Intimacy ebbs and flows in a romantic relationship, but a long-term lack of intimacy in a marriage can cause stress, feelings of insecurity, and worry. If left unaddressed, intimacy issues might lead to a marriage ending altogether.
Intimacy problems can be caused by many common reasons, from everyday stress to health issues. Some things are also just more important to some people in a relationship. For example, one partner might have more sexual needs than the other.
If you’re experiencing a lack of intimacy in your marriage recently, there are several things you can try to feel more connected to your partner. Here, we look at the types of marriage intimacy issues, their potential causes, and how you can address them.
Most married couples will go through relationship problems at some point — no partnership is perfect and conflict is part and parcel of being in a romantic relationship.
A common issue, though, is experiencing less intimacy with your spouse than when you first started dating. However you experience that lack of intimacy — whether sexual, physical, or emotional — it’s important to remember that it’s not uncommon to have ups and downs. But prolonged intimacy that causes upset needs to be addressed.
Many things can contribute to less sex and intimacy in marriage — from health and stress to work and children. If you’re concerned about a lack of intimacy in your marriage or other relationship issues, make time to talk to your partner.
When you do, work hard on opening up from a place of how you’re feeling about the lack of connection — and try to avoid statements that place all the blame on your partner (using “I feel” statements can help).
What type of intimacy is important in your marriage? Aside from sex, you might also experience intimacy in marriage by holding hands, cuddling up together, and having emotional bonds. Likewise, you can build intimacy through sharing experiences or working out issues together.
One of the keys to a healthy marriage is good communication, so let your partner know about your concerns. You can try building intimacy in your marriage through the following:
Open and honest communication.
Listening with empathy and curiosity to what your partner has to say.
Spending time together and sharing new experiences.
Working together on projects or problems.
Being open and vulnerable with each other.
A high level of sexual activity in your love life is not the only intimacy you can experience. You can also focus on the following:
Emotional intimacy: The loving emotional connection between two partners. Having no emotional intimacy in marriage can eventually lead to a lack of physical intimacy.
Physical intimacy: This can include sex, but also includes affectionate tokens like cuddling, spooning, kissing, and holding hands.
Intellectual intimacy: Feeling free to talk and disagree with your partner safely.
Experiential intimacy: Having new bonding experiences with your partner.
Intimacy is vital in a marriage. Without intimacy, it might be tough to find the will to work through the hard times together. However, a marriage generally only breaks up if the two partners disagree on how much intimacy is important. That intimacy might be sexual, emotional, or other.
Remember that sex isn’t the be-all and end-all of a successful long-term relationship. Marriages can typically survive without sexual intimacy. Some couples might simply prioritize other things — like hobbies, family, or experiences — over sex. For many, these things are intimate. You’ll need to figure out what’s important in your relationship before addressing a lack of intimacy.
If that is sex, then talk to your partner about both your feelings toward frequency. One of the most common issues in romantic relationships is when one person wants sex more than the other. If you know that you’d like different amounts of intimacy, you can make an effort to compromise with each other.
A sexless marriage shows a lack of physical intimacy. This doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker — as we saw earlier, some marriages prioritize different things above sex.
“As sex is typically a key part of a relationship, couples who feel less stress about not having sex are ones that consensually decided together to take a break from physical intimacy,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert.
There may also be health, trauma, or other issues that mean the sexless marriage is nobody’s fault, and taking sex off the table can actually bring those couples closer.
Generally, the signs of a sexless relationship are irregular or non-existent sexual activity together. A temporary dip in sexual activity can often feel lonely to a partner, but it doesn’t mean it will last long term. While there’s no exact definition, a sexless marriage might comprise a year or more without sex, for example.
Aside from health issues, you might also experience a lack of sexual desire for the following reasons:
Stress: A 2013 study found that high levels of stress can cause lower levels of arousal, leading to less sexual activity. In married life, stress can come from many angles, including work and financial worries.
Childcare: Married life can be hectic and stressful enough. If you have young children, you might still be recovering from the birth or feel exhausted from day-to-day childcare, leaving you with a low sex drive.
Marital issues: You might also be going through a tough time with your partner. No matter the issues, try communicating with them — it might lead to a breakthrough in your marriage intimacy issues.
If you’d like to work on your marriage intimacy, try one of the following ideas.
Remember the early days of your relationship? Channel what caused that initial spark by talking with your partner about the good old times.
Tell each other what you love about the other person, dig out some old photos, or recreate your first date. Fostering romance in your relationship could lead to more intimacy and a healthier sex life as a result.
Whatever the issue, communicating openly with your partner is the only way you can begin to fix things. In a healthy relationship, each partner should be able to communicate their emotions or fears without being criticized.
Ask how your partner feels about things. Do they have the same frustrations you do? Once you understand how each other thinks about these negative feelings, you can start working on them.
Physical intimacy doesn’t have to mean sex, so you can also work on other intimacies to build a stronger overall bond together. Start small — try cuddling in bed together, holding hands outside, and sharing a kiss when you get home from work. If you have emotional intimacy issues or lack confidence, starting small like this might help unlock big wins down the line.
Research found that physical affection — specifically backrubs, massages, caressing, and kissing — is strongly associated with partner satisfaction, can bring you closer, and also make you feel validated and understood. One study that looked at couples who’d been together for an average of 25 years found that frequent cuddling and kissing were important elements of a happy relationship
While some couples can manage without specific intimacies, others might find it harder to stay together.
A 2009 study found that a lack of sex caused both married and unmarried couples to break up more regularly. A lack of intimacy might be grounds for divorce for some married people — it all depends on how important intimacy is to them.
A lack of intimacy in marriage can cause many issues, and in some cases even end the relationship. If your marriage lacks intimacy and you’d like to address it, try the following suggestions:
Communicate with your partner about how important intimacy is to you.
Listen to your partner’s feelings and consider how you both feel.
Work to address the intimacy issues in a way you both feel comfortable. A compromise might be key.
With honest communication, genuine listening, and effort from both sides, you could come out of this with a more intimate, happy marriage.