Intimacy is a strong connection between two people based on trust, respect, love, and the ability to share of yourselves deeply. In an intimate relationship, partners experience being genuine and vulnerable. All human beings have a need for close connection with others, and research shows that partners who feel intimate with each other tend to report high levels of relationship satisfaction. On the other hand, a lack of intimacy is often associated with relationship distress, and couples who have difficulty maintaining intimacy usually are the ones experiencing destructive behaviors such as abuse or infidelity. Although the reasons that lead couples to relationship coaching may differ, they most often come to regain the intimacy they once had with each other. This can be accomplished through problem solving and personal growth.
Barriers to intimacy.
Neglect.Intimacy can bring couples huge personal and relationship satisfaction. However, many couples struggle with issues that disrupt this closeness. Neglect is one of the most common reasons partners struggle to maintain intimacy. Partners may spend time away from the relationship and become extremely focused on their work, hobbies, or even other relationships. Couples who fail to give their relationship the necessary time and love will eventually experience a disconnect.
Trust issues.It is well known that intimate relationships are based on trust. A violation of trust will have negative consequences for intimacy. For example, infidelity and other betrayals will damage a couple’s intimacy. Violations of trust don’t happen just in a couple’s sex life, but also in other areas, such as parenting, or when boundaries are too weak.
Problematic communication.While there are various explanations of how intimacy is developed, one can say that intimacy is the connection that develops through communication between partners. Therefore, it is no surprise that problematic communication may become a barrier to intimacy. Problematic communication may include poor listening, defensiveness, or inability to manage conflict.
Different opinions about intimacy.Different opinions about intimacy between partners may become obstacles to connection. Partners may also desire different types and levels of intimacy. These differences may hold couples back, causing unmet expectations resulting in relationship dissatisfaction.
Individual factors.Although intimacy is mostly an interpersonal process, there are individual factors that may create obstacles. Each one of us is unique. Individuals have different capacities, and not all people are able to engage in intimate relationships with others. Some individuals may have fears of closeness, proving to be a significant obstacle to intimacy. These fears may originate from childhood experiences or from traumatic relationships. Furthermore, some individuals may fear sharing their feelings with others, while others fear losing control.
Fear of abandonment/rejection.The more someone emotionally invests in a relationship, the more pain they will experience if the relationship ends. People who have experienced thiat pain in past relationships may become too sensitive to getting intimate in their current relationship. They may avoid their partners or keep them at a distance in order to protect themselves from experiencing that same pain again.
Fear of exposure.Especially in a fresh relationship, partners may limit what they disclose to each other. Healthy individuals share more about themselves as their relationship progresses; however, individuals who are afraid that exposing themselves will result in rejection will maintain limits, not letting intimacy develop.
Fear of being vulnerable.Intimacy requires emotional vulnerability. Many people cannot invest in new relationships because of past traumatic relationships. Furthermore, individuals in new relationships may not let intimacy develop for fear of being vulnerable.
Unrealistic expectations and dysfunctional thoughts.Partners may struggle to develop intimacy because of unrealistic expectations or dysfunctional thoughts regarding their relationship. Among others, dysfunctional beliefs may result in avoidance (e.g. “If I get too close to them, they will leave me”), constraint from moving forward (e.g. “I know that this relationship will not end well”) and sabotaging efforts toward intimacy.
Treating intimate disconnections with relationship coaching.Although these issues seem more like individual problems, there are ways relationship coaching can help couples remove these obstacles and rebuild intimacy in the relationship. Coaches use interventions related to dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs, fears of intimacy, unrealistic expectations, and communication problems to assist partners in this change. Coaches ensure a safe environment in which barriers will be removed and both partners will be vulnerable while intimacy is developed. Therefore, in order for couples to recover, they must feel safe enough to be interpersonally vulnerable with each other, an important responsibility of the coach. By carefully monitoring couples, the relationship coach helps them open up without experiencing negative consequences.
If there is no progress, the relationship coach may assess other factors and fears that affect intimacy. After identifying these factors, the coach works through each fear with the couple in relationship coaching. Through this process, partners can identify their strengths as well as the areas in which they would like to grow. Then, with the help of their coach, they acknowledge their dysfunctional thoughts and work to change their thought process and eliminate the barriers that keep them from changing. With the help of their coach, partners recognize their automatic thoughts and the negative emotional and interpersonal effects these can have, then employ different techniques to challenge their beliefs. The most common techniques to challenge dysfunctional thought processes and erroneous beliefs include the self-monitoring and challenging of automatic thoughts through a thought record and the evaluation of the evidence for a specific thought.
Finally, one of the most important things in relationship coaching is communication. Partners must learn to break old habits and learn new ways of communicating with each other. Relationship coaching helps couples improve their communication by increasing their awareness of dysfunctional communication habits. Through various methods, relationship coaches show couples their unique communication cycle and help them acknowledge how it affects their interactions. Then, coaches encourage emotional and cognitive self-disclosure, accompanied by compassionate listening, validation, and intimacy.
Relationship coaching exercises.
In addition to addressing the above barriers and communication concerns, couples may benefit from other exercises designed to help couples develop intimacy. For example, partners may assess their present level of intimacy and understand the areas that are most important to them individually. Then, after understanding each other’s definition of intimacy, they may decide on the changes they desire. Finally, they may engage in a conversation and set goals that will help them build greater intimacy. Brainstorming is an important part of this exercise, as partners are required to offer suggestions.
Finally, homework is a critical part of relationship coaching. Therefore, no matter what progress couples make during relationship coaching, they need to continue to work and grow in between sessions. Homework may include enjoyable activities that target specific areas of intimacy and promote emotional connection in their relationship.
Simple tips for better intimacy.
An intimate relationship is built on emotional intimacy and interpersonal connection. If you want to improve your relationship, focus on meeting your partner’s needs and communicating your own needs in a compassionate way. While you are at it, you can try the following simple tips for better intimacy:
Share more.Over time, it is easy for partners to lose the urge to keep discovering all there is to know about each other. Those who don’t share their thoughts and emotions will experience more problems with intimate disconnections.
Touch each other more.Research shows that touching and hugging releases oxytocin, a hormone that causes a calming sensation. Partners who hold hands more have lower stress and better overall mood.
Do something new.Over time, partners can become predictable to each other. While predictability leads to intimacy, it is important to do new things together that both partners will enjoy.
Be more emotionally vulnerable during sex.It is no secret that good sex and emotional connection improve intimacy. Share your fantasies and desires with your partners, as it will help your relationship grow.
Create and maintain a safe environment.Openness and comfort levels differ from person to person. It is important for couples to maintain a safe environment in which communication is healthy and both partners can be emotionally expressive and feel comfortable with each other.
Partners who neglect each other will end up irreversibly damaging the intimacy in their relationship. Partners must spend time together to work on their relationship and to build and maintain intimacy. Regaining intimacy may be the hardest task for some couples. Knowing all the barriers can help them identify the obstacles that keep them from rebuilding the connection they had. With coaching, they will develop, enhance, and restore intimacy
This is where relationship coaching can help. It is intimate and creates a safe space to begin reconnecting. Even one meeting with a good relationship coach can help by providing the push needed to begin a conversation about all the issues that threaten the intimacy in your relationship. With relationship coaching, both you and your partner will have the time, space, and ability to express your thoughts and emotions. You will explore the obstacles that keep you from being more intimate and you will learn how to share. Eventually, both you and your partner will learn how to be emotionally supportive of each other and be able to grow healthy together.
Alperin, R. M. (2001). Barriers to intimacy: An object relations perspective. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 18(1), 137-156. Popovic, M. (2005). Intimacy and its relevance in human functioning. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 20, 31-49.