5 Ways to Create Closeness in Your Relationship

The benefits of healthy relationships are numerous and well documented. Research has suggested that healthy close relationships act as a buffer to stress, are associated with a longer life, help improve immunity, and can even lower blood pressure. Of course, a keyword here is healthy. People who are in unhealthy, distant, or contentious relationships might experience higher blood pressure and more stress.

In intimate relationships (e.g., romantic relationships, family relationships), closeness can vary over time. While there will be moments that we feel close, there will be other moments when we feel more distant. We want to allow for the variance in closeness while making sure we stay connected enough that we don’t drift too far apart. As a couples therapist, I have observed some relationships drift beyond the point where both people were able to experience closeness again. In other words, there will be times we naturally feel close to another person and other times when we need to actively attend to the relationship and engage in behaviors that can increase and stabilize the closeness we feel with each other.

In another blog post I’ve shared some general concepts that offer a framework for approaching healthy relationships (https://www.inctherapy.org/post/tips-to-build-healthier-relationships-for-couples-from-a-couples-therapist). In this post, I will share some specific strategies intended to increase and maintain closeness in your intimate relationships. These are strategies you’ll want to utilize on a consistent basis for them to be effective. Incorporating such strategies on an inconsistent basis can lead to confusion and make it less likely that your efforts to build closeness will be received in the spirit in which you are giving.

1. Utilize Love Languages

A book by Gary Chapman published in 1992 outlines different “love languages” that people use to express and receive love in relationships. The main idea is that we need to send and receive love in our relationships for those relationships to continue to function well. As a marriage counselor in Colorado Springs, I appreciate the perspective and concepts shared in the book. These concepts can be used to help build closeness in your relationship. The five specific love languages that were identified in the book, along with my paraphrased explanations, are:

  • Quality Time – spending time with the other person actively engaged in a mutually enjoyable task.
  • Acts of Service – doing something for someone else, not because you enjoy doing that thing, but because you know the other person will appreciate it.
  • Physical Touch – can include both non-sexual and sexual touch (e.g., hugs, intercourse).
  • Gift Giving – this one is self-explanatory.
  • Words of Affirmation – saying positive things to the other person, such as “I love you” or “I really appreciate that you took the time to make dinner for us.”

I will not offer detailed explanations of the love languages here, although you can learn more about them and even complete a quiz to help you identify your primary love languages on the 5 Love Languages website (https://5lovelanguages.com/). As a strategy for building closeness, it is important to understand how to use the love languages to effectively increase the degree of closeness in your relationship.

Many people who have engaged in relationship counseling at INC Therapy have already heard of and can even list the 5 Love Languages (easy top five of books I wish I had written). Where they tend to struggle is understanding how to use this information to build closeness in their relationship. Knowing that one of my wife’s top love languages is acts of service, does not do much good unless I make it a point to offer acts of service to my wife. In addition, unless she recognizes what I am doing as an expression of my love for her, my efforts will not pay off as much. In other words, knowing someone’s primary love languages is not sufficient. Both people need to intentionally engage in the love language of the other and be willing to recognize the expression of love from each other for the love to be effectively communicated.

My wife loves to read, I like to snuggle up with her, and we both like spend time together. Thus, one thing we did that touched on (no pun intended) our primary love languages was lying in bed, snuggling up, and taking turns reading chapters of The 5 Love Languages aloud to each other. At the end of each chapter, we would talk about the concepts we’d just heard and how they might relate to our relationship.

Regardless of your specific primary love languages or the way you engage them, it is crucial that any efforts to use these concepts in intentional ways is fruitful. One exercise that I will do with couples in therapy is to list out the love languages on my dry erase board, have each person identify the top two ways they tend to express love most readily and the top two ways they tend to receive love most readily. Then, we look to see if there are “matches.” For example, if your primary ways for expressing love are physical touch and words of affirmation and the other person’s primary ways for receiving love are quality time and acts of service. There is a poor match in terms of your love languages. The efforts you make to express your love (e.g., frequent hugs and loving words), might simply be missed by the other person. Your efforts to increase closeness might be in vain.

Please keep in mind, there are nuances in the understanding and use of love languages that I am not fully capturing in this discussion. Regardless, understanding and being aware of the ways we express and receive love in our relationships can be useful in helping to build closeness in our relationships. Expressing love in a way that the other person can recognize and easily receive is key. My primary love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. When people in my life offer hugs, kind encouraging words, or verbal acknowledgements of the things I have done that they appreciate, I feel closer to them.

2. Keep your foundational role strong

In marital relationships, family relationships, and sometimes even in friendships, we develop more than one role in relation to the other person. For example, in committed romantic relationships, beyond being romantic partners we are often friends, roommates, business partners, sexual partners, parenting partners, and life partners. In family relationships we are often roommates and perhaps business partners. In friendships, we are sometimes roommates too.

Having worked with hundreds of couples in my career as a therapist, I often see couples that get caught up in the roles related to day-to-day tasks and stressors while losing sight of the roles and ways of relating that are the foundation of the relationship. For example, they spend a lot of time and energy relating to each other as roommates or parenting partners and spend less and less time and energy relating to each other as romantic partners and friends. Over time, the degree of closeness they feel toward each other begins to fade.

So, if the foundation of your relationship is a friendship, make sure you intentionally put time and energy into engaging as friends. If the foundation of your relationship is a romantic partnership, make sure you make time to go out with your date. I am not suggesting you ignore the other facets of your relationship. Couples who have children need to put some time and energy into engaging with their children together or making decisions together about how to parent. I am suggesting that the time and energy you put into your relationship needs to have a balance and include relating to each other in the ways that serve as the foundation of your relationship. My children benefit (indirectly) from the time and energy I put toward spending time with my girlfriend. If you ignore something, it often goes away. If you attend to something in nurturing ways, it tends to grow and strengthen.

3. Lean in

Leaning in in close relationships isn’t about physical posture or a marker of dominance (as the “green line test” on social media might suggest). To lean in is to take an interest and be willing to spend the time and energy to display that interest to your partner. Showing an interest in the other person helps them to feel closer to us. Learning more about what someone thinks, feels, and is interested in, helps us feel closer to them.

Leaning in often becomes a challenge for couples as their relationships progress, life happens, and time passes. Demonstrating consistency in leaning in is particularly challenging. When the stress level of life is high, some people show a tendency to lean out. Those couples who navigate stress together effectively, tend to lean in a bit more during difficult times. Of course, we are not robots, so there will inevitably be moments when we are unable to lean in as much as usual.

All the roles mentioned above that we might have in relation to another person can also have an impact on our ability to lean in. It can be a challenge to lean in to your roommate, business partner, and parenting partner and still have the energy to lean in toward your romantic partner. Poor sleep, distraction from work or other responsibilities, or pent-up negative feelings toward the other person can all result in moments or periods when we might lean in a bit less.

Here are some suggestions to lean in more, and more consistently:

  • Be intentional. Maintaining awareness and purposefully choosing to lean in are key, particularly if you find that you have lost some of the curiosity and interest in your relationship over time.
  • Be overt. You can spend all day trying to subtly lean into your partner, and it they do not notice it, your efforts will be less impactful.
  • Be aware. Look for opportunities to lean in. If there are moments you cannot lean in for any reason, acknowledge to your partner that you are unable to make that connection right now and will circle back to them as soon as possible.

4. Be kind

Treating someone with kindness is a simple way to encourage closeness. Most of us are drawn to people who are kind to us. Some people are naturally more kindhearted while some of us must work harder to consistently be kind. To intentionally build closeness requires choosing to be kind. This can become complicated in the context of romantic and family relationships, due to the frequency of contact, level of investment in the relationship, and the emotions that are often involved.

I’ve heard some people say they are more intentional about being kind to strangers or individuals with whom they have only fleeting interactions than to people in their closest relationships. While I certainly encourage kindness toward everyone, if the goal is to create and maintain closeness in a relationship, it is important to intentionally be kind to the other person. This can sometimes be difficult, particularly when we perceive someone to have slighted us or hurt us in some way. In those instances, it might be equally, if not more, important to choose kindness.

It is helpful to recognize that our feelings, even the negative ones, often dissipate or go away. However, the impact of harsh words, exaggerations, or aggressive actions can last much longer and become an abscess in the relationship. Ironically, difficult moments in a relationship can be powerful opportunities to increase closeness. Choosing to be kind even when we are hurt or angry can go a long way in building closeness.


When I first came up with this phrase, I knew immediately it was kind of dorky. However, it stuck with me. Say it, don’t display it. You can feel angry without yelling or saying sharp words. You can feel hurt without attacking the other person. You can feel jealous without accusing someone. Say it, don’t display it. While many of us have not been taught to effectively express how we feel, particularly when the feelings are intense, we might have more wherewithal to find the words when we lead with choosing kindness. Again, we are not robots, so there will be times we are more effective in being kind than other times. Being aware of the power of kindness to build closeness might help increase the frequency in which we intentionally and effectively exhibit kindness.

Of course, make sure to take advantage of the easier opportunities to show kindness when things are good or the mood is right. It never hurts to bank kindness. Plus, practicing being kind when it is easier can make you more effective at being kind when things are rough.

5. Repair damages and adjust patterns

Distance can result when minor infractions in the relationship occur. The trick is to learn ways to reestablish closeness. When too much distance develops, we run the risk of drifting beyond each other’s gravitational pull and losing touch of the relationship. Mistakes will be made and feelings will be hurt, and if the relationship is worth it to you, damages need to be repaired and sometimes communication or behavior patterns need to be adjusted.

Humans are fallible. There have been times when I’ve lost my cool and said something I did not mean or raised my voice at someone I love. I’ve made bigger mistakes in the relationship, like almost giving away my wife’s wedding band or forgetting a date that marks a very important moment in her life. While I did not intend to do these things, I had to take ownership of my mistakes so that I could acknowledge them. Mistakes that go unacknowledged can prevent learning, growth, and repair.

Repairing relationship damages is crucial to maintaining or rebuilding closeness in a relationship. Sometimes, simply acknowledging the mistake and saying “sorry” for anything done wrong can be a sufficient repair. Other times, taking action to adjust for the mistake might be necessary. When I almost gave away my wife’s wedding band (if interested, you can find the full story in my blog series), I needed to take immediate action to get it back. Even when we haven’t done anything wrong per se, simply acknowledging the other’s hurt feelings and offering validation can be repairing.

See https://www.inctherapy.org/post/3-listening-strategies-you-ll-learn-in-therapy-part-4-of-4-validate to read about validation and validation strategies.

If pride, ego, fear, anxiety, or spite get in the way of repairing damages, closeness can be more difficult to come by. Even if the other person has done something that they did not apologize for, don’t let that get in the way of acknowledging your own mistakes and attempting to make repairs. Just like with other systems (e.g., your body, your car), damage within the system need to be repaired for the system to work well. I recently tore a muscle in my chest. In order to return to health, functionality, and growth, the damage needs to be repaired first. Even though I feel so much better when I work out on a regular basis and really want to be doing that, the damage needs to heal before I can effectively resume my preferred activities.

In addition to singular mistakes, long-term relationships can develop patterns that cause repeated damage. For example, when one person has a more direct and matter-of-fact communication style, the other person might perceive criticism, judgement, or attack frequently in the relationship. While expressing yourself in a direct and matter-of-fact manner is not “wrong”, if I recognize that the other person experiences repeated, minor damage, I will consider making intentional efforts to express myself in a gentler way that takes the other person’s feelings into consideration.

The patterns that need to be adjusted are not always evident or clear cut. I’ve heard many people, who I know care deeply about their partner, make jokes about their partner in social situations. While this might be a common thing to do in certain groups or families, if your partner feels hurt by the jokes, adjusting your behavior can help build closeness. Even with this understanding, confusion can set in when the line to be crossed is not clear or tends to vary. My wife and I enjoy teasing each other and lightheartedly say, “You know why I tease you right? Because I love you.” And yet there are times where one of us gets their feelings hurt when the teasing has gone too far or had bad timing.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that these are the only ways to build closeness in your relationships. I am also aware that different people develop closeness in different ways, so you might need to experiment to find what works best in your relationships. Regardless, the strategies listed above, when used with intention and consistency, are likely to help build closeness in your relationships.

If you find yourself struggling in your relationships, take action. Waiting too long to make efforts to build closeness can have a negative impact on your relationship and your life. If your efforts to make positive change and develop or maintain closeness in your relationships are ineffective, seek some professional guidance and support. Most people would not know how to repair their own cars or successfully file their own taxes. There is no shame in seeking therapy to help make positive changes in your relationships. Marriage therapists like Dr. Mike at INC Therapy in Colorado Springs, Colorado can help.

Dr. Mike outdoor photo


Dr. Mike Ghali, owner of Individual and Couples Therapy, has been practicing therapy for over 20 years. He is licensed as a psychologist in Colorado and Florida. While physically located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he holds in-person sessions, you can also schedule telehealth sessions with Dr. Mike from anywhere in Colorado or Florida.

If you’d like to schedule a free 15-minute consultation call with Dr. Mike at Individual and Couples Therapy, please click here., then click Schedule, and choose the available time that works best for you and your partner. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Mike at info@inctherapy.org. Please do not include sensitive clinical information in emails.

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