How do we recover intimacy in our relationship?

One of the most painful things we can experience in our relationship with our partner is a loss of intimacy - this may mean we don't have sex anymore, or when we do it feels like we're 'just going through the motions'. It can also mean we don't feel emotionally intimate anymore - when we talk it's about routine things, the kids, what has to be done etc. Not about our hopes and dreams, our innermost feelings and longings. 

Many couples say it's hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened - when it started to feel like their partner was no longer close and connected to them. It may have been during or after a stressful time, or after a major life transition such as starting a family - after all, it's harder to find the time to really connect when little ones are demanding our time and energy!

Renowned relationship researcher Dr Sue Johnson tells us that we are hard-wired to connect - that it's a natural part of being human, important to our survival as a species (we do better together than separately!). The feeling of disonnection registers in our brain as an acute pain similiar to feeling a physical wound. Many of us have grown up believing that we (or our partners) should be emotionally independent, that somehow it's childish or weak to be reliant on each other. This may mean we either dismiss or even disapprove our partner's efforts to connect with us, and that we distance ourselves from our own need to be close by burying ourselves in work, parenting or other interests that keep us away from investing the vital energy and time that is required to ensure we and our partner feel secure in our bond with each other. When we feel emotionally secure, then sexual intimacy may not automatically follow, but can be addressed from a platform of feeling safe and secure enough to share what we need and what our vulnerabilities are, in the confidence that our partner will respond to this in the way we need.

The good news is - we can repair our relational bonds - it's never too late!

Dr Johnson summarizes the work to do as having seven important conversations with each  other - as follows:-

* recognize the 'demon dialogues' - these are the unhealthy patterns of communicating we can get caught up in, for example, one person tries to connect by criticizing or complaining, the other responds by withdrawing because they feel attacked, the first person redoubles their efforts to connect by criticizing or getting even angrier....

* find your raw spots - these are the areas each of us have, where an attachment need has been repeatedly ignored or dismissed. Once you know what yours are, learn to express the need directly and calmly to your partner - this may involve learning to change the way you communicate this need (it's seldom effective to become enraged and demand sex, for example!)

* revisit a rocky moment. Armed with the information you have received from the first two conversations, now it can become possible to revisit difficult issues without going into negative cycles of communication or operating from a place of hyper-sensitivity.

* engage and connect - this is where conversations can start to happen where each of you are able to share your fears and needs, secure in the knowledge you can do this without your frustration and anger sabotaging the dialogue.

* forgiving injuries - this conversation is about 'unburying the unspeakable' - finding a way to talk about the relational traumas that have caused hurt in the past, and healing these through apology and forgiveness.

* bonding through sex and touch. This is where some of us may wish to start! It can only be possible after all the other conversations have occurred adequately. Now, sex can feel like real connecting, being open and vulnerable with each other, rather than an exercise focussed purely on physical gratification.

* keeping your love alive. This is the 'maintaining intimacy' part of the process, where you talk about creating rituals that keep intimacy going. These may include how you have special time together, but also more incidental moments like how you greet each other after an absence - think of how you may greet a much-loved pet with hugs and happy sounds! Do you do some version of this with your partner, who is presumably even more precious than the dog?

For more detail about Sue Johnson's evidence-based and research-based approach to restoring intimacy, you may wish to check out her books - "Love Sense" and "Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a lifetime of love" available on her website - http://www.drsuejohnson.com/books/

 

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