People often base their ideals of romance and sex on what they see in pop culture. On TV and in the movies, love always seems to be deeply passionate. You know the scene: One partner grabs the other, runs their hands through their hair, and they make sweet love on the dining room table (food still on the table).
But real life relationships aren’t like the movies. Sure, that scene could happen four or five years into being a couple, but only if your connection to your partner is nurtured in the right ways over the course of the relationship. Thriving relationships that are full of mind-blowing sex, memorable moments and lots of affection don’t happen by accident — they come about through being intentional about building intimacy.
Intimacy develops as each partner is committed both to their partner and to the relationship. It grows as the two of you make memories together, learn about each other, and get vulnerable together.
There are many ways to build the kind of intimacy that strengthens relationships, but they aren’t always straightforward or obvious. Here are three unconventional ways to build intimacy — and a relationship in which movie-scene moments are possible:
3 Ways to Build Intimacy in a Relationship
Make Sure Each Partner Has Time Alone
When it comes to interacting with others, every person is a bit different. While some people want to talk all day and spend every waking moment with their partner, others need big stretches of time to themselves to power down and recharge.
While spending time together is often seen as the ‘most romantic’ or ‘most intimate’ way for a couple to be, spending intentional periods alone can help foster closeness, too. There’s an old saying about this: “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Time apart allows people to miss each other, while also allowing each partner to breathe. This doesn’t mean there’s any less love; it’s important to communicate what you need in your relationship, which may be some time alone.
This alone time could take the form of anything from trips taken apart to simply spending a few hours in separate parts of your home — you determine what works best for your relationship.
“Alone time can mean anything from going on a separate vacation to simply getting up an hour early to have a cup of coffee by yourself,” says relationship expert Dr. Wayne Pernell.
Pernell says couples spending time apart from each other is healthy.
“Partners need alone time in relationships. The whole pandemic has thrown a wrench into all of that. There’s an old saying that was at first a joke, but really it’s not so funny: ‘How can I miss you if you won’t go away?’ Each of us, no matter how extroverted, need time for ourselves. We need time to learn, to play, and to just be ourselves,” says Dr. Pernell.
Ultimately, he adds, “A strong couple is two individuals who come together in support of each other! We think of a relationship as a static thing, but really, by definition, it’s the state of coming together again.”
Consider Sleeping in Separate Bedrooms
It’s not uncommon for partners in a relationship to have different sleeping habits. Maybe one of you snores, or the other moves around a lot — you could even have different schedules that might wake up the other person if, say, one of you is a night owl and the other one has to wake up early for work.
That might sound trivial, but sleep is essential. Sleep is the foundation for your waking day, and when your sleep quality is poor on a regular basis, that can throw your whole life into disarray. As a result, sometimes partners need to get honest about the fact that sleeping in the same bed just isn’t a viable option.
That can be a scary subject to broach, however. Even the idea of a couple sleeping in separate bedrooms might have made you feel a little pang of anxiety there. The idea that a loving couple always sleeps together in the same bed is deeply culturally imprinted for many people, whether via messages they’ve picked up from family and friends, religion, school or popular culture.
But trying to pursue something that makes sense for other people, but not for you, is a recipe for failure, and sleeping in the same bed is no exception.
Ultimately, “It can benefit a relationship if partners sleep in separate bedrooms,” says sex and relationship coach Sarrah Rose.
Rose says it’s possible to keep the romance alive while sleeping in separate beds by creating a bedtime ritual that brings you together at the end of each day. Maybe it’s a glass of wine, a bath, or a massage together. This moment of closeness will keep your relationship thriving without exhausting you.
“Quality sleep is the foundation of all health, including sexual health. If you aren’t sleeping well, it will negatively impact your libido,” Rose says. “When you are rejuvenated and refreshed, you’ll be much more in the mood for sex and less likely to pick fights because you’re tired,” she adds.
It’s no different from the principle discussed above — the right amount alone time helps keep the magic alive.
“If you’re always together, it stifles attraction, and you’ll find yourself in a dead bed rather than having hot sex,” Rose says. “Don’t let societal expectations ruin your health, mental acuity, and sex drive. Get good sleep, and perform better in the bedroom and everywhere else.”
Use Planning in a Sexy Way
Whether you’re a high-powered CEO or working three part-time jobs to get by, there’s a decent chance you’re busy these days. Which can seriously cut into your ability to spontaneously drop everything and do something romantic like have sex, go on dates, or do the other things that make a relationship grow. That’s why you should consider… planning them?
Though it may not sound sexy, it can be very effective at building intimacy, in part because leaving the details up to chance can be a huge source of frustration for couples:
- You’re not sure if you’re having sex tonight, so you have an expectation. You then get frustrated when it doesn’t happen.
- You always want to go out for a nice night with your partner, but four months have gone by since your last date before you know it.
- You spend time together only sporadically, and feel the intimacy slipping away.
“I believe that couples should plan big things — goals for the year, dates, time together,” says Ben Patwa, a certified behavior change specialist and high-performance coach to celebrities and executives.
Planning may not sound sexy, but it comes with many sexy benefits. For instance, planning helps create intimacy as you add more consistency to your relationship. Patwa says that sex and intimate moments can be spontaneous because of the work you’ve put in on planning other aspects of the relationship.
“Couples should put things on a calendar and treat the planning as sacred,” he explains. “The structure then allows for fluidity and flow on days when couples want to be spontaneous and spice things up.”
At the end of the day, it’s not how long you’ve been together that signals how strong your relationship is — it’s how much intimacy there is between you. True intimacy creates the unshakeable bond between people that can outlast arguments and hurts that would end another relationship. So do yourself a favor —try out these strategies to help you get closer to your partner, even if they sound unconventional.