For a moment, imagine yourself in a fictional story. In this adventure, you decide that you won’t brush your teeth or clean your mouth.
Then, in this fictional experience, people stop wanting to spend time with you, and you’re confused about why.
Sounds silly. Especially the part about not connecting that bad breath and dirty teeth was the cause of people no longer liking you.
However, this is a great metaphor for what many people do in marriages and long-term relationships.
They skip the emotional hygiene that relationships require. Then they wonder why they’re not as close, and not having sex.
Of course, there are many factors that can lead a couple to stop having sex, including hormonal changes, having children, and work stress.
However, I’ve noticed over and over among clients (and acquaintances too) that one of the biggest causes for a couple to lose their emotional and sexual intimacy in relationships is that they are not doing the work to keep “baggage” from piling up. (I call this emotional hygiene since it needs to be done regularly and ongoingly.)
In any relationship where you spend a lot of time with someone, uncomfortable and challenging things will eventually happen. It happens at work, in a family or a marriage, though most of us feel the impact most in intimate relationships.
Even in casual sex arrangements that are supposedly “no strings” relationships, lack of emotional hygiene can become an obstacle to continuing to be turned on by the other person.
It’s just the nature of life, that even in the best of circumstances there will eventually be some misunderstandings, conflicts and hurt feelings.
How you and your partner handle these things has an enormous impact on how close you feel to the other person.
In intimate relationships, emotional hygiene (or not enough of it) can be the difference between maintaining or losing sexual interest in each other.
Hurts and misunderstandings can easily build up and linger if not addressed in a timely fashion. It’s like building a wall between you and your partner.
This problem is a stealthy one because it can creep up on you without your realizing it.
If you don’t address and resolve hurts, challenges and issues as they happen, then they become much harder to fix later. This works the same as it does with oral hygiene. Dental care is much harder if you don’t clean your teeth daily.
With your teeth, the tools for preventing problems are brushing and flossing your teeth daily, and using an antibacterial mouthwash.
When it comes to relationships – whether it’s a long-term marriage or a casual fuck buddy – here are some of the tools for emotional hygiene.
- Active listening where you seek to understand – to truly “get” – the other person’s perspective.
- Thoughtful curiosity about what your partner thinks and how they feel
- Acknowledgement where you use words to recognize, and appreciate your partner and to let them know you understand their viewpoint
- Cultivating empathy, where you understand and connect with your partner’s feelings
- Authenticity and vulnerable sharing of your own thoughts and feelings
- Lack of judgment for the other’s differences
- Gentleness rather than harshness in dealing with problems
- Real rather than fake apologies
- Keeping a soft, open heart toward your partner
These are worth putting into practice every day, except for apologizing. Hopefully that won’t be needed every day, though sometimes it might.
If you work toward using these tools daily, your relationship will be much more likely to stay strong, meaningful – and sexy.
Emotional hygiene in your marriage or relationship is one of the most powerful ways to keep the emotional closeness and sexual intimacy strong and flourishing.