Emotional and Physical Intimacy in Marriage

Intimacy in marriage feels good and protects your relationship from stagnation and unfaithfulness. Do you know what intimacy means and how to have more of it with your spouse?

intimacy in marriage means sharing and vulnerability
Intimacy in marriage means sharing with your spouse what you don’t share with anyone else

Having a good understanding of what intimacy in marriage is can help you to behave in a way that will help you have more intimacy and a more satisfying relationship. It can also help you to identify factors that are getting in the way of having more intimacy.

What is intimacy?

Intimacy is not a feeling. Intimacy is a behavior that can lead to feelings of love and closeness, but it can also lead to feelings of hurt and rejection. Intimacy means sharing with someone what we don’t normally share with anyone. When we are emotionally or physically intimate with someone, we are always being vulnerable; always taking a risk. However, when we fail to be be emotionally or physically intimate, we are taking no less of a risk. Equal, satisfying, levels of emotional and physical intimacy in our marriages turns out to be the best for maintaining a loving, healthy relationship.

Levels of physical and emotional intimacy

Intimacy is not all or none. Just like being tall or short, there is a whole range of in-between. Couples often start out their marriages with a high level of intimacy and gradually have less and less. When intimacy gets too low, it becomes very difficult to get back to a high level, although with the right skills it can be done.

High physical intimacy in marriage

For example, if you share something with your spouse that you don’t share with anyone else, that is highly intimate. Sex, for example, is something that we should only be doing with our spouses. We share our bodies in a way that we don’t with anyone else. That is physical intimacy. A faithful spouse with a good sexual relationship with his or her spouse has a high level of physical intimacy. In addition to sex, if we touch or cuddle with our spouse in ways that we don’t with others, that is also physical intimacy. If you hug everyone and you hug your spouse the same way as you hug everyone, that does not count as physical intimacy. However, if you hug your spouse in a way you would never do with others, that counts as physical intimacy. The same goes for other kinds of touching.

Low physical intimacy in marriage

If a spouse does not have a good sexual relationship, or is sexually unfaithful, they have a much lower level of physical intimacy. The more people you share something with, the less intimate it is to share that with your spouse. This is one reason that open marriages are damaging–they reduce the physical intimacy between husband and wife, making the marriage less satisfying. Allowing your spouse to have an affair partner would have much the same effect.

High emotional intimacy in marriage

Having high emotional intimacy in marriage means that there are many thoughts, ideas, and feelings that you share with your spouse, but not with anyone else. Mutual sharing of secrets, dreams, and vulnerabilities with a spouse that we feel safe with creates high emotional intimacy and a much more satisfying relationship.

Low emotional intimacy in marriage

If your spouse has to find out what you are thinking by reading your social media posts, you have low emotional intimacy. If you only talk to your spouse about what needs to be done or problems to be solved, you have low emotional intimacy. Your spouse should feel like your best friend and know more about you (past and present) than anyone else. The same can be said of your spouse, of course.

Promoting emotional intimacy in your marriage

You can promote emotional intimacy in your marriage in several ways.

1 Promote emotional intimacy in your marriage by showing more interest in what your spouse says

By showing interest in your spouse’s thoughts and feelings without ever criticizing, you will be encouraging your spouse to share more with you. If your spouse does not trust you enough to do that now, it will take some time for you to earn that trust again. Be sure to go slow and be patient. Even a little more sharing by your spouse is a great start.

2 Promote emotional intimacy in your marriage by sharing more with your spouse

You can also begin to share more of your thoughts and feelings with your spouse. This also has to be done gradually, so that you can feel safe. If your spouse becomes critical, you will have to learn how to use good boundaries to end that behavior before you will be able to share more.

3 Promote emotional intimacy in your marriage by using good connection skills

Good connection skills help your spouse enjoy talking to you and doing things with you. Relationships that have become focused only on day to day practicalities suffer from a lack of emotional intimacy which leads to marital dissatisfaction, affairs, and/or divorce. Intimacy cannot be built by only talking about practicalities.

4 Promote emotional intimacy in your marriage by having a daily one on on one time with your spouse

One on one means just you and your spouse. A device such as a TV, cell phone, or notepad counts as another person and prevents one on one connection. My wife and I have two daily one on one times that we set apart for each other, in addition to random one on one times. That ensures that we have one on one time daily. After dinner, we either go for a walk together or sit on the sofa (no devices!). Before bed, we enjoy relaxing and talking in the hot tub. Your routine may be sitting on the porch and drinking ice tea or playing an interactive game. These are not times for talking about business, but for enjoying each other. The more you laugh (or cry) together, the more intimate will be your emotional connection.

Promoting high physical intimacy in your marriage

Many of the things that promote high emotional intimacy also promote high physical intimacy. This is because when you have high emotional intimacy, your spouse will enjoy having sex and loving touch with you more. Contrary to stereotypes, this is true for both men and women. You also promote physical intimacy when you set aside regularly scheduled times to have sex in addition to allowing for some spontaneity. Couples who expect to always be spontaneous have more difficulty maintaining a healthy sexual relationship. In addition, be sure that you touch your spouse often in loving, but nonsexual ways. If your spouse associates your touch only with your desire for sex, that will decrease your spouse’s feelings of emotional closeness with you.

If you hit an intimacy wall with your spouse

Most of the people that I work with have hit both physical and emotional intimacy walls with their spouse. This usually is caused by either  insufficient connection skills, needy behaviors, or a spouse not being fully committed to the relationship (one foot in, one foot out of the relationship). Here are some books to help you connect, overcome neediness, and get commitment, if these are barriers to intimacy in your marriage. And, if that doesn’t quite get you to where you want to be, I would be happy to work one on one with you to put the love back in your marriage. Because intimacy is a behavior, it can be improved with skills and practice. You can once again be the person that your husband or wife looks forward to being more physically and emotionally intimate with. Don’t leave that to someone else.