All relationships experience problems on occasion. One of the most difficult for partners is when the intimacy in a relationship is lost. Most people assume that intimacy issues are something that only occurs when relationships have gone on for many years, but the truth is that they can happen at any point. Also, intimacy issues come in different forms and happen for different reasons.
The good news is that issues with intimacy don’t have to doom a relationship as long as they’re addressed. However, if you allow these problems to fester they will only grow and subsequently impact other areas of the relationship. This only exacerbates any other problems you face.
So, what can you do if the intimacy in your relationship has started to suffer? Well, the answer to that depends on what kind of intimacy it is that’s having a problem.
When you hear the word intimacy in a relationship, the first thing that comes to mind for most is sexual intimacy. Emotional intimacy is just as important, however, and can often suffer even more than sexual intimacy. In fact, if emotional intimacy is suffering it’s very likely that physical intimacy will follow suit.
It’s very difficult to have a healthy and satisfying sexual relationship with your partner if you are emotionally disconnected. At the root of emotional intimacy is trust. Emotional intimacy requires vulnerability and vulnerability requires trust. If you and your partner had encountered problems that led to trust being broken, then you will need to take the time and do the work to rebuild it before you can truly experience emotional intimacy.
But problems with trust and intimacy don’t always originate within the relationship. Sometimes the issues, at least for one partner, go back further. Whereas a break in trust can occur at any point in a relationship, issues that are present when a relationship begins can impede emotional intimacy early on and make establishing a strong and healthy relationship very difficult.
Fear of intimacy and the inability to trust and become vulnerable can stem from many things. Some of the most common are:
Anyone who has lived through an abusive relationship will have a hard time trusting others not to hurt them. Emotional scars from abuse can create barriers to intimacy as a means of self-protection.
Anxiety causes people to worry and fret over things in a way that can impede creating a trusting relationship.
Fear of abandonment
Those who feel they’ve been abandoned by people they loved in the past can develop a fear of getting close to anyone lest it happen again. The experience of abandonment can come from a partner, the loss of a parent, divorce, or death of someone close to them.
Insecurity and low self-esteem
People who feel like they don’t measure up in some way can often shy away from emotional intimacy because they assume their partner won’t love them as much if they really knew them. As a result, they are never vulnerable enough to build the trust needed for a healthy relationship.
Problems with emotional intimacy are generally driven by fear rather than a real threat. Trust in any relationship requires a certain amount of risk. For some people, that risk at any level feels like too much to bear. Sadly, without overcoming these issues it will not be possible for those people to develop stable, strong, and fulfilling relationships.
Problems with emotional intimacy can have a direct impact of physical intimacy. At the beginning of a relationship, issues pertaining to the emotional connection may cause a person to avoid physical contact completely. On the other, he or she may seem to have a constant need for physical contact in an effort to avoid needing to create an emotional bond or compensate for lack of one.
Very often, however, problems with physical intimacy occur as a relationship ages. The fire and sexual energy that is present at the beginning of a relationship will always lessen over time. With this, some couples may find themselves in sexual dry spells with nearly no intimate contact at all. Many couples will assume this means the love has gone and the relationship is over. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Changes to sexual intimacy during a relationship are normal. Life, kids, jobs, health issues, and many other stressors can cause that part of the relationship to suffer. When this happens, it’s more important than ever to communicate with your partner and discuss what’s going on. The absence of good communication can lead to a breakdown of emotional intimacy. Eventually, it turns into a vicious cycle and leading to the relationship’s dems
Conversely, the practice and maintenance of good communication can not only keep the emotional intimacy alive, but also help to identify and resolve the issues related to physical intimacy.
Problems with intimacy, emotional or physical, aren’t resolved overnight. This is an important point to remember. Because of the hurt and frustrations that intimacy issues can cause, many couples lose patience and allow their pain to drive them apart. There are also times when individual efforts aren’t enough and the assistance of a qualified counselor is needed.
Whatever the case, intimacy issues don’t have to mean the end of your relationship, or that you’re incapable of developing a healthy relationship. With the right effort, time, and professional support when needed, couples can create or regain the intimacy needed for a strong relationship.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.