Beyond Roommates~ Top 5 Tips to have a Closer, More Intimate Connection

Do you love your partner and feel like you’re a great team or co-parents, but sense that something is missing in your relationship?

Some of the most common concerns I hear from couples today are: 

We’ve become roommates, and no longer feel close.

I feel lonely and disconnected from the most important person in my life.

There’s no romance, affection or intimacy.

Some couples even feel like “strangers” or worse “enemies”! It’s heartbreaking that generations of couples continue to experience their amazing love and bond erode – because they never got “the manual” that explains what actually causes love to fail, and how to renew their bonds. 

Fortunately, the “manual” IS available in books like Lovesense by Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of EFT, and The 7 principles that make marriage work by Dr. John Gottman (just to name two excellent resources). I draw from some of their wisdom in the 5 tips below. 

I also know this territory well because I experienced this “roommate” issue in my marriage when our son was an adorable 3 year old. My husband was training for an Ironman race and building his business, and I was ironically consumed with my post- graduate work in couples and family therapy. 

What helped get us out of our rut was participating in a Hold Me Tight workshop that was transformational for our relationship! That inspired us to make relational growth a greater priority to safeguard us from complacency. We also engage in daily relationship practices that maintain our connection and are doable for busy couples! 

In my blog, “Busy Parents Can Cultivate a Stronger Bond”, I explain these 5 relationship practices

  • Eye gazing 
  • Magic 6 hours (Gottman’s essential daily practices for couples)
  • “I’ve got your back” meditation
  • Owner’s manuals
  • Say “NO” to things outside your relationship and “YES” to your partner!

Today, I am excited to share~

5 NEW tips for moving BEYOND roommates to experience greater intimacy, closeness, and connection: 

  • Do things that draw your partner closer to you
  • No risky, no getty
  • Be the “stronger, wiser, kinder other” for your partner
  • Choose your partner & make intimacy a priority
  • Know your “moves” that unintentionally block intimacy

1.) If you want more closeness, DO more things that draw your unique partner closer to you. 

As straightforward as this sounds, most couples who are caught in negative cycles feel stuck due to their limiting beliefs, eg. “There’s NOTHING I can do to change my relationship!” or, “I have to FEEL like doing nice things for my partner for it to be authentic” or “If only my partner changes _____, then we can ____.” 

I picture two lovers at a dance on opposite sides of the room… waiting for the other to find them and do something to make them feel desired or loved again. 

Make the first move and keep doing it. Or, if you’re out of ideas, ASK YOUR PARTNER, 

What can I do to help you feel more desired/loved? 

If you genuinely want more closeness~ Reflect and even make a list of as many ideas as possible about what drew your partner closer to you in the past. For example, write down- your partner’s “love language” (eg. touch or words of affirmation), activities they enjoy doing, things that bring them joy or pleasure, what helps them feel calm or at peace, etc.

And if you’re LONGING for deep intimacy, focus on what makes your partner feel~ safe, secure, loved and vibrant. I even have an exercise on my website to help partners become more expert on one another. It’s called “The Couple Bubble”. 

For example, if you want more emotional intimacy with your partner, think about where and when your partner has historically opened up to you and been most present and attuned to you as well. Is this on a hiking trail? Or, on a romantic date on an evening? 

Or, if you want more sexual intimacy with your partner, get clearer on specific elements of foreplay that would actually turn your partner on. 

If you don’t have a clue about what will draw your partner closer to you, ask the expert- your partner! 

2.) “No risky, no getty”

This is one of my favorite Dr. Sue Johnson (creator of EFT) quotes! 

Most of us LONG to feel safe, seen, cared for, and accepted and desire more closeness with our partner. 

Yet, a much smaller number of couples are willing to take RISKS, or are aware of how to clearly & vulnerably express themselves, in order for our loved one to respond in an attuned way.

I often hear from partners (who grew up with parents who were emotionally neglectful or were loving, but did not know the value of emotions, attunement & responsiveness) that they’re dumbfounded by the idea that they need to show their emotions & TELL their partner their specific needs. They’ll say, “It seems obvious. She should just know.” Or, “He’s just selfish. He doesn’t care about me.” 

This “Call” and “Response” process is unknown or unclear to them because they didn’t receive connection, care, comfort, love, and in general attunement and responsiveness when they called out to their parents (if they were allowed to “call”). 

Other partners had to disown their emotions & needs to be accepted in their family of origin, and aren’t sure how to access & express them again, which leads to loneliness, being misunderstood & disconnection. (In EFT, we help clients access, organize & respond to each others’ emotions, needs & longings.)

I also witness partners (who grew up with parents who were abusive or just not as predictably safe as they needed) send SCRAMBLED SIGNALS to their partner about their emotions, needs and longings. 

One part of them hopes their partner will be able to see and respond to their vulnerable needs (which they’re not or just ½ expressing), while another part is (unconsciously) protecting their vulnerability by focusing on something more superficial, criticizing their partner (which pushes their loved one away), or not saying anything.

Then, when their partner doesn’t respond to their hidden emotions and needs, they’re furious, devastated, or continue to feel disappointed and numb.    


What can we “get” by being courageous (showing vulnerable emotions, hidden parts of ourselves, & expressing attachment needs) in our romantic relationships? 

We can GET the intimacy, closeness and connection that partners of ALL attachment styles crave. 

We can also experience one of the best gifts in any relationship – BEING KNOWN & still loved and accepted. 

A personal example~

Several years ago, my husband and I went to an Airbnb to do Esther Perel’s private online workshop called, “Rekindling Desire”. The workshop’s subtitle, “Start your journey toward erotic intimacy today!” described our fun weekend adventure that took us outside our comfort zone in a good way

There was an unexpected component of the program… Some of the exercises solely required emotional vulnerability.

The most memorable exercise that brought us the closest together surprisingly did not require us to DO anything risque or erotic. Instead, it simply guided us to share with our partner our answers to the following question:

  • What is a part of your sexuality that you have NEVER shared with your partner? (eg. something from the past, a fantasy, etc.)

My spouse and I BOTH disclosed an aspect of our sexuality that we had NEVER shared with one another prior to this workshop. It was SCARY for both of us, but also liberating to no longer keep a secret from our partner. 

The experience strengthened our bond because~

We both SHOWED hidden parts of ourselves

and (overall) 

RESPONDED with openness, curiosity, and compassion

Our disclosures led to a courageous and meaningful conversation. Although we didn’t agree on everything and even struggled at times to keep our emotional balance, we eventually experienced our partner’s genuine understanding and acceptance. And, best of all, we learned that we could be brave again with each other.

3.) Be the “stronger, wiser, kinder other” for your partner.

Are you a “safe place” that your partner goes to for comfort? 

Or, does your partner try to hide their struggles? Or, turns to someone or something else (eg. substance/tech/work/food, etc.) for comfort?

To strengthen your connection and intimacy with your partner and to be a safe harbor in the storms of life ~ it is essential to learn how to be accessible, emotionally responsive in an attuned & comforting manner, and engaged. (A.R.E.) To understand the skill of “emotional responsiveness”~ 

Think of an adult, during your childhood, who might have qualified as~

“A Stronger, Wiser, Kinder Other”

Someone (who met any part of this description) you… felt safe with to share your inner world, could have turned to for empathy, comfort, reassurance, encouragement, support, protection, guidance, sensed they genuinely wanted to know you; they saw a talent, strength, or some other goodness in you, made you feel welcome… 

And was also strong & humble to hear and value constructive feedback from you once in a while and wise enough to prioritize your relationship instead of being “right”.

What if you didn’t have that kind of adult in your life when you were little?

You can be creative… eg. channel an adult you observed being “a stronger, wiser, kinder other” for another child, a character in a book, an adult treating a pet in a nurturing way, or a mentor you’ve met in your adulthood, etc. 

With that adult in your mind… 

Reflect on how you can be the “stronger, wiser, kinder other” for your partner (& vice versa) beginning with the key question:

Are you there for me? 

In the book, Hold me tight, Dr. Sue Johnson clarifies the most important relationship skills (similar to “attunement”) through the acronym, A.R.E. (Accessible, Responsive, & Engaged). When our partner demonstrates these skills, we are more willing to take emotional RISKS, and feel more safe, seen, heard and responded to. Here are a few examples of each skill: 

Accessibility examples:

  • “My partner can get my attention easily.”
  • “My partner is not feeling lonely or shut out in this relationship.”

Responsiveness examples:

  • “If my partner needs connection or comfort, I will be there for them.”
  • “If my partner needs reassurance about how important they are to me, they can get it.”

Engaged examples:

  • “My partner can confide in me.”
  • “My partner knows that I care about their joys, hurts, and fears.”
  • “My partner feels safe enough to take emotional risks with me.”

If you’re thinking, “I HAVE ALL THESE SKILLS! Why isn’t my partner turning to me?!” Consider that we ALL have BLINDSPOTS and areas of needed growth, and when we’re in the middle of a tough situation, we can’t clearly see the whole picture.

This is where a compassionate and skillful couples therapist can help you and your partner breakthrough stuck spots. 

Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAS at 720.939.2189 or schedule a free consultation if you’re a new client or a session if you’re already an established client~ Click here for my calendar

Or, read on for MORE tips on having a closer, more intimate relationship…

3 common BLOCKS to being the “Stronger, Wiser, Kinder Other”~

In my blog, “Everything You Need to Know about Empathy”, I use a metaphor from James Hawkins, PhD, an EFT trainer.

1. Everyone believes they’re the “patient”, and no one wants to be the “paramedic”.

Here’s a common STORY adults tell themselves that keeps them stuck in a negative cycle~

What you did to me was …. (mean/insensitive, hurtful, etc). and YOU NEED TO CHANGE, but I didn’t do anything wrong and I don’t need to change.


MY PAIN is worse than your pain! You need to show empathy first.

To Increase Connection & Intimacy

  • Take turns being the “patient”, and volunteer to be the first “paramedic” or the “Stronger, Wiser, Kinder Other”.
  • Strengthen your self-regulation skills so you can keep your emotional balance when in the role of “stronger, wiser, kinder other”. Eg. Put your emotions, stories you’re telling yourself, & needs ASIDE to effectively care for your loved one. Trust that you too will have a chance to be “the patient”.

2. Some partners fear they’re condoning “bad” behavior if they “repair” (show attunement and provide comfort).

I absolutely understand this dilemma! And I can’t honestly say that I’ve been able to provide both levels of emotional responsiveness when I’ve been on the receiving end of extremely hurtful or frightening interactions. 

There ARE some situations that qualify as “ruptures” (Eg. abuse, infidelity, addictions, untreated mental health issues, threats of abandonment- unrelated to the categories listed so far). 

These require the offending partner to go through a process in EFT we refer to as A.I.R.M. (attachment injury resolution model) in order for healing, trust and forgiveness to become possibilities. 

To Increase Connection & Intimacy

  • Join with your partner as an ally (& equal) against “the negative cycle” by looking at your “moves” (behaviors, thoughts, & emotions) and how they unintentionally impact your partner and vice versa. 

MOST negative cycles are mutually created and can be mutually healed and changed when BOTH partners are willing to take turns attuning and responding to one another.

  • Wisely engage in a repair ~ especially if your partner is genuinely remorseful, admits they missed the mark and/or understands the impact of their behavior on you, and, if needed, commits to working on themself to prevent “relapsing”

Relationship experts all point to REPAIRS as being the most important tool in our toolbox! It’s typically NOT the mistake (or whatever the egregious behavior was) that leads to relationships ending, but an unwillingness to repair. 

3. Some partners fear they’ll be letting their loved one down if they don’t respond perfectly. 

When a partner fears making a mistake due to the “story” they’re telling themself that they must behave perfectly to be a good partner (&/or their partner does indeed blow up or shut down daily when they misattune)~

The couples’ interactions (emotions & behaviors) become HIGHLY constrained. This restricts growth and authenticity & becomes entrenched “cycles” of withdrawal & anger. In this rigid pattern, authentic intimacy and connection cannot be attainable. 

Additionally, “keeping the peace” by avoiding all hard conversations (due to fear of conflict) causes relationships to stagnate and fall apart (or continue, but feel empty)! 

On the other hand, couples’ relationships actually flourish through “mismatch and repair”. 

When couples can have the COURAGE to allow for some “messiness” (misattunements) and allow themselves to be curious in the uncertainty, you can grow and have a deepening sense of trust and confidence from having gotten through a tough moment TOGETHER!

To Increase Connection & Intimacy

  • Understand it’s a MYTH that loved ones are able to just KNOW- without asking or trial and error– how to expertly attune and respond with comfort. No matter how empathetic or knowledgeable you are, you and your partner will need to LEARN how to respond to one another through “mismatch and repair”. 
  • In order to make an intimate partnership last, BOTH partners need to be able to give each other grace and have compassion for one another’s human flaws & all that we’re juggling, and be rest assured that the research shows- no matter how devoted we are to our loved ones-  we’re going to misattune 70% of the time! What matters is being able to get back in sync.

Finally, here’s a brief summary of the most common pattern in all types of relationships, though ONLY “Stronger, Wiser, Kinder Others” intentionally attune with others (A.R.E.) and engage in REPAIR. 

  • Attunement = a feeling of being at one or in sync with a loved one by tuning in to them (through “reading” their body language or sensing their emotional experience and providing a reciprocal affect or resonating response. This allows partners to feel seen, accepted, understood, cared for, and comforted.
  • Misattunement = emotionally out of sync with loved one; this can feel scary, frustrating, and even hopeless; this can lead to fights or avoidance (both can increase disconnection) or, with openness, curiosity, & compassion can lead to a repair. Misattunement IS NORMAL & full of opportunities for growth!
  • Repair = getting back into sync with a loved one through attunement (& if a serious rupture occurred, a genuine apology & trust building behaviors will also be necessary); this will increase closeness, meaningful dialogue, more satisfying intimacy, growth, resiliency, courage, and a stronger bond. 

~ Fyi- You don’t have to agree to repair with someone. You just need to be genuinely open to hearing a different perspective, willing to understand their experience, expressing empathy, validation or just provide a comforting touch.

4.) Keep choosing your partner & make (all kinds of) intimacy a priority- whether or not you “feel” like it.


In my experience of close to 25 years of marriage~ sometimes it’s the ACTIONS that I take that reawaken my commitment to keep nurturing my relationship. When I experience how good it feels to BE with my spouse, I feel more gratitude and motivation to keep doing the things that strengthen my marriage. 

This past fall~ I remember one Saturday morning wanting to stay cozy in bed, but I had a date with my husband and I needed to get myself ready. 

Before marriage (& especially after becoming a parent), I never would have thought that I wouldn’t be excited to have a date with my partner! My spouse, on the other hand, was super stoked to take me to a hiking trail he had recently discovered on one of his geocaching outings. 

Fortunately, I mustered up the energy to get out of bed and go on the date, which turned out to be really enjoyable as I had a great conversation and connection with my husband, and the drive and our hike were lovely!!

Sometimes it is our ACTIONS that transform our thoughts and feelings- we just have to be willing to DO the things that are important to us. 

A relatable comparison might be exercise~

If you wait to feel AUTHENTICALLY excited before going to the gym, you might never go! Instead, remember your “why” or simply follow through with your commitment to your health. The benefits will strengthen your motivation in time.

Sexual intimacy also requires commitment & is worth it!

In Dr. Emily Nagoski’s wonderful TED talk, she answers “THE” question she gets asked more than any other question~ 

How (do) couples sustain a strong, sexual connection for a lifetime?

Nagoski explains~

Who these couples ARE: 

  1. They maintain a strong friendship.
  2. They prioritize sex. They decide that it matters for their relationship. 

Who they are NOT: 

  1. They do not have sex very often- Almost none of us have sex very often. We are busy. 
  2. They do not have wild, adventurous sex- Research shows that the BEST predictor of couples who have strong sexual and relationship satisfaction are those who CUDDLE after sex. 
  3. They do not necessarily have spontaneous desire. Some have this type of desire and others have responsive desire.  

Similar to what I’ve learned about the importance of going on a once a month date with my spouse (along with other bonding time during the week)~

***Here’s Nagoski’s RECOMMENDATION for sustaining a strong sexual connection: 

You put your body in the bed. You let your skin touch your partner’s skin and allow your body to wake up and remember,

‘Oh right! I like this, and I like this person!’ 

One of the most powerful things that Nagoski says in her TED talk is: 

The difference between couples who sustain a strong sexual connection and the ones who don’t is not that they don’t experience difficult, hurt feelings… 

ALL couples in long-term relationships do! 

It’s that they turn towards those difficult, hurt feelings with kindness and compassion, so that they can set them free & find their way back to each other. 

5.) Know your moves that (unintentionally) create distance and block intimacy & open up to change.

As an EFT couples therapist, I know that, before couples can experience the closeness and intimacy that they desire, we must identify what’s getting in the way of your LOVE for one another. Or, to be more direct: 

What’s HARMING your relationship?

If you’re thinking, “I know exactly what’s harming my relationship- my PARTNER’S behavior!” You’re right, and so is your partner. 

While there are 4 areas that can be contraindications for effective couples therapy:

  • Abuse, Affairs, Addictions/untreated mental health issues, & Ambivalence (depending on a number of factors, including whether or not they’re continuing to occur)…

The majority of couples that experience the pain of disconnection are caught in CO-CREATED CYCLES (& have co-created solutions!!). If you’re not familiar with this concept, check out my blog, “Transform your vicious cycle into positive, loving connection”. 

Dr. Sue Johnson explains in her chapter, “Unraveling Bonds” in her book, Lovesense: 

Erosion (of bonds) begins with the loss of connection, then the potential for conflict increases…and failed attempts at repair.

In my experience, it is not a lack of love that leads to disconnection and conflict, but a lack of experience (with parents/caregivers) and education of these important relationship skills:

  • Attunement (being in synch & empathy) and responsiveness (eg. providing comfort for your loved one)

  • How to “call” to your partner and clearly & vulnerably express your emotions, needs, & longings

  • How to keep your emotional balance when there is a “mismatch” (because ALL loved ones misattune at times since no one can be available & in synch 100%)

When partners don’t feel connected, fear conflict, and/or feel unsafe to take vulnerable risks, they engage in protective *coping behaviors that send SCRAMBLED SIGNALS to their loved one.  

This PREVENTS their partner from being able to attune and respond to them. Then, conflict or distance ensues, and both partners feel like victims to a vicious cycle. 

There are only so many things you can do when life hurts. As you read the list of “coping” behaviors below, see if you can identify the ones you most use when in distress with the one you love and whether these “turn up the heat” or “turn it down”. 

*What are some of these (unconscious) “coping” behaviors & examples of scrambled signals? 

  • Fight (criticize, defend, or counter complain)- about superficial topics & focus is on the other partner. What’s missing is expressing, “I wish we were closer. I would love for you to take care of me or show me how special I am to you.”
  • Flight (minimize partner’s concerns, use humor, shut down, withdraw). What’s missing is expressing, “I’m so afraid of seeing you upset and of not being enough or worry you won’t respond in the way I need you to, so I use diversion, give up to not make things worse, or pretend nothing’s wrong.
  • Freeze (“still face”- don’t show any emotion or response); similar to flight
  • Hide (through work, childcare, addictions, technology, etc.) to avoid all of the messiness (& goodness) of intimate relationships
  • Please (placate to avoid conflict in the moment & because I want my partner to see me in a positive light)

In EFT sessions, I help partners: 

  • Become aware of their protective coping behavior, including the “stories” they’re telling themselves- that unintentionally keep them STUCK 
  • Notice them in “real time” & get help from their partner to regain their emotional balance
  • Share their vulnerable internal world- emotions, needs, and longings with their partner & eventually turn toward each other with an open heart. 

The clearest sign of a SECURE BOND is that, in times of distress, loved ones can turn toward one another as a safe haven and secure base. 

I love how Dr. Sue Johnson frames this as a collaborative partner process: 

Renewing your connection is something you do together. You both help each other keep your emotional balance and turn toward each other and tune in. It’s a dance. It’s not something you can ‘fix’ all by yourself…

How do EFT couples therapy sessions help? 

No matter how knowledgeable you are (this includes couples therapists!), when you’re in the middle of a situation (like a game of tennis), you CANNOT see the bigger picture, and although you can FEEL what’s happening for you on the inside, you cannot see clearly what you’re doing on the outside. Most partners in “Cycles” also need help sharing our softer, more vulnerable feelings and thoughts with our partner.

This is where a skilled couples therapist (similar to an astute coach) can help you know what you’re doing well and compassionately and directly support you in the areas in which you need to grow in order to have the relationship you long for.

Would you like support in creating or rebuilding a deeper connection and more intimate relationship? 

Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAS at 720.939.2189 or schedule a free consultation if you’re a new client or a session if you’re already an established client~ Click here for my calendar.