Emotional Intimacy: What's Sex Got To Do With It?
Dr. Sue Johnson eloquently explains, "Although sexuality is only one dimension of a couple's relationship, it plays a vital role in the overall quality and strength of a couple’s emotional bond. When problems arise in a relationship, the sexual relationship is usually negatively impacted. Sexual difficulties in an otherwise healthy, happy relationship can damage the couple's emotional connection if they are unable to turn to one another and lovingly address the problem together."
Intimacy: One Size Does Not Fit All
Although there are universal longings for connection and attachment, you, your partner, and your relationship are not exactly like any other two people or relationship. Ideally, you and your partner will develop together, the emotional and sexual intimacy you both desire: one that is based the needs and desires of both you and your partner.
Developing an emotionally and sexually fulfilling relationship is a process that requires partners to have a great deal of patience and compassion for themselves and for each other. Ideally, it is a process that will continue to unfold and be enhanced across your lifetime.
BROKEN TRUST: Sexual Abuse, Assault, Betrayals and Abandonment
Sexual trauma, infidelity or other forms of betrayal and abandonment often interfere with people's ability to fully enjoy emotional or sexual intimacy. Violations against our bodies and our hearts often damage the ability to trust. Trust is the core of emotional and sexual intimacy; it is requisite for a fulfilling couple relationship. What may be feel like a violation of trust to one person may not feel that way to another person.
If Your Partner Has Been Violated, Betrayed, Or Abandoned
If your partner has been violated, betrayed or abandoned, either by you or by someone else, it is crucial that you acknowledge, validate and genuinely empathize with your partner's feelings of violation and/or betrayal. Be aware that you may feel attacked by your partner as they shares their feelings. You are likely to feel defensive and be tempted to withdraw or attack back. You may also feel frozen, not knowing what to do or say to help your partner. If you are the one who has violated or betrayed your partner's trust you are likely to also be defending yourself against the feelings of shame or failure you feel regarding hurting your partner.
Helping Your Partner Heal
Please be aware that your defensiveness, withdrawing, freezing, attacking back, or any other form of getting stuck in the pain or your own shame, will be taken by your partner as evidence that you do not care about them. It requires a great deal of strength and courage to fight against getting lost in your own feelings of shame and to instead orient yourself to being there for your partner. You may be the source of your partner's pain, but you can also be the solution to that same pain. Focus on being the solution. Notice any knee jerk reactions you may feel of defensiveness, shame or desire to fight, flee, or freeze and then turn your attention to trying to understand and empathize with your partner's experience.
Accept Responsibility For Your Part
Accept responsibility for actions that have hurt your partner and ask what you can do to reassure your partner of your commitment not to repeat what you did. This can be a very difficult process. You may need the assistance of a skilled couples therapist to help you effectively communicate your support to your partner and to help your partner accept your genuine empathy. Your genuine empathy, acceptance of any responsibility you have for your partner's pain and your willingness to do what it takes to help your partner feel safe again is the solution to your partner's pain. It is what your partner needs in order to be able to forgive you and/or people in her past who have hurt them and to develop trust in you.
If You Have Been Violated, Betrayed, Or Abandoned
If you have been violated, betrayed, or abandoned it is vital for you to understand that whatever happened was not your fault. You didn't deserve to be violated or betrayed: no one deserves that. However, you have a choice to make. You can stay walled and protect yourself from ever being hurt again. However, that same wall that protects you from getting hurt is also protecting you against what you want and need most in order to heal. What once served as a protection for you has now become a prison preventing you being able to love and be loved.
Intimacy Essentials: Vulnerability, Forgiveness, Developing Trust
Intimacy, being vulnerable with another person and letting them see what you hide from most others, cannot be developed without feeling safe enough to trust. Trust cannot be developed without taking the risk of being hurt. There is no perfect human being. Despite our best efforts, we will hurt the people we love. In actuality, it is forgiveness and the courage to risk opening ourselves to trusting again that makes love possible.
To All Couples
None of us gets out of this life unscathed by the pain of being hurt and disappointed (at least in some very small way) by the person we love the most. The difference between happy couples who have happy long-term relationships and unhappy couples is that happy couples are able to heal their rifts. They are able to effectively reach to one another and share what they are wanting and needing. They respond to one another in ways that soothe, reassure and validate that they are important to each other. They trust one another to be there when they need them most. They are accessible, responsive and emotionally engaged with one another. They have become each other's secure base to turn to in the face of life's challenges and to share life's delights. The trust and security they have in each other's love gives them the courage to explore and pursue things they wouldn't have the courage to do alone. Their confidence in each other is mutual and perpetuates growing confidence in themselves. As human beings we are wired to yearn for this type of relationship. It is only when we have been disappointed to the point of giving up on the idea as being only fantasy that we close ourselves off to the possibility that we could have it.
You Can Create The Connection You Desire
You may need someone to help dig you out of an avalanche of pain or you may just need some help learning to repair small hurts. The key is not waiting until a snowball evolves into an avalanche that threatens the survival of your relationship. You may be desperately trying to outrun an avalanche or you may have already been overcome by one. In that case, the key is not kidding yourself that you can outrun an avalanche or denying when you are already buried and your air is running out.
It is much easier to wipe off the snow of a snowball fight than to dig out of an avalanche. However, people can and do survive avalanches. Those who survive have been able to access a competent rescue team in the window of time necessary for their lives to be sustained and revived. The same principles apply with the emotional pain experienced in couple relationships. When avalanches of pain cascade on your relationship and threaten its survival get a competent professional to assist you in digging out of it. They can prevent your relationship from dying and help you revive it.
What If I'm Single?
Even if you are not currently in a relationship the information and resources shared here can help if you would like to someday be in a romantic relationship. Remember, although there are certain aspects of emotional and sexual intimacy that are universal, the way you experience and make meaning of your sexuality is unique and personal. It is our hope that this website will help people with their intimate relationships regardless of whether you are seeking to create, heal, or enhance your sexual intimacy.
The books and products recommended on this website will be shared as a resource for you. If you are going to only read one book, I recommend "Hold Me Tight" by Dr. Sue Johnson. For specific information about sexual issues I recommend Dr. Barry McCarthy's books.
They will include various personal massagers and lubricants. These are made available as an option for those who feel comfortable using such products or are interested in exploring the use of them to enhance their sexual relationship. Please do not feel pressure or shame if the use of such products is outside your comfort zone or against your religious beliefs. It is imperative that you do not pressure or shame your partner if he or she does not feel comfortable using such products. These products are not a necessity but rather one of the resources that can assist couples.