To answer a question like this that is frequently posed to me we first must understand the reason(s) for lack of intimacy.
Esther Perel describes intimacy as “in to me see.” It is the ability and willingness to show vulnerability and receive it.
Some people just don’t know how to do this. They didn’t grow up seeing it. They are reachable. Some people—many are men, are afraid of it. They fear the vulnerability because they fear if they let people in, they will disappoint. They are masquerading perfection. it is exhausting for them and isolating as well. Isolation causes most people to get depressed. Depression, anxiety, may be very natural consequences to loneliness. Loneliness can occur in a room full of people.
So the most direct route to dealing with intimacy is conversation. The relationship is carried in the conversation. People are having less and less conversation these days.
I recently heard from a close friend whose father is the coroner in the small town in Kentucky where he grew up. He said his father told him that there were more deaths there this year than ever before. Further, the deaths resulted from suicides and drinking. I fear this is a byproduct of our times— more byproduct than the virus.
For the benefit of my readers, the relationship you may have with your therapist is critical. It should be the role model for the relationships you have in other places - warm, honest, dependable, consistent. The therapist needs to be vulnerable too- we use ourselves in good therapy. We tell stories about ourselves and people we know. It is all part of demonstrating how successful people live.
On occasion, some clients so fear intimacy that they run from it.
Recently I saw a couple in which he tolerated intimacy far better than she. She looked healthier on the outside. She confessed that going to his house made her feel bad. His house was warm. Hers was not.
I worked hard with them he was recovering from addiction. He was doing well- learning new ways to deal more honestly with people. I thought I was balancing well with her. It felt good to watch him use new tools.
The children were benefiting— it all looked good!
Surprise—she cut off their therapy! His gains may well have been too much for her—his vulnerability certainly was! Her father had been violent and abusive. Her alcoholic mother was a disappointment. She admitted that visiting his house where there was warmth made her feel bad. The warmth in our relationship created distrust and fear.
She left therapy very abruptly and of course he went as well. I was sad. He was doing well. His mother and father had each been in with him. His mother was warm and had given him an emotional side. His father was making up for prior mistakes.
The wife, unfortunately, couldn’t tolerate a therapy with warmth and vulnerability. It’s too soon to know how that will affect his sobriety but I expect over time, not well.
This is a good example of how people often think they want something until they get it. People who grow up without family often yearn for it- feel jealous of those who seem to have it- then sabotage the very thing they say they want when they get it.
To solve intimacy issues in a marriage, one must be vulnerable, accepting, non critical, and transparent. Couples need to do many things together so that they can talk about them. They need to be sexual. They need to be able to have different viewpoints without having to win. If all this fails, someone or ones may be afraid of the intimacy and unwilling to change. Hopefully this gets discovered before there are children.