Physical intimacy issues are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to healthy relationships. In other words, they are usually symptoms of deeper-seated emotional problems that lie beneath the surface. Yes, even the most common physical intimacy issues can be traced back to past experiences and/or unresolved issues — just ask the therapists who’ve heard it all.
Tina Konkin, a relationship counselor and the founder and director of the counseling program Relationship Lifeline, draws an analogy. “A doctor likes to figure out what’s causing the illness,” she says. “They work hard to get to the bottom of the problem so that they can properly diagnose and treat the patient. I’m the same way.” The “illness” in this case is within the relationship.
Physical and emotional issues frequently coexist, from less snuggling, hugging, and kissing to less frequent (or nonexistent) sex. And, except for medical issues, the prevalence of physical intimacy is frequently related to the health of the relationship. “I frequently see a symbiotic relationship between pleasure, emotional intimacy, and relationship satisfaction,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Hernando Chaves. “Each of these influences our desire and arousal in different ways.”
Each couple is unique, and some people crave physical contact more than others. But if you’re starting to notice a schism between you and your significant other — or if you want to avoid this relationship pitfall entirely — keep reading. Konkin and Dr. Chaves discuss three of the most common physical intimacy issues they’ve seen, as well as how to fix them.
Signs of Physical Intimacy Issues
Being sexually frustrated or incompatible with your spouse is a major issue that many marriage counselors address during couples therapy. Physical intimacy issues arise for a variety of reasons, including stress, aging, and changes in circumstances, such as having a new baby. Aside from the physical advantages, having a satisfying sexual relationship with your partner strengthens your emotional bond.
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It is not surprising, then, that many couples who struggle with physical intimacy have lower relationship satisfaction and tend to withdraw from one another. This is a sad reality that can be easily remedied if both partners make time for sex and listen to each other’s needs.
Here are nine physical intimacy issues that may have an impact on your marriage:
#1. Making no time for sex
Busy schedules and exhaustion may be preventing you and your partner from fulfilling your sexual desires. One of the most common complaints during sexual counseling is a lack of time for sex. The bottom line is that if you are passionate about something, you will make time for it. Do you work out or participate in sports several times a week but don’t make time for sex?
2. Sharing a bed
Do you share your bed with your kids or even your pets? It’s not uncommon for children to snuggle up in bed with their parents to watch late-night television or to recover from a nightmare.
You may feel obligated as a parent to allow your child to sleep in your bed if they are scared or want to spend time with you, but try not to make it a habit. Sharing your bed with someone who is not your spouse can make intimacy difficult. When you have children or pets in your space, you have fewer opportunities to cuddle, caress, or have late-night lovemaking.
#3. There is no effort put into sexual life.
When you first start a sexual relationship, finding the perfect routine in bed feels magical. It’s the moment when you have all of your moves down pat.
You know exactly what you need to do to please your partner, and you do it every time. This is fantastic at first. However, after a few years of repeating the same sexual routine, it can lose its luster. When couples stop putting effort into their sex life by trying new things or attempting to seduce one another, they frequently experience physical intimacy issues.
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#4. Not comfortable communicating
Communication is essential in almost all aspects of your relationship, including your sexual life. How will your partner know how to please you if you can’t communicate with them? Couples must be able to communicate their desires, needs, and fantasies.
Tell your partner everything you enjoy about them, as well as what they could be doing more or less between the sheets. Your sex life will feel unfulfilling if you do not express your sexual desires. These physical intimacy issues can lead to a general aversion to having sex with your partner or even to an affair.
#5. Too nervous to initiate
Many couples have assigned themselves roles both inside and outside the bedroom. For example, the husband might be portrayed as the “initiator,” leaving the wife unsure of how to express her desire for sex. Other couples may be blind to their spouse’s cues. Others may be too afraid to initiate for fear of rejection.
#6. Lack of body confidence
Physical intimacy issues may arise as a result of a lack of confidence. Women, in particular, are repeatedly shown in the media, advertisements, and adult films that they must be a certain size or shape to be considered attractive. They may also believe that their breasts, stomach, and other body parts are supposed to look a certain way. Even if they love and trust their partner, this can make them hesitant, embarrassed, or uncomfortable about engaging in sexual activity.
A lack of confidence in the bedroom is not solely a female issue. Many men are concerned about their size, circumcision, and what their partner thinks of their body.
#7. Sex withholding
Some couples, particularly women, use sex as a weapon or a reward. One spouse may withhold to win arguments or punish their spouse. Another person may use sex in the same way that you might use treats to train a dog. Both of these are toxic behaviors that create a distorted view of what should be a loving act.
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#8. A prior affair
Dealing with an affair is one of the most difficult experiences you can have in a relationship. It not only causes emotional turmoil in both parties, but it can also hurt your sex life. After an affair, sex becomes difficult.
The prospect of having a sexual relationship with your mate again after an affair may seem unbearable. The injured party may be curious about how they compare to the “other” person. There may also be some post-affair resentment from both spouses that makes them feel less attracted to or loving towards one another.
#9. Sexless marriage
Denise A. Donnelly, a sociology professor at Georgia State University, conducted a study on sexless marriage and discovered that 15% of married couples have not had sex in the last 6-12 months.
The regular sexual activity makes you feel happier, safer, and more in love with your partner. It physically and mentally bonds you and strengthens your relationship.
When sex is absent from a marriage, partners may feel resentful, insecure, and ignored. One of the most common reasons for extramarital affairs is being in a sexless marriage.
How to Overcome Physical Intimacy Issues
Konkin shares the R3 principles she uses to help clients and workshop participants get back on track when it comes to overcoming physical intimacy issues — and, by extension, emotional intimacy issues:
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“Recognize that what you’re doing isn’t working. Accept that you cannot heal or change what you have not first revealed to yourself. When your anger and unresolved issues are not addressed, they grow roots. It could start with something as minor as a hurt feeling, but it could quickly escalate into defensive behavior or even complete withdrawal from your spouse.”
“You can’t change your past, but you can change your feelings about it. Forgiveness performs the act of rewriting. Simply put, a relationship cannot be healthy or intimate unless forgiveness is present on a daily basis for the vast majority of us imperfect humans. Unresolved issues that are not forgiven will destroy your relationships.”
“Even with the butterflies of newfound love, each person must make every day a brand-new day in order to keep a relationship vibrant and exciting. To renew means to make today better than yesterday. Even in the midst of adversity, love for one another should grow and should never be taken for granted.”
She has one last piece of advice for couples who are trying to reconnect: “Seek assistance. Don’t waste the best thing life has to offer — love between two people — because you can’t see beyond the problem.”
Physical intimacy issues have a variety of consequences for your marriage. You are setting yourself up for failure in the bedroom by withholding sex, not making time for intimate moments, and being unable to communicate about your sex life with your partner. To reestablish your emotional and physical connection with your spouse, practice being open and honest about your wants and needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I struggle with physical intimacy?
Childhood trauma, such as the death of a parent or abuse, can also cause fear of intimacy. This makes it difficult for the person to trust others. A personality disorder, such as avoidant personality disorder or schizoid personality disorder, could also be to blame.
What are signs of intimacy issues?
Keep an eye out for the following symptoms in yourself that could indicate a fear of intimacy: Inability to express your needs and desires to those in your life. In your relationships, with poor communication or avoidance of serious topics, you have difficulty trusting your partner with important matters or decisions.
Why do I not like physical touch?
Some people are afraid of being touched because of past traumas. Others are hypersensitive to physical contact and find it unpleasant or even distressing. Many people on the autism spectrum, for example, find physical touch overwhelming, to the point of clouding their other senses.
What lack of intimacy does to a woman?
Lack of emotional intimacy can cause one or both partners to hide their emotions, and make it difficult to involve your partner in your life. This could imply not spending time together, not talking much, or even not keeping up with each other’s lives.
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