Intimacy doesn't happen by magic. You must work to build it up over time.

Some couples find it difficult to achieve intimacy in their relationship. Others can find that, after achieving intimacy, it seems to slip away. There are many reasons for such difficulties, and each couple's story is unique. There are, however, some common themes.

Lack of communication

This is a common problem. One partner or sometimes both simply don't know how to put into words what they feel. They may have grown up in a family where personal feelings were never talked about, and so they lack the confidence to be open with their partner for fear of looking silly or being rejected.

Unresolved emotional differences

These can put a very firm brake on the development of intimacy in a relationship. Anger, hurt or resentment of one partner by the other, along with a lack of trust or a sense of not being appreciated by their partner, are examples.

Practical difficulties

These can reduce the level of intimacy in some relationships at different times. Examples might be money worries, pressures at work, concern about difficulties with children, or just being too busy to really connect with each other.

Childhood experiences

These are often at the root of some people's difficulty establishing intimacy. A person who has experienced a great deal of hurt as a child will often find it hard as an adult to trust their partner, however, much they may be in love. Examples of childhood pain that affects adult relationships include long-term conflict between parents, physical or sexual abuse, or a loss or death that was never properly accepted and mourned.

Such experiences can lead to a child having a poor self-esteem, a basic doubt about whether or not he or she is worthy of love. These doubts can be carried into adulthood, making it very difficult for the person to open up to someone else in case they are rejected and their doubts are confirmed.

Intimacy in Relationships

Intimacy does not happen by magic. It must be built up over time. This takes some people longer than for others. Often the harder you work at intimacy, the more valuable and rewarding it is. The following are some steps that may help.

  • Be positive about what you have in your relationship and let your partner know what you value about him/her and about the relationship. Put it into words, don't assume they already know. Everybody likes to be told that they are appreciated and loved.
  • Create opportunities for intimacy. Make times when you can be alone together in a situation where you can focus on each other and on your relationship. The harder it is to do this because of the children, work or other commitments, the more important it is that you do it! Try to plan a regular evening, day or weekend for the two of you to be alone.
  • Practise making "I" statements about how you feel. This avoids putting your partner on the spot, and may help him or her do the same. For example "I feel hurt you didn't ask me before you decided" instead of "Why didn't you ask me first?"
  • After an argument, look at the deeper feeling behind the anger; the hurt, anxiety, sense of being let down, or whatever. Talk to your partner about these feelings.

Achieving intimacy is not always easy, and sometimes help is needed. Try doing a course or workshop for couples run by Relationships Australia. In these courses, couples are not expected to share personal matters with other participants. The courses combine activities that couples complete together with opportunities to discuss important issues about their relationship. Couples do not have to be married to attend.

Sometimes the issues are too complex, or the feelings too painful or confusing, for talking together to be successful. Counselling can, at these times, be of great value.

A relationships counsellor acts as an independent guide to help the couple talk things through. The presence of the counsellor makes it possible to say the things that are otherwise too hard to put into words.

If you feel your relationship has changed and you are concerned, consider talking to a counsellor.

It makes good sense to spend a little time talking to someone about your concerns instead of waiting until things get worse.