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Life on the Intimacy Plateau

In a previous article I discussed the intimacy plateau. Since then, quite a few couples have come in wanting to discuss this idea in more detail. The intimacy plateau is as basic to a great marriage as Date Night. Read my article entitled “The Intimacy Plateau” for background.

Here, I will try to break down the intimacy plateau into a number of components, to help you think about how you and your partner can work to create an atmosphere of tenderness, partnership, and connection. Cultivating such an atmosphere will help your marriage in every way, not only in creating preconditions to physical intimacy itself.

1. It is important to be a good listener. I think we all have a pretty good idea what that means. But sometimes it is hard to listen, like when we are tired, or distracted, or our partner just won’t stop. Being a good listener means hanging in there, maintaining decent eye contact, and commenting sometimes about the factual content, but more often about the emotional content our partner is trying to express.

2. Self-disclosure should be a big part of marriage. That means volunteering one’s thoughts about the mundane -- one’s day, the kids’ activities, preferences for dinner, plans for the weekend -- as well as the profound -- one’s deeper feeling about one’s partner, formative childhood experiences perhaps, hopes or fears for the near or distant future, self-doubts in the workplace.

3. Acknowledgements are so easy! An acknowledgement is a verbal recognition of deeds well done by our partner. They often can begin with the word “wow” (or some such). As in, “Wow, that was a great hug,” or “Wow, the backyard looks great,” or “Wow, you worked so hard on preparing this meal.”or “Wow, you overcame a lot growing up.”

4. Distinct from deeds are affirmations for our partner. One way we “give” in marriage is to work constantly to strengthen our partner’s self-esteem. We do this by pointing out their best attributes, and even their second best attributes. Frequently. Again, so simple. “That sweater looks great on you.” “You are such a patient person.” “I admire how organized you are.” “You are someone who always keeps his word, and I respect that.” “Loyalty means a lot to you.” “Your work ethic is so much better than mine!” "Your smile is completely adorable." Look, we all notice these things, we just don’t always think to say them out loud. But we should.

5. Acts of service are important too. You know what that means. It’s just doing something nice for the other guy without being asked. It’s saying, “I’m going downstairs to get something to drink. Can I get you anything?” So easy. “I have to go to CVS. Is there anything we need at Publix while I’m out?” “You were standing all day. Would you like a foot rub?” “Do you want me to call your mom about the weekend so you don’t have to?” “Just sleep in tomorrow -- I’ll get the kids up and fed.”

6. Shared projects are the best! Just divide up the work. “I’ll make the salad if you’ll chop the veggies.” “The dog is getting chubby -- let’s take him for a walk every night.” Or you can join a couples bowling league. Or paint your kid’s room together. Bottom line: doing things together, especially making things or fixing things or improving things, is a great way to bond.

7. Shared air is a biggie, and often overlooked. This means lying on the bed, face to face, and talking. Or snuggling on the couch, and talking. You can kiss a little if you’re inclined, but this is not about sex. It is about breathing the same air, occupying the same bubble. You have to be physically close to do this. Every couple should talk in bed before going to sleep. Even if one is going to get back up and watch t.v. or pay some bills. A little time every night in the same bubble, breathing the same air.

8. Finally, non-sexual touching is absolutely essential. A lot of hugging, some patting, a little rubbing, or stroking, it’s all good, because a sincere touch is a great way to say "I love you." But as soon as you turn it to sex, guys, it doesn’t count. Don’t wreck it. How many people have told me they avoid touch because their partners always try to turn it into sex? I have lost count. And when your partner avoids touch, you may never ascend to the intimacy plateau, and remember: a lot of people aren't going to want sex until they've been there. So when you try to turn hugs into sex you are ruining everything. Cut it out.

So these are some ways to build intimacy in your marriage. They are the normal, everyday maintenance activities of marriage. Marriage is a lot of work, yes. But don’t be a brat. You are not entitled by birth to a great marriage. You have to work at it. And you are not entitled by marriage, I am sorry to have to tell you, to have sex whenever you want it. But I can guarantee that if you can just keep your marriage on the intimacy plateau, you will improve your marriage. I’m afraid it’s not a guarantee that you’ll “get” sex, but it sure improves your chances.

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