I recall a couple who came to see me for marital counseling. The wife appeared more committed to the relationship than the husband. The husband was dissatisfied with the relationship due to his wife’s physical appearance and had been pressuring her to have cosmetic surgery, including a face lift and liposuction. He felt the cosmetic changes would enhance the couple’s sex life and fill the void of what he was missing.
I was quite perplexed because the wife was exceptionally attractive and pleasant, while her husband was not physically impressive and emotionally cold and detached. I viewed the husband’s controlling behavior toward his wife as a desperate attempt at trying to fix the relationship without considering their struggles with intimacy. By his own admission, the husband was devoid of emotionally expressiveness. He had been raised in an environment in which his parent’s relationship was sterile, non-affectionate, and lacking in passion. This gentleman’s wife lived with frustration due to his lack of emotional availability, and she was resentful and reticent to follow through on his need to have her change her image in order to meet his needs for better sex.
I raised the red flag regarding the husband’s sexual needs which by-passed his intimacy issues, but unfortunately it was less painful for him to ignore the obvious signs of his emotional unavailability. He continued to pursue his irrational desire to repair his wife’s physical appearance, using that as the litmus test for the quality of their sex life and relationship. His wife was vulnerable to his demands and was afraid of losing the relationship. Sadly, she decided to comply with her husband’s wishes, ignoring the various warning signs that I had explored with them.
I did not see either partner until several months later. At that time, the wife called me to set up an emergency appointment. She came to my office sobbing as she explained the resentment and humiliation that she felt for her foolishness in consenting to cosmetic surgery in her feeble attempt to meet her husband’s sexual needs. Her face was all bruised and irritated from her face lift and I remember her dejectedly saying, “My husband has not considered one of your recommendations presented during our last session regarding the issue of creating intimacy.” I was not surprised.
The impact of intimacy lies at the core of every significant relationship. Cultivating intimacy takes a lot of work. Intimacy is a complex set of feelings and behaviors that develops out of a relationship based upon integrity, commitment, passion and respect. Many people, particularly men, get sexuality confused with intimacy. Sexuality should be viewed as a manifestation of the quality of a couple’s relationship, not an end goal.
Sexual expression will not sustain a relationship that is devoid of intimacy. Intimacy, however, will sustain a relationship that may lack a degree of sexual involvement. I have worked with many couples who have had erotic sex whose relationships have dissolved. I have never worked with a couple whose relationship was built on intimate behavior that has faltered. If intimacy is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship, understanding its nature is important:
- A partner must take the risk of disclosing emotions.
- A partner must be willing to be honest and upfront in communicating.
- Couples must listen and be non-judgmental and promote understanding.
- A mate must value and cherish the one he loves.
- The issue of intimacy is at the core of all significant relationships.
- The impact of intimacy is much broader in scope than sexuality.
- It’s the little things that count – remembering birthdays, anniversaries, surprising a partner with gifts, and validating your partner.
- Demonstrating non-sexual affection, such as holding hands, hugging, messaging, and kissing are intimate acts.
- Cultivating intimacy is important when couples are having difficulty with their sexual experience.
- Conflict resolution is an important aspect of intimacy.
- Being spiritually and psychologically committed to one’s mate constitutes intimacy.
- Trust and respect are the cornerstones of intimacy.
- Accepting one’s mate with all of her flaws is a quality of intimacy.
- Managing difficult life events in a relationship is a characteristic of intimacy.
- Establishing a romantic environment and making sexual encounters that are mutually satisfying constitutes intimacy.
We only fully know someone by the nature of their emotional experience. Developing intimacy calls for feeling one’s feelings, not talking about them. Many partners experience frustration and resentment when they are unable to accurately assess their mate’s feelings and end up making assumptions that may or may not be accurate.
Finding meaning and purpose in life is about feeling connected to those closest to us. Those who demonstrate intimacy are not afraid to be vulnerable when it is in their best interest. I believe that our legacy will be determined on the quality of our relationships. The quality of our connections will be based upon the level of intimacy that we create with our most cherished contacts. Waiting for the right moment takes work, not a pill.