Intimacy – it’s something that many find difficult to maintain in a long-term relationship. Some may even find intimacy difficult from the start – never mind making it last. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, according to authors at Psychology Today, there is 1 simple key to intimacy in your relationship or marriage.
That key? Listening.
That may not sound like the sexiest thing in the world, but it’s not listening like you think it is. It’s listening to your partner in “a radically different way.”
There are problems with the way most of us listen – and that’s not even just in relationships, but friendships and even business/social/work partnerships. We listen, not to understand, but to feel correct ourselves.
Most of us, when listening, are doing one of two things and sometimes both. First, we are scanning for danger: is there something that our partner is expressing that conflicts with what we experience or believe. If so, then we think that our own experience or belief is threatened, as is the relationship itself. We are taught that our partner’s truth must align with our own—or someone’s truth and thus someone must be wrong.
We listen with the word “but” (not “and”) as our guide. If our partner shares an experience or thought that is different from our own, we connect the two experiences with the word “but” which implies that the experience on one side or the other is invalid, rejected, and thus unworthy of kindness or curiosity.
When we listen to our partners or friends we actively look for things to counter and try to bring in line with our own perspectives. But that shouldn’t be what listening is about. We need to be open to views, perspectives and thoughts that don’t necessarily align with our own.
From that new sense of empathy and understanding, intimacy and closeness is bound to follow. But how can we actually do this? After all, it’s such a natural reaction for most people. According to Psychology Today:
The path to deep intimacy is to shift our whole way of listening so that “and” replaces “but” as our way of connecting differing experiences and truths. In order to create true intimacy, we must trust that our experience and our partner’s need not be one and the same nor even similar, and can in fact coexist peacefully even when radically different. You experience it this way and I experience it that way. Both are true and both are deserving of kindness and attention.
Being consciously aware of how you feel when listening to your partner is important. When you notice your mind trying to defend your own perspective, rather than trying to truly understand your partner’s, stop yourself and instead put yourself in your partner’s shoes for the moment. Empathize with them and what they’re saying.
So how exactly would this lead to increased intimacy in your marriage or relationship?
Real intimacy is created when we offer each other the space and respect to have different and equally true experiences of life. We feel deeply in union when we can understand and accept what is true for our partner, regardless of whether we share that truth. When our experience is welcome and offered the space to be heard as it is, without agreement, we feel truly known, which is intimacy in action.
Try it out – over time you’ll notice that you feel closer to your partner than before.