When Intimacy is Absent
A lack of intimacy is often what brings one or both partners of a relationship to couples counselling. Being intimate physically and emotionally is part of the ongoing shared rapport that bonds a relationship together.
When intimacy is absent it can feel isolating and painful as warmth and connection is withdrawn. It is as if the love and attention is draining away leaving one or both feeling left alone and disconnected from the other.
Intimacy means different things in a relationship. To one person it may predominately physical and sexual in nature sharing desires and pleasure. For another it may be more emotional, comprising of a shared time, space and experience. It may also be sharing inmost thoughts and feelings based on trust.
Healthy intimacy comprises of both shared emotional and physical elements. There is both a giving and recieving, listenting and acknowledging, valuing and being valued by each other.
There is an ebb and flow according to the energy and nature of the relationship. For couples the first year or two are often intensely emotional and sexually charged sharing thoughts, feelings and each other. This however can’t be maintained on an ongoing basis. We change and develop as individuals, relationships mature and external responsabilities impact and excert influnce on us.
Threats to Intimacy
Intimacy often takes a back stage when children are born, work demands increase or there are financial problems. Additional stressors include illness, relational conflicts and ageing.
Previously both partners might have actively reached out seeking to identify and meet each other’s emotional and physical needs. Now there may be a greater focus on meeting own needs as the other may no longer be motivated or able to connect and provide what the other requires .
Sexual intimacy is often the barometer of a relationship especially in early and middle age. Often one partner wants to skip through the emotional and thoughtful stages of intimacy and have more sex.
The danger of this, is it becomes a functional activity where one person has physical needs met and feels satisfied and soothed for a short period. The other person may be left with the emotional intimacy unsatisfied and feels discontent and used.
Intimacy requires that you are both emotionally, cognitively and physically available to each other. To be emotionally present requires you to be aware of and accepting of your feelings and of your partners.
The empathic link between you allows you both to attune to each other. Resharing your thoughts and feelings including the difficult ones help develop a revised understanding.
Reconnection requires that you both listen to what the other person says without aurguing, attacking or defending, even if you don’t agree with it. Importantly you need to remain open, curious and not take it as a personal assult.
This includes allowing yourself to experience your vulnerability and express that side of yourself. These are your fears and worries around yourself and the relationship.
It is necessary to open up to the other person and also to warmly acknowledge their strengths and vulnerabilities. It is in this space that the foundation of trust is relaid as you seek to understand and empathise with each other.
Listening and Sharing
In addition to the emotional connection is the cognitive connection. This is about listening to your partners thoughts and ideas. It requires that you pay attention, show genuine interest, acknowledge what they are thinking and play this back to them.
You then go on to share your thoughts. Even if your ideas about something differ it is important to hold emotional warmth for them. Seek not to attack with criticism, defend with justification or withdraw by not engaging.
Be curious and willing to consider the other persons position without artificially taking the other persons position.
Sharing Intimate Experiences
The next element is to agree how to spend time in activies that you both find enjoyable, fun, interesting and comforting.
This builds up shared experiences that are satisfying, stimulating and validating. As always this depends on the couple, it may be going for a walk together, watching a film, sharing dinner, starting a project and or course sex.
The key is to remain considerate, valuing and supportive of each other.
If I can help you and your relationship regain intimacy then I am available at New Direction Counselling and Coaching Practice.