A great way to build intimacy is expressing gratitude for something thoughtful your partner did that day," Samantha Burns, relationship counselor and dating coach, tells Bustle. But she doesn't mean a here-and-there hit of gratitude; she's talking every damn day. "Aim for a daily gratitude challenge — when you cozy up in bed, say thank you and take a moment to appreciate your significant other," she suggests.
4. Invite Them In
"One conversation that can help build intimacy with your partner is inviting them into your life as a guest, relationship coach Jase Lindgren tells Bustle. "What this means is that while your partner is in your life, you want to be a good host to them, helping them to achieve their goals and dreams, rather than focusing on what you want from them."
5. Be A Comfort
Find out how your partner likes to be comforted when times are tough, and try to show up in that way when the sh*t hits the fan, clinical hypnotherapist, author and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York, tells Bustle. "The one conversation a couple can have in order to build intimacy is to ask: How can I help you when you're suffering?" says Astarte. Or: "How would you like me to react … when you are in pain?"
6. Be Practical
Intimacy isn't always some sweet, mystical, fa-la-la unicorn to be chased down via long, deep talks. Quite simply, intimacy that connectedness that arises when you feel truly bonded with your partner, and this can happen in the most practical of ways, New York–based relationship and etiquette expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "If you’re married, or you’ve been living together for some time, you should create an estate plan, or, simply, wills," she says.
7. Talk About Your Childhood
And now for a very sweet suggestion. "I feel that discussing each other's childhoods can really build an intimate bond between partners," Rob Alex, who created Sexy Challenges and Mission Date Night with his wife, tells Bustle. "Expressing how you felt as a child and things that hurt you when you were young gives your partner a real insight into what shaped you as a adult," he says. Get the party started by breaking out old photos and taking a trip down memory lane with your partner, telling them stories as you go.
8. Discuss Self-Improvement
To sidle up next to your partner emotionally, talk about the things you have seen your partner do to grow. A good way to begin? "Each partner shares one new thing that they have noticed that their partner has been working on to improve themselves and/or the relationship," Carlyle Jansen, author of Author, Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms, tells Bustle.
9. "Tell Me Things"
It doesn't have to be that deep. "A basic tenet of solid relationships is really listening to each other, and I've found that putting my phone down, turning off the television and simply saying to my significant other, "Tell me things," has really strengthened our bond," Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, tells Bustle.
10. Be Vulnerable
Vulnerability is the speediest shortcut to intimacy — "and it can be a game changer," Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist, tells Bustle. "If you can share your vulnerabilities, and your partner is still there, and in fact even more close — the ground just shifted," she says. Truth.
11. Admit When You First Fell In Love
"Nothing builds intimacy between a couple more than to open up and share with each other that moment of surrender, when each of them knew that they had fallen in love with each other," Cindi Sansone-Braff. author of Grant Me a Higher Love, tells Bustle. Even if you each realized your love at different times, which is 99.9 percent likely, don't try to cover up how when knew you were in love.
12. Ask Questions
Play your own personal rendition of 20 Questions, suggests relationship counselor Crystal Bradshaw to Bustle. Ask questions such as, "How would you spend your days if you didn't have to work?"; "If you could have your dream job, what would that be?"; "What is your ideal vacation?"; "How would you prefer to spend your weekends?"; "Of the people we know who do you think has the best relationship?" and "What is a dream you have that you want to chase but are afraid to?"
13. Eat Some Pie
Not actual pie. Well, actual pie optional. The kind of pie relationship coach Chris Armstrong recommends to Bustle has nothing to do with apple, blackberry or Key lime: "There are three different types [of intimacy]: physical (seduce my body), intellectual (seduce my mind) and emotional (seduce my heart)," Armstrong says. "You need the whole pie (physical, intellectual and emotional), not just a piece of it."
14. Give Them A Reason
It couldn't get simpler than this, nor sweeter: "Tell them why you love them," marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin tells Bustle. "I know that can sound like just stroking their ego, but the truth is that intimacy is built, in large part, on trusting that someone loves and accepts you for all of who you are," she says. And who doesn't love hearing the exact reasons one's partner loves them?
15. Ask More Questions
Questions really seem to be where it's at, as far as intimacy-building goes, according to relationship experts of every stripe. There are "a few great, classic questions to ask your partner to build intimacy and bonding," Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills child, parenting, and relationship psychotherapist tells Bustle. "You can even revisit these wonderful queries every few months and see if your partner responds differently," says the author of The Self-Aware Parent and costar We TV's Sex Box.
16. Discuss Your Romance
"The most intimate moment between two people is when they are discussing their relationship with each other," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. So meta. "These 'meta moments' add a deep emotional connection to any conversation," she says. "So the best conversation to have as a couple isn't about sex or love or romantic gestures — it's just about how they feel about each other."
17. Just Be You
Tell your partner who you are, bruises and all. "Conversations that involve sharing private parts of your life, things that only those in your inner circle are aware, build intimacy," professional matchmaker Samantha Daniels tells Bustle. "For example, if a family member passed away, sharing your feelings about that can build intimacy. Or if you were bullied as a kid … sharing that with your partner can build intimacy," she says.
You can feel free to discuss your romantic past too, says Daniels. "Talking about prior relationships and exes who hurt you can build intimacy," she says. "All of these topics are private to you and are things that random people do not know about you; once you share these types of things with your partner, you cross a proverbial line, and your connection to each other deepens and strengthens."
But don't just blurt all of this out at the laundromat. "You need to be careful to choose the appropriate time to share things of this nature," says Daniels. "You want to make sure you feel safe and connected to the person, and equally that the person is ready to be told these things and see you in a vulnerable position," she adds. "If you share things too soon, it can scare the other person off and also make you feel too vulnerable." So go slow. But once you feel ready, don't hold back too much.
18. Keep Expectations In Check
"Fighting happens more often in marriages in which the intimacy and bonding aren’t working," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, tells Bustle. "Don’t let your expectations get out of line." Instead, aim for a plain, old-fashioned good time. "Fun and intimacy do not depend on spending money or going to extremes; they don’t depend on a particular setting or activity, and they don't have to take a lot of time." If you make it all about the external, you're bound to be disappointed.
19. Have A Fight
Most people are scared of fighting, but that's not necessarily wise. "Some people shy away from conflict or think that conflict is bad," relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "Actually, talking about conflict and working through it can build intimacy for a couple," she says. If you have a fight, work through it. After you patch things up, you'll be stronger than ever — as long as the argument is healthy, and there are no abusive or below-the-belt qualities to it. Says Chlipala, "Any conversation that requires vulnerability will build intimacy, as long as the partner is supportive and responds positively."
20. Pen A Letter
"My favorite exercise with couples is to have them write a letter to each other as if they are speaking to the child within their spouse," psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. "It creates an unconditional love feeling, shows compassion [and] vulnerability, and can be erotic after, as this brings deeper emotions," she says. So write such a letter to your mate, and ask them to respond. Intimacy incarnate!
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