A key to intimacy is expressing your feelings. Not your thoughts, your feelings: being able to share with your partner how you are feeling and being able to hear what he or she is sharing with you.
It's not an easy thing to do. More commonly people hold back out of fear of a negative reaction from their partner. So they end up playing this weird dance of trying to mind-read what the other wants and feels, and generally getting it wrong.
Some people are fine with that level of guidance; others struggle and need more direction. If you’re in the latter category, here’s an activity for you.
Set aside some time for a chat, maybe after dinner, or if you’ve got young children, once they’ve gone to bed. Do not do this in front of the TV. Sit somewhere comfortable, and if it feels right, have a cup of tea together. Humans have been sharing over cups of tea for centuries. It’s comforting and bonding.
Now take it in turns to share five things from your day, in this order:
1) A good thing that happened today and how it made you feel.
2) A bad thing that happened today and how it made you feel.
3) A not-so-good thing, a neglect, that your partner did today and how it made you feel (preferably small, until you get better at this).
4) A good thing that your partner did today and how it made you feel.
5) How you’re feeling at the end of this exercise.
So each of you share how you’re feeling, then each of you share point two, then point three, until you’ve done all five. When you’ve finished, thank your partner for sharing, and tell them how that made you feel.
The important part is that you say how it made you feel. Not just ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘pissed off’, be more specific, expand your vocabulary, such as: “I felt appreciated, as though you really cared” or “I felt really isolated and unsure of what to do”, i.e. be more expressive about what you felt or are feeling.
When you’re in the listening role, it’s important that you tune in to your own reactions. Be the watcher watching yourself. Note what your own emotional reaction is to what your partner is saying. Notice if you feel defensive, if you feel you want to justify yourself, if you feel you need to make them out to be wrong. It’s this response that causes people to hold their feelings in and not share. So make sure that your focus is what your partner is saying, not your reaction to it. This also applies if you have a tendency to go straight to fix it mode, or even if you go straight to soothing mode, as both of these well-intentioned responses don’t let your partner feel heard.
So listen, and repeat back what you’ve heard. That’s all.
The hardest one will of course be the something you did that made your partner feel bad. The important thing is simply that you acknowledge how they are feeling. You don’t have to fix it or justify it or anything for this exercise, just acknowledge their feeling.
Once you get in the habit of listening actively like this, your partner will become more comfortable with sharing their feelings honestly, because they know you are capable of listening without judgment.
Similarly, your own level of comfort in sharing will increase because you’ll learn to trust your partner’s ability to listen without reacting badly.
This is mature relating. It’s not always easy, which is why you need to practice until it becomes second nature.
Then your relationship will evolve, in all areas, particularly sexually.