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Couples Counseling – Dealing with Differing Intimacy Needs

Needs for intimacy, physical and emotional, change throughout our lives. Understanding the ebb and flow and seeking help when needed can keep our relationships satisfying and fulfilling.

Ages, stages, gender differences, personality differences, careers, child-rearing, health issues, the “state of the union”.... all of these issues and more (yes more!) can cause partners in a couple to be out-of-sync or experience difficulty lining up their relationship intimacy needs. So what is a couple to do when one person needs more intimacy – physical or emotional -than the other? Don't give up – a loving, committed couple can definitely find ways to remain loving and committed!

Adapt Your Expectations

First of all, don't take it personally. In the beginning of a relationship, when the chemicals of new love are coursing through bodies newly ignited by the flames of love, it's easy to build up an unrealistic expectation that this will last forever. It is unrealistic, however, in that most things in our bodies fade, given time, and those chemicals are no exception.

That doesn't mean that couples can't keep the “spark” alive, but it does mean that to expect things to continue exactly as is, with no change, is just not a realistic expectation for most of us. It does not mean there is anything wrong with you, or your partner, or your relationship (necessarily), it just means you are human.

Balance Your Priorities

Second, understand where you are in life. Raising children, pursuing education or careers, taking care of elderly parents, and many other human, life situations cause a lack of energy to be used for intimate pursuits with our partners. What it does mean is that one partner may need to offer more understanding to the partner who is lacking time and energy, due to the demands of life. Likewise, the other partner may need to pay more attention to making or preserving special time for the partner who needs to feel like a priority once in a while.

The time and energy each of us has to spend each day is finite – we have to choose where it goes, and balancing our priorities is never an easy task. Many of the stages in life are temporary, meaning that it's important to remember that if you are in a committed and loving relationship, you are in it for the long haul – so choose accordingly.

Your Efforts Are Greatly Appreciated 

Third, in my current view, relationships thrive when there are two central components – a deep appreciation of all that your partner brings to the relationship, and a strong desire and willingness to be a great mate for your partner. This means that both partners want to give what they feel they can to contribute to their partner's happiness – be that more hugs and kisses, more cuddling, more talk time, or more frequent physical intimacy.

This also means that both partners feel profound thankfulness for the efforts their partner makes to meet their needs – whether it is occasionally staying up late or getting up early to increase intimate time, or making a date night a regular event.

You Are Not Alone 

And finally, if there are physical or emotional issues causing difficulty with intimacy, or if differences are causing relationship strife for either or both partners, see your family doctor or a therapist, or both! Past abuse, cultural issues, generational issues and individual changing needs can be addressed in the safety of counseling. Also, many physical changes ranging from normal aging to medical conditions can interfere or cause changes in sexual function, desire, and emotional and cognitive arenas, as can medications and life changes. Therapy, support groups, and self-help books can enhance skills such as communication, coping skills, and understanding many of our human differences in intimacy needs.

As with most things in life, where there is a will, there is a way. There is no reason persons in loving, committed relationships can't overcome differences in their needs for intimacy, and both feel happy and fulfilled. Life is rarely a perfect balance all the time for every couple, but with understanding, coping skills, and compromise, we can thrive!  

From Victim Advocacy with survivors of abuse and violence, case management with senior citizens and their families, counseling with at-risk youth and their families, to therapy with adults fighting addiction - bereavement, depression, relationship issues, parenting issues, divorce, blended families, disability, career changes, life changes, my professional experience has encountered it all (so to speak). Fitness, health, coping with chronic illness, aging parents, raising children, job loss, job stress,.... and the list goes on!

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