Connectedness with other people is one of the basic needs of almost every person on the planet. This includes closeness with friends, family, a peer group, and of course closeness to another person in a relationship.
Intimacy in a relationship (an interpersonal relationship, to use a clinical term) is the breadth of things like love, physical contact, trust and closeness that is shared with another person.
Intimacy is both emotional and physical, meaning it can be sexual and non-sexual. It is one of the most important aspects of a relationship because it is a fundamental ingredient of the ‘glue’ that binds people together.
Dealing with intimacy problems in a relationship
Intimacy is a lot more than just touching, kissing or holding hands. Intimacy is also the extent to which someone (hopefully) knows the other person ‘inside out’, as well the extent of such concepts as trust, commitment and understanding.
Intimacy is the ‘connectedness’ between two people. This means that when there is a problem with (or a lack of) intimacy), it may indicate a problem with the relationship.
Common reasons for intimacy problems in a relationship
A lack of intimacy in a relationship may occur for a whole range of reasons. Sometimes they may be interconnected. Here are some of the most common.
1) Lack of communication
As mentioned, intimacy covers so much more than just physical contact. In fact, much of the emotional closeness between two people depends on how comfortable they feel when communicating.
In order for two people to really know each other, communication needs to be open, transparent, honest and effective. Good communication is as much about effective listening as it is about putting things into words. For example, if one person is traditionally more ‘closed’ then they may need to work on strategies to be more open — while the other person may also need to be mindful and provide more space.
A breakdown in communication means there is a disconnect from which conflict can result (for example, one person saying “you never listen” or “I don’t feel like you understand).
2) Depression, anxiety or other mental illness
A mental health condition like depression or anxiety can affect a person’s outlook or perception of the world around them. It can even affect how someone feels about their partner or spouse (or rather, how they believe their partner sees them).
A mental illness can also inflate stressors in life which can cause minor issues to ‘blow up’ out of proportion. For example, a person who is feeling highly anxious or depressed may ‘lash out’ at their partner when faced with stressful situations like a difficult family gathering or a bad day at work. A person with poor self-image or low self-esteem may also have difficulty with intimacy (for example, they may feel self-conscious or feel excessively vulnerable).
3) Resentment, anger or mistrust
Arguments and disagreements are a normal part of most relationships. However, those feelings generally pass and are resolved relatively quickly. Consider whether persistent negative feelings like anger or jealousy are interfering in intimacy or are becoming a feature of a relationship (rather than unexpected incidents). If so, there will likely be a motive and underlying cause that needs to be identified and understood.
4) Having children
What could be more representative of intimacy than having children together?
Even so, being a parent is also one of the toughest jobs in the world. Ask any new parent and they’ll probably tell you that feeding, cleaning up mess, getting kids to sleep and the countless other tasks involved in parenting don’t leave much time or energy for other things. It’s also possible that, with so much time and energy focussed on children, the result could mean little time for doing the same for the other person.
Although kids are a natural consequence of the wonders of intimacy, they can, in some cases, inadvertently contribute to less intimacy in a relationship.
5) Job or other out-of-home commitment
A fulfilling job is an important part of remaining happy. When more than half your waking weekday hours are spent in a certain location or around particular people, it’s obviously beneficial if you can feel fulfilled.
Most people want to do well and desire to fulfil their ambition. Some people, however, are so heavily career-focussed that it can get in the way of closeness. For example, talking to a partner excessively about work, being away from home, having little time or energy after working long hours, or work interfering in ‘personal time’ (like checking work emails in bed) can all contribute to a lack of intimacy in a relationship.
Restoring intimacy in a relationship
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Resolving intimacy issues very often requires both people to be open, honest, considerate and non-judgmental. It also may require one or both people to allow themselves to feel ‘vulnerable’. Here are some ways to get things started.
1) Work on your communication skills
Talking about problems is very often one of the best things you can do. By talking about concerns and worries, a couple may be able to ‘get things out in the open’. Be mindful that effective communication is a two-way street — it is as much about listening as it is about talking.
2) Work on resolving conflict
It’s much easier to feel close and connected to someone when you haven’t had an argument or heated disagreement. The capacity to calmly manage feelings of anger and frustration is a key to restoring intimacy.
3) Do activities together
To use another popular saying, the couple that plays together, stays together. Find interests that you both enjoy (it doesn’t have to be an expensive restaurant or night out, as it could even be just walking the dog together) make plans and, most importantly, stick to them.
4) Talk to a relationship counsellor
Couples’ counsellors, also called relationship counsellors, work to help people overcome conflict. Unfortunately, they often see couples only after it’s too late. Seeing a relationship counsellor before problems become unmanageable is a proactive, effective step that can improve a relationship.
5) Talk to a MensLine counsellor
Did you know that MensLine Australia was originally founded as a relationship advice line? Although the service’s scope has expanded significantly over the years, a huge proportion of people who contact MensLine Australia still do so to talk about relationship issues. Counsellors are available 24 7 if you just want to talk or chat online.
MensLine Australia is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with professional counsellors providing information and support for all relationship issues.