Many couples show up in my room wondering where things went wrong and how can they fix the issue or issues at hand. While many times the answer is complicated, right away I always help them understand the three main aspects of the modern relationship that most couples have come to expect, yet are difficult, to maintain: sex, intimacy and commitment.
I think of sex as any form of physical connection. Most people would say they’re satisfied in this category if they’re getting the type of sex that they want as well as the frequency they desire. Some couples may be having really good sex but not as frequently as they like because of things like low desire or responsibilities like child care zapping their energy. Other couples may not be having the type of sex that they like – maybe one person feels like they can’t explore the types of fantasies that interest them or one person feels like they’re not getting the type of touch or connection in the way that they like. Having a disconnect in this area can definitely lead couples to feeling like something has gone awry in their relationship.
Intimacy is the connection and emotional expression of your inner world. It’s coming home from your day and talking about what it felt like to just be you; the joys, the pain. It’s feeling like you have someone in your corner that you can always go to and they’ll be there for you and embrace or welcome you. It’s being able to fully express yourself and feel seen, heard and supported. It’s being able to share your deepest darkest secrets, without shame and discomfort and without the fear of being judged. Couples that lack intimacy in their relationship will often report that they don’t feel close to their partner. They will say things like they don’t know what their partners thinking, they don’t understand them, they don’t get where they’re coming from. These couples often have many fights and arguments and tend to blame one another when something goes wrong. They tend to have a me against you mentality instead of working together as a team.
Commitment is the full desire and engagement to be in the relationship. When you’re committed to someone you make plans for your future, if something goes wrong you stay present and figure out how to heal, and you’re integrated into each other’s lives. Showing commitment in a relationship is a mindset as well as an action. The mindset is one of having your partner in mind as you plan for your future and envisioning them alongside with you as well as taking into account their needs and desires. The action is how you respond to different struggles in the relationship. If during fights one person or both people are threatening to leave, it can dramatically destabilize the commitment that each person feel and affect how safe each person feels. Couples who report feeling a strong sense of commitment to one another also often feel very integrated into one another’s lives. Meaning, they go to social and family events together.
Many couples find a way to stay in the relationship even if one of these categories is missing. Although both people have to agree that it’s OK to not have that particular part. For instance, some couples after many years of marriage, decide that they’re done having sex with each other. They open their relationship so that either one of them can have sex with other people while they stay connected through intimacy and commitment. I mention this because if you’re reading through this article and realize that you actually don’t want one category it’s OK, as long as your partner is also OK with this.
But if you’re reading through this and realizing there’s something you’re missing that you’re really needing, this would be a great time for some deep reflection. Ask yourself: what am I missing here? What is it that I’m really needing? Am I being fully honest with myself about my deepest needs? What would be the best way for my partner to hear my needs?
I like to remind people that relationships are a journey. You don’t just find one person and move through life together without ever meeting struggle or needing to course correct. In fact, it’s quite the opposite at times. We are constantly course correcting. It’s a sign that we are getting to know ourselves and our partners on a deeper level. We have to allow for the hiccups and sometimes what feels like major crashes. And perhaps most important, is to never stop having compassion for your partner, or yourself. LIfe is full of challenges, struggles, pain… it’s also full of joy, love and pleasure. In between those moments, compassion is essential.
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