The American Psychological Association (APA) defines intimacy as an interpersonal state of extreme emotional closeness with those you're in close, loving, or affectionate relationships with. Understanding intimacy, how to grow closer with someone you love, and why these elements matter may help you establish intimacy and experience a more rewarding relationship with your partner.
What Is Intimacy?
Intimacy often has multiple definitions. Many use the term to refer primarily to sexual interactions with their partner. However, intimacy can have many other definitions, and intimacy doesn't only occur in romantic or sexual relationships. It may be possible for couples to experience emotional intimacy or intellectual intimacy without being sexual. Conversely, it can be possible for both partners to maintain an intimate sexual relationship together without being emotionally intimate.
For many, being intimate involves a willingness to be open and vulnerable with your partner, whether that occurs through sexual, emotional, or spiritual intimacy. For many, this goes beyond physical intimacy or feeling close to a partner. For example, some people can love each other deeply but still have trouble with physical closeness or intimacy.
What Causes Intimacy Issues?
Whether a relationship includes men, women, or people of any gender, there can be many reasons why partners may not experience intimacy together. However, understanding the different contributing factors or "elements" of intimacy and how to leverage them can help resolve some of this tension. A few potential causes of intimacy challenges can include the following:
- Constant arguments
- A lack of physical affection or attraction
- One or both partners not meeting the emotional needs of the other
- Mismatching desires in their physical relationship
- Mismatching expectations on important things like love languages
- Insecure attachment styles
- Past adverse events related to intimacy, sex, or love
- A lack of communication
- A lack of commitment
- A lack of trust
- Family issues
- Stressful schedules or responsibilities
- Being busy
The Three Elements Of Intimacy
There are often different, intangible aspects to authentic intimacy. However, for many, they can be condensed into three main contributing factors or "elements" of intimacy.
Suppose there are roadblocks or limitations with intimacy between you and a married partner. In that case, you may want to spend time building intimacy gradually, addressing your relationship strategically using the following condensed list of contributing factors to intimacy in relationships.
Feelings Of Comfort And Familiarity
Intimacy is a psychosocial concept that can be built if feelings of "closeness" are experienced in the relationship. For many, intimacy with a partner in bed or interpersonally begins with feelings first, which may be attributed to closeness, familiarity, or comfort.
Remaining faithful to your view of self and ensuring you talk about your needs can increase your confidence, which may help deepen your connection. However, if one or both partners have experienced trauma or prior relationship challenges, feeling comfortable and confident in the relationship may be challenging.
In this case, a spouse can choose to help their partner by being encouraging and expressing their love clearly. These signals may show their partner it is safe to let their guard down and begin to foster feelings of closeness. If this is a continuous experience in your relationships, you may consider speaking to a professional who can help you or your partner learn to feel relaxed, safe, and confident.
Communication is regarded by many as one of the essential skills in partnerships and marriages. Learning about the various communication styles can increase intimacy and provide numerous benefits to you and your partner. Abstaining from biases about communication in partnerships can also be helpful.
Note that communication may not be easy at first. There may be times when one or both people in the relationship feel like they can't communicate their feelings effectively to their partner. Difficulty communicating is a phenomenon that may span across many genders, identities, and personality types, and it may occur whether you are experiencing tension in your relationship or not.
Learning to communicate and considering your partner's comfort may be a part of feeling intimate. As you navigate communication in partnerships, you may choose to lean into learning and consider outside support from a counselor or therapist to assist you.
Sex and sexual attraction can be personal, and many couples find that both can contribute to intimacy in a healthy marriage or partnership. Communicating about sex before, during, and after a sexual encounter can help you understand the role of sexual activities in your relationship and on an individual basis for you and your partner.
A possible benefit to taking the time to be intentional and communicative about this important aspect of your relationship is that it can help you connect and deepen your level of intimacy with your spouse.
Science currently suggests that having sex on a regular basis can help either partner feel happier, making it a way to show affection and connect intimately. It has also been linked to emotional satisfaction, as well as beneficial physical effects, such as:
- Immune support
- Decreased symptoms in those with depression and anxiety disorders
- Enhanced cardiac health
- Enhanced resilience to stress
A healthy sex life can support a strong marriage or partnership. However, there may be times when one or both people in the relationship experience difficulty being sexually intimate. In these cases, pushing the topic of sex or having arguments about sex may worsen intimacy challenges. Sexual consent is essential for all relationships, including between married couples, and sexual coercion can be a form of emotional abuse.
Note that experiencing a range of attractions or sexual performance can be normal. You may experience sexual fluctuation based on environmental, psychological, or physical factors at any given time. If you're struggling to communicate about sex healthily with your partner, consider contacting a marriage or sex therapist for further guidance.
If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.
How Can You Fix Intimacy Issues?
Experiencing a range of attractions can be normal in many relationships. However, professional support could be beneficial if you begin to feel dissatisfaction or frustration in the intensity or presence of your intimacy with your partner. Other strategies may also benefit you. For example, making deliberate efforts to open communication with your spouse could offer value to your relationship.
When communicating, you may choose to tell your spouse how you are feeling and your goals for the future of your relationship. While it may be a challenging conversation, it could guide you toward the next steps in your relationship.
You may also want to try doing more activities together. When you take the time to nurture your relationship, you may experience a higher level of overall satisfaction and intimacy together. For example, you can practice playfulness by taking nights out, traveling together, creating crafts, going for daily walks, and participating in other common hobbies or passions.
If you still struggle to connect after having honest conversations or spending more time together, you might consider contacting a therapist. There are a few options for therapy, and 70% of couples who try couples or marriage counseling find it highly effective in the long term.
It can be difficult to improve intimacy and overcome challenges in a relationship or partnership. However, speaking to a neutral licensed professional to offer support can be a resource for those who feel unsure about the next steps in symptom management. If you and your partner struggle to find ways to get a counselor within your budget, you can also try online therapy. Online therapy sessions can be held from home and are often hundreds of dollars cheaper for couples, as they can be split in cost.
An increasing number of scientific studies suggest that online couples counseling can be an effective method of coping with relationship issues, including intimacy concerns. In one recent study, researchers looked at the effects of online sexual counseling for couples, finding that it created significant improvements in sexual outcomes comparable to in-person counseling. This finding can be added to many studies suggesting that online counseling is as beneficial as face-to-face therapy.
If you're interested in trying therapy, consider signing up with an online therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Your relationship is worth the effort, and counseling may help you get to the root of your intimacy challenges with long-term and lasting results.
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