How To Finally Restore Intimacy & Connection In A Struggling Relationship

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When I began to pursue my life's work of saving marriages, I wanted to know whether diminished or lost feelings of intimacy and emotional connection could be restored with focus and effort.

The good news is that they can.

The problem is there are potential obstacles that stop couples from reconnecting, obstacles that I will reveal in this article.

Many people ask: "Is intimacy in a relationship important to you?"

My answer is "Yes! Absolutely yes!"

Yet, I found that individuals and couples don’t even focus on it when they think the marriage is over!

RELATED: Married Couples Who Actually Stay Together Do These 7 Things Every Single Year

The importance of intimacy — and how to get it back in a struggling relationship or marriage:

Individuals need intimacy. It is one of the basic human needs according to many psychologists and wellness experts.

Dr. Steven Stosny claims that intimacy is also crucial to normal human functioning and can help ward off depression and aggression and calm anxiety.

A relationship needs intimacy. Otherwise, it will slowly wither and die.

Sadly, I see this time and time again when individuals or couples come to me with their marriage in a crisis.

There is always a breakdown in intimacy. Divorce statistics support this and the lack of intimacy and connection is often to blame.

What amazes me is that if we all value intimacy in a relationship and recognize it as important for a lasting loving close relationship, then why aren’t couples able to restore it in relationships once it has been broken or lost?

RELATED: The 4 Types Of Intimacy Every Happy Couple Has

The three main reasons couples struggle to regain their intimacy

1. Men and women view intimacy differently

One of the key reasons why heterosexual couples find it hard to get intimacy back is that men and women have different views of what it means to be intimate. 

Having helped countless couples save their marriage now, I often ask men and women separately what being intimate means to them. On average, here are their answers (of course, there are always exceptions).

For men, intimacy is:

  • A physical connection
  • Foreplay
  • Holding hands, hugging, and kissing
  • Physical time alone together
  • Sexual intimacy
  • Doing things together

For women, intimacy is:

  • An emotional connection
  • Sharing important issues
  • Listening to things about their husband’s day
  • Being able to cry about emotional events and experiences together
  • Being emotionally aware when feelings are hurt
  • Knowing one another’s hopes and dreams

Men tend to associate intimacy as being physical, which includes touching and sex. For women, it is more about talking intimately face-to-face.

Helen Fisher Ph.D. claims that this is a "behavior that probably evolved millions of years ago when ancestral females spent days holding their infants up in front of them, soothing them with words."

She, too, found that men often regard intimacy as working or playing side-by-side.

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2. Fear of intimacy

Fear of intimacy plays a huge factor amongst couples struggling to restore intimacy or even establish it in the first place. Fear of getting hurt and being vulnerable can block emotional sharing and trust in a relationship.

Fear of rejection can stop a relationship from being physically intimate again. Fear of failure or disappointment can prevent us from sharing our desires, dreams, hopes, and expectations, so we settled for less. 

Fear of abandonment can prevent someone from being truly engaged. Fear of being engulfed and losing yourself in a relationship is another common reason men and women avoid intimacy.

According to Hal Shorey Ph.D. from Psychology Today, fearing intimacy and avoiding closeness in relationships is the norm for about 17 percent of adults in Western cultures.

Whilst we have these fears, most marriage counselors don’t address these fears. Instead, they suggest "talking about your problems" over and over again which often ignites more fear.

Always avoid having a couple sit together and go over past problems. In order to save a relationship, you need to focus on establishing the connection and looking to the future.

What works is practical guidance and support on how to move forward and be intimate despite these fears.

RELATED: 2 Hidden Ways We Sabotage Intimacy In The Relationship We Want

3. Failing to recognize the seven core areas of intimacy

Many of us stick with our own blinded view of intimacy and fail to recognize that for a lasting, fulfilling, and close relationship, we need more than one type of intimacy to be present.

Here are the seven types of intimacy I have identified in the most successful marriages:

  • Self-intimacy. In order to have a positive close relationship, we need to have a good relationship with ourselves, to know what makes us happy, what we desire in a relationship, and to know ourselves, deeply. This is key as it enables us to overcome any blockages or fears to intimacy. It starts with self-care.
  • Emotional intimacy. Expressing from your heart your true desires and pains, learning to be vulnerable — this helps you to connect like never before.
  • Conflict intimacy. Being able to stay connected while exploring differences is key to a healthy relationship. It is all about respect and remaining respectful during any disagreements.
  • Affection intimacy. Showing you care by words, physical touch of a non-sexual nature, and thoughtful gifts.
  • Sexual intimacy. Opening up intimately, feeling safe, desired, and cherished.
  • Dream intimacy. Couples who have shared dreams and support each other reach their own individual goals and dreams are able to maintain connection and remain closer.

As you can see, there are many different factors that contribute to a deep connection and intimate relationship and when supporting couples to reconnect, it is important to look at all aspects.

RELATED: The One Sign I See In My Practice That Indicates A Marriage Is Going To Last

Nicola Beer is a couples counselor and expert in relationship psychology and transformation. She is the co-author of four best-selling books and has been featured on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and Huffington Post.