Restorations Therapy Blog

How to Cultivate and Maintain Intimacy in Relationships: Navigating Barriers and Establishing an Intimate Foundation for a Successful Relationship

by on Friday, May 8th, 2020


Intimacy is closeness. We attain intimacy when we become close to another person and feel love and acceptance. As adults, we find intimacy in relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners.

What Is an Intimacy Disorder?

         Anything that causes distress in someone’s life may become an addiction, most commonly drugs or alcohol; however, someone may also suffer from addiction to exercise, food, or sex. Sex addiction is considered an intimacy disorder. To identify if an individual has an addiction, three of the following traits must be present:

  • Tolerance, or requiring more of the substance or needing more of the behavior to feel the same
  • Failing at attempts to stop the behavior
  • Disturbances to family life or work life leading to negative consequences
  • Continuing use of substances or engagement in behaviors despite the negative consequences
  • Spending more time engaging in the behavior or substance use than one intends to
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when quitting the substance or behavior, such as sleep problems, concentration issues, and irritability

Reasons for the Development of an Intimacy Disorder

         There may be many reasons someone develops an intimacy disorder or sex addiction. An intimacy disorder is when an individual desires emotional intimacy because they lacked it in their childhood or past. Someone with an intimacy disorder may feel difficulties connecting with someone based on fear of being hurt due to an event in their history. This long-term effect is known as attachment trauma, in which safety, connecting, and trust become compromised due to separations of relationships with:

  • Parents
  • Primary caregivers
  • Coaches
  • Significant others

         Furthermore, these breaks in relationships and development of intimacy issues may occur for many reasons, including:

  • Being the victim of physical, sexual, or verbal abuse as well as witnessing these abuses
  • Lacking physical affection from parents or loved ones as children
  • Lack of praise or appreciation
  • Role reversals, in which children’s needs become neglected, and they turn into caretakers to younger siblings or take on adult responsibilities
  • Growing up in an addiction-based family environment

Lacking Intimacy May Lead to Substance Misuse

         Dealing with attachment breaks may result in feelings of depression, anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem. Lacking real intimacy creates an environment where one of the individuals in the relationship doesn’t feel they are in a safe environment to share their needs, wants, thoughts, feelings, or concerns. Feeling vulnerable in these ways may lead one to misuse substances to cope. Furthermore, the fear of rejection and someone truly knowing you and your past may be hard enough to deal with and also lead to substance misuse and subsequent substance use disorders (SUDs).

Road Bumps to Cultivating Intimacy in a Relationship  

         Some relationships may find it difficult to achieve intimacy, while others reach high levels of intimacy, but it seems to fade away. There are many reasons some individuals find intimacy challenging to accomplish within their relationship due to problems such as:

  • Issues with Communication – Not communicating your feelings and needs with one another does not meet your needs or address your feelings. In such cases, it leads to misunderstandings within the relationship, and when one does not feel understood by the other, then it is much harder to establish and sustain intimacy. In any relationship, communicating feelings and needs creates connection and intimacy.
  • Conflict – Having continuous strife in your relationship creates a barrier to developing intimacy. When you argue with one another, it is not easy to feel connected. Feeling hurt, resentful, and angry at each other may all impact intimacy. Furthermore, lacking trust and feeling unappreciated may also negatively impact one’s relationship and sense of intimacy.
  • Life Stressors – Life is stressful in general, and these stressors may negatively affect intimacy. For example, financial woes, feeling too busy, problems at work, and concerns about ailing family members or children may take precedence over one’s relationship, which impacts the feeling of being close to one another and gradually grinds the foundation of intimacy down. Even small moments you can sneak alone together may battle the stressors you and your relationship face every day.
  • Violence or Abuse – Abuse or violence in a relationship severely damages intimacy within a relationship, in that it destroys trust.
  • Negative Childhood Experiences – Traumas that occurred in childhood may become psychological hurdles in adulthood. If they are not dealt with appropriately, they may play a role in damaging intimacy within a relationship.
  • Current and Past Traumas – Current traumas may also negatively impact relationships, mainly if they create psychological damage to one or both individuals.

How to Build and Maintain Intimacy in a Relationship

         Every relationship deals with road bumps in building intimacy, which couples must work together to overcome. Intimacy takes time to create. Furthermore, intimacy encompasses not only sexual and emotional intimacy, but also financial, spiritual, creative, intellectual, and recreational parts of a relationship. Suggestions for cultivating intimacy in your relationship include:

  • Open communication with your feelings and what you each need from the relationship.
  • Find opportunities for intimacy by taking time to spend together as a couple alone. Use this time to focus on each other and build the relationship through a set date night, engaging in physical activities, or taking trips together.
  • Revel in and appreciate the good things in your relationship, and express these emotions to your partner. Use actions, as well as words, to convey your love and appreciation for one another. Everyone likes being praised and feeling loved, especially in a romantic relationship.
  • Understand and accept that your relationship, like all others, will have its high points and its low points. Developing deep levels of intimacy may help you both cope with the low points and look forward to the future highs that your relationship will go through.

Are You Seeking Help with An Intimacy Disorder?

         It is normal for any relationship to experience highs and lows, and constructing a foundation of intimacy, as well as maintaining that intimacy is a significant part of developing a fulfilling relationship.

Here at Restorations Therapy Center, we provide treatment in a comprehensive outpatient environment to help individuals deal with sexual issues, addictions, and related intimacy issues. Our goal is to nurture the development of healthy intimacy through a personalized recovery process that concentrates on each client’s particular needs. If you are looking for help with intimacy within yourself or your relationships, call us today at (720) 446-6585.

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