What To Do About A Relationship That Lacks Intimacy And Connection

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As human beings, we all crave intimacy and connection with other members of our species. We’re naturally programmed to desire interaction with others, and there’s no instinct more basic than love.

There are two sides to intimacy and connection: physical and emotional. When we’re in love, we want to be close to the object of our affections in both senses.

We want an insight into their thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears, and for them to be honest and open with us.

But we also want to be close to that person physically, whether that’s through sexual interaction or something as simple as holding hands.

Although it’s true that there are people out there who have no interest in doing so, the vast majority of us want nothing more than to develop a loving, intimate relationship with another person, and to feel close to them physically as well as emotionally.

Hollywood would have us believe that once we’ve found ‘the one’ we want to spend the rest of our lives with, it’s all sunshine and rainbows and we walk off into the distance into a haze of happily ever after.

The truth, as anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship knows, is that they take an awful lot of work and maintenance.

Whilst there are any number of things that can go wrong in committed, long-term relationships, problems with intimacy and connection are very common.

They can leave us feeling unsatisfied and unhappy, questioning the very foundations of the bond we have with our partner.

Before you can start to patch up any holes in your relationship, however, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions to establish why and where things might have started to go wrong.

Is it one-sided, or mutual?

It’s vital that you’re honest about whether it was only one partner who started drawing back, or if you both did so simultaneously.

Even if you feel like it has been largely them that has changed, you’ll have undoubtedly played some part in it. So it’s important to accept responsibility for that rather than laying it all at your partner’s door.

Did it happen slowly, or was there a catalyst?

Life gets in the way. You’re tired, and if you live together and sleep in the same bed every night, you can easily end up taking each other for granted.

Was that the case with you? Did intimacy slowly fade out of your relationship?

Or, did some event in your relationship, however insignificant it might have seemed at the time, trigger a change?

Or has it always been that way?

Perhaps it’s not a case of your relationship having lost the intimacy it once had. Maybe it was never there to begin with.

Or maybe the physical side has never been a problem, but you’re feeling disconnected from your partner in an emotional sense and it has been like this since the beginning.

It’s true that some people just don’t have the same need or desire for physical intimacy as most people.

And there are many who suffer from a lower level of emotional intelligence for whom emotional intimacy is a real challenge.

Either way, the advice below can still help to inject some intimacy into your relationship.

Why might they be closing off?

If your partner has gone from being quite an open person who expresses their emotional side to one who now keeps those emotions locked up inside, ask why they might be doing so.

Very often, people build walls around their hearts and prevent any vulnerability from showing because they feel insecure about the relationship.

It’s a defense mechanism that’s designed to reduce the hurt of a potential breakdown of the relationship.

If your partner has always been quite a closed book, it might be because of events from their past in terms of being hurt by former partners or even rejected by parents.

If this is the case, try not to shoulder any blame for how they are, but seek to understand their reasons as best you can and use this understanding to help encourage them to open up little by little using the advice below.

Is it a symptom of a fundamental problem?

Before you start trying to rebuild intimacy and connection in your relationship, think carefully about whether it’s something you really want.

Is it just that you’ve lost touch with one another in a physical sense, but the foundations of your relationship are still strong? Or, is it a symptom of other issues that might not be so easily solved?

A lack of intimacy is something that you can fix if you both truly want to, and doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that your relationship is doomed. 

It’s important to be realistic and honest with yourself about what your true feelings are and what you really want before you make any big decisions or start trying to make any changes.

11 Practical Tips To Up Levels Of Intimacy In Your Relationship

If you would like to put the spark back into your relationship and regain some of the intimacy and connection that seems to have been lost, what can you do?

Well, to start with, you can follow this advice:

1. Lower Your Expectations

I know that doesn’t sound good. It makes it sound like I’m telling you to simply settle for the hand you’ve been dealt. But that’s not what I mean.

I don’t mean that your expectations should be low, per se, but they definitely shouldn’t be unrealistically high, either.

It’s important to remember that your physical relationship will probably never have quite the spark that it did when you first met.

That’s all down to pesky hormones that go crazy when you’re experiencing that first hit of love and lust, but naturally settle down a little once you’ve transitioned into a committed relationship.

After all, if we constantly lived in the state of restlessness that new love induces, we’d never get anything done.

If you expect it to be just as wild and passionate as it was when you first met, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

You may well experience moments that hark back to the days when you were first getting to know each other, and you’ll continue to discover new things about each other as you both grow and your bodies and tastes change, but you can’t expect your physical relationship to go on being earth-shattering for years on end.

It’s also important not to let the idea that the media like to perpetuate (that if you don’t have a revolutionary sex life then you’re some kind of failure) affect you.

You shouldn’t be aiming for a physical relationship that meets those crazy standards, but rather one that makes you happy, that’s based on a true connection with and understanding of your partner.

You should also be keeping realistic expectations of the emotional intimacy too, because, as discussed above, some people find that sort of connection more difficult than others.

Though it’s not always the case, men typically find emotional intimacy more of a challenge than women.

Understanding this and accepting it to some extent will allow you to be more reasonable in your beliefs of what an intimate relationship should look like.

2. Talk It Out

I know you already know how important communication is, but when it comes to tricky topics like sex, you might have been hoping that you wouldn’t have to sit down and have the big conversation about it.

However, sitting down together and having a discussion about how you’ve been feeling with regards to the physical intimacy and connection in your relationship really is the first step toward solving the problem.

You need to know that you’re both on the same page, that neither partner blames the other, and that you’re both committed to working on it.

Something that’s key here is to never have this conversation after you’ve been intimate with one another, as that’s a time when you’re both feeling a little vulnerable and, with all those hormones rushing around, emotions can easily run high.

3. Start Small

Physical intimacy isn’t all about sex. Things such as holding hands, making proper eye contact, touching their arm, or hugging are just as, if not more, important.

It’s those tiny gestures that you make on a daily basis that let your partner know that you really care and keep the connection strong.

4. Get Romantic

Romance isn’t about flashy gestures. It’s about enjoying the beauty in life and each other’s company at the same time.

Busy as I’m sure you are, it’s important to carve out some time for each other, and show your partner that you’ve genuinely put some thought in.

Take a little extra time to cook them a special meal, just because. Get creative and think outside the box. Take your partner for a picnic at a spot with a view. Watch the sunset. Show them that you’re happy just spending time in their company, and want to make memories.

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5. Break Your Routine

Those examples of romantic gestures are just some of the ways that you can interrupt the pattern your life has gotten into.

A routine brings with it many benefits, especially when life is hectic with kids or other duties that need to be taken care of.

But a routine also allows you to coast through life without really paying attention to what’s happening. It’s an autopilot of sorts.

In terms of a relationship, you might not even realize that the emotional and physical intimacy has dwindled.

So, take as many opportunities as you can to break with your routine and do things that are new and different. Or, at least, things that you don’t do very often.

Visit new places together, try new activities, meet new people as a couple, expand your cultural horizons…

…do anything that makes you and your partner notice each other again instead of drifting through life as mere co-passengers.

Emotional intimacy is sure to grow again once you escape the monotony of a routine-driven life.

6. Do Things Apart

As much as doing new things together can bring the two of you closer, you should also take some time to do things apart.

This is especially helpful if you and your partner spend almost all of your free time together. You may believe that this is a sign of a loving relationship, but space and freedom to pursue things on your own is vital for each person’s emotional well-being.

It gives you time to miss each other and makes you appreciate what you have when you return to it.

And it takes the pressure off in terms of being in each other’s pockets all the time.

7. Be The One To Open Up First

Often, when one partner begins to close off his or her emotions slightly, the other person follows suit.

It’s an almost natural reaction. We tend to mirror those around us, and if our partner gives less emotionally, we give less back in return.

It’s the same with any form of emotional expression (or non-expression). Anger breeds anger. Joy breeds joy. Sadness breeds sadness.

The solution is to open yourself back up again and let your partner see this and mirror you in turn.

You have to remove any walls that you have built and keep displaying your emotions and love for them as much as possible.

Remember earlier when we said that people close off because they feel insecure?

Well, by offering your emotional warmth to them, your partner will feel less anxious about the relationship and more able to open up once again.

Make a safe space for your partner to truly be themselves around you and the emotional intimacy and connection will follow naturally.

And this almost always leads to greater physical intimacy too.

8. Be Supportive And Encouraging

As and when your partner shows hints of vulnerability by expressing their emotions or opening up in some other way, show that you appreciate this effort and be wholly positive about the experience.

Your partner needs to understand that you will support them no matter how difficult the process may be.

The more they see that they are not in this alone, and the safer they feel opening up, the further they will push their emotional boundaries.

Try to let them go at their own pace. If they have been emotionally withdrawn for a while or if they have been like that for as long as you have known them, it will take a while for them to gain enough confidence in their ability to be emotionally close to you.

9. Take Care Of Yourself

In the modern world, with advertising and Instagram, there’s an awful lot of pressure to look a certain way, so I’m certainly not going to add to that.

Beauty is not one-size-fits-all, and you shouldn’t be trying to match up to unrealistic standards.

However, rejecting beauty standards doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look after yourself.

Taking a little bit of extra care over the way you dress and your personal grooming can make a huge difference, as if you don’t feel attractive, then you’re likely to transmit that to your partner.

After all, as we’ve all been told many times, it’s difficult to accept love from someone else if you don’t love yourself.

Do things that make you feel good, whether that’s as simple as taking time for yourself, having a bath, booking a spa day, eating food so nourishing it leaves you bursting with energy, or exercising in a way that leaves you feeling fabulous.

Exercise isn’t about achieving a certain body type, as fit comes in all shapes and sizes. Exercising means you’ll have more energy and generally a more optimistic outlook on life, which is attractive in anyone’s book.

When you look in the mirror, focus on the things you love, rather than the things you might change.

At the same time, make sure you support your partner when they’re doing things for themselves, and don’t forget to tell them how beautiful they are, inside and out.

10. De-stress

It’s hard to connect with your partner when all you can think about is the pile of work waiting on your desk the next morning, or when you are constantly checking your work emails.

Chances are your partner knows you better than anyone, so they’ll be able to tell a mile off when you’re not really in the room with them. 

All areas of your life will improve when you’re not stressed, not just your connection with your partner. You ought to make it a priority.

Let off steam through exercise and find an activity that helps you calm your hectic mind, whether that’s yoga, journaling, meditation, or just reading a good book.

You owe it to your partner to be fully present when you’re with them and give them all the attention they deserve.

11. Don’t Expect Change Overnight

Good things come to those who wait. Make a conscious effort to put the tips above into practice in your relationship, but don’t expect instant results. With time and patience, that intimacy you’re craving will flourish once again.

And you’ll probably find that one type of intimacy leads to another. So if it’s easier to begin with the more physical side of things (and we’re not just talking sex), then do that.

Or if you want to grow the emotional side of things first to help address the physical distance between you, that approach should also work.

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About Author

Katie splits her time between writing and translation. She writes about travel and self-care and never stays in one place for too long. She’s currently based in beautiful Cornwall, England, after long stints in Brazil and Mexico. She spends her free time trail running, exploring and devouring vegan food.