If you clicked on this article, it likely means you are experiencing or have experienced a lack of intimacy in your relationship, and that can be really tough to go through for a relationship. Intimacy is an essential component of a healthy relationship, and it can oftentimes go beyond the physical aspect. It can include emotional connections, communication, physical connections, and vulnerability in a relationship. When you lose that intimacy component in a relationship, it can lead to frustration, a loss of connection, resentment, and even the deterioration of the relationship. If you’re experiencing this, we feel you. Let’s dig deeper into how you can talk to your partner about a lack of intimacy, along with the signs of it, why it happens, and FAQs.
Signs of a Lack of Intimacy
How do you know if you’re lacking intimacy in a relationship? Well, there are several ways this can manifest and recognizing the signs is the first step to squashing this problem.
One of the most common signs of a lack of intimacy is less physical touch or connection. This may be in the form of physical touch feeling forced, awkward, uncomfortable, or unnatural. It can also mean a lack of hugging, kissing, touching, holding hands, cuddling, when these things were once rampant in your relationship.
Decreased emotional connection is another sign your relationship is lacking intimacy. You may notice decreased emotional connection in the form of avoiding conversations, not feeling heard, feeling like you’re not a priority, and others. A lack of or decreased emotional connection can lead to feelings of distance or disconnection from your partner, and difficulty in sharing your thoughts and feelings.
Finally, less or a lack thereof communication. If having a conversation with your partner feels like pulling teeth or you feel (or your partner feels) like you’re not being heard, it could be a sign pointing to a lack of intimacy. Why? Because communication is the foundation of any good relationship and a breakdown in communication can lead to misunderstandings, unmet needs, and feelings of disconnection.
The bottom line? A lack of intimacy can crop up in a variety of ways, including a decrease in physical touch, decreased or lack of emotional connection, and a decreased or lack of communication. Knowing the signs is a great first step in tackling this problem of intimacy in your relationship.
Reasons for a Lack of Intimacy
Okay, you know the signs that may reveal a lack of intimacy, but WHY do they happen? What causes a lack of intimacy? There are many different reasons intimacy can be lacking in a relationship, that range from totally harmless and acute to problematic and chronic.
One common reason is physical or mental health issues. Chronic pain, illness, or medication side effects can all impact a person’s desire for physical touch. Even things like pregnancy or being postpartum can affect intimacy as well. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, OCD, or PTSD are big contributors to a person’s ability to feel emotionally connected to their partner.
Then there’s stress. Everyone’s experienced stress and external pressures (work, finances, children, family, friends) at some point in their life, so it’s easy to relate to. Stress and pressure can take a toll on a relationship if partners are not able to find time and energy to connect, it can lead to a lack of intimacy.
Problems in the relationship can be a major source of lacking intimacy. If partners are fighting, feeling resentment, or lacking in trust, it can be difficult to feel emotionally or physically connected.
And lastly, past trauma or abuse can also impact a person’s ability to feel emotionally or physically close (i.e., intimacy) to their partner. Trauma can lead to feelings of fear, shame, or detachment, which can make it challenging to build intimacy in a relationship. In some cases, seeking professional help such as therapy or counseling may be a good idea to address past trauma and improve intimacy in the relationship, especially if it is affecting daily life and your relationship to this degree.
The bottom line is that there are many reasons as to why intimacy may be lacking in your relationship. They range from stress to trauma, and some can be easily fixed while others may need professional help.
How to Approach the Conversation
Now that you know what the signs are and why a lack of intimacy happens, let’s talk about how to approach this conversation with your partner.
Timing is vital when having this conversation. Choose a time when you and your partner are both relaxed and not distracted by external pressures. Make sure you have enough time to have a meaningful conversation without feeling rushed. For example, we don’t recommend starting this convo after your partner has had a long and stressful day at work or after their grandfather’s funeral.
When starting the conversation, it’s important to choose the right words. Use “I” statements to express how you’re feeling, and avoid placing blame or criticism on your partner. For example, instead of saying “Why do you never initiate physical touch?” try saying “I feel disconnected from you when we don’t have physical intimacy.” Using “I” statements can help your partner understand how their actions impact you without feeling attacked or criticized.
Listen actively. Don’t just listen and wait until it’s your turn to speak again, actually try to see things from their perspective. Hear their thoughts and feelings without interrupting or getting defensive. Reflecting back what you hear your partner say can help your partner feel heard, clarify your understanding, and slow down arguments. Listening and reflecting can help create a safe and open space for both partners to express their thoughts and feelings.
Last but not least, be prepared for different reactions from your partner. They may become defensive, angry, or sad. Prepare yourself for any of these outcomes as it’s important to remain calm and empathetic, and to acknowledge their feelings without dismissing or minimizing them. The best case scenario is that they are understanding and want to fix the problem, which is also a possibility!
At the end of the day, approaching the conversation about a lack of intimacy in a relationship requires sensitivity, empathy, and respect. Choose the right time and words, use “I” statements, listen actively, and be prepared for the possible different reactions from your partner.
Tips for Improving Intimacy in a Relationship
Tip #1: Open dialogue
Being able to have an open line of communication is really important to improving intimacy. This is a two way street: you should be open and honest with your thoughts while also stopping to take in what your partner is saying. That means listening with no intent to disrupt or respond, but simply to understand. Even things like communicating your boundaries with your partner and explaining why you need them can increase intimacy. Don’t just have one convo and be done; regular check-ins to discuss intimacy can help maintain the connection. Maybe every Friday night you two order a pizza and sit down and open up the lines of communication. Overtime, you will likely see an improvement in intimacy.
Tip #2: Physical touch
Something as little as touching their arm or leg during a conversation lets them know you care. It is an important part of intimacy. Make sure you prioritize physical touch, meaning holding hands, hugging, cuddling, kissing, etc. This helps couples feel close and connected.
Tip #3: Trying new things together
Don’t let the mundane of daily life get your intimacy down. Try new things. Go to a new restaurant together. Take a walk. Try out a new hobby together. Make life fun! This is your partner for a reason, so find new things to do together. When you learn and grow together, you are better able to connect.
Tip #4: Seeking professional help
If communication, prioritizing physical touch, and trying new things together isn’t working, you may want to consider couples therapy to help facilitate intimacy. A therapist can help you and your partner parse out any underlying issues and utilize new tools to improve intimacy in your relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about lack of intimacy
Q: How can I bring up the topic of intimacy without making my partner feel attacked?
A: Care, respect, kindness, understanding, listening, and good timing. Avoid using phrases that put the blame on your partner and instead use “I” statements to explain your feelings. For example, instead of saying “You never want to talk to me.” Say “I’ve been feeling sad when I don’t talk to you.” This approach focuses on your own feelings and concerns, rather than placing blame on your partner.
Q: What if my partner responds negatively to the conversation?
A: It’s not uncommon for a person to instinctually respond negatively, but if you approach it with care and respect, they should be able to come around. If they cannot come around and only show you anger or sadness, it may be time to consider seeking out therapy.
Q: When is it time to seek professional help for intimacy issues in a relationship?
A: If you’ve tried everything to no avail- it may be time. It’s hard to say exactly when is the right time for you, but if you try out different techniques like communication and physical touch and the intimacy is still lacking, a therapist may be your best bet.
It might seem daunting to approach your partner and ask why they aren’t being intimate with you, but it’s so important if you want to fix this problem. The first step is to recognize the signs of lacking intimacy and why they happen. The next is to approach the topic carefully (and respectfully). Finally, by communication, prioritizing physical touch, trying new things together, and possibly seeking therapy, you can maintain a good level of intimacy going forward.
David F Khalili is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, board-certified sexologist, author of Mental Health Workbook for Men, founder of Rouse Relational Wellness, a boutique sex and relationship therapy center serving San Francisco and all of California, and recently started Rouse Academy, an online learning platform to address sex and anxiety. You can learn more about David’s practice at rousetherapy.com.