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5 Ways to Bolster the Bond With Your Partner Beyond the Bedroom

After occupying the dating world for a dozen years, Ms. Meyers is now happily married and eager to share what she's learned about love.

Today, it's common for people to have sex without intimacy. Yet, we still have a deep yearning to be close: seen, vulnerable, accepted, and loved.

Today, it's common for people to have sex without intimacy. Yet, we still have a deep yearning to be close: seen, vulnerable, accepted, and loved.

Intimacy and Sex Are Not Synonymous

Today, many people use intimacy and sex interchangeably. Yet, these two words have never been more different. In this jaded climate of hook-ups, friends with benefits, and virtual dating, everything now is inside-out, topsy-turvy, and completely cockeyed.

Some young adults have sex (often fueled by alcohol and drugs) with partners they've just met. It's a physical release, an escape from stress, and an avoidance from revealing their true and vulnerable selves. It's sex without intimacy.

Lonely and socially awkward older adults, on the other end of the spectrum, engage on-line where they develop intense, meaningful relationships. For many of them, the honest and real connection is what matters and they may never want to meet in person. It's intimacy without sex.

Intimacy Is Not a Chick Thing

With all these changes in our culture, though, one thing remains constant: the primal need to bond. Today, we live in a world where a person can boast of 6,000 so-called "friends" on Facebook but sits home alone on a Saturday night.

Now, more than ever, we need ways to create intimacy with our partners. Contrary to popular belief, doing so isn't a “chick thing” that involves a lot of talking and doing touchy-feely exercises. Instead, building intimacy can be erotic, involving lots of sensual touch, and relaxing, involving quality uninterrupted time together.

5 Ways to Bolster the Bond With Your Partner

  1. Make a meal together.
  2. Take a bath or shower together.
  3. Give each other massages.
  4. Read the same book and discuss it.
  5. Play "slave for the day."

1. Make a Meal Together

When preparing a meal, couples work as a team in a confined space and share an intimate experience. The smells, the sounds, and the tastes in a kitchen arouse the senses like few other places do. Cooking together becomes a kind of erotic dance as partners maneuver around the kitchen island, brushing against one another, reaching for pots and pans at the same time, and sampling the ingredients.

Following a basic recipe or using a food kit works best so couples can relax and talk without being overwhelmed with too many steps. Jaime Buerger, the author of If You Want to Strengthen Your Relationship, Start in the Kitchen, says that cooking sparks intimate dialogue. She writes: "Cooking is fun, and the more fun you're having together, the more flirtatious and playful your banter will be."

2. Take a Bath or Shower Together

Taking a bath or shower together is another highly sensual experience for couples. It's a marvelously intimate activity as a prelude to sex or just unto itself. It's ideal after a long, hard day as a means to wash away the stresses from work and transition into relaxed domesticity.

It's a way for couples to enjoy their sexuality without having intercourse, touching and exploring each other's bodies. They can shampoo one another's hair, soap each other up, and scrub each other's backs. Xanet Pailet, a sex coach and author of Living an Orgasmic Life, recommends water time for her clients. She says: "Bathroom activities can be very intimate and by their nature can make couples feel more connected."

3. Give Each Other Massages

Today, many people pay professionals to massage them rather than ask their partners. As a result, they miss out on one of the most effective ways to build intimacy in their relationship. When my husband and I started dating, we attended weekly massage classes at our community center. It was a terrific way to explore one another's bodies, help one another release tension, and learn how to use oils to heighten sensation.

Twenty years later, I credit those classes for the success of our union. They set a sensual tone for our relationship and helped us appreciate the enormous value of touch. Findings presented at the British Psychological Society's annual conference confirmed the benefits of partners massaging one another. After getting a massage from their partners, couples in the study reported having a greater sense of well-being, experiencing enhanced coping abilities, and feeling less stress.

Reading a book about relationships can help a couple become better communicators, lovers, and friends.

Reading a book about relationships can help a couple become better communicators, lovers, and friends.

4. Read the Same Book and Discuss It

When my husband and I were dating, we read John Gray's bestseller, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. It was part of pop culture at the time (early 1990's) and proved a useful tool for us two introverts, sparking conversation about how men and women communicate differently. While I wouldn't recommend it today because its generalizations seem outdated, reading it back then was a non-threatening way to bring up issues that we were encountering. Couples, though, don't need to select self-help books about relationships. A collection of poetry or a classic work of fiction can have the same purpose, serving as a springboard for purposeful dialogue.

If I were to recommend a book for couples, it would be The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. It was written in 1992 by a long-time marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman. Since that time, it's grown in popularity and has landed on the New York Times Best Seller list every year since 2009. Best of all, it was designed for couples to read together so they can determine their own love language as well as their partner's. The love languages include:

  • words of affirmation
  • quality time
  • receiving gifts
  • acts of service and
  • physical touch

When my husband and I read the book and answered the questions, we wound up being different love languages. I was quality time and he was words of affirmation. With that new knowledge, we understood why we had struggled in our marriage at times and knew precisely how to remedy it.

I became more mindful about giving him compliments and thanking him for all he did to provide for our family. He became more conscientious about spending time alone with me, lining up a babysitter for a weekly date night.

5. Play “Slave for the Day"

My husband and I started this game when we were dating and still play it today when the kids are at their grandparents. It proved an effective way to get to know one another—our likes and dislikes, what turns us on, and how we like to spend our time. When my husband was my slave, I'd have him do the things that meant a lot to me: taking a walk together with our dog, going to the Farmer's Market, rubbing my feet, and making reservations at a trendy restaurant. When I was his slave, he'd like me to cut his hair, watch football, make him his favorite recipes, and play strip poker.

When we'd play Slave for the Day, we'd let it cross over into our sex lives as well. It was a fun and non-threatening way to let our partner know what gave us pleasure—what positions we liked, what fantasies we had, what music we enjoyed, what clothing turned us on, whether we liked lights on or off, and whether we preferred talking or no talking. It's often difficult for couples to talk about these things, but this game makes it a lot easier.

© 2016 McKenna Meyers