If you make a list of all the key factors that comprise a healthy relationship, it’s likely that being intimate makes the cut every time. What is intimacy, though, and what does it mean to you? Equally as important, what does it mean to your partner? Are you two on the same page?
Some see intimacy as purely sexual, while others search for it in other aspects of a relationship, such as through conversation, general affection, and the like. While talking with people for this article and in my general conversations with adults in long-term relationships, it has become apparent that many don’t feel as though they’re getting enough intimacy from their significant other. This trend is not new.
Basically, if you feel like you’re “stuck in a rut,” you’re not alone.
Helen* is 37 years old and has been with her partner for 18 years. She believes intimacy is primarily non-sexual and rather feels that being intimate means simply being close. For example, hugging her husband or having a deep talk with him would be intimate in her book. Helen’s husband sees intimacy primarily as a sexual act; however, she says he is getting better at trying to incorporate closeness into their relationship on a broader basis. As a whole, though, Helen does not feel as though she gets nearly enough intimacy in her relationship that has spanned almost two decades.
Alyssa* married her high school sweetheart, and they have been committed to each other for over ten years. She and her husband are in their mid-20s and have a 2-year-old child together. Alyssa describes intimacy as “being with the one you love and having your undivided attention on one another.” As a stay-at-home mom with a husband who frequently travels for work, Alyssa makes a point to have what she refers to as “blackout time” every weekend that they are together to improve intimacy. During blackout time, there are no electronics and the couple instead has heartfelt conversations. This effort to connect is indicative of their desire to improve intimacy in all aspects of their relationship.
With so many interpretations of intimacy, I thought it best to ask an expert. Psychoanalyst Ryan Allison of Psychoanalysis Kansas City and Couples Therapy Kansas City says that true intimacy means, “really connecting to the other person both emotionally and physically.” He does stress, though, that different styles and different definitions of intimacy may be culturally determined.
In addition, the dynamics of the families of origin may play a factor in how each individual perceives and shows intimacy. For example, maybe your husband or wife grew up in a home environment in which he or she was well loved, but physical affection was rarely shown. You could reasonably expect, then, that your partner could behave the same way in your relationship now. The takeaway is this: if you’re feeling ignored affection-wise, try talking to your significant other about his/her past experiences giving and receiving affection. There may be a legitimate reason for the behavior and, once identified, a clear way to move forward.
There are three main places a lack of intimacy can manifest itself on the relationship front: sex, general affection, and conversation/communication. A lack of intimacy in one area can cause tension in the other two spaces, making it a symptom of a then-larger problem. In other words, your partner may have snapped at you in conversation because he/she is not feeling satisfied affection-wise, and the discontent is spilling over.
Could you use more closeness in your relationship? Have you been feeling disheartened as you’ve read this article because you can relate to Helen and Alyssa’s stories or other situations described? Well, don’t, because Psychoanalyst Ryan Allison says there’s good news — it’s absolutely fixable, as long as you’re both nonresistant to the process. And, as long as both of you are loving enough of the other person to accommodate whatever differences there are, “amazing things can happen.”
He recommends starting off easy, with a gesture toward physical affection, a gesture toward conversational intimacy, or a gesture toward sexual intimacy as a way to try to meet your partner. Of course, counseling is recommended if the lack of intimacy in your relationship is severe or if you feel as though you cannot manage it on your own. For more information and resources, click here.
*Last names and other personal identifiers have been removed for privacy, but the circumstances described are real. The individuals mentioned have consented to have their situations included in this story, with anonymity, to help provide a realistic picture of intimacy in relationships today.