How can you rekindle a marriage or relationship? When you think, “there’s no emotional connection,” it really hurts. It’s only human to spring into action. There’s an urge to “fix it” and attack the issue at its source. This is especially true when something important is at stake, like our closest relationship.
But when partners think the way to bring closeness back is to fix their partner’s flaws, things can quickly go from bad to worse. Patterns like blaming are common in relationships. But they make it harder to rekindle love and affection. Restoring romance and intimacy starts with recognizing and stopping negative patterns (Part 1).
Fortunately, the science behind relationships, love, and attachment has come a long way. We can build more positive patterns into relationships to deal with problems in healthier ways.
Researchers like Dr. Sue Johnson, Dr. Brené Brown and Drs. John and Julie Gottman have learned from decades of data in their work with couples and individuals.
They identified different patterns and qualities that rekindle relationships and keep them strong. Learning about these patterns can help us see what turns a couple’s sex life on or off.
Relationship Patterns That Help Build Intimacy
Science has identified several positive patterns that lead to sought-after sexual intimacy. These patterns include:
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”
Dr. Sue Johnson also sees vulnerability as essential to love and calm security:
“When partners can name their emotions, we know (Matt Lieberman’s research) that this calms the emotional centers in their brain,” Johnson writes.
How can partners go from anger to vulnerability? It takes a sense of safety, and the ability to hear and respond to another’s needs. It takes willingness to learn how to speak for intense emotions in new ways.
Self-Awareness and Acceptance
Sue Johnson worked with one couple, Samuel and Elvera, who had not had sex for four years. They both had withdrawn into polite but painful distance.
One day Johnson saw a breakthrough. It came when Samuel finally put words to his loneliness under his fear and heartache:
… he couldn’t bear the “emptiness” in the relationship, or tolerate the distance between them, he said to his wife. He wanted to learn how to be close, and he wanted Elvera to take that risk with him. His ability to listen to his emotions connected him with his attachment longings, and he was now emotionally present and reaching for his wife.
With increased self-awareness, each partner can better own and speak for their feelings. This softer way of relating enables them to listen so each feels heard.
After Samuel and Elvera could hear they both wanted more closeness, they finally felt safe enough to ask to be touched and held.
Couples can’t become vulnerable and speak from the heart unless they feel safe. That’s why it’s so important to recognize negative patterns and stop doing them, first.
The ability to fight painful patterns, instead of each other, opens the door to safety and trust.
We all have tender needs for love and attachment. The desire to bond is human, even if a relationship has fallen into patterns of criticism contempt and withdrawal.
Our relationship needs for attachment indeed make us vulnerable to the pain of rejection. But that same vulnerability also opens the door to finding the love and acceptance we all need.
The Journey Back to Sexual Intimacy
Dr. John Gottman found that expressing needs instead of critiques is key to rekindle intimacy. Telling a loved one, “This is what I need, this is what would help,” is the flip side of telling your partner what you don’t like or do not need.
A focus on needs is a healthy alternative to criticism. Criticism is a negative pattern that couples can fall into without knowing it.
Accepting needs and sharing positive needs makes an important shift. It helps partners see what can work. It lowers the risk that one partner believes the other thinks something “is wrong with them.” Feeling safe when you’re vulnerable and working through issues is vital to building intimacy.
Dr. Sue Johnson would agree:
“The safer we feel emotionally, the more we can communicate, express our needs, play and explore our responses and relax into sexual feelings. ” says Dr. Sue Johnson
“What I tell the couples who come to see me to improve their relationship is that ‘Practice and emotional presence make perfect in the bedroom.'”
A skilled marriage therapist can help partners find safe ways to process strong feelings. Then they can soften into the more vulnerable ones. That’s what Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) does.
This is possible for most couples who work with a trained EFT therapist. Seeing the pursue-withdraw dance is just a starting point.
It clears the path for couples to notice what does work well in responding to each other’s needs.
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We bring professional training in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to our work with couples.