Emotional versus Physical Intimacy – Which is more important?

Seth Prosterman, Ph.D., LMFTArticles

They continued to argue about what they each needed, but were not getting from their partner in the relationship.  “If only you let me in emotionally, I would be more sexual with you.”  “I need the closeness that comes with sex to feel connected with you first.”  These seemingly conflicting desires, represent how a couple commonly gets and stays stuck.

This argument, as are many others, is pointless.  In a romantic relationship, intimacy involves both an emotional and a sexual connection.  They are not mutually exclusive and do not have a particular order of occurrence – they both happen simultaneously. This argument is a reflection of how couples use blame, misconceptions & popular stereotypical concepts to deflect away from dealing with their own developmental issues. This represents one of the main ways that couples remain stuck and grow apart, emotionally and physically over time in their emotionally committed, significant relationships.

David Schnarch, Ph.D., in his groundbreaking book, Passionate Marriage, tells us that getting stuck around sexual issues leads us into an important growth cycle in our relationship.  He explains that growing through this stuck place involves looking at ourselves and managing our anxiety around our important partner, rather than asking them to do something for us. Don’t be fooled into thinking the person who is asking for something, actually has the ability to provide what they are asking for.  Demanding that a partner be more intimate, either physical or emotionally, is a sign that, the person asking, is on the same level of capacity for intimacy as the other. Only resistance and distance is increased or maintained when this approach is in play.  Human beings are much better at creating disconnection than connection.  Dr. Schnarch points out that people’s ability to tolerate intimacy is actually limited.  Each member of the couple has to look at their adult developmental tasks, work on them and bring this to the relationship in order to become unstuck and attain a higher level of intimate connection.