You know what intimacy is. But why is it so important?
Intimacy in a relationship is basically the feeling of connectedness between people. That connection, which is a universal need, includes such things as love, trust, honesty, understanding, closeness and physical contact.
Intimacy is both physical and emotional. At a physical level it can include touching, kissing, holding hands and sex. At an emotional level, intimacy may be seen as the measure of how well two people know each other ‘inside out’.
Intimacy is what ‘binds’ people together and is the product of a healthy and loving relationship. Conversely, a lack of intimacy may indicate that something is not right in a relationship or that there is a problem.
8 signs that there could be a problem
Here are eight signs that a lack of intimacy may in fact indicate that there is a problem in your relationship.
1) A lack of, or breakdown, in communication
Physical contact is just a small part of intimacy. In fact, a great deal of the connectedness between two people comes down to how content and happy they are when communicating.
For communication to be really effective it needs to be open, clear in its intent, and honest. This means not only just thinking about what you say and how you say it, but also being a good listener. That includes leaving ‘space’ for the other person to have their say (if, for example, one of you is better at putting things into words than the other).
Communication breakdowns are a very common trigger for conflicts in relationships, which in turn can affect intimacy. It’s hard to feel close if you’re shouting at each other!
2) Depression, anxiety or other mental illness
Depression and anxiety are the two most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in the areas of northern, western and central Melbourne. They can affect how a person feels about the world around them, as well as their perception of their spouse (or to be specific, what they think their spouse thinks of them).
Depression and anxiety can also affect how people feel about small problems and worries. For example, someone who is experiencing severe depression or who is in a highly anxious state may ‘take it out’ on their partner when subjected to a stress-inducing situation. A person experiencing depression may also have low self-esteem or poor self-image.
These mindsets may not be conducive to feelings of intimacy.
3) Chronic illness
A chronic illness is best described as a disease that “can be managed, but… cannot be cured.”
Chronic illnesses include diabetes, asthma, chronic pain, stroke, arthritis, dementia, heart disease, cancer, chronic fatigue, and many more. These conditions are linked to higher rates of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, as well as greater rates of substance abuse, unemployment and marriage breakdowns. Chronic illnesses can also contribute to loneliness and isolation and can also affect libido.
It’s not just the emotional and mental distress of chronic illness that can affect intimacy, but also the biological aspects.
4) Resentment or mistrust
There are almost no healthy relationships in which the couple does not occasionally disagree or argue. However, in these situations, those feelings tend to last a short while until both people move on.
Recurring, long-running disagreements are generally a sign that there is unaddressed or unresolved conflict. Typically, this will lead to feelings of frustration and anger. These are strong feelings, driven by negative emotions, that can understandably affect communication, trust, and yes, intimacy.
5) Having children
Loved children are the ultimate expression of intimacy between two people. And yet, the challenges of parenthood can sometimes indirectly result in a lack of intimacy between parents.
Parenting can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, but also one of the toughest. Between the sleep deprivation, feeding, cleaning, financial cost and multitude of other stresses, it can sometimes be hard to find energy for other things. It may even be that so much energy and attention is directed at children that it leaves less time to devote a partner.
6) Work stress or extended out-of-home commitments
A small amount of stress is not necessarily a bad thing in the work environment. It can help keep people focussed and stick to deadlines. Chronic or acute stress, however, can be harmful. In fact, work stress is estimated to cost the Australian economy $10 billion in annual lost productivity.
Understandably, the effects of work stress (from sleep deprivation to weight gain to depression and anxiety) can lead to all sorts of conditions that in turn affect the desire to be intimate.
A comparable situation, though not always related to stress, is a job that demands long hours or which requires extended absences, such as for travel or working offsite. Quite simply, being physically separated from your partner is likely to lead to reduced feelings of intimacy.
7) Difficult in-laws or family situations
An encounter with difficult in-laws or family members can be a genuinely stress-inducing situation. Meeting them may be preceded by feelings of anxiety or dread, followed by feelings of ‘being on guard’ or stress, perhaps even followed afterwards by anger or resentment (often directed at the other partner).
The holiday season in particular is a time when a whole range of stresses can collide into one point, combining difficult or stressful family encounters or commitments, financial stress, and compressed work deadlines or busy work hours. Not surprisingly, this combination of stresses can bring to the surface all kinds of negative feelings, perhaps in the form of resentment and anger. These, in turn, can directly affect our desire to feel intimate.
8) Abuse or controlling behaviour
There is no situation in which abuse, whether it’s physical or verbal (as well as overly controlling behaviour) is ever acceptable. There are, unfortunately, many different forms of abuse and controlling behaviour, from controlling another person’s access to transport and money, to belittling or shaming them. The common theme in all these behaviours is that they all damage relationships and are never acceptable.
All types of abusive behaviour are a direct reason for a lack of intimacy in relationships.
The above covers just some of the ways in which underlying problems may affect intimacy in a relationship. However, they need not be permanent.
As mentioned, a lack of intimacy often has an underlying cause. Acknowledging and demonstrating a willingness to resolve the underlying problem is the first step to restoring that feeling of closeness and connection. It begins by being open, honest, non-judgmental, and willing to accept and act on changes.
Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.
The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.