How To Build and Keep a Close Relationship - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 8, 2014

How To Build and Keep a Close Relationship

Couples who build and maintain a relationship for a lifetime know how to keep their relationship close, fresh and fun.

They don’t let resentments pile up, outside stressors affect their closeness for too long and they know how to continuously reinvent themselves and their relationship so they don’t get bored with each other!

There are 5 main things that BREAK a couple’s closeness:

1. Not Being Together – When couples stop being intentional about taking time out together.

They stop having fun, doing something physical, laughing together, being silly, talking about life dreams, and sharing about each other’s days.

2. Resentment – This is the biggest barrier to maintaining a close connection.Resentment, hurt and not letting go of the past prevent us from wanting to be close and making the relationship strong.

3. Life Events – such as stress, grief, depression, addiction, family tension, parenting struggles. If these issues are going on for you, deal with it.

No matter how wonderful and compassionate your partner is, it’s hard to hang in there with a partner who isn’t taking responsibility for bringing themselves back to well-being.

4. Loss of Affection – Losing the habit of sex, hugs, kissing, affection (baby talk, pet names, holding hands), expressions of appreciation, simple gifts.

When couples lose this, they often feel like they’re living with a “roommate” rather than a lover and spouse.

5. Losing your Knowledge about each other—not knowing what his favorite movie is or what book she is reading. When couples stop knowing each other or wanting to share, they lose their friendship.

Exercise One: Talk with your partner about things that get in the way of you two being close.

Remember, if you’re raising a concern about the other or are frustrated, be gentle, listen, and don’t resist.

Come up with a list and prioritize the things that are really getting in the way. Say things like, “I feel so much closer to you when …,” and, “I find myself pulling away from you when you…”

How Can Couples Build Closeness?

So, you probably identified some of the things that are getting in the way of being a close couple. Maybe it was all five of them!

This happens. Take heart. You can rebuild and reconnect.

You may need some outside support to let go of resentment and really move toward understanding each other.

You may also need to work on yourself if you have trouble with moods or outbursts of anger or a substance abuse problem.

Give up “being right” and do what’s right for relationship. And, start to work on the following areas to rebuild your connection:

Strategy #1: Be Great Friends!

You cannot have a close relationship with your spouse if you are not great friends.

When I work with couples on communication, for example, I often have to remind them to listen to each other as if they were really good friends.

Our spouses, when we’re hurt and angry, often become the enemy. We stop wanting to understand each other and end up battle for being right and having our own needs met.

Work on cultivating a great friendship by:

1. Regularly updating your knowledge about each other – Good friends know details about each other’s preferences.

These may be things like their favorite books or movies, names of coworkers who bug them, most scary, embarrassing, or humorous moments, major childhood events, favorite food/restaurants, etc.

When we lose that knowledge about each other, we stop seeing each other as separate individuals with their own unique interests and points of view. Recognizing and appreciating these differences are what keeps each other interesting.

2. Regularly playing together – Couples who play together generally stay together. This is because they’re constantly laughing or doing new and exciting things together.

Couples tend to bond through high adrenaline activities so periodically incorporate doing something that gets the heart pounding. Whether it is Salsa dancing or sky diving, get out there and have a ball!

Couples also build on their shared values by going to church, volunteering or exercising together.

Couples do not need to share everything in common but having one or two things they really love to do together builds deep connection.

3. Regularly express your appreciation and admiration – I can’t tell you how many times I hear from couples, “She knows I love her” or “He knows I’m proud of him” but when asked if they actually say it to each other, it’s , “Well…no…not very often.”

Start speaking those loving words to each other. In my experience, many people do not realize how much their spouse really does admire and appreciate them.

You must on a daily basis express something. Send a text, write a note or buy a silly card. Don’t overlook anniversaries and birthdays!

It’s such a great opportunity to spoil your partner with flowers and little gifts (or big ones!).

Pat your lover’s butt as they walk by and say thanks for loading the dishwasher. Be grateful and see the good in each other. When you’re annoyed at a certain habit, remind yourself of all the good things about your partner.

4. Regularly Turn Toward Your Partner – It’s important to recognize when your partner wants to connect. Research shows that couples are happier and stay together longer when they regularly make and accept each other’s bids for connection. (Gottman, 2000).

Bids for connection may come in a variety of packages:

-Expressions of opinions, thoughts, feelings or observations (e.g. “I just had the worst day…”, “Isn’t that a pretty building?”, “Woo-hoo! Did you see that shot?”)

– Invitations (e.g. “Do you want to go to movie this weekend?” “What do you think of taking a trip to Mexico this summer?” “Can we snuggle on the couch while we watch that?”)

-Non verbal gestures – hugs, kisses, pats on the back or butt, smiles, chuckling, tickling, grunts (of acknowledgment to what s/he said)

If your partner turns toward your bid, this builds closeness in the relationship.

Responses to Bids for Connection can be low energy like “sure”, *grunt+ or *chuckle+ or be middle to high energy such as asking questions, responding enthusiastically, validating, empathizing, giving full focus. Turning toward may look like this:

Bid for connection: “I’m bummed you’re going out again tonight.”

Turning Toward Response: “Yeah, I’ve got to meet Janet. But, it sounds like you’re disappointed. Do you want to talk about it?”

Turning Away Response: “Yeah, I’ve got to meet Janet. See you later!”

In other words, close couples don’t ignore each other’s upset and they don’t ignore each other’s requests for affection, sex, or time together. This is absolutely critical to the overall health and closeness in the relationship!!

Exercise Two: Talk together about ways you each seek out connection with each other. Tell each other what you really like about when they respond (turn toward you). Also share what you appreciate/admire about each other and talk about what you’d like to do for fun together.

Strategy #2: Be Great Lovers!

Couples aren’t just friends; they’re lovers too. And yet, many couples find themselves in low sex or no sex relationships after several years.

There’s little passion, kissing, hugs or even holding hands. Some couples don’t even sit on the couch and watch television together. Sometimes I hear from people that “Sex isn’t that important” or “We just don’t have the time or money to go on dates!”

It’s my belief after many years of working with couples, that sex, affection and romance are probably the most important elements in creating a lasting and satisfying relationship for both him and her.

Women, typically, want more romance and dates. Men, may want that too, but also just want more sex period. Follow these steps and you can meet both needs.

1. Set up weekly dates of at least 2 hours in length. Yes. I said weekly. I can imagine the shaking heads and eyes widening. “But we work 60 hours a week!” or “But we have 3 children under 5!!”

I didn’t say you had to leave the house. Though, that’s certainly better.

Unless you have a newborn (6 weeks or less) or one of you is going through significant health challenges, you can do this. A date can be after the kids go to bed where you pour a glass of wine and play a game of scrabble together.

A date can be sitting in the tub together with nice music and candle light until your skin wrinkles (or one the kids wants a glass of water).

A date can be going to the local coffee shop and sharing newspaper articles with each other. The point is focused time on each other. Be sure to touch a lot and look into each other’s eyes during these dates!

Do not have grand expectations of long dinners and movies or nightclub dancing when it’s just not practical. But, when you can utilize a great baby sitter and/or the work load lightens, do regularly (ideally monthly) set up those great nights out too.

2. Flirt, flirt, flirt! – Couples who have been together for a while very often stop flirting with each other. They stop sending dirty texts or nuzzling ears or making references to how hot the other is.

One way to get this going again is to pretend you’re having an ongoing affair with your spouse. I learned this from Dr. Diana Kirschner in her book Sealing the Deal. Imagine what you would do if you were having an affair!

There would be nooners and sexy messages and sexy clothes and sexy perfume! You would touch each other more and you would laugh at all the jokes and you would do things you’d never imagine doing with your “spouse.” I promise you.

This is so much fun! Women, try sending a hot, I mean really dirty, text to your man. Men, hug her from behind, whisper into her ear how beautiful she is and how crazy she makes you (before you do this, make sure you’ve done your part of the house chores!).

3. Schedule sex. Couples always groan when I say this. But sheesh! We have busy lives and we schedule everything else. Why not sex? If you don’t, it won’t happen. And, there’s room for spontaneity too.

When you’re hot in the bedroom and you’re spending time outside the bedroom together being great friends, you’re more likely to have surprise sex at three in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

But, overall, you’ve got to schedule it. So, I propose “sexy scheduling.” It’s so much more fun to schedule sex, if you say it like this: “Friday night, I’m going to [insert x-rated deed here+…”

Or, what fun it would be for your partner to get an invitation on his/her Google calendar that reads: “Susan invites you to lick her toes and other parts on Saturday at 8 p.m. Do you accept?” Scheduling doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

For other tips and advice on spicing up your sex life, see my article and Marriage & Sex and information on my website:

Exercise Three: Schedule a date and/or sex. Right now. Then hug and kiss each other for at least 10 seconds.

Strategy #3: Be a Great Givers

Giving comes in lots of packages. I don’t necessarily mean giving physical gifts to each other though that’s certainly nice and can be important part of keeping closeness. I mean giving of yourself to your partner.

Giving means being willing to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, giving compassion, being willing to validate and seeking to understand, be emotionally supportive and giving up being right for the sake of the relationship.

Follow these steps to be more giving and loving with each other:

1. Replace resentment with compassion—Have compassion for each other’s vulnerabilities, shame, fear, worries, and frailties. Happy couples achieve this kind of compassion and help each other manage their vulnerabilities, not hold it against each other.

When you find yourself resentful, try holding your partner in a loving, compassionate space. You’ll be surprised at what you discover about yourself.

2. Commit to understand your partner’s perspective. Regularly discipline yourself to really listen to your partner’s perspective or imagine what their world is like.

What’s it like for her when you get irritated that she’s crying again or don’t want to hear about her troubles with her coworkers?

What it like for him when you get irritated and withdraw affection when he wants to watch the game or go out with the guys?

You don’t have to agree with your partner’s point of view, but say things to validate and communicate that your partner’s perspective is equally important.

3. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt – When you’re frustrated, hurt, angry or irritated, develop the habit of giving him/her the benefit of the doubt.

Start to wonder if maybe you don’t know the full picture about what happened.

Until you do, begin to say, my perspective is incomplete until I know his/hers.

In order to keep the connection and be open to your partner’s explanation, you need to suspend judgment.

Maybe you don’t know how hard her day was with nasty customers or his day was with grumpy kids and this is why s/he is irritable, withdrawing or demanding.

Get in the habit of getting into his/her world before you justify your reasons for being upset.

4. “Step into the puddle” with each other

What this means is joining your partner in their emotional space (emotionally tune into and support).

Why? Because we implicitly promised that we’d care if the other one was in pain or distress.

Give your partner a hug or a listening ear (not advice giving or fixing one).

Make empathizing statements like, “Oh that really sucks. I’m sorry was so hard on you.”

Rub each other’s backs and bring each other hot tea. Really be there when you’re partner is feeling sad, hurt, disappointed or stressed out.

What to Do When….

1. What do I do when I feel like giving up?

When feeling like giving up, make a small improvement. Do something small to make yourself feel even 1% better.

Even thinking about what you can do to make the situation a little better helps.

Take a bath, a run, see friends, clean out something, work on a project. Then begin to work on the above ways to reestablish connection.

2. What do I do when I just want to withdraw and get away from the situation?

When feeling like withdrawing, do something to connect to him/her instead.

Do it whether you want to or not. Take a few breaths or commit to releasing your anger.

Do something to allow yourself to genuinely care about your partner’s emotional state. Recognize that when your partner feels bad so do you.

When you don’t want to talk, you can still hold hands while you take a walk; you can ask about her day or offer him a drink or a cookie.

You can still allow your feet to touch in bed or put your arm around each other when you’re sleeping.

3. What do I do when I start to blame or feel like it’s all my partner’s fault?

When feeling like blaming, appreciate your partner instead. Start focusing on all the things they do for you.

If your partner doesn’t help with the housework, maybe your partner does the yard work, works hard to bring home money, or simply makes you laugh.

Exercise Four:

1. Write down a complaint or resentment you have about your partner.

2. Write down how you normally respond to that resentment or his/her irritating behavior.

Do you withdraw? Criticize? Are you angry/irritable/blaming?

Ask yourself, are you being true to the most important thing about you as a person and partner?

3. Transform this complaint by writing down their likely perspective. Feel compassion.

See if you need give them the benefit of the doubt about something.

Maybe there’s something you don’t know about the situation. Focus on a positive view of your partner.

Lastly, what can you do to: Make a small improvement? Appreciate? Connect?

Commit to all of this and you can maintain or rebuild closeness in your relationship.

Get help if you’re having trouble getting over past hurts or giving up being right or your partner is regularly turning away from your bids for connection.

I wish you a long, happy and satisfying life together!


Gottman, J. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press, NY.

Kirschner, D. (2011). Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor’s Guide to Lasting Love. Center Street, NY.

Love, P. & Stosney, S. (2007). How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. Broadway Books, NY.

About the author

Karen Holland

Karen Holland is a marriage counselor, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, specializing in marriage counseling, couples counseling, pre-marital counseling and family counseling. She teaches couples how to get along, be good friends and lovers and create a marriage for a lifetime.

She has several years of experience and training with family of origin issues, improving couple/marital relationships, healing trauma, and learning how to better manage your emotions.

She works with a variety of marriage and family issues such as infidelity, communication problems, parenting, family concerns, interracial relationships, and step-families.

For more information, visit