Intimacy is a feeling of deep closeness and connection with your partner, and romantic relationships need it to thrive. However, intimacy doesn't develop out of the blue. It needs to be constantly nurtured, and there are times when it can dwindle. So, what do you do when the intimacy stops in a relationship?
It’s natural for intimacy to ebb and flow in long-term relationships, but while a temporary lack of intimacy isn’t something to panic about, it can lead to disconnect if it’s not addressed.
Read on for an expert guide on what to do when the intimacy stops in a relationship.
Intimacy is the ability to develop a bond with your partner. Much like love, it’s one of those concepts that’s hard to define, but you know it when you feel it.
“Intimacy is the foundation of safety, trust, and vulnerability within a relational dynamic,” says Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor.
“It’s a crucial part of a healthy relationship because it signifies partnership, an alliance, and an agreement to consistently ‘show up’ for each other. Intimacy is truly the glue that holds a healthy relationship together and is a required and essential component of a successful romantic relationship.”
Despite it being a term we use a lot when talking about romantic relationships, many people think intimacy is synonymous with sex. But intimacy is more than just sex, it can take many forms.
“Intimacy is different from sex because it’s about closeness and connection and can come in multiple different forms,” says Dr. Fedrick. “Other forms of intimacy include emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and experiential. Sex can be a physical form of intimacy, but sex in and of itself is not intimacy.”
Both physical and emotional intimacy are important components of a relationship. Even if you’re not having sex in a relationship, you can build physical intimacy through touch, such as cuddling, hugging, kissing, or holding hands.
Emotional intimacy, on the other hand, is the ability to be vulnerable with one another and feel comfortable enough to share your innermost thoughts and feelings. It’s the type of intimacy that allows you to have deep conversations and ask each other tough relationship questions. Research shows that communication and self-disclosure can foster intimacy in a marriage.
“Healthy intimacy is the willingness to allow your partner to see and understand parts of you that are fragile and vulnerable, as well as the willingness to seek out and understand these parts of your partner,” says Dr. Fedrick.
Physical and emotional intimacy also go hand-in-hand. “This emotional intimacy often leads to increased (and improved) physical intimacy, which is also extremely valuable for rebuilding connection,” adds Dr. Fedrick.
“Relationships can lose intimacy due to a few different things, such as hurt feelings, growing apart, loss of trust, not making each other a priority, compounded resentments, and more,” explains Dr. Fedrick.
“Regardless of the cause of the growing apart, it’s very commonly the result of a couple not making intentional time for each other and the nurturance of their relationship.”
It’s easy to get lost in life’s mundane, day-to-day responsibilities and put your relationship on the back burner, but intimacy requires active (and mutual) participation. If you don’t make an intentional effort to foster connection with your partner, you risk falling into a relationship rut.
“When I ask couples if they make time for intentional discussions and quality interactions, they often respond with how they ‘talked’ about something related to childrearing, bills, or other task-based decisions, but more often than not, couples do not report that they make daily or even weekly time for connection,” she adds.
“This lack of quality time together prevents couples from being able to talk about their needs openly and honestly, how they’re feeling about the relationship, or to engage in intimacy (emotional or physical). Thus, couples inevitably start to drift apart, and the intimacy is lost.”
Unresolved conflict can also lead to a lack of intimacy. “Mistakes and conflict are an inevitable part of any relationship,” says Dr. Fedrick, “but where many couples go wrong is by not taking appropriate ownership and accountability for their roles in this conflict. This lack of ownership then results in defensiveness and creates a divide that is hard to repair when neither partner is willing to look inward at their role in the conflict, which ultimately leads to a loss of intimacy,” she adds.
“Accountability and forgiveness are essential components of healthy repair, which can then both protect intimacy or work to regain it if it is lost.”
“When intimacy isn’t present in a romantic relationship, couples risk becoming ships passing in the nights, roommates, or even worse, enemies living in the same home, due to the lack of deliberate and intentional efforts put towards communication, emotional and physical intimacy, and connection,” says Dr. Fedrick.
A relationship can survive a lack of intimacy, but it won’t flourish. “Relationships that lack intimacy often ‘go cold’ as the result of disconnection,” explains Dr. Fedrick.
Simply being with your partner isn’t enough to be happy — you need to feel connected, safe, and valued.
“Many couples realize that the intimacy is gone or is starting to be lost when there is a sense of disconnection, boredom, and even apathy towards the other partner, as well as towards the relationship as a whole,” explains Dr. Fedrick.
“When partners stop caring as much about trying to make the partner feel safe, loved, attended to, special, etc., this is often a good indicator that the relationship is missing intimacy.”
Another sign that your relationship lacks intimacy is if you and your partner don’t talk to each other as openly or honestly, struggle to trust each other, or seek comfort and support elsewhere, says Dr. Fedrick.
It takes time and effort to build and maintain intimacy in a relationship, but it can be done.
The biggest thing you can do to restore intimacy, says Dr. Fedrick, is to make time for each other.
“The primary way to rekindle the intimacy is by putting aside intentional time together and engaging in thoughtful and deliberate conversation during this time,” she explains.
“Some other ideas for rekindling intimacy include:
Make each other a priority.
Engage in regular “check-ins” about how each partner is feeling about the relationship, what their needs are, and possible changes that would improve the relationship as a whole.
Express gratitude, praise, and compliments to each other daily.
Surprise each other with thoughtful gestures.
Start going on dates more regularly.
Create more opportunities for one-on-one time.”
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