I just got off the phone with a new client, a heterosexual newlywed couple, married for 1 year. He needs more emotional intimacy in order to feel sexual towards her. She wants greater physical intimacy so she can connect emotionally with him. Neither one wants to give an inch.

This is a common intimacy gap. One partner wants more emotional connection to be able to connect sexually. The other wants more sexual contact in order to feel emotionally connected. So how does anyone resolve this problem?

As Bill Murray’s therapist said to him in the movie, What About Bob, “Baby steps”. But what do baby steps look like?

Let’s go back to my newly married couple. Neither one wants to give an inch and yet both grow increasingly resentful at each other. The further they dig their heels in, the less their needs get met.

Baby steps means they need to start small. They don’t have to give each other miles and miles, just an inch here, an inch there.

So, if you and your partner struggle with this problem, you can start by asking yourself the following questions.

Baby Step #1:

For the partner who seeks emotional intimacy:

  • Define emotional connection and it’s associated behaviors
  • What do you want more of? Less of?
  • How do you contribute to maintaining this connection?
  • How do you block it?
  • Make a list of specific behaviors that qualify as emotionally connective, deeply satisfy you and motivate you to move towards your lover physically/sexually.

For the partner who seeks physical/sexual intimacy:

  • Define physical intimacy and sexual intimacy
  • What behaviors do you wish to give to/receive from your partner?
  • How do contribute to maintaining this connection?
  • How might you block it?
  • Make a list of specific behaviors that qualify as physical/sexual connection that deeply satisfy you and motivate you to move towards your partner emotionally.

Baby Step #2: Once you’ve answered these questions on your own, talk about it together. Practice whole body listening. Notice how you feel when you hear your partner’s story. Tune in to your mind, gut and heart. How do these areas respond?

Baby Step #3: Ask yourself, “What am I willing to give to improve our intimacy?” Look at the list of behaviors, clarify questions you may have and ask yourself, “Am I willing to do anything on this list?”

Baby Step #4: If the behaviors feel too daunting, ask your partner if you can break the behaviors down into even smaller steps. For example, if one item says, “Have sex with me once per week”, you can say “I’m not quite there yet but I’m willing to do ____________. How do you feel about that?”

Your partner must choose from your list as well. You can both see how you each want to connect. Work safely, start small and be flexible. Choose the easiest behavior on the list first.

Baby Step #5: Make the decision to let go of resentment since this will only maintain the ever-growing wedge. Make a pact to just let it go. Or, have one more deep conversation about what has troubled you both, then make the decision to let it go. Use this conversation guide to help you compassionately clear the air.

At some point, you need to make the conscious choice to show up differently, to open yourself to possibility and to reinvest in your marriage. Baby steps are a safe, manageable way to start your journey toward greater emotional and sexual intimacy.

If you give this a try but still feel disconnected, call or email me for a consultation. Remember, I am always just a phone call or email away.

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