Creating a healthy, intimate relationship
Posted February 14
Valentine’s Day is a little painful because my marriage is not going good. It isn’t that we fight a lot, but it isn’t really wonderful either. The only fight we have is around intimacy and the fact that we don’t have it very often. But I don’t think either of us feels really loved or wanted. I try to show my wife I love her, but she thinks it’s all about getting sex. I honestly just don’t think she likes me or ever has any interest in intimacy at all. Just wondered if you had advice on improving this?
There are many different reasons your partner may have lost interest in intimacy. For many women, the heart of the problem is that while boys grow up hearing positive things about sex, most women grow up hearing shameful negatives. Any young woman who was excited about sexuality was seen as a slut, and sex was talked about like it was dirty and wrong. Then, add to that resentment, hurt feelings, disappointment and trust issues (because of criticism or fighting) or a husband who has been looking at pornography (which makes sex feel dirty) and many lose their interest in the whole thing. Others are just too tired and have nothing left to give at the end of the day.
This is a complex issue, and it can’t be fixed in an article, but repairing the intimacy in your relationship is vital. You cannot have a healthy thriving relationship without it. Here are some things each partner can do to start the process of repairing intimacy in their marriage:
See a doctor or mental health professional
If you don't have a healthy libido, go see a medical professional. There are hormone imbalances and medications that can negatively affect sex drive. You also want to make sure there are not experiences of abuse from the past that are creating negative feelings around sex and may also require professional help.
Be kind, appreciative and validating
For most people to enjoy intimacy they must first feel emotionally safe. Does your partner feel resentful, angry, hurt or walked on at any level? If you are prone to criticism, sarcasm, negative comments or if you just don’t give enough positive validation, this could be part of the problem. Your partner needs to feel admired, appreciated, respected and cherished if you want them to want you. (If you have been disappointed or complained about not enough sex, they may feel like a disappointment, which makes them even less interested. People need to be showered with praise and appreciation for who they are, as they are, before they have anything to give. Nothing makes a person more interested in intimacy than believing their partner admires and adores them. Don't let disappointment poison the relationship. Tell your spouse often how amazing they are.
Deserve their respect
If you are slacking in your responsibilities, you may need to step it up. This may mean exercising and getting in shape, spending less time in front of the TV or learning and growing as a person. You may even ask your partner what you could do that would make them admire you more. They may want to see you deal with some of your self-esteem, abandonment, anger or emotional issues. This could mean getting some professional help from an executive coach or counselor.
Be more generous and giving
This means setting aside your needs and giving to your partner. For the partner who is less interested in sex, this means initiating sex and doing it often. If you frequently make them feel wanted and spend quality time here, they will adore and cherish you. Sex should be an expression of love for each other, and a “quicky” that gets it over fast doesn’t make your spouse feel wanted. Set aside the time to make them a priority. We know there are nights you have nothing left to give, but as often as possible set aside time and energy to give to your spouse.
For the partner who wants more intimacy, giving may mean helping around the house more and with the children. It could also mean honoring her feelings when she needs a good night’s rest, and not being resentful or complaining when she is tired. Many couples find it works better if the less interested spouse initiates sex. We know you fear if you do this, it will never happen, but being patient and giving them a chance to want to give to you could reverse the cycle of feeling taken from and rejected.
Understand your partner’s vulnerability
Every person has a different comfort level around vulnerability. At our Marriage Repair Retreats we help couples identify their comfort level and their trust issues around intimacy. We work to remove the fear that blocks vulnerability and create a safer space where partners can talk about intimacy without fear or defensiveness. Most of the time when someone doesn’t feel comfortable being vulnerable it is because of their fears of inadequacy, body image or the fear of disappointing. It’s usually not about you. Don’t take their discomfort with intimacy as a rejection of you. Your spouse may need some professional help to repair his/her self-worth before real vulnerability can happen.
Pornography will harm your marriage in two ways. One, it will create unrealistic expectations your partner can’t fulfill and it will trigger body image issues and feelings of betrayal that are difficult to get past. If pornography has already created these issues in your relationship, you may both need some professional help to repair them. The good news is that you can repair them. They are not the end of the world, but you must get some help.
Be more forgiving
You both must let the past go and start over with a clean slate. You must understand you are no better than your spouse. Stop keeping score and trying to prove your partner is the bad one. You have the exact same, infinite, absolute value as your spouse. You may not have made the same mistakes they made, but you have made other ones, and your inability to forgive is every bit as bad as their faults and weaknesses. You must forgive your partner if you want good self-esteem yourself too.
Work on your self-esteem
This is the most important thing you can do to improve your relationship. If you have body image issues or suffer from fears that you aren’t good enough, your fear is making you incapable of giving love the way you need to. Most of us suffer greatly from feelings of inadequacy, and these feelings must be repaired if you want a healthy marriage. Most people need professional coaching or counseling to change this. A confident person can give much more in a relationship than a miserable one. Encourage your spouse to get some help with this, because you want them to be happier (not so you can get more sex). Our Get Clarity Event is a great, inexpensive way to get this help and improve self-worth.
This is vital for a healthy relationship, but we find most couples can’t communicate until they first solve their fear and self-esteem issues, which are actually causing the defensiveness and unsafe feelings. Once they do the work on their individual self-esteems and fears of failure and loss, we then teach them how to have mutually validating conversations. This means listening before you speak and validating your partner's right to think and feel the way she or he does.
Pick your timing and hold the space for each other
Both men and women need better communication to help them navigate the right time for intimacy. Practice empathy and ask yourself, “What has my spouse been doing the last 12 hours? What has he/she been faced with? What do they need most right now? At the end of the day, we all crave support, connection and care from our spouse but sometimes showing love means doing the dishes, clearing the table, washing the sheets and refueling their car. Make sure you do something every day that makes your spouse feel appreciated and wanted and your spouse will be more excited about making time for intimacy.
It’s about the heart, the head and the chemistry
All three elements need to be connected and balanced for you and your spouse to enjoy intimacy. Both women and men need a clear mind to be able to really connect and make time for each other. Women often get stuck in their self-esteem issues or worry about the kids. Men often get stuck in work and financial responsibilities and find it hard to wind down and be present with their wives. The best way to connect the head, heart and chemistry is to take away all distractions — turn off the phones, have a shower to wash away the day and focus on each other. When you show up for one another and connect emotionally from the heart, it is much easier for the chemistry to follow.
It takes time and commitment to repair this part of your relationship, but the connection and love at the end makes it worth the effort. There are other articles on intimacy on our blog.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.