Living Together: Transitions, Personal Space and Intimacy

I discuss living together frequently with clients who are struggling in their relationships. Their problems often stem from moving in together. Often, a couple “just moved in” and created many negative patterns. Expectations were high, and planning was nil: a recipe for creating problems.

Living together is a drastic change from dating. When a couple lives apart, there are built in transitions from alone time, work or chores. Getting ready, shaving and showering, driving to meet: all the preparations for the date create pleasant anticipation.

When you share living space, that anticipation is gone. Even during preparation time for an evening out, you’re usually together. The anticipation and preparation for romance is harder to find. How do you move from emptying the garbage to feeling romantic?

Consider all the different attitudes and activities you share in a given day. You are workers, friends, trouble-shooters, perhaps parents, playmates, and lovers. You each have your own reactions and feelings. Most of the time, you are probably reacting to different stimuli, in different situations, bombarded by different ideas. Transitions will help you move from being separate to focusing on each other.

Even though you share the same space, you can still extend an invitation to be together, Remember to suggest or invite rather than complain or demand. “I’d love to spend a little time with you tonight, would you like to?” works better than “We never have any time together!” When you were dating, invitations were natural. Now, they may feel unnecessary, but do it anyway. You’ll get more comfortable with it as you do it more, and as you see the results.

Invitations to intimacy can also be non-verbal. If, when your partner arrives home from work, you greet him or her with a smile, a warm hug and “How was your day,?” your partner will probably feel invited to be close. After a demanding workday, a relaxing half hour together before dinner, with a back rub, a soft drink or some light snacks, gives you a chance to connect and tune in to each other.

Transitions that are logical are easiest to do. After working in the garden, jogging, or other sweaty work, a shower together (or toweling each other off after separate showers) can become a natural transition to intimacy.

Even mental transitions work. When dressing for an evening out, focus your thinking on each other, all the positive things about your relationship, and what you appreciate. You’ll find the evening is more relaxed, and you have more fun.

Set aside a little quiet time before bed: no TV, no chores, just hold hands and be quiet for a few minutes. Listen to each other breathe. Breathing is a personal rhythm, and by paying attention to each other’s breathing, you’ll begin breathing together. This makes the next move toward intimacy easy.

When you’re doing projects or chores together, take a moment to get in concert about what you are doing. “I’ll clean this while you move that.” is simple to say, and it adds that feeling of teamwork. It also helps to say “If I have to do this, I’m glad to be doing it with you.”

When you finish working or doing something together, including making love, transition apart deliberately. Congratulate each other on a job well done, thank each other for helping, or simply say “That was delightful. I love you, good night.”

Use your car as a preparation place. When leaving work and driving home, deliberately leave the workday problems behind, and anticipate the pleasures of arriving home. When driving together to a party, use the car as your place to create connection before encountering other people.

As live-in lovers, you play many roles, and do many different kinds of activities together. In these times, when both people are likely to have careers, and/ or work hours that are not always similar, when to play becomes an important issue.

Most of us are work-focused. In our culture, work is given more value than most other activities. It becomes easy to get so busy working that we find ourselves with no re-creation time. Leisure time is the time when we re-create and renew our individual energy and the energy for the relationship.

Many couples fall into the trap of coming home from work to work on the house, in the yard, on schoolwork, on work brought home, on parenting tasks. Projects are fine, but don’t let them add up to 100% work, and no play.

Loving intimacy is a form of adult play. When all the play leaves a relationship, the energy for sex may leave with it. That joyful intimacy that seemed inexhaustible when you were first together may feel like it’s fading away. Here are some ways to bring it back:

-Make recreation, play and fun a priority for both of you. Put less energy into frustration and more energy into making your partner laugh.

-Develop “signals” that work for both of you. Bring home flowers, touch your partner tenderly, listen closely. When your partner feels important to you, you’ll get a good response.

-Give yourselves transition time before getting sexual. Don’t expect to be able to jump into bed and “get it on.” Allow time for quiet conversation, sensual touch, and just being together.

-Romance is only possible when there is also sufficient personal space. Allow a little distance, regularly. Doing separate things other than work will bring new energy to your togetherness.

-When you’re living together, it becomes easy to let romance slide. Let your partner know you care. Take an extra few minutes to set a scene when you have quiet time together. Visit places that have meaning to you: the restaurant where you had your first date, the place where you met, the romantic hideaway spot where you camped out. Play your favorite love songs; rent an old, romantic movie and eat popcorn.

By taking time to make these small transitions, you will bring intimacy and happiness back into your relationship.