Emotional and Physical Intimacy: It All Adds Up

Most of the couples I work with struggle with communication, and are eager to work on that in relationship counseling.  They will ask me to help translate, interpret, and even speculate on their feelings so that their partner clearly understands the intention behind their words.  They want feel understood.  Years of miscommunication can often lead to assumptions, resentment, hurt, distrust, or apathy between partners, and they come into my office showing a “minus emotional intimacy” balance in their relationship bank account.

Almost every couple also eventually talks with me about physical intimacy, and how it may have broken down in their relationship.  Physical intimacy includes touch and proximity; expressions of affection (or lack thereof) through physical displays between partners.  Partners will ask me to assist them in discussing their physical intimacy needs with each other.  They want to feel wanted.  Patterns of behavior have become habits, they aren’t sure how to discuss or change their physicality with one another, and they come into my office showing a “minus physical intimacy” balance in their relationship bank account.

Every one of us has felt, at some point in our relationships, that our partner doesn’t understand us.  Further, every one of us has felt, at some point in our relationship, that our partner doesn’t physically want to be with us.   Hopefully, those moments come and go; we talk ourselves through them because they are short lived and situational:  Maybe you are struggling with a specific challenge at work and your partner doesn’t understand the importance of the issue for your career; or your partner is struggling physically within his or her own body right now, and you feel unwanted as a result of their disinterest.   Morale in your relationship wanes.  Connection, both emotional and physical, falls off during that period of time and conflict can increase.  Periodically, this is a normal part of life.

Healthy relationships make it easy to wait out those tough times patiently, and know that both emotional and physical intimacy will return when the situation changes.  Those are the partners that default to a feeling of understanding and wanting each other; and whose bank accounts fluctuate but are not typically overdrawn.  Those partners talk about their withdrawals and deposits regularly, and with a basis of positive intention to grow the relationship into a stronger unit to support both partners.

Think about your relationship bank account right now.   Have you deposited anything into that account lately?  Have you gone out of your way to try to understand your partner? To show them they are wanted?  Have you been withdrawing from that account lately? If so, have you appreciated your partner’s response?  What would their math be, if you asked them these questions?

More important: are you talking to each other about the balance you see? You need to…..it’s a shared account, after all.