Balancing Companionship and Intimacy: Nurturing Both Sides of Your Relationship.
Mark and Kelly come to my office, a little bit nervous and a little bit hopeful, to talk about a problem they’ve been having for a while now. They are in a strong marriage, an envy of their friends. On the surface - yes, they don’t fight, they are great parents to their 3 year old, they live in a beautiful house.
No one knows that their intimate life has been a source of deep frustration and disappointment. It started even before the baby was born, it got worse and worse over time. Mark wants more sex, Kelly is exhausted. She feels pressured. He’s frustrated. Tired of being rejected all the time, he stopped initiating sex, hoping that she’ll come to him. It’s now been over 6 months. Every time they try to talk about it, they get into a fight. No one can hear each other. Both are hurting. Tired of being stuck in the same spiral, they decided to look for help.
And I’m glad they did. I can help.
While there are many, many reasons why they can be stuck in this problem, and there are so many approaches that can make a huge difference, in this post I’m going to talk about one particular issue - couples who have a great relationship, not sure what happened to their sex life, and most importantly, want to reconnect.
We are going to start by looking at 2 aspects of a committed relationship - companionship and intimacy.
Companionship Aspect - that’s your day to day stuff. Doing life together. You are being roommates, parents, friends. You are taking care of the kids, pets, bills, in laws, the house. Your communication and conflict resolution will be mostly under this umbrella. You share hobbies, adventures, go on trips, hang out with friends. You are partners.
Intimacy or Erotic Aspect - this is your non-sexual and sexual intimacy, affection, attention, touch. We are not talking about just sex. We are talking about all the beautiful needs that are connected to intimacy, that’s probably not going to be easily met elsewhere (especially if you are in a monogamous agreement). Feeling passion and pleasure, feeling safe and secure, feeling playful and adventurous. Feeling seen in a way that no one else will see you. Feeling loved, connected, touched. Feeling in love. Feeling like everything is good in your world. This aspect makes you look at your partner and think, this is my lover, not just my friend or roommate or co-parent.
Mistake we make
People often make an innocent mistake thinking that if we work on the companionship aspect of our relationship, intimacy will just keep happening, and hopefully stay as good as during our honeymoon stage. It’s often not true. Also, not realistic.
I look at it like this. If you have 2 house plants and you keep watering one regularly and give it sunlight and plant food and talk to it - it’ll be thriving. But if the second one is stuck in the closet, and only gets watered occasionally - we won’t be surprised that it won’t be doing so well. We won’t say, but I take care of this one so well, why is that one not blooming?
Of course there’s a great overlap between the two areas, but it’s possible to be fantastic friends and roommates, have really great communication skills - and yet, intimacy could be rare if not non existent.
That’s when people say “we are roommates, not lovers”. And in some partnerships, it’s enough. But for many people it’s not. That's when people start thinking - maybe we are just not in love anymore. "I love you, but I'm not in love with you".
That’s when I see couples in my office, after many months, and often many years of trying. Sometimes people say we’ve hardly been intimate since our second child’s been born. The chid is now 7 or 13 years old. It’s a long time. How can we turn this around? Can we?
Yes we can! But we need to first understand, and then nurture both aspects of the relationship. We need to be intentional. We need to be willing to take a risk (it often feels like a huge risk and is very vulnerable). And we need to give ourselves permission to play and to find pleasure.
We need to be able to talk about it without triggering each other. Living in a culture that doesn’t have the healthiest attitude towards sex and intimacy, we often carry shame, guilt, fear, anger, resentments when it comes to sex. There’s pressure. Pressure to be a certain way. Pressure to perform. How did sex become a performance? Common pattern - one partner feels pressured, another feels rejected. How do we talk in a way that both people feel truly heard and understood and seen?
How do we talk about what sex means to us? Our hopes and our fears? Our wants and desires and needs?
Date nights are not the answer
We also need to know HOW to shift into and nurture the intimate aspect of our relationship. How to connect in a way that creates desire, that opens to doors to not just sex, but feeling in love, being able to give and receive pleasure, feeling alive in your body.
Everyone says - you need to take time for your relationship, you need to go on dates.
When a couple goes on a typical date, if you’ve been together for a while, chances are you are talking about work and children, you are having a big meal and maybe a glass of wine. By the time you get home - you are tired. And stuffed. A bit bloated. And you just want to go to sleep.
Maybe there was an expectation or hope that you’ll have sex after. But you don’t feel connected, not in an intimate way. You don’t feel desire. Your partner does, but you don’t. Now you feel pressure. Anxiety.
You think that you need to connect more - so you talk more, or watch a show. You are spending time together, but it doesn’t help. You go to sleep feeling more disconnected than before, disappointed, or guilty.
That’s because you are still in the companionship aspect of the relationship, not the erotic.
Turning things around
We need to nurture the erotic.
We need to schedule erotic date nights. We need to create intentional time to feel the connection, to play, to touch and be touched, to be intimate. To be in a space of the erotic, not just "roommates and parents". And I don't mean "just" sex.
No pressure. No performance. No agenda. You show up - for yourself and for each other. Maybe you play the 3 minute game. Maybe you talk about and play with your erotic blueprints. Just like love languages, but in the bedroom - how can you learn to speak your partner erotic language better. Maybe you build your sensation play kit.
If you haven’t been intimate in a while, don’t rush. Don’t put expectations and pressure on each other. Start slow. Just be with each other. Start with a 7 second kiss, or dyads to talk about intimacy and desires.
Asking for help - Sex Therapy
If you are getting stuck, ask for help. This feels very vulnerable and maybe embarrassing, but it doesn't have to be. I talk to couples about this every day. It's is a good conversation to have. It can be really fun. You can learn new tools and skills, I can help you ease into it. I can definitely help you have great intimate conversations, understand each other deeply, and clear past hurts and resentments.
Please book your free consultation with me here. I'd be happy to talk to you and answer your questions.
P.S. I am very aware just how complicated this issue is and how many layers we are dealing with. It's not simple. I'm just very passionate about this work, and very hopeful that we CAN turn this around. We can't do this all alone, and with a little bit of help, a little bit of reassurance and a lot of tools and practices to try - we CAN create very fulfilling, very connected intimate relationships.