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Intimacy in Marriage Declined? What Couples Should Know

If you're feeling confused and frustrated about a decline in intimacy in your relationship, you're not alone. And, if you struggle to discuss your sex life with each other -- then, you're also among many couples who share this same dilemma.

While couples may expect some decline in intimacy at times in the marriage, a dramatic decline, and longer-lasting infrequency is indeed worrisome. And, when there is an ongoing decline in intimacy, couples often find it difficult to get back to the joy and pleasure they used to share.

We'll explore some of the common misconceptions about intimacy in marriage, some of the contributing factors and how couples can move toward improving their intimate lives together.

Emotional Connection/Emotional Fallout

The quality of the couple's emotional connection is often a prime factor that impacts the quality of their sexual connection.

Women are often the most outspoken about the importance of having a secure, close emotional connection as it relates to desire for intimacy. Interestingly, men also seek a strong emotional connection with their partner. But when their partner declines an invitation for intimacy, men often feel deeply rejected (women feel rejection as well, it should be noted). Neither partner may be able to express their feelings, however.

intimacy-in-marriageAdditionally, men’s and women’s biological forces also can be different. Factors such as age, hormonal levels and physical health all impact sexuality. And, of course, these change from time to time (and, unfortunately, the changes aren’t always congruent with those of our partner!).

When couples are not getting along due to other unresolved issues in the relationship, intimacy often declines. There is less closeness in the relationship because of those unresolved issues, and both partners often are afraid to bring up any concerns for fear that even a mention will escalate into an argument or that the attempted discussion could create greater distance between them.

Some Facts to Understand

Recent research is helping us gain greater understanding of the sexual differences of men and women. For women, feeling emotionally safe with their partner is very important. The quality of the relationship can be more important than the physical cues for arousal. Physically, some women need more foreplay to achieve arousal. It’s important that women learn to be able to discuss their needs openly with their partner (yet, that’s so difficult – even for some younger couples.) As couples age, their needs for foreplay may increase, which, if not discussed, can lead to less-than-satisfactory experiences . . . which, in turn, can result in less frequent intimacy in marriage.

For men, fear of performance failure can lead to being less affectionate, for fear that affection will lead to intimacy, and difficulties then will occur. Their partners miss the affection, though, and may then feel rejected or less desirable.

What’s important here is that, no matter the issue, couples may struggle in talking about intimacy. The “sexual revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s hasn’t changed the challenge of talking about our own sexuality with our partner. The Hollywood images of sex as easy, always romantic and always satisfying aren't true for most couples.

Barry McCarthy, noted author and sex- and couples therapist, brings these facts to the surface:

--Five to 15% of sexual experiences can be mediocre, unsatisfying or dysfunctional
--One in five married couples has sex less than 10 times a year. Fifteen percent have a low-sex marriage, or have sex less than 25 times annually.
--The Number-1 problem facing American couples is inhibited sexual desire. The second most common problem is discrepancies of sexual desire, in which one partner has greater desire for sex than the other.
-- When sexuality goes well, it is typically an integral part of the relationship, yet not the major component. Good sex adds 15 to 20% overall satisfaction. But when sex is dysfunctional or nonexistent, the relationship loses 50 to 70% of its intimacy and vitality.

Making Intimacy in Marriage a Priority

Typical reasons for decline in intimacy include busy schedules, demanding careers, not having sufficient privacy because of children. We can put these under the category of "life happens."

There can also be medical contributing factors, so a visit with your physician may be helpful to rule out any health issues impacting libido, tiredness, painful intercourse and such.

Making the relationship a priority is a challenge these days. So many demands seem to tug on couples' schedules.

However, the health of your relationship actually impacts the health of everything else in your lives. The happier you and your partner are together, the more able you are to handle the pressures of work and to be successful parents. And, part of a healthy relationship is a satisfying intimate life.

intimacy-in-marriage-phoenixCreating time for intimacy requires setting priorities, despite all of life's other activities. And, if lack of time is the concern, having a problem-solving discussion together may be all that's needed to get you back on track. On the other hand, if the decline in intimacy is due to lack of close emotional connection, then a deeper look may be needed.

Taking Steps to Reconnect

Hurt feelings and resentments can be the fallout from lack of intimacy. One or both partners feels rejected, inadequate, unloved. And, again, it's often difficult to talk about both the reduced intimacy and the hurt feelings.

There is another, often hidden source of reduced intimacy: If there are other unresolved issues in the relationship -- an emotional disconnection, a hurtful event that was never discussed and forgiven -- these can lead to a reduced or unsettled emotional connection that can result less desire for intimacy.

Again, it is not uncommon to avoid talking about difficult subjects in the relationship. And, when we withhold sharing our feelings, concerns and needs, anger can build and then any time the issue comes up, an argument can occur -- rather than an understanding, calm discussion that needs to take place.

Clearly, it's time for both of you to have a very important conversation.

Some Guidelines

1. Set aside enough time and privacy to talk. Select a time when no one is too tired, hungry or angry.
2. Begin the conversation about the decline in intimacy. Talk from your own perspective, such as "I'm feeling . . ." or "I'm concerned . . ." Avoid beginning with "you," which can be perceived by your partner as critical or blaming.
3. Share your feelings gently. "I miss feeling close to you . . ."
4. Listen to each other and avoid interruption. We often interrupt when we feel we must defend ourselves, and defensiveness blocks listening . . . and understanding.
5. Read McCarthy's book for couples, Rekindling Desire.

Asking for Help

If the core issue lies with feeling less connected emotionally or old issues that need to be addressed, then couples counseling may be able to help.

If the issue lies in sexual desire, performance concerns and inhibition, then contacting a licensed sex therapist can be a source of assistance.

linda-schwartz-therapistLinda Schwartz is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works exclusively with couples and individuals on relationship issues. She uses Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, the most effective approach to helping couples recapture their close connection, to learn to resolve issues through deepening their understanding of each other's needs and to heal infidelity and any past hurts in the relationship. Linda offers a free, 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about the counseling process. She can be reached at 602-882-0533 or

Aware Counseling

Linda R. Schwartz, M.Ed., LPC

Aware Counseling & Consulting, LLC

1130 E. Missouri, Phoenix 85014

9260 E. Raintree Drive, Scottsdale 85260

Email Linda