How Do Intimacy Issues Affect Relationships?

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Wednesday, May 29

Have you been feeling emotionally distant from your partner? Or maybe you’ve been struggling with physical closeness or having problems communicating? You’re not alone — many couples have intimacy issues of one kind or another during their relationship.  

Remember that all romantic relationships have ebbs and flows. You might feel close to your partner at times, but at other times, you might not feel as strong of a connection. 

Becoming aware of intimacy issues can help you understand what you’re experiencing and how to address these problems. Below, we’ll discuss these issues in more detail, including possible causes and signs and ways to handle them in order to reconnect in your relationship. 

What does “intimacy issues” mean?

The word “intimacy” is often linked to physical affection and sexual connection. Couples with intimacy issues might experience a lack of physical closeness and a loss of sexual satisfaction, for example. 

But intimacy isn’t just about the physical aspects of a relationship. It also includes emotional aspects, such as trust and empathy. Couples might have issues with trust, for example, but still feel physical closeness. 

Intimacy issues are complex and can affect couples at any stage of their relationship. While there’s a common misconception that only older relationships have these issues, that isn’t the case. 

Newer couples, newlyweds, couples who’ve been together for decades, and couples in other relationship stages or situations can all experience different types of intimacy issues — they can affect anyone.  

Examples of intimacy issues in relationships 

Every relationship is unique, so it’s no surprise that intimacy issues come in many forms. The struggles you and your partner face can be significantly different from the struggles other couples have — even if you have similarities in terms of how long you’ve been together or whether you’re married or dating. 

These issues show up in different ways in different partnerships. In the following sections, we’ll explore some general examples of a few kinds of intimacy issues couples may experience. 

Fear of intimacy 

Some people have a hard time getting close to others. If they have a fear of intimacy, it means they’re reluctant or unable to share deep physical or emotional connections with another person. 

What might this look like? Someone with a fear of intimacy or a fear of commitment might cut relationships short — preferring to engage in serial dating instead of having long-term relationships. They might avoid physical contact or refuse to talk about their feelings since this involves vulnerability, which can end up pushing their partner away. 

Emotional disconnect 

Relationships thrive when couples feel comfortable sharing their feelings and have empathy for each other. When one or both partners are emotionally disconnected, this has a negative impact on the relationship. 

Those who are emotionally disconnected might lack empathy for their partner. This means they don’t understand or feel what their partner is going through. They might not be willing to open up and discuss their emotions and feelings with their partner. Or they might feel distant from their partner instead of feeling emotional closeness. 

How does emotional disconnect affect relationships? This intimacy issue can lead to feelings of loneliness that push couples apart even more. Or couples might feel a strong sense of dissatisfaction with their relationship due to a lack of trust and emotional connection.

Physical aloofness 

For some couples, physical connection diminishes at some point in their relationship. In some cases, it might even be non-existent. This doesn’t just apply to a couple’s sex life or sexual relationship. Couples might not hold hands anymore, give each other hugs, or snuggle up together on the couch. 

Why does this physical aloofness happen? A lack of intimacy in terms of physical affection might occur due to stress or unresolved conflicts. For some couples, it might happen due to trust issues. Mental health issues, such as depression, can also cause this aloofness to occur. 

This physical distance between partners can lead to emotional distance. Couples can grow apart and have trouble communicating. They may even struggle with low self-esteem issues because they do not feel desired.  

Communication barriers 

Being able to communicate clearly and effectively is an important part of relationships. Communication barriers can make this difficult to do. These barriers can lead to unresolved conflicts, arguments, and misunderstandings that end up creating distance and intimacy issues in a relationship. 

Couples might interrupt each other while speaking. Or they might choose a bad time to talk to their partner about an important issue — such as when their partner is ill or struggling with anxiety. 

Many other barriers can get in the way of couples being able to communicate. Giving unsolicited advice, having unrealistic expectations, or not truly listening can all make it hard for partners to talk to each other. These barriers may end up making intimacy issues even worse. 

What causes intimacy concerns in a romantic relationship?

You and your significant other might be struggling with intimacy issues. But there’s hope for overcoming these difficulties and growing closer again. In order to tackle intimacy issues effectively, you’ll need to get to the root of what’s causing them. We’ll take a look at a few possible causes of these issues below. 

Mental health factors 

Psychological barriers may lead to intimacy issues. A partner who struggles with past experiences, such as childhood trauma, or a partner with deeply ingrained fears can make it hard to build and maintain emotional or physical connections within adult relationships. 

For some couples, symptoms from mental health disorders could cause intimacy issues. 

Individual therapy or couples counseling may help with addressing these issues. Partners who struggle with past trauma, strong fears, or mental health issues can work through these with a therapist during individual sessions. Couples can learn how these factors impact their relationship and how to manage this during couples counseling.

Physical health factors 

Medical conditions and other physical health problems may cause intimacy issues. A chronic illness or certain disabilities may make it hard to maintain physical intimacy, for example. 

Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or menopause, may lead to emotional or physical intimacy problems. For example, a partner going through menopause might experience severe mood swings and physical symptoms that cause a considerable amount of discomfort. 

If physical health factors are affecting intimacy, what can you do? Consulting healthcare providers may help manage or treat any medical or physical conditions that are affecting your relationship, which may help restore intimacy. 

External stressors 

Everyday life is filled with challenges for many couples. Raising children, handling other family obligations, working a stressful job, or struggling financially can all affect intimacy.

These external stressors may make it difficult to maintain emotional and physical intimacy. For example, you might be too tired from working hard that you don’t have the energy to spend quality time with your partner. Or you might argue over money if you’re facing financial problems. 

You and your partner might not be able to eliminate external stressors — but you can both work on how you manage stress. Practicing mindfulness, meditating, journaling, and doing deep breathing are a few helpful coping strategies for handling stress. 

In addition to managing stress, make your relationship a priority. Have date nights, check in with each other regularly, or find other ways to build intimate connections.

Signs that intimacy issues may be impacting a healthy relationship 

How do you know if problems with intimacy are affecting your relationship? There may be certain signs that indicate this. Note that other concerns or conflicts in your relationship might be the underlying cause of these signs. That’s why it’s best to talk to a mental health professional if you’re experiencing any of the issues discussed below. 

Lack of desire for connection 

Has there been a noticeable decrease in the desire to connect emotionally, physically, or sexually in your relationship? For example, one partner might not show any interest in sex. Or a partner who used to share their feelings might seem closed off. This lack of desire for any kind of connection could be a red flag.

If you’re the one experiencing this decrease, think about when and how these feelings tend to occur. Do you pull away any time your partner touches you? Or do you shut down and go quiet when your partner wants to talk about personal feelings? 

Avoidance of serious discussions 

Couples need to be able to have discussions about deeply personal matters that affect the relationship. But what happens if one partner refuses to have these talks or avoids them altogether? 

Avoiding serious or deep discussions might mean that there are underlying issues with emotional intimacy. For example, a partner with an anxiety disorder might be fearful of any kind of confrontation. 

What if your partner struggles with serious discussions? Approaching these topics in gentle, non-confrontational ways may help improve communication. Choose a good time to talk when they’re feeling relaxed, and begin the discussion on a positive note. Using “I” statements, like “I feel….when you….” may also be helpful and less confrontational or upsetting for them. 

Increased conflict 

When couples have unresolved intimacy issues, this may lead to frequent conflicts. These situations may also escalate as time goes on and intimacy remains a problem. 

For example, a couple with physical intimacy issues might argue over small things due to feelings of frustration or resentment. These arguments may happen more often and become more intense.

Using conflict resolution techniques may help decrease these situations. For example, finding a way to compromise or practicing active listening to work through disagreements. If conflicts become worse, it could be useful to seek professional help from a therapist to address underlying issues and resolve intimacy problems. 

How can you address and overcome intimacy concerns?

Professional help provides a highly effective way to address intimacy issues. Research shows that couples therapy may help couples reconnect and strengthen their relationship. But that’s not the only approach to consider. 

Different kinds of professional interventions are available to help with intimacy issues. Couples experiencing sexual intimacy problems might benefit from going through sex therapy. 

Those struggling with emotional or physical intimacy issues might benefit from couples therapy or marriage counseling. Individual counseling can help partners who have underlying personal issues to work through. 

Talking about intimate relationship details might feel uncomfortable. However, therapists provide a supportive, safe, and neutral place to talk about relationship issues. These mental health professionals can help couples and individuals improve communication skills. They can also help with rebuilding trust and enhancing emotional connections for a stronger and healthier relationship.

In order for therapy to be effective, it’s important for therapists and clients to have good compatibility. Initial consultations are helpful in determining if you and your therapist are a good fit. SonderMind connects you with a therapist to make this process simple

Find the support you need at SonderMind

Intimacy issues may occur — but they don’t have to take a toll on your relationship. Whether you and your partner are dealing with emotional and/or physical intimacy problems, help is available. 

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