Amanda Swisher, LPC-IT
Intimacy in Relationships
Love. A lot of preconceived notions exist regarding love and relationships. Unfortunately, Hollywood has created a picture for us of what love and relationships are supposed to look like, and it’s led many of us to feel bad about the way our relationships are going or how they have turned out. But how realistic are the expectations being set on relationships in the real world? If you are truly in love, you will never go to bed angry, you will never feel insecure or jealous, and everything will always come easy to you, because you’ve found “the one.” Not to mention, you will always be hot and heavy and if you’re not, then something must be terribly wrong. Is that true though?
No Physical/Sexual Intimacy
Physical/Sexual intimacy is very important for a lot of relationships. It does all sorts of positive things, like releasing that fun little hormone oxytocin, which gives our feelings of love a little boost, it can be a deeply bonding experience between two partners, and it has a lot of physical and emotional health benefits. But sometimes, that desire for the other person seems to fade away, especially after that “honeymoon” period we’ve all heard so much about. Does this mean that you’re simply not right for each other because otherwise the desire wouldn’t have faded in the first place? Spoiler alert, the answer is no.
In all things, I feel it is best to approach in curiosity. If/When physical/sexual intimacy becomes a distant memory, it’s important to evaluate why. There are a multitude of things that affect sex drive; family, health, financial, or even world crises, demanding work or home roles, changes in job, town, or children all affect sex drive. Not to mention the amount of hormonal changes that we can experience during certain periods of our lives, like pregnancy, breastfeeding, or just being in the throes of midlife.
In the relationship itself, what could be causing a lack of physical/sexual intimacy? You may each have mismatched expectations, or there may be disappointments or resentments that haven’t been addressed. You each may also simply view sex differently. It is very few and far between when a situation arises where one partner looks at the other and simply doesn’t have attraction for the other anymore. What would happen if you looked at things from your partner’s point of view?
Sometimes, simply focusing on the problem, makes the problem worse in your mind. When you think about what’s wrong, how awful it is, who’s to blame, you’re painting yourself into a corner where all you can see are the flaws, and the problem grows worse and worse, making it seem like this can NEVER be fixed. What if instead you focused on what you want to achieve instead? You are in charge of your own experience. Waiting for your partner to take charge and suddenly do things your way is a form of passive aggressive communication, because it puts you in the position of the “victim” and it doesn’t honor where your partner is coming from, their struggles, or what they’ve been through. If you want change, be ready to talk about ways you can achieve it.
Can These Relationships Be Saved?
If the problem in a relationship is that there is a lack of physical/sexual intimacy, then I would argue that yes, of course the relationship can be saved. Whether it is or not is entirely up to the two people invested in the relationship. It’s easy to forget that intimacy does not only cover physicality. Emotional intimacy is also a big part of the umbrella encompassing what intimacy is. When all of these areas are lacking, the road to reconnecting may be more difficult than once conceived, but not impossible.
Saving a relationship requires work from both parties. If you are both invested in maintaining and improving your connection, there should be no reason why the relationship can’t be revived. One of the best places to start? Communicating with each other. “He should just know I’m upset.” Should he? How would he know unless you tell him? Is he a mindreader? “Why should I put work into this if she’s not willing to?” Have you told her how important it is to you? More importantly, how did you open this particular conversation? With a desire to learn more about where your partner is coming from? Or with a demand for a particular thing/action/display. “They just don’t understand how I feel!” Okay, well, have you told them? How did you explain your feelings and did you let them explain their side?
Like it or not, communicating effectively is almost a science. Navigating effective communication can feel like a minefield sometimes. You can think that you are putting out all the right signals and messages, but if your partner is operating on an entirely different wavelength, those messages are going to be completely missed. The best tool you have in starting to work on any relationship is your voice. Speak up about your needs. Explain why you feel they aren’t being met. And be ready to reciprocate! If your needs aren’t being met because they feel neglected in some fashion, then you are going to have to be ready to provide to them what you are expecting to be provided to you.
Because communication has so many facets and lessons to learn, remember one of the best places to start: Curiosity. When you’re going to your partner to discuss a difficult topic, it’s important to let them know that they are not being attacked. This is going to be the quickest way to ensure defensiveness and an unwillingness to listen to what you have to say. When you approach the situation with curiosity, it’s a lot harder for the other person to feel attacked because you’re not just telling them what they did wrong, you’re asking for more information about why they are or are not doing a particular thing. “Hey, I noticed that you don’t say good morning to me anymore. That small gesture made me feel loved and appreciated, and I was just curious if there was a particular reason? Is there something that you need?” That conversation is going to go a lot better than, “I hate that you don’t say good morning anymore. It makes me feel like crap.”
At the end of the day, we all want to feel like we’re being heard by another individual, especially our partner. If we feel that we’re not being heard, it’s really easy for some of the most important aspects of a relationship to suffer. But that doesn’t mean they have to suffer forever, or that drastic measures need to be taken, like ending the relationship. Be brave. Set aside negative feelings, like anger, resentment, jealousy, etc., and approach with curiosity. Approach like you’re seeing the situation for the first time and talk to your partner. It’s hard and sometimes, no, it’s not sexy or romantic in the Hollywood sense. But the pay off is going to be so much greater, in the form of getting back to a loving, caring relationship. Isn’t that all that matters at the end of the day?