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A couple hugging on the beach but rather than being present in the moment they are distracted by their cell phones behind each others back due to a lack of intimacy.

How Couple’s Therapy Can Help with Intimacy Issues

We often think intimacy means sex, when that’s only a part of it. Intimacy is about our closeness with our partner. If your relationship lacks intimacy, you are likely wondering where it went, if you can get it back, and how you can do that. Discover how couples therapy can help with intimacy issues.

At the heart of every relationship with poor intimacy is betrayal. In fact, according to Gottman and Silver in their book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal: Secrets from the Love Lab, they explain that betrayal is at the heart of every failing relationship.

“If a husband always puts his career ahead of his relationship, that is betrayal. When a wife keeps breaking her promise to start a family, that is also betrayal. Pervasive coldness, selfishness, unfairness, and other destructive behaviors are also evidence of disloyalty and can lead to consequences as equally devastating as adultery” (Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. XVII).

In this instance, a couple’s therapist will work to help the couple create the antidote: mutual trust.

“Mutual trust is what lets them [couples] feel safe with each other, deepens their love, and allows friendship and sexual intimacy to blossom” (Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. XVIII).

 

How a Couple’s Therapist Can Help You Build Trust (and Therefore Intimacy)

 

1. Help you and Partner Improve Your Repair Attempt Success

One of the most critical elements of successful conflict discussions is our ability to keep the temperature down often enough. It’s unrealistic to expect, when you and your partner get into conflict, that you will always maintain a nice and pleasant demeanor with each other.

What is realistic, though, is sliding into a nicer place at least a few times in most conflicts. When a couple does this, each partner tends to have increased trust in each other, as they both know they can rely on each other to help calm each other down.

To calm things down, couple’s therapy can help with intimacy issues and teach healthy repairs.

Some examples of healthy repairs are:

  • Telling a joke
  • Giving a compliment
  • Being affectionate
  •  Communicating Empathy (“I can see how you feel. Here you are, already stressed out by your workload, and I just added to your burdens rather than helping”)
  • Taking Responsibility (Acknowledge even part of your contribution; I didn’t pay attention to how my actions would impact you”)
  • Agree (Accept that your partner is right to some degree; “Okay yeah. I should have stopped for gas on my way home when I saw the tank was almost empty”)

(Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. 105-108).

2. Help You Develop Increased Attunement/Turning Towards Moments

There are several reasons why couples struggle to notice repair attempts, are more easily flooded (where emotions get so intense, they can’t think clearly because there isn’t enough oxygen reaching the brain), and  fail to recognize and/or properly and consistently respond to each other’s attempts to connect (also called bids for connection).

One consistent reason that links all three of these struggles is what is a called a deficit in attunement. Attunement is one’s ability to understand and honor their partner’s inner world.

In healthy, committed relationships, partners continually make bids for each other’s connection, support, and understanding. These range from obvious to subtle.

Here are some examples:

  • Can you pass the napkins?
  • I need you.
  • You sigh as your partner walks by.

“Every bid made in a relationship initiates a sliding door moment. When one partner expresses a need for connection, the other’s response is either to slide open a door and walk through or keep it shut and turn away” (Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. 32).

When our response is positive, we slide the door open; this is also called “turning towards” our partner.

Meanwhile, when our response is negative, it doesn’t show interest and connection, and slides the door shut; this is called “turning away” from our partner.

When partners consistently close the door shut in these moments, they lose trust in each other and the relationship.

A man is holding a woman close in his arms and she is holding him back.“Over time, one partner or both begin to wonder: Do I come first, or does someone or something else matter more? Is my pa

rtner selfish? Can I risk continuing to trust” (Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. 33).

Once a couple’s therapist teaches you and your partner about these crucial ideas and moments in your relationship, s/he will teach you both how to more regularly notice and respond to them in positive, connecting ways.

Your couple’s therapist will teach you the 4 critical steps to the attunement process and encourage you to schedule regular “How was your day” conversations using this method:

 

A) Put Your Feelings into Words

When we do this, we are building awareness of our own internal worlds, which helps us feel more connected to ourselves and improves our relationship with ourselves.

Additionally, it helps us build trust and intimacy with our partner since we will develop an increased habit and comfort in sharing our internal world with our partners and know s/he is listening.

 

B) Ask Open-Ended Questions

The key here is to ask questions that require deeper responses, as these open the heart, encourage conversation, and improve connection.

So, instead of asking, “Did you have a good day at work?”, you might instead ask, “What was work like today?”

Rather than asking, “Did you enjoy the movie?”, consider “What did you think of the movie?”

 

C) Follow Up with Statements that Deepen Connection

Once your partner answers your open-ended question, respond by summarizing what you heard in your own words. The goal here is not about perfection; if you capture about 70% of your partner’s emotions, thoughts, and experience, you likely did great.

Also, as you listen to your partner, do your best to remind yourself to Respond with Generosity. This is a term from Terry Real’s Relational Life Therapy which refers to the skill whereby the listener completely puts his/her ego, subjective reality, his/her version of right versus wrong, suggestions, and defenses in order to focus on the only current goal: capturing your partner’s reality and demonstrating to him/her you fully heard/understand it.

 

D) Express Compassion/Empathy

“When your partner is upset, be on his or her team whether the issue is trivial or significant.”

“If you think your mate is overreacting or should have a ‘different’ emotional response, stifle that urge to offer your opinion and suggestions. After years of studying couples who have maintained long and happy marriages, I can assure you that being the voice of reason is not always the best approach. Let other people play that role.”

“Yours is to let the person you love know that you’re standing with him or her. You get and accept his or her emotions as valid – because all feelings are” (Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. 98).

A couple sharing an intimate moment in their bedroom as the man kisses the woman.

Remember, you must first demonstrate you understand your partner before potentially giving advice/feedback. Additionally, do not provide any advice unless your partner asks for it. The goal is always to be an ally, much more so than a problem solver. These are just a few ways that couple’s therapy can help with intimacy issues.

Learn and Strengthen Critical Skills to Drastically Improve Intimacy in Your Relationship Through Online Couples Therapy in California, Oregon, and Florida.

Losing that powerful connection (intimacy) you once had is incredibly painful. What makes it worse is worrying or believing you can’t get it back. At Stress Solutions, we can help you see the ways your relationship drifted apart and teach you the specific tools and steps to bring it back to enormous heights.

To learn more about these intimacy-building skills or to schedule a consultation with a couples therapist in California, Oregon, or Florida, we encourage you to contact us.

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