Intimacy: nearly all of us want it and yet so many of us struggle with it. Whether it’s getting to know a new person better, connecting with that coworker you interact with daily but know little about, or deepening your existing bond with a romantic partner, child, or other family member or friend, the below tips will help you discover new ways to deepen and strengthen the relationships in your life.
1. Support their hobbies.
Take a genuine interest in the other person’s passions and what makes them “tick” and, to the best of your abilities, encourage the person in these endeavors. Show them with your words as well as your actions.
2. Create rituals of connection.
Whether it’s once a day, week, or month, be consistent by making it a priority. Doing so will demonstrate to the other person how much you value your relationship with them and will deepen your bond over time. You can make it as simple or elaborate as you both see fit. A regular check-in at dinner time can be a great way to stay informed and to learn about each other.
3. Be vulnerable.
Expose a perceived weakness, fess up to a poorly handled or embarrassing situation, hang out in sweats without makeup. Having the courage to share these aspects and experiences may go a long way in allowing the other person to feel more comfortable being vulnerable in return. Being open and honest can be a difficult practice, but ultimately results in a more genuine connection.
4. Say “I’m sorry” with your words and actions.
Admit when you’ve made a mistake and make active repair attempts. A close cousin of #3, taking accountability for our actions and mistakes also requires overcoming difficult emotional states such as vulnerability, guilt, shame, and anxiety. Healthy relationships depend on prioritizing the needs of the relationship over the wants of the ego. Resolve the issue with your words and actions – commit to doing your best to learn from the situation and to avoid it from happening again in the future.
5. Broaden your horizons.
Engaging in new experiences with another person is linked to the release of oxytocin, the chemical known as the “bonding hormone.” Even on a biological level, our connections are rewarded by shared adventure and novelty. Finally, try that new Ethiopian restaurant, take that restorative yoga class, see that new “hot” musical, or go on that wine tasting tour. Use it as an opportunity to strengthen your bond while growing as an individual.
6. Ask questions.
You might be surprised by how much there is to learn about each other, even if you’ve been in each other’s lives for a very long time. Resources such as Gottman Card Decks, TableTopics, All About Us, etc. are full of innovative questions that promote connection and discovery. You don’t know what you don’t know until you find out!
Take note of important dates and events, upcoming stressors, potential successes or failures & ask about them. Show that you’re paying attention and care enough about the person to make checking-in a priority. A brief text message asking how the job interview went will take 2 minutes, but the impact may be timeless.
8. Use your actions.
Leave a post-it note with a sweet message where you know they’ll find it, surprise them with their favorite treat, make time for important events, play catch for 5 minutes before leaving for work, or draw a hand-made card to congratulate them on their recent promotion. The little things aren’t so little when it comes to relationships!
9. Watch your language.
Use I-statements when sharing more critical thoughts and feelings (“I felt hurt when you forgot my birthday”) and “we” language when communicating about topics the other person may need support with (“we are going to get through this”). Approaching discussion from the “I” perspective demonstrates accountability for your own thoughts and feelings and is less likely to trigger defensiveness and arguments, while the “we” perspective reinforces your faith in them as individuals and your commitment to supporting them through the process to achieve their goals and overcome perceived barriers.
10. Listen (not to respond, but to understand).
Be present with the person and demonstrate that you are interested in hearing their story. Resist the temptation to jump in with suggestions. The time will likely come when it will be appropriate to provide recommendations, but first, give the person space to simply share. Many times, that’s the only “solution” the person needs.