All of us are unique. Therefore, every couple is different. And so too, are our relationships.

Intimacy. Emotional or physical connection? Or both?

We are biologically set up to respond to closeness and touch with excitement and expectation. But when it comes to our emotions, it’s not always the case. Behaviour is (almost) always based on underlying or observable emotion, therefor our intimacy will be determined by both partners safely allowing themselves to become vulnerable to allow and respond to physical touch. Feeling special and acknowledged in a relationship allows for more open and spontaneous reaction.

It is said that men give love for sex and women give sex for love. This statement is perceived as contentious and usually provokes an initial reaction of discomfort and disagreement. But think about it; think about sex and love in a broader context, think about an ideal world situation: The man reaches out on an emotional level to his partner by making her feel special and she responds physically to make him feel recognized and acknowledged. They connect emotionally AND physically. Does this make sense?

Intimacy has a reciprocal cause and effect consequence. In our partnership we may drift apart because our needs are not being met and because we drift apart it becomes increasingly difficult to meet each other’s needs – the husband blames his partner for being “cold” or not wanting him sexually, where the wife would respond that he has become rude and selfish and does not love her anymore. So, she withholds sex (making him feel unrecognized), and he becomes demanding (she is no longer special). Both end up angry and disappointed.

For many of us intimacy can usually be spontaneous. Some of us struggle with our understanding of the role intimacy plays in our relationship. When it comes to physical intimacy; we struggle with concepts of containing our sexual responsiveness out of fear of what our partner may think or, may a fear of becoming so overexcited that we lose control of our expression. We wonder about the number of times per month, week, or year that we should be intimate, and are conflicted about the different needs and expectations between us as partners. We struggle with our sexual self-image, including matters such as fear of failing, being judged, or just not being good enough. This requires discussion between us as partners. But if we just don’t know what intimacy entails, we may prefer avoiding it as topic of discussion.

When the relationship started and when we were courting, intimacy was not really an issue. This was part of the “chemistry” between us as partners. This is nothing more than “old school” romance – buying flowers or chocolates, going to the movies, stealing a kiss or sneaking a private touch, all of which created excitement and expectation as it provided a dopamine rush. And it worked! Romance helped the relationship grow exponentially. Both physical and emotional intimacy, is relatively easy in the courting phase.

Over time the romance subsides. Couples often state that things were “different” before the marriage. And now, being married, they must make time or effort to keep their intimacy alive. Intimacy in a marriage or relationship increasingly suffers when one becomes occupied with responsibilities or when we get so caught up in our daily activities that we simply lose track of each other.

So, we must make time for both emotional and physical intimacy.

With regards to emotional intimacy, it is useful to purposefully schedule alone time together on a regular basis. An opportunity where you and your partner can connect, laugh, talk and have fun, is an opportunity for emotional intimacy to grow, and as a result, physical intimacy could also have the opportunity to grow.

With regards to physical intimacy, some couples keep it interesting by talking about what pleases them, others may add fantasy role-play, while yet others create bedroom props to keep it exciting. Communicating our needs helps us to know each other’s limits and fears. Beware of the influence of pornography! Be realistic. Intimacy is very important to a healthy marriage. Intimacy should be regular.  Sometimes being intimate when “not in the mood” is better than not being intimate at all.

Keeping physical intimacy alive is not a stand-alone matter; it will always be part of the other elements discussed in this series, namely partnership, hard work, commitment, respect, responsibility, checking in, and communication. Sex is an emotional AND physical connection and when biologically our physical connection is reduced, the emotional connection remains to sustain our relationship.

It will however be unjust to discuss the topic of intimacy based on the premise that we are all healthy and always in an emotionally good space. Physical pain during intercourse, trauma, stressful circumstances, physical complications such as heart problems, depression, and side effects of medication, etc. will adversely impact our intimacy. Let’s not confuse “want to” with “not being able to” and let’s not make the latter a point of contention – try and find a way to address this together. Is the issue of intimacy contributing to partners drifting apart, or is choosing to avoid communicating about this more at fault? Most couples I see, where one partner is caught up in infidelity, often have a lack of openness to respond and communicate on an intimate level – they gradually became emotionally and physically disconnected.

Making effort with regards to intimacy in a relationship, is important. Although talking about and discussing the emotional aspects of a relationship are easier for some, we often experience and perceive difficulty with physical intimacy as a very personal matter, and it can be exposing to reach out for professional assistance. It may therefore be less exposing to talk to a GP first.

The last words are in the form of a question; why do we struggle so much with our sex talk?