After hours of work preparing your partner’s favorite gourmet food and dressing up in sexy clothes, your heart beats a little faster as you hear his key in the door. Your skin tingles as you put your arms around him. But in an instant, your heart sinks. He barely makes eye contact. He gives you a perfunctory kiss, tells you he is exhausted after a tough meeting at work, and proceeds to pour himself a large drink.
Disappointed that your partner didn’t notice the enticing aromas from the kitchen, or the music that you both called your ‘special songs’, you try and engage him again with tasty hors d’oeuvres. He nibbles on a few appetizers and makes small talk. You are desperate for him to hold you, and tell you how much he missed you that day. You want him to notice the effort you made to look alluring and create a romantic atmosphere. But he is focused on how much he enjoys his drink, leaving you feeling invisible. You sit really close and start caressing him, but he remains impervious to all your romantic gestures.
Feeling disheartened, you try to please him by putting the finishing touches to the meal that you have slaved over most of the day. After all, they say that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!’ Perhaps if he is excited about the cheese soufflé and the beef casserole in red wine that you both swooned over on your honeymoon in Paris, he might appreciate you and want to get close.
Anger and fear choke you as you spoon the casserole into your mouth. Your partner enjoys the food and thanks you, but he isn’t lit up with desire for you. What have you done wrong? What did you miss out? Has he gone off you? Does he have a mistress? These are the questions that plague you as you try to keep your hope alive while serving that chocolate mousse dessert that he raves over. He is enthusiastic and has second helpings. Yet with each mouthful he savors, your bile rises. You can’t believe that all the trouble you took and all the hours you spent looking forward to this romantic evening have crumbled before your heartbroken eyes.
Why doesn’t romancing your partner get you the closeness you want?
Your partner can’t be emotionally intimate with your hair do, perfume or sexy clothes. He can’t be close to your food, or your music. These things actually come between you and your partner. Sexy clothes, romantic music and great meals become substitutes for you the person. If you get your partner to focus on these outward appearances and actions, then he can’t reach you, or make a connection with you as a person. He can’t share himself with you, and he can’t reach you because the emphasis is on food, music, or physical appearance.
So what’s the difference between romance and emotional intimacy?
Romance is making your partner feel attractive, special and desirable for short periods of time by spoiling them. It usually means putting on an act to create a certain image that you can’t sustain. You hide much of yourself in an effort to look, sound and feel perfect.
Emotional intimacy is about sharing your authentic self – good and bad. The connection you make with your partner is based on the actual moment-to-moment experience you both have. It’s a genuine exchange of experience without having to censor, sweeten, or otherwise spin it to get a particular outcome. You and your partner can then have a pure, clean connection based on complete openness and acceptance. There is nothing more precious or satisfying.
So how can you entice him to be emotionally close?
- Tell him how you feel when you meet at the end of the day. Being open with him, invites him to be open with you. He doesn’t have to pretend if you don’t. He doesn’t have to go through the rituals that returning home after work entail, and nor do you. Living the moment as it is rather than through an ideal lens, means you are emotionally intimate and connected. No hiding, no game playing – instead you both have more energy to tune into each other.
- Spend time with him, instead of being busy doing things that you think he might like. When you give him yourself, unencumbered, he will want to reciprocate. You can’t be emotionally close if your mind is on making sure the food is not burned! If your priority is on making the perfect meal then you are telling him that his stomach is more important to you than his feelings and your connection as a couple.
- Take his emotional temperature and give him space to let out whatever is on his mind. You get to know exactly where he’s at, so you can join him. Be curious about what he feels and he will be interested in what’s going on for you. When both of you have shared where you are at in the moment, you both have more room for one another. Then both of you can feel safe enough to share doubts, worries and fears, the most intimate of all experiences.For example, your partner might reveal his fears about your reaction to something earlier in the day when he says, “I’m worried that you might be angry with me for not listening to you this morning when you mentioned the weekend plans.” Then you can let him know that you felt annoyed at having to take care of the details alone, and so the conversation flows, allowing you to get deeper into each other, in ways that foster healthy emotional closeness.
- Acknowledge and accept the tiniest compliments and subtle praise that your partner offers. Don’t brush it off as if it was nothing, or respond in a way that makes it a low priority. If he says, “Let’s sit together for a while before dinner,” hear it as him valuing your presence, and respond in kind. Avoid talking about the food getting spoiled or all the chores that need doing.
- Invite your partner to share activities with you. Put the emphasis on the companionship and closeness rather than on duty or expectation. It’s sharing the most mundane of daily activities like putting the dishes away or pruning bushes in the garden that gives the message that you put togetherness over trying to impress and get something in return. Share memories of what these chores bring up for you. As you do, you weave strong threads of intimacy that belong to you the couple. When romance doesn’t satisfy your longing for emotional closeness these reliable moments of connection will sustain you.
Dr. Jeanette Raymond is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Los Angeles. She is the Author of: Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t! Fear of Intimacy: Ten ways to recognize fear of intimacy, and ten ways to manage it in your relationship.