Couples can return to the state of intimacy from conflict, if, and only if, they stop hurting each other and return to meeting each other's emotional needs again.
What is intimacy?
Intimacy is closeness to each other. In an intimate state, spouses communicate smoothly, rush to do whatever it takes to make each other happy, and avoid what might upset or annoy the other. Couples can achieve this state only through meeting each other's psychological, emotional and physical needs.
Reviving and maintaining intimacy: Mainstream-counseling perspective
From Dr. Harley's research and experience in trying to save marriages through counseling, he concluded that couples negotiate from one of three states of mind, each having its own unique negotiating rules and its own unique emotional reactions. He called these states of mind, 'intimacy', 'conflict' and 'withdrawal'.
Couples can return to the state of intimacy from conflict, if, and only if, they stop hurting each other and return to meeting each other's emotional needs again. The first and most important concept that Dr. Harley produced to help couples understand the rise and fall of romantic love is "the Love Bank Account". In his study of what it takes to build love bank accounts, he learned that habits were much more important to consider than isolated instances of behavior. Habits that deposit love units build very large love bank balances because they are repeated over and over almost effortlessly. Isolated behaviors, on the other hand, usually do not affect the love bank much. Similarly, habits that withdraw love units tend to destroy love bank balances because they are also repeated almost effortlessly. In marriage, one of the most destructive behaviors is an angry outburst, where one spouse intentionally tries to hurt the other one, causing massive love bank withdrawals.
As a starting point to build the love bank balance, Dr. Harley encourages spouses to get into the habit of doing whatever it takes to make each other happy (deposit love units), and avoid habits that make each other unhappy (withdraw love units). Through his counseling experience, he proved the success of his approach in saving marriages and restoring intimacy. As soon as he realized that a large love bank balance triggered the feeling of love, he tried to discover what spouses could do for each other that would make the largest love bank deposits. "What could your spouse do for you that would make you the happiest?" He asked each couple that he counseled, and then he compiled the answers he had in a set of audiotapes that teaches what a husband needs from his wife and what a wife needs from her husband.
Reviving and maintaining intimacy: Islamic perspective
As committed Muslims who believe that the Islamic message is the absolute final truth that provides the cure for ailments and grants happiness in both this life and eternal life, we weigh any information or research findings with the message of Islam to accept what is compatible and reject what contradicts any of Islam's teachings. Dr. Harley's recommendations in the twenty first century were not any different from what Allah Almighty, and his Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us fourteen hundred years ago.
Marriage unites the souls
The Quran emphasizes the essential unity of men and women in the most beautiful metaphor for intimacy. Allah says (what means):
"...They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them..." [Noble Quran 2:187]
Just as a garment hides our nakedness, so do husband and wife, by entering into the relationship of marriage, secure each other's chastity, and cover each other's faults. The garment gives comfort, grace and beauty to the body; so does a husband find comfort in his wife's company and she in his.
The Quran has given the comprehensive description of intimacy in marriage, and considered it one of His Signs. Allah says (what means):
"And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought." [Noble Quran 30: 21]
Islamic tips to restore and maintain intimacy in marriage
Islam gave us detailed instructions that identify rights, responsibilities and characters of both husband and wife to build their relationship on mutual love, respect, and mercy. Here are the most important tips that lead to a successful and happy marriage.
Faith: Common faith binds the couple strongly. Since Islam is a way of life, it becomes an integral part of a Muslim's life. Couples with strong faith will share the same values and the frame of reference and communicate smoothly and effectively. Faith plays an essential role in developing a loving relationship.
Couples who work on strengthening their faith, for example by performing the Prayer, reading Quran, and seeking Islamic knowledge together, become closer. They love and please Allah through loving and pleasing each other. The commitment couples make to Allah are excellent facilitators for enhancing their family's spiritual development and commitment to Allah and His Religion.
Forgiving: When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to his Companions may Allah be pleased with them: "Do you wish that Allah should forgive you?" They said, 'Ofcourse, O Prophet of Allah.' He (peace and blessings be upon him) responded: 'Then forgive each other.'"
One of the main components of a happy marriage is forgiveness. It is a challenge not to blame and to move past an incident when one hurts the other. This can only happen if we are not too proud to ask for forgiveness and we are not too stingy to forgive.
Friendship: A relationship based on friendship is more able to withstand outside pressures. We mean the friendship that is based on honor, trust, respect, acceptance and care for each other, in spite of our differences.
Feelings: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that Allah forgives all sins if we repent but not those we have committed against others, i.e., hurt their feelings unless the person we have hurt forgives first. Couples must be very careful not to hurt the feelings of each other and if they inadvertently do, they should apologize as soon as possible. Since one does not know when someone they love will leave this world, is it not better to make amends when we have the time?
Openness: Marital relationship is where the partners must feel safe to speak their mind honestly with due consideration to the other's feeling, without compromising their own views. When the communication is not sincere it hinders the development of closeness and deep understanding of each other's inner self.
Flattering: Paving compliments and indulging in honest flattery is a very inexpensive way to win your spouses heart. Everyone likes to be appreciated and noticed. So being scant with compliments is actually depriving one of being appreciated in return.
Unconditional giving: The heart does not put conditions or make stipulations. It gives without expecting anything in return, but such selfless giving is always rewarded tenfold.
Fallibility: When couples start to demand the impossible they must remind themselves that only Allah is Perfect.