Dr. Aline Zoldbrod - Sexual Health
Dr. Aline Zoldbrod is a well-known Boston-based licensed psychologist, individual and couples therapist, and an AASECT certified sex therapist. She is the author of three commercially published books about sexuality and relationships. Her book, SexSmart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sexual Life and What to Do About It has been translated into four languages and was recognized as one of the top three sex-help books of the year. She is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Michigan Sexual Health Certificate Program. You can find her at sexsmart.com.
Tags: intimacy | marriage | counseling | zoldbrod

Can Lack of Intimacy Be Fixed ?

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod By Friday, 05 April 2024 10:07 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Consider three couples with deficits in emotional intimacy:

Couple A:I don’t even think John knows me anymore. When I talk with him about what’s going on in my mind and my heart, his eyes wander and he looks bored. I try to listen to what he tells me about things that are bugging him at work, or when he doesn’t feel physically well, or when he is having a fight with his brother. But when I try to share with him, basically, no one is home.”

Couple B:“I feel like a sperm donor and a bank account. Janelle doesn’t seem to appreciate anything I do. She doesn’t give me credit for how hard I work. All she does is criticize. And what’s the point of talking to her about it? We just go around and around, saying the same old things. She loves the kids, but honestly they get all of her attention. It’s ridiculous to be jealous of your own kids, but I feel like I am at the bottom of her list.”

Couple C:“I know that Maurie wants me to be passionate, but he has hurt me so much over the years by not valuing me, by not listening to me, that I just feel the that walls I’ve built are too high. I just don’t trust him. And I’m not sure that I want to risk trying to trust him.”

What is emotional intimacy?

There are lots of definitions of intimacy, and I don’t disagree with many of them. Most commonly, emotional intimacy is thought of as a state of deep connection in which each person shares their thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires with the other.

Another definition of intimacy makes the point that intimacy is something that happens in the present, that it is about just you and me, and it is about what is happening between two people now.

In this definition of intimacy, a married couple getting together and mostly planning for what needs to happen in their children’s lives in the upcoming week is not an intimate exchange.

When a couple does not listen to each other, are not attuned to each other’s struggles and issues, and do not feel as close as good friends do, emotional intimacy is absent. 

Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Model of Love

Psychologist Robert Sternberg came up with a triangular theory of love in 1986. The three components that he describes are passion, intimacy, and commitment. By passion, he means sexual passion. We have seen some examples of  intimacy. Commitment means just that: the couple is committed to staying together.

Getting all three of these in the same relationship is like hitting the jackpot. Sternberg calls this triad “consummate love.” But of course, plenty of couples just have two of the three points of the triangle.

Sternberg calls relationships in which there are passion and commitment alone, without intimacy, “fatuous love.” In all my years as a couple and a sex therapist, I don’t think I have ever seen a couple with this combination.

But I have seen plenty of couples with just commitment — no intimacy or passion. Sternberg calls this “empty love.”

All three of the couples noted above had empty love.

It can be challenging to get the passions firing when the embers have cooled. Couple A and Couple B were able to bump their emotional intimacy up by just being brave, facing their disconnection, and making a pledge to change it. The process almost always involves pain — unpacking and analyzing hurts, disappointments, and broken promises between them. That involves truth telling in the safe space of the therapy session. But with a psychologist there can make these difficult discussions more safe, teaching some mirroring techniques and modeling compassion and humor.

Couples A and B were able to move forward, forging stronger emotional bonds. In both those cases, we were able to go forward to work on the passion point of Sternberg’s triangle. (The breaches in trust were too great in Couple C, and they did not stay together. You can’t win ‘em all.)

For many couples with deficits in intimacy, education and awareness about the importance of sharing, empathy, and/ or the joys of listening can lead to a transformative fix.

Mercilessly evaluate the emotional intimacy in your relationship. If it is poor, take the time to repair the deficit. Your relationship will be better for it.

© 2024 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

When a couple does not listen to each other, are not attuned to each other’s struggles and issues, and do not feel as close as good friends do, emotional intimacy is absent. 
intimacy, marriage, counseling, zoldbrod
Friday, 05 April 2024 10:07 AM
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