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How often do you have substantive conversations with your partner? How might a “relationship agreement” benefit you?
Relationship experts contend that a key to maintaining a happy romantic relationship is to sustain emotional intimacy. Specifically, they suggest that you regularly connect with each other and let each other—and your relationship—evolve.
Read on to discover three ways to maintain emotional intimacy in a relationship.
#1: Connect With Your Partner
The first way to maintain emotional intimacy in a relationship is to connect with your partner. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, relationship researcher John Gottman and coauthor Nan Silver highlight the importance of connecting regularly with your partner so that you can maintain your connection long-term. They explain that happy couples regularly respond to each other’s bids, or overtures, for connection. Sometimes, these overtures are obvious, like if your partner asks you to pick up groceries on your way home. Other times, these overtures are subtler—and they may even seem like a complaint. For example, if your spouse huffs that you never want to go out after work, this is actually a request for you to invite her out after work.
Gottman and Silver explain that regularly responding to these overtures improves your marital happiness by building up positive sentiment between the two of you—which allows you to weather life’s inevitable challenges.
To improve how often you respond to your partner’s overtures, Gottman and Silver suggest that you intentionally reconnect each evening. Take turns sharing the highs and lows of your days. Put your phones aside so you can stay focused on each other during the conversation, and always back your spouse—even if you suspect they’re in the wrong. Remember that the point of this conversation is to connect with your spouse and to help both of you defuse any externally caused stress (like troubles at work). You can’t do either if you attack your spouse’s choices (although you can express your concerns at another time).
#2: Let Each Other Evolve
The second way to maintain emotional intimacy in a relationship is to let each other evolve. In Eight Dates, Gottman, his wife—fellow relationship researcher Julie Schwartz Gottman—and married couple Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams also highlight the importance of connecting regularly with your partner. The authors explain that relationships last when both people support the evolution and growth of their partner, as individuals and as a couple. So to support each other’s growth, you and your partner need to set aside time to continue learning about each other through intentional conversation and open-ended questions.
But, rather than recommend that you reconnect each evening, the authors advocate for the power of a weekly date night. They define a date as a designated time that you get together with your partner to connect, talk, and learn more about one another (watching Netflix on the couch together doesn’t count). Moreover, they outline several specific topics you should discuss on these dates to lay a positive foundation for your relationship—such as what you like to do for fun and how you view your finances.
#3: Let the Relationship Evolve
The third way to maintain emotional intimacy in a relationship is to let the relationship evolve. While the authors of Eight Dates highlight the importance of letting each other evolve, How to Not Die Alone author Logan Ury emphasizes the importance of building a relationship that can grow with you. She explains that most people recognize that they’ve changed a lot in the past, but they don’t expect to change a lot in the future. But in reality, you (and your partner) will probably change just as much in the future as you did in the past. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure that your relationship evolves, too.
To ensure that your relationship adapts to your changing needs as the years go by, Ury recommends that you write a relationship agreement, or a “contract.” In this agreement, articulate your relationship values and how you’ll express them. Revisit this agreement regularly at intervals that work for you—whether that’s yearly or biannually—to review and update it as needed. By doing so, you’ll deal with potential issues early instead of letting them fester and damage your relationship long-term.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Master Guides: Maintaining a Happy Relationship summary:
- Advice from top relationship experts on how to maintain a happy relationship
- How to sustain both emotional and physical intimacy
- How to handle conflict so it doesn't ruin your relationship