“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ~ Helen Keller

Creating intimacy between you and another person can be scary, even dangerous at times — but most everyone wants it; to not be alone as you journey through life. There are risks involved with intimacy  — you could feel hurt or embarrassed.

The good news is that you can learn how to cultivate intimacy in ways that fulfill both you and your partner.

To begin, you must realize that you are responsible for you. Too often, people wait for their spouse to make the first move, to initiate the conversation, to walk over and offer the hug or shoulder to cry on. The problem with this strategy is that you have no control over someone else’s actions. All you can control is you.

1. Focus Your Attention

Intimacy begins with the simple things.  Notice your partner, listen to them, and offer thanks when they help out in your world. Relationships struggle when one partner says things like, “You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said for the last five years” or “You have no idea how hard I work.” Long before you reach this point, take preventative action with the gift of attention.

2. Take Care of Yourself

Many people go into relationships looking for a way to be happy, complete, and whole. It’s the same mindset as believing that your spouse’s strengths will offset your weaknesses, and vice versa.  There’s nothing wrong with believing this, in theory; the problem is that reality is often different than theory. What if you approach your relationship another way?  Be happy, complete, and whole — and then have a relationship.

Depending on another human for your happiness sets yourself up for disappointment. Humans change, leave, do things we don’t understand. And they do these things without our consent. Depending on things outside yourself for happiness and wholeness is giving up control over your own life.

A word of caution here:

Growing stronger and learning to achieve happiness on your own can be hazardous to your relationship. As you grow, it puts pressure on your partner to do the same.   And sometimes partners are threatened by this growth, so they resist the changes or run.

This is sometimes seen in the graduate school world. While the current divorce rate remains around the 45 to 50 percent range, in marriages where one spouse is in graduate school, the divorce rate increases. The reason? One partner is changing and growing, and the other may be threatened by the change.

We meet and fall in love with people who are about as mentally healthy (or unhealthy) as ourselves. Like attracts like. So as one of you grows and evolves, it’s important that the other partner grow as well for your relationship to survive.  I’ve written more on this idea here.

3. Share Yourself

Be open with your spouse. Share how you view the world, what you think, how you feel. Talk about the significant things in your life right now. Reveal your worries, your fears, your concerns.  I’m not saying you must share every deep secret in your life with your spouse, but let them in a little.

An unwillingness to share yourself with your spouse works against the goal of intimacy.

4. Throw Away the Score Card

Couples in conflict frequently keep mental score cards. They keep track of every unkind word, selfish act, and thoughtless gesture made by their spouse.  In essence, they catalog every one of their spouse’s sins of commission and omission going back over decades. This leads to the obsession of having to get even.

In relationships where you feel you must get even, intimacy will be non-existent — guaranteed.

However, when you freely give to your spouse and allow them to be themselves, you’ll likely experience the intimacy you desire. This doesn’t mean becoming a doormat for others, or letting them take advantage of you.  But when you release resentments and take an initiative to resolve things between you, you’ll often see the payoff of increased intimacy.

What are ways you and your spouse proactively cultivate intimacy in your relationship?

This post was first published on October 7, 2009.