Intimacy and Connection in a Struggling Relationship

Why do couples struggle to stay intimate?
This is a question that baffled me when I started working in this field. Many women would say to me “what do I do when the feelings in a marriage are gone?” or men I work with to save their marriage would share “when a marriage is over to one person can you get it back?” I wanted to know why when the feelings in a marriage are gone can they not be restored with focus and effort. The good news is they can, the problem is 3 main things stop couples from reconnecting which I will explain in this article.
Most people if asked: “Is intimacy in a relationship important to you?” Would answer yes absolutely yes.
Yet I found individuals and couples don’t even focus on it when they think the marriage is over!

Individuals need intimacy is it one of the basic human needs according to many psychologists and wellness experts. This is supported by Anthony Robbins who studied universal human needs and in the basic 4 needs was a need for love and connection. Dr Stonsy PhD claims that intimacy is also crucial to normal human functioning and can help ward off depression, aggression, and calm anxiety.

A relationship needs intimacy, otherwise it will slowly wither and die. Sadly I see this time and time again when individuals or couples come to me with their marriage in crisis there is always a break down in intimacy. Divorce statistics support this, lack of intimacy and connection is often to blame.

What amazes me is if we all value intimacy in a relationship and recognise it as important for a lasting loving close relationship. Then why aren’t couples able to restore it in relationships once it has been broken or lost?

There are 3 main reasons I have found for why couples struggle to get back their intimate connection when a relationship breaks down. I will outline them and give you some tips.

Men and Women View Intimacy Differently

One of key reasons why hetro-sexual couples find it hard to get intimacy back is because
men and women have differing views of what it means to be intimate. Having helped countless couples save their marriage now, I often ask men and women separately what does being intimate mean to you? On average here are the answers (of course there are always exceptions).

For men intimacy is:
A physical connection
Foreplay
Holding hands, hugging and kissing
Physical time alone together
Sexual intimacy
Doing things together

For women intimacy is:
An emotional connection
Sharing important issues
Listening to things about their husband’s day
Being able to cry about emotional events and experiences together
Being emotionally aware when feelings are hurt
Knowing one another’s hopes and dreams

Men tend to associate intimacy as being physical, touching and sex and for women it is more about talking intimately face to face. Helen Fisher PhD claims that this is a “behavior that probably evolved millions of years ago when ancestral females spent days holding their infants up in front of them, soothing them with words. She found similar to me that Men, often regard intimacy as working or playing side by side”

2, Fear
Fear of intimacy play’s a huge factor in couples struggling to restore intimacy or even establish it in the first place.
Fear of getting hurt and being vulnerable can block emotional sharing and trust in a relationship.Fear of rejection can stop a relationship from being physically intimate again. Fear of failure or disappointment can prevent us from sharing our desires, dreams, hopes and expectations, so we settled for less. Fear of abandonment can prevent someone from being truly engaged. Fear of being engulfed and losing yourself in a relationship is another common reason men and women avoid intimacy. According to Hal Shorey Ph.D. Psychology today fearing intimacy and avoiding closeness in relationships is the norm for about 17% of adults in Western cultures.

Whilst we have these fears most marriage counsellors don’t address these fears, they will suggest “talking about your problems over and over again” which often ignites more fear. Which is why I always avoid having a couple sit together and go over the past problems, to save relationships you need to be focusing on establishing the connection, focusing on the future. What works is practical guidance and support on how to move forward and be intimate despite fears.