Sex and relationships? Let’s talk.

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Sex is a major component of intimate relationships, whether you’re married or in a committed partnership… intimacy problems among couples happen more than you think.

If you and your partner are experiencing intimacy issues, you’re not alone. In fact, “positive intimate functioning contributes approximately 15-20% to a marriage, while problematic intimacy holds much more weight, approximately 50-75%.(1)” Simply put, this means that couples who reported positive intimate relationships with their partner say their sexual relationship only contributed 15-20% of their overall happiness, whereas couples who reported problematic intimate relationships say their sexual relationships contribute 50-75% of their overall unhappiness. That’s a big difference.

I recently worked with a couple that reported having intimacy problems. The wife felt that her sexual needs weren’t being met, while the husband said he was often too tired at the end of the day to engage in sex. After discussing the situation with the couple, I was able to provide them a few suggestions that could improve their intimacy, which I will share with you.

Putting “Me” Before “We”

Intimacy — and sex — is a two-way street. While it may seem obvious, if partners are out of sync with one another, it can lead to intimacy issues. If your partner is frustrated by the lack of intimacy in your relationship, is it because they’re wanting “too much” intimacy as far as you’re concerned or are you desiring less intimacy? It could also be something in the middle, too. Regardless, when each individual reflects on their role in an intimate relationship, that can serve as the springboard for a larger conversation about what “we” want or view as a healthy intimate relationship as a couple.

Talk is Important

Intimacy is different for every person, and by extension, every couple. When a couple comes to me with intimacy issues, one of the first questions I ask is “Have you talked about it?” I find that couples frequently say “Yes,” but when we explore those conversations further, it turns out that they’re often talking “at” one another rather than engaging in a constructive dialog.

Talking about intimacy and sex can be difficult for couples. “Sex” is loaded with other factors like self-esteem, confidence, and love, to name a few. So talking about this topic-head on isn’t always easy.

But nonetheless, it is important. When couples actually talk about their intimacy, sexual needs and desires, they often learn something new about their partner. I’ve seen instances where one partner feels deep satisfaction after a snuggling session, while the other spouse felt frustration at the end of the same snuggling session because it was lacking a sexual component.

There are plenty of self-help books and resources out there. If you don’t feel comfortable bringing the subject up to your partner, you could always bookmark articles that speak to you. After your partner reads them, you could then discuss it in context of the resource first and then your relationship.

Only when you and your partner can talk openly and free of judgement can you begin to discover the right balance of intimacy in your relationship.

Keep it Physical

Even when I see couples struggling with intimacy issues, I encourage them to not stop being physically intimate with one another. This doesn’t always mean sex, either. It could be as simple as holding hands or kissing, or giving one another massages.

This type of contact and expression is vital in order for you to keep your physical and emotional bonds. As people grow and evolve, so too does their relationship with intimacy. Sex drives change over time, as do preferences for physical contact.

It’s crucial to be honest with each other as your tastes and preferences change. Neglecting these types of conversations can lead to tension, frustration, and further relationship issues if they’re ignored.

Striking the right balance in any relationship is a constantly moving target. But like many things that are worth doing, it takes practice. It also takes a willingness to make the situation better, and by talking about it and remaining physically intimate with one another, intimacy issues can get better and improve the overall relationship with your loved one.