“...and they lived happily ever after” is such a familiar line. Isn’t this how most stories and movies end? Sure the couple might have had some barriers to overcome, but once the challenges are resolved, the story ends with the couple finally getting married and stepping into wedded bliss -- forever. But is that what really happens? Most couples I know soon realize the “just married” sign hanging off their car was only the beginning of their challenges and not the end.
I believe knowledge is power. The more understanding you have, the better equipped you’ll be to handle, together, the ups and downs of your relationship. These five ways couples struggle with intimacy may help you see that your relationship isn’t “broken” or “doomed.” It just may be in need of some extra attention and care; these points may also help you see that you’re not the only couple who struggles:
1. Unrealistic expectations
You know all those movies you watched and books you read? They’re not real. The scripts were written, the actors carefully chosen, and just the right music was set to the background to elicit a specific response from the audience. You, on the other hand, are a human being, in a relationship with another human being who isn’t being back-lit, handed the perfect script, or is able to neatly wrap things up in a two-hour timeframe. Having unrealistic expectations of your partner or relationship sets you on a collision course to frustration, anger and misunderstanding.
2. Lack of education
We spend years in math and literature classes, but hardly any time in sex-ed or relationship classes. Learning how your body works, how your partner’s body works, what actually turns them on and why that’s important, what your relationship style is and that of your partner, and then how to go about talking about all of that is crucial. And yet we spend hardly any time learning about any of it, hoping our relationship will just “work” because our initial chemical attraction made us think it will. Any relationship requires work, understanding, curiosity, perspective, and space for yourself and your partner to develop as individuals as well as a couple. Read a book, take a class, listen to a podcast, but make getting educated about sex and intimacy as much of a priority as getting your college degree.
3. No communication
When you were growing up did anyone ever sit down and give you formal lessons on various communication styles as well as how to go about bringing up difficult topics? I have yet to meet someone who received this kind of instruction. Mostly we learned by watching our parents, interacting with our peers, or from movies. You cannot have great sex and intimacy without great communication. Period.
How does someone know what you like if you don’t tell them? What if you’re making all sorts of assumptions about how your partner feels and they’re all wrong because you’ve never asked and they’ve never said anything? It’s no wonder people walk into my office feeling defeated. If you’re grown-up enough to be in an adult relationship, be grown-up enough to learn to talk and listen in a productive, curious, and respectful manner and then you’ll have the relationship from the movie.
4. Unsettled past trauma or incorrect messages received about sex and intimacy
If you or your partner have experienced any sort of sexual trauma, shame, or body-shaming, all of that will impact your relationship. Trust is the foundation of intimacy, and the aforementioned things create inherent mistrust which, without proper assistance and education, will continue to fester and build barriers within the relationship. Sadly, many experience at least one of the three mentioned above, so if you’re in a relationship, it’s probable one of you may have greater challenges than the other. Be kind and loving as you and your partner work through these things together. If you do so, you will create the atmosphere of trust and safety which will allow intimacy to blossom.
5. Expecting their partner to always meet their needs
Usually when we meet “the one” we sometimes know because we suddenly feel complete in ways we hadn’t before. We feel no one has ever understood us the way they do and feel parts of ourselves coming back to life we didn’t even know were asleep. All of that is wonderful and feels really good. However, the flip-side is that sometimes we begin to see our partner as our saving grace, looking to them to help us feel better about ourselves and our lives, all the time. And when/if they don’t give us what we want, that hole in us threatens to reappear and we pout or throw some sort of adult tantrum until our partner comes to our rescue, which, after some time, generally starts to build resentment and dread in our partner. Your spouse is not there to rescue you. Your spouse is choosing to walk through life beside you, as an equal, willing to support you through challenging times, but it’s your job to figure out what your needs are and how to get them met in healthy and appropriate ways.
You don’t have to struggle forever….
Although this is a list of how most couples struggle at some point, the good news is patterns can be broken, education can be gained, communication can be enhanced, and you can have the “happily ever after” you so desire. But, it takes more than a pinch of pixie dust, a magic wand, or a click of the heels. It takes honest hard work, dedication to yourself, each other and the relationship, and a certain amount of humility, forgiveness, gratitude and sense of humor as you set about creating the relationship and life you desire.