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The Art of Containers: A Short Guide to Creating Deeper Intimacy in Relationships
A primer on intentionally designing spaces and conversations for deeper connection and trust in relationships.
We’re sitting at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse — an ornate building filled with hand-carved and hand-painted tables, columns, and ceramics artisanally crafted in Tajikistan — enjoying dinner for our weekly date night.
Gazing into each other’s eyes across the table, we’re laughing and sharing stories from our early childhood, occasionally reaching for each other’s hands.
We both care deeply about maintaining a high degree of intimacy and connection. And we both look forward to our weekly date nights as a fun and enjoyable way to build more intimacy while enjoying delicious food.
The shared intention to enjoy each other is what makes the self-sabotage that happens next surprising.
We noticed that we’d be having a fantastic time — and then suddenly, we’d unknowingly slip into problem solving about upcoming logistics or we’d find ourselves emotionally processing something unrelated to the date.
And we’d feel irritated or triggered as a result because it wasn’t what we’d wanted for our special date night.
What in the world was going on?!? Were we just hitting an upper limit on our joy?
It took some introspection and detective work to realize something important:
When we don’t have enough structure in our relationship to hold important conversations about our needs — whether logistical, emotional, or something else — those conversations end up leaking into other areas of our relationship, including our precious date nights.
When we can trust that there’s time and space for important conversations about what we need, our bodies can relax and enjoy themselves. And the need to have those conversations doesn’t leak out elsewhere.
The way we’ve addressed that in our relationship is through the thoughtful creation and use of containers.
Want to dive deeper into containers and other tools for creating deeper intimacy and trust in your relationship? Join us.
What Makes a Well-Designed Container?
The term “container” is often used in the context of personal development to refer to the intentional creation and maintenance of a supportive space — physical or virtual — that facilitates deeper vulnerability and exploration.
A well-designed container includes the following elements:
A clear intention. The purpose of the container is clearly defined, so that we can meaningfully use our time and energy in the container toward a shared intention.
For example, the intention behind our recent 30-day sex container was to confront blocks to sexual intimacy and heal the ways we push each other way subconsciously.
Shared agreements. The agreements spell out the what and the how for behavior and communication, to support the shared intention.
For example, we use a task-tracking tool called Asana to create a container for handling logistical things about life. Our agreement is that for any non-urgent logistical conversations — joint furniture purchasing decisions, travel planning, etc. — we use Asana.
Time or space boundaries. Setting a specific duration and / or a specific location for the container can increase safety and trust. We know that there’s enough space to discuss what we need AND that if even we get stuck, the stuckness is time-bound.
That’s why we set a 10-minute timer for our heart talk containers when we’re talking about hard things.
In the context of partnerships, a container is a powerful tool for defining the structure of a conversation or experience to increase safety and trust — so that we can both be more present and go deeper into the shared intention.
When used strategically, containers become powerful spaces where we get to share more of our authentic selves, listen more deeply to one another, and support each other’s healing and growth.
More specifically, defining containers for a partnership produces three major benefits:
Containers prevent unrelated needs from leaking across different contexts. In a partnership, we each have needs. Those needs may span dimensions ranging from the physical, home, intimacy, family, sexuality, nature, community, and more.
When we have needs from our partner but no safe space to express them, the unmet needs leak out in different areas of life. They may show up in aggressive, passive aggressive, or victim-like ways — like they did in sabotaging our date nights. Containers create a safe outlet for the needs to be expressed, so that they don’t leak out in other ways.
Containers increase trust. A well-designed container creates a structure that lets both partners go deeper into hard conversations — with the trust that they’re aligned on a shared intention. It creates the felt experience of expanded capacity in the partnership to hold more scary and vulnerable things.
For example, the agreements we’ve made for our heart talks create more trust and safety to vulnerably take ownership for our blocks to connection, without blame.
Containers support deeper intimacy and connection. When we can more deeply trust that our needs are cared for by our containers, we get to appreciate the rest of life together more.
On our date nights, because we know that there’s space in other containers to handle logistics and process emotions — we can fully relax into enjoying each other’s presence.
What Are Some Powerful Containers to Support Deeper Intimacy in Relationships?
The containers that we’ve personally set up in our relationship fall into one of two categories: containers for emotional connection and containers for logistics.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the containers we’ve created:
Emotional Connection Containers
These containers explicitly focus on our hearts and our connection:
10-minute heart talks. These are 10-minute talks where we sit down to take ownership of a pattern or emotional experience that’s blocking openness and leading us to push the other way.
Repair conversations. After a disagreement or rupture, one of us will ask, “Are you available for repair?” It’s a conversation focused on repairing the connection — and explicitly not focused on addressing the content of the rupture or going deeper into the emotional process. We focus on what we each need to come back into connection.
Married time and date nights. We block off time weekly where the intention is just to enjoy each other’s presence and company — without any other logistics or emotional processing. We’ll be curious with each other, share stories, and laugh. It’s a way of deepening our connection with each other.
Sex container. Our 30-day sex container showed us that it can be really powerful to bring whatever parts of us might be present — even when those parts might make us push each other way — into our lovemaking. And so, we’ve now incorporated this container into our lives as a way of deepening connection.
These containers focus on the things we need to run our lives:
Asynchronous logistics in Asana. We use Asana to track discussions on any logistical and execution-oriented things related to life and work. We agree to, as much as possible, confine our logistical conversations to the container.
This has been one of the biggest game-changers for us relationally. It means that we don’t leak logistical discussions about things into our in-person connection time, where we’d much rather be sharing our hearts. We also have an agreement to not leak these logistical conversations — especially ones involving emotional decisions — into our text message threads, which we prefer to focus on more heart-centered texts.
“Things to Talk About” conversations. Sometimes, asynchronous discussions about life logistics isn’t enough — we need to actually talk in-person. “Things to Talk About” is an hour-long container that we set up, usually weekly, to talk in-person about logistical things: flights for upcoming travel, joint decisions for home purchases, coordination for shared plans, etc.
Once we created and streamlined the necessary containers to hold the conversations that had to happen for our needs to feel met, we could relax into the rest of our time together.
We could focus the date night container on enjoying and celebrating where we were and on creating a deep sense of intimacy and connection.
What’s an intention that you’re wanting to deepen in your partnership? How might you design a container to support that intention?
We’re a husband-and-wife duo sharing hard-earned lessons and stories from our own relationship. Join us.