When I’m working with couples having difficulty expressing themselves sexually with each other, I bring up intimacy. “How would you define this?” I ask. More often than not the first word that one or both say is sex. And yes, sex is intimacy. But let’s dig deeper.
The Broad spectrum
Various forms of sex, such as intercourse and oral, are most often associated with my clients with intimacy.
Sometimes only intercourse.
But intimacy is a spectrum of behaviors and emotions. From holding hands to kissing. From sitting next to each other on a couch watching a movie to kissing under the covers.
After my clients become comfortable with the (sometimes new to them) definition of intimacy, I take the time to discuss their relationship history as it relates to intimacy. What was it like during the first year of your relationship?
Five years in. 10 years in.
For parents, after you had a child. And so on, taking us to the present. The usual and very common answer is: “At the beginning, we were closer and more active in our intimacy. It was a priority and it was fun. As the years went on, it started to fade, and for parents, it’s been almost lost once we had kids.” The magic is not there and one or both may be questioning the status of the relationship.
Most often the methods of intimacy beyond sex are all but gone
Sometimes clients view holding hands or snuggling as things young people do, not 45-year-olds. And when sex happens, it’s routine and emotionally uncomfortable. Often there’s not mutual desire and instead, one person goes along with it to “get it over with.”
Is there hope? I always have hope in life and I do my best to infuse hope into my clients if it’s lacking.
Some tips I suggest
Reestablish your other selves
When you’re alone, you’re an individual self.
You have interests and activities that you enjoy. When you become a couple, some of your individual identity is lost as the couple identity takes over. For parents, selves one and two can be almost completely gone as you devote yourself entirely to parenting.
I encourage clients to reestablish their individual identity to find more fulfillment.
It can be anything from a book club to poker night. And it’s important for each other to be supportive of these activities, otherwise, it causes resentment. As a couple, have a date night. Hey parents! Get a sitter and get out. You won’t be a bad parent if you’re away from your 7-year old for a few hours.
Regarding sexual intimacy, I suggest that clients ask themselves and each other: What do you like?
What don’t you like? What do you want? And most importantly – What do you need? You’ve been together for years. Maybe what you liked 10 years ago isn’t important to you now. Maybe what you didn’t want to do 10 years ago you’re eager and excited to try now.
Re-establishing intimacy is hard work.
The most important thing is the effort. If each member of the couple doesn’t commit to the hard work ahead, or commits but doesn’t do the hard work, this process won’t work. It could even make matters worse. “What’s the point of us going to couples therapy if you don’t even care?”
You can do this!
I hope this article was helpful to you. Remember that restoring intimacy is possible. You have to work hard, be open and honest with each other, and have hope things will get better.