All relationships require regular tending. They require effort, attention and time — like anything worthwhile. One of the best ways to tend to your relationship is to focus on your intimacy.
Intimacy isn’t just about sex. It’s about cultivating your intellectual, emotional, and spiritual connection.
Specifically, intellectual intimacy is sharing thoughts or interests that each partner finds stimulating, said Lanie Smith, MPS, ATR, an Arizona-based art therapist who believes in the value of creativity and communication in helping couples play, heal, and grow together.
She defined emotional intimacy as sharing your feelings in a way that lets your significant other see your humanity and vulnerability. For instance, you tell your partner about a recent situation that reopened an old wound, which is why you’re struggling with sadness.
Spiritual intimacy is “often an ineffable experience that leaves you with a sense of the greater whole, such as a religious experience or encounter with nature.” It also can be connecting over your sense of meaning or purpose.
Ultimately, “intimacy is about depth,” Smith said. “Since we are all relational creatures with a desire to know and be known, when we can practice seeing others and being seen, we are strengthening intimacy.”
Smith, along with her husband and psychotherapist, Anthony Sparacino, LPC, NCC, is the co-founder of Matters of the Heart Retreats for Couples. Below, she shared three creative activities you can do together to develop your intimacy.
Create a card deck
Smith suggested creating a “50 things I love about you” card deck. You can do this together or independently. Pick up a deck of cards (e.g., at the Dollar store), and collage, paint or draw on both sides. “If you draw, you will want to cover in white paint or paper first.” Illustrate what you love about your partner.
If you’d rather skip the art-making, simply mention several things you love every night. For instance, maybe you love your spouse’s sense of humor and his or her blue eyes. Maybe you love your partner’s adventurous spirit. Maybe you love that your spouse makes you blueberry pancakes most Saturdays. Be sure to keep going until you reach 50 things you love.
Create a love board
Divide a page in half. Let one half represent what you love about your relationship right now. You might represent this with pictures, symbols or shapes. For instance, Smith’s clients have used hearts to illustrate their strong connection. They’ve used a bassinet to “symbolize their love for how they are as parents.” Others have used colors or flowers to represent their growth as a couple.
Let the other half represent the areas you’d like to further develop in your relationship. Here, Smith’s clients have used branches to signify reaching out and the desire to grow closer. They’ve used a bed with flames to represent heating up their sex life. They’ve used a phone to represent wanting to communicate more throughout the day.
Once each of you has completed your board, make time to talk about it.
Pen a letter
In your letter, include three to five questions you’d like to ask your partner. Smith shared these examples:
- What are you most excited about coming up?
- What is your favorite childhood memory?
- What is your preferred vacation destination?
- What gives your life the most meaning?
- How do you understand your purpose on earth?
- What would you most like me to know and understand about you as my partner?
Get creative with your questions. What do you really want to know about your partner? What would you like to know about him or her intellectually, emotionally, physically or spiritually?
Then schedule a time to respond to these questions in writing. You can even turn it into a date night, Smith added.
Healthy, intimate relationships don’t just happen. They require both partners to prioritize the relationship, Smith said. Playing with the above activities is one way to do just that.
Smith also suggested checking out these additional resources on enhancing intimacy:
- Books by John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute
- Art Therapy and the Neuroscience of Relationships, Creativity, and Resiliency: Skills and Practices
- 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage: Marriage Advice to Recharge and Reconnect Every Day
- The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts