Dec 01

Marriage Intimacy Problems – Is Communication the Issue?

Does Lack of Marriage Intimacy = Communication Problems?

02-series9Does it seem as though the lack of communication in your relationship is creating marriage intimacy problems for you and your spouse? Do you ever hear yourself complain: “Why don’t they ever talk to me about anything meaningful?” or “Our marriage would great if only we had better communication skills.” If so, keep reading. You may be surprised by what is actually at the root of the lack of intimacy in your marriage.

If you’re blaming lack of communication as the cause of intimacy problems in your relationship, you may want to examine this assumption more closely. Now don’t get us wrong, good communication is a wonderful thing. Communication skills are one of the most important things we teach couples that support them in creating healthier, happier and more intimate relationships. But if you’re using the quality of communication in your relationship as your test for intimacy, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

“You Say Tomato…”

You see, we all define things differently. Your definition of intimacy may be different than your partner’s definition. The kind of communication that supports you in feeling a sense of connection with your spouse may be different than the kind of dialogue that gives your partner a sense of connection with you.

As an example, let’s say you love having long, in-depth discussions. You could sit for hours talking about things you enjoy. Like how you feel when you see the sun rise or the way your favorite poem moves you. This depth of feeling and emotion in a conversation really helps you know you are connecting with the other person. It gives you the sense that they’re listening to you and that they want to know you as well.

This is all well and good if the other person also enjoys this kind of conversation, but not all people do. Some people, perhaps even your significant other, don’t enjoy having conversations like these. For them, a sense of intimacy might come from walking together on the beach or just sitting quietly together holding hands. They may enjoy more casual conversations: talking about their day at work or what you’re going to have for dinner.

This just reflects a difference in style, personality, and preference. The first style doesn’t make you needy or wrong for enjoying this kind of conversation. The second doesn’t make them closed-off or withdrawn for enjoying a more casual style. This only proves that you are different people with different preferences.

orange-and-appleApples and Oranges

So let’s look at the difference between conversational styles and communication.

Many couples believe that they’re having communication problems when they simply have different conversational preferences. We see these as two very different things. The worst part about not being able to distinguish this difference is that couples believe it means they have a lack of communication in their marriage.

Misunderstanding this can easily cause one or both people to become resentful and frustrated, which can easily lead to decreasing intimacy in the marriage. But if you can see this difference for what it really is, you can use it as an opportunity for better communication and greater intimacy.

The place to begin is discovering each of your conversational styles. What kinds of conversations does your relationship partner enjoy having? Explore their preferences and help them explore yours. Help them discover your definition of intimacy and learn what creates their most meaningful experiences.

First Things First

Now, depending upon how long this issue has been going on in your marriage, there may be a need to clean up misunderstandings that have developed along the way. Then you can tackle defining your preferences about conversational styles and intimacy. Your spouse may even be somewhat resistant to opening up about this because they worry it’s just another one of “those” conversations they don’t enjoy.

If you think this might be the case, you could start by addressing this concern. Let them know that you’ve come to realize you each may have different preferences in your conversational styles. Let them know that you’d like to understand their style more fully and what kinds of intimate experiences they enjoy most.

Then ask them straight out if there is anything that would prevent them from being willing to discuss this with you. If there is something that prevents them, then this is the most important thing to take care of. Your conversation won’t get far if you can’t get to a place of real willingness to talk this through. The good news is that you’ve opened a discussion about how you can improve the quality of your conversations in general–and what better place to start than by addressing each of your preferences.

If they are willing to discuss this, then start by revealing your conversational preferences and the kinds of intimate experiences that are most satisfying for you. Ask to see if they understand what you mean. When you’re sure they do, then check to see if their preferences are similar to yours.

If they have different preferences, don’t take it personally. Remember, these are just personal preferences and theirs don’t have to be the same as yours. This just means it’s time to explore their style more fully and learn the kinds of intimate experiences they enjoy most.

Once you are confident you understand each other’s preferences, it’s time to negotiate. We have no doubt you each can find ways to satisfy some of your partners desires some of the time.

One Size Doesn’t Necessarily Fit All

With that said, you still might yearn for more of the kinds of conversations you enjoy–and we think you’d enjoy them more with someone who has the same conversational style as you. We suggest you find someone who likes having them too.

Join a club that discusses the kind of issues you like to talk about. Find a friend who enjoys talking in the same way as you. The point is that all of your needs for conversation, connection, and sharing don’t have to be met all of the time by your significant other. (But that discussion is for another time.)

For now, the thing to remember is to define each of your preferences about conversational style and the meaning of intimacy. Then come up with strategies that will provide the kind of closeness you want in your relationship. We are confident that simply having these conversations will support you in experiencing more of the marriage intimacy you desire.

10 Responses to “Marriage Intimacy Problems – Is Communication the Issue?”

  1. Geoff Laughton says:

    Beth and Neill,

    Great post. I think this is really a critical distinction that people don’t often consider when they look at dissatisfaction in their relationship. When you add in that people not only have different styles, but that expectations are also often different (and uncommunicated), it gets easy to see how the ship can appear to be sinking. Your advice here paves the way to so much other intimate distinctions, conversations, and possibilities. It’s also a path that can lead to deepening each partner’s compassion quotient; that is, each partner’s capacity for being and bringing compassion to themselves and each other. Without that, combined with good communication, a relationship’s going to be pretty hobbled in the long run.

    Thanks for sharing this excellent place to begin, which seems quite foundational to know.

  2. Cuth says:

    First off, it is a good post..
    Misunderstanding is a very dangerous factor and it may have chance to ruin a relationship. A regular heart-to-heart talk is a good way to prevent misunderstanding..Husband and wife need to understand that male and female are different in nature…a good toleration is essential in maintaining a good marriage…

  3. Don says:

    It’s ALWAYS miscommunication. Human nature suggests that this will never change

    • Beth Banning says:

      Hey Don… thanks for stopping by. 🙂 and it’s a wonderful thing that miscommunication is not the problem. There’s only a problem when we make it mean things we don’t enjoy. 🙂

  4. dan says:

    I agree that good communication is the key in any relationship to make it work successfully. We all have problems, getting down to the root is what will solve the issues. We just have to take the time in trying, rather then wasting our time arguing our point.

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  6. Ken Jackson says:

    The lack of good commnication in marriage definitely has a drastic impact on intimacy. Why? Because for communication is one of the top emotional needs for women, and sometimes men. Men are easy (most of the time). The main emotional need is physical intimacy…a.k.a Sexual. And this is where there can be a major disconnect between partners. We need to understand the importance of communication in marriage. Thank you for an insightful post.

  7. Elizabeth Fitz says:

    Thanks for this interesting and insightful post. I think whenever there are problems in intimacy there is some sort of problem in a marriage. Communication is absolutely vital for any sort of relationship to succeed, whether it is at work or in the home.

    Actively listening and making sure we understand what our partners are saying will help in communicating. I like to start off sentences with “I feel” because it is less accusatory.

    Best wishes,


  8. Josh says:

    Communication is everything to every relationship. It gets even tougher as the years begin to pile on. It’s worse when both partners are head strong and always have a say. It’s almost as if some arguments would go on forever, and always sway to the wrong direction because one will always bring in personal stabs to try to win over the situation. But winning becomes loosing, intimacy levels towards each other drop drastically with every bout. I agree with @Dan when he commented “We all have problems, getting down to the root is what will solve the issues.” the problem is, we all need to relearn what it means and takes to communicate from the beginning. That may mean trying to revisit the days the relationship started. Bringing back that excitement and playfulness and demeanor on conversations that took place. Revisit how it started, and how we spoke with one and other.

  9. Amy says:

    Married 45 years and my husband only had sex with me once, that was on our wedding night. I guess once was enough for him. But he just refused to have sex and any type of intimacy.He only slept with me once and that was on our wedding night. There is no love friendship no nothing in my life. Its more like living in an apartment building, you only recognize someone but never talk to them. He took up house keeping in out walk out basement the day after we were married. He only comes upstairs when something needs fixing or replacing. Retired now and I’ve forgotten about sex, the things I can’t forget is the lonelyness, anger, depression and hate. He does have a great pension and benefits and I take advantage of that.