When I say “physical intimacy in marriage”, what does that bring up? Usually it’s sex. But intimacy is so much more than just sex. It’s eye contact and hand holding. In this episode, we’re going to explore what intimacy is, why it’s important, why it sometimes declines, and how you can keep the flame alive. Or reignite it if it’s gone dim. What level of intimacy do you and your spouse fall into most? Listen in to find out the levels.
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Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of physical intimacy and sex in a marriage. We’ll explore what it is, why it’s important, why it sometimes declines, and how you can keep the flame alive or reignite it if it’s gone dim.
Let’s begin by emphasizing the vital role that physical intimacy plays in a marriage.
It’s often said that a healthy sex life is a barometer of the overall health of a relationship. And there’s a reason for that. Physical intimacy is not just about sex; it’s about connection, communication, and bonding on a profound level.
Physical intimacy includes any physical contact ranging from holding hands to sexual intercourse. It can be as small as a shoulder brush to cuddles and caressing. Physical intimacy can build and is built on trust and create feelings of warmth, bonding, and closeness between people. It contributes to emotional well-being and a sense of fulfillment.
Touch can strongly transmit a sense of being accepted and cared for — the emotional benefits. Touch also confers physiological benefits. In one study, partners were found to have lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, on days when they enjoyed higher levels of physical touch like hand holding or hugging. (High levels of cortisol have been found to increase heart rate and blood pressure.) The researchers believe that it’s the positive emotions stemming from physical touch — feeling content, feeling relaxed, feeling alert — that lead directly to lower cortisol levels. Another study found that when people enjoyed increases in physically intimate behaviors over a number of days, they experienced subsequent decreases in symptoms of physical problems (back/muscle ache, headache, insomnia, upset stomach, rash/skin irritation, and sick/injured.) A third study found that regular and repeated physical touch was linked to increased oxytocin (a soothing, well being-promoting hormone), lower cortisol levels for both partners, and lower blood pressure among husbands.
When couples are physically intimate, they are more likely to feel emotionally close and secure in their relationship. The release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” during intimate moments, fosters trust, emotional attachment, and reduces stress. In essence, physical intimacy strengthens the emotional connection between partners.
Physical intimacy also serves as a means of self-expression. It allows couples to share their deepest desires, fantasies, and vulnerabilities in a safe and loving environment. This level of openness and understanding is essential for long-term relationship satisfaction.
Physical intimacy research shows that tactile and somatic communication, also known as physical intimacy actions, can be broken down into types or stages. Many marriages remain in the least connected stages of physical intimacy, instead of reaching the most intimate stage of physical intimacy (sexual intercourse) regularly.
The stages of physical intimacy are:
- Eye to Body: This is the first stage of physical intimacy, where two people make eye contact and become aware of each other’s presence as a whole. You notice their attributes, how they look, their smile, and how you feel when you take in the other person’s body.
- Eye to Eye: You lock eyes, you intentionally hold each other’s gaze or brush eye contact.
- Voice to Voice: You speak to each other, perhaps exchange personal information and begin to get to know each other, including via text or online. This is often a building block of emotional intimacy
- Hand to Hand: This stage of physical intimacy involves touching hands, either accidentally or intentionally. Hand-to-hand or arm contact involves crossing into each other’s physical space. Holding hands is a commonplace signifier of closeness in a relationship to the outside world.
- Arm to Shoulder: Placing an arm around another’s shoulder is an intimate act. This gesture can also signal to the outside world your closeness.
- Arm to Waist: This stage involves touching the waist or lower back of the other person. This stage shows even further closeness and comfort with each other.
- Mouth to Mouth: This stage involves kissing either on parts of the face or kissing on the lips.
- Hand to Head: Touching another’s head is very intimate, examples include running your hand through another’s hair, wiping away tears, or caressing their face.
- Hand to Body: For romantic relationships, this may mark the beginning of foreplay, and signals significant comfort around each other. You may be exploring each other’s body.
- Mouth to Torso: Examples of the mouth-to-torso stage include kissing another’s neck or belly and maybe moving towards oral sexual intercourse. As with any other stage, you can decide to discontinue the physical intimacy, and checking in with the other is a necessary part of this stage.
- Sexual Intercourse: Sexual intercourse or genitals to genitals marks physical union.
So where do you think you and your spouse fall into the most? Are you staying at the less intimate levels of physical intimacy? There is no right or wrong answer for how much intimacy is enough and each couple must decide what works best for them. The problem often comes when one partner wants more than another.
It’s important to be able to communicate with your spouse if you are feeling overwhelmed, have a desire for more space, or feel yourself withdrawing from physical intimacy. If you don’t feel you can bring these concerns up to your partner, take that as a sign that you are not feeling emotionally or physically safe in the relationship and you should talk to either a coach or therapist to help you.
But maybe you used to have a lot of physical intimacy in the relationship but over time it has declined. There are several common reasons for this phenomenon.
- Stress and Busy Lifestyles: As life gets busier with work, children, and other responsibilities, couples may find it challenging to make time for intimacy. The daily grind can lead to exhaustion and decreased libido.
- Communication Breakdown: Lack of communication about desires, needs, and concerns can lead to misunderstandings and decreased intimacy. Couples may assume their partner knows what they want, but open dialogue is essential. And if your partner communicates their wants and desires (whether that is more or less physical intimacy) it’s important to listen and discuss each of your perspectives. Everyone should be able to express their wants and desires openly in a marriage and talk about working together to find a solution that works for the both of you. Both people’s wants and desires matter.
- Body Image Issues: Insecurities about one’s body can hinder a person’s ability to be open and vulnerable with their partner. Over time, these insecurities can lead to avoidance of intimate moments or not be present while being physically intimate.
- Monotony: Routine and predictability can lead to boredom, making physical intimacy less exciting. Couples may find themselves in a sexual rut, performing the same activities without exploration.
- Medical or Psychological Factors: Health issues, medications, or unresolved emotional issues can affect one’s libido and desire for intimacy. It’s crucial to address these factors with empathy and support.
Now, let’s discuss strategies for keeping the spark of physical intimacy alive in your marriage:
- Communication: Open and honest communication about your desires and needs is key. Make time to talk about what you both want and explore new things together. Sharing your fantasies and boundaries can create a deeper connection.
- Quality Time: Set aside regular quality time for each other. Date nights, weekend getaways, or even just cuddling on the couch can reignite the connection. It’s essential to prioritize each other in your busy lives. Studies show that 20 minutes of talking a day can lead to great intimacy in a marriage.
- Variety: Be adventurous and explore new experiences in the bedroom. Trying new things can keep the excitement alive. This might include experimenting with different positions, role-play, or introducing toys and games.
- Self-Care: Prioritize self-care and self-love to boost your self-esteem and body image, which can positively impact your willingness to be intimate. Self-confidence is a powerful aphrodisiac.
- Stress Management: Find healthy ways to manage stress together, such as yoga, meditation, or going on walks. Stress can be a significant barrier to intimacy, and addressing it as a team can bring you closer.
What if physical intimacy has already dwindled in your marriage? Don’t worry; it’s never too late to reignite the flame. Here are some steps to consider:
- Have an Open Conversation: Start by talking to your partner about the issue. Be honest and non-judgmental, sharing your feelings and concerns. Ensure that both of you have a chance to express your thoughts. I often hear of husbands trying to talk to their wives about the lack of physical intimacy in their marriage and it either turns into a fight because she doesn’t want to talk about it or she shuts down because she feels broken and ashamed. This is really a good indication that you need some coaching.
- Seek Professional Help: If there are deeper issues at play, consider coming into coaching so I can help you navigate the challenges. I can provide insights and strategies tailored to your situation. I have absolutely loved coaching the couples that I have been coaching the last few months. I love seeing the progress they are making together to create more emotional and physical intimacy in their marriage.
- Rediscover Each Other: Reconnect emotionally by spending quality time together and rediscovering what you love about each other. Sometimes, couples forget the unique qualities that initially drew them together.
- Experiment: Be open to trying new things in the bedroom. Be patient and explore together to find what excites both of you. Exploring fantasies and desires can be a thrilling journey of rediscovery.
- Set Realistic Expectations: Understand that rekindling physical intimacy may take time, and it won’t always be perfect. Be patient with yourselves and each other. The process of rebuilding intimacy is about progress, not perfection.
In conclusion, physical intimacy is a cornerstone of a healthy and thriving marriage. It’s a powerful tool for deepening your emotional connection, reducing stress, and ensuring a satisfying partnership. Whether you’re looking to keep the flame alive or reignite it, remember that communication, understanding, and a willingness to explore are your allies in this journey.
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Remember, love is a journey, not a destination. Stay committed, stay passionate, and stay connected.