Confronting the fear of intimacy that causes marriage problems

Underneath so many of our marriage problems is an unconscious fear of intimacy?

‘But,’ you say, ‘I don’t have a fear of intimacy.’ 

Did I mention this fear is unconscious?

Could it be that all this extra time together is forcing you to confront your fear of intimacy?

Let’s not miss this opportunity! Let’s talk about  how to identify and disarm the fear of intimacy that causes marriage problems.

According to Imago Relationship Theory, a universal human longing is to be in connection and at the same time feel safe. 

The longing for intimacy is evident in the Romantic Stage of our relationship. 

When we start out we want to know everything about our partner, and we want our partner to know everything about us. 

During the Romantic Stage, information and energy flows into the relationship and it feels full and alive and exciting. 

But soon, intimacy requires an openness and vulnerability we’ve never experienced.

That’s when we move into the Power Struggle Stage. The power struggle happens in part because we are unwilling to be open and vulnerable with our partner. 

Deepening intimacy in a relationship takes us to an increasingly vulnerable place. That can be terrifying (that’s not too strong a word).

Because our brains are hardwired for survival, intimacy terrifies us.

I’m terrified that if I share a certain part of myself it will be rejected. So I avoid the opportunity for intimacy.

This fear comes from early childhood where we were wounded in our first experiences of connection.  As good as the best parents are, wounding still happens to all of us to some degree. 

In response to this wounding, we create certain character adaptations based on the unconscious triggered responses of fight, flight, freeze, or submit.

Then in our adult relationship, when we feel vulnerable, we use these same behaviors we learned in childhood to take ‘exits’ from the relationship.

We create ways to have a sense of ‘staying in connection’ without having to risk the danger or pain of real connection. 

That’s when the movement of energy and information that made the relationship so full and alive and exciting starts to flow away from the relationship. 

It’s also when you hear couples say things like, ‘We’re so busy with the kids, and work, and all our activities, we just don’t have time for each other any more.’ 

I don’t want to minimize stressors from the outside. There’s a reality there. Our relationship is an open system that is always being affected by outside forces.

But the real issue is not stress from the outside. It’s the fear of intimacy on the inside. 

Although we long for intimate connection, the exits we take are a result of an unconscious collusion we create with our partner to actually avoid intimacy. 

In Imago Relationship Theory we define collusion as ‘two people partnering together to create something that neither of them wants’. 

What?! That doesn’t make any sense!

Well, consider my own example.

During this crisis my wife Sandy and I  have discovered that we have ways of working together to maintain the illusion of closeness while at the same time keeping a comfortable distance in order to avoid intimacy.

We use our learned childhood attachment behaviors to be able to feel relatively safe.

I’ll get upset at Sandy, but I don’t want to talk about it.  Sandy senses the tension, and also wants to avoid it. So we decide to watch a movie.

With the help of Netflix we can go into a state of mindlessness and never bring up the thing we need to talk about.

We give each other the experience like everything’s OK, because we now have a comfortable distance between us. 

We long for a deeper sense of intimacy, but because we’re afraid…

We collude together to prevent ourselves from getting what we really want while giving ourselves what we really don’t want – a comfortable distance.

And what happens with that thing I need to talk about? Nothing. It’s stuffed where it will simmer. It stays there unresolved and it will continue to grow inside of me.

And things will get worse between us, unless we decide to deal with our fear of intimacy, close the exits, and find the deeper intimate connection we long for.

What about you? What are your exits? 

Work? Netflix?  Hobbies? The children? All exits rob your relationship. Some exits, like affairs or pornography are even more destructive.

So what do we do?

Let’s close the exits, be brave, make ourselves vulnerable and reconnect in deeper intimacy!

Imago Relationship Therapy has a wonderful tool that will help us do that. It’s called the Commitment Dialogue. Click on the link to print it out.

The Commitment Dialogue is used to identify and close ‘exits’, i.e. places where you are getting your needs met outside your relationship. 

By closing exits you make more time and energy available for your relationship. 

The Commitment Dialogue takes you through the Imago steps of Mirroring, Validating, and Empathizing which are essential to create safety where vulnerability can happen.

Then it ends with a commitment to talk your frustrations out rather than acting them out in ways that avoid intimacy and connection with your partner.

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    3 steps to healing the childhood wounds affecting your marriage

    Does your partner’s controlling behavior open up old wounds of feeling smothered by a controlling parent? Or does your partner’s emotional withdrawal trigger wounds of abandonment or rejection from an emotionally distant parent?

    Here’s some good news!

    Because your partner can trigger your childhood wounds, your partner is also the one who can heal them.

    Marriage is all about getting what you didn’t get in childhood.

    How do childhood wounds happen?

    Your parents may have unintentionally wounded you in two ways: Intrusion or Neglect.

    Intrusion is over-involvement. Neglect is under-involvement.

    If that intrusion or neglect caused you to feel a loss of connection, it’s what we call a wounding experience.

    And unfortunately we bring these old wounds and unmet needs into our marriage where they can cause problems if we don’t address them.

    Here is a helpful tool (created by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt) that will help you identify your unmet childhood need and find healing from your partner.

    1. Identify the “early challenge” that may be affecting your marriage.

    Think about whether your parents were intrusive or neglectful. Then study the two lists below under MY EARLY CHALLENGE. Write down the ONE (and only one from the two lists) that most represents your greatest early challenge.


    If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
    I wanted:’‹
    • To get free from feeling controlled by others.
    • To express my own thoughts rather than what I should think.
    • To express what I felt rather than what I should feel.
    • To experience my thoughts and feelings as important.
    • To do what I wanted to do rather than what I ought to do.
    • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
    If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
    I wanted:
    • To experience feeling seen and valued rather than invisible.
    • To be approached by others rather than feel alone or abandoned.
    • To feel appreciated as a person.
    • To get support for what I think or feel.
    • To have someone interested in what I want and like.
    • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

    After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 2.

    2. Identify the “early need” that may be affecting your marriage.

    Just as you did with your early challenge, study the ten items below MY EARLY NEED. Write down the ONE (and only one) that most represents your greatest early need. 


    If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
    I needed:
    • To have space and time to myself on a regular basis
    • To experience trust from others in my thinking and my decisions. 
    • To be asked what I feel and what I want.
    • To experience genuine and reliable warmth when I need it.
    • To experience what I do and want is valued by others.
    • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
    If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
    I needed:
    • To experience a show of interest in me when I am talking.
    • To be responded to when I asked for it.
    • To ask me what I want, feel and think and then respond.
    • To show curiosity about my experiences in life.
    • To get love and a gentle touch frequently and without having to ask.
    • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

    After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 3.

    3. Communicate your early challenge and need to your partner in a ‘Safe Conversation’.

    Use the Couples Dialogue format below to share with your partner the childhood need you brought into your marriage. Allow your partner to respond in a way that will meet that childhood need and bring healing.

    YOU: ‘When I was a child, I lived with caretakers who were generally _______________ (Neglectful or Intrusive), and my relational challenge with them was to ________________ (the CHALLENGE you wrote down).’

    PARTNER: (Mirrors)

    YOU: ‘And when I remember that, I feel __________ .’

    PARTNER: (Mirrors)

    YOU: ‘What I needed most from them was _______ (the NEED you wrote down).’

    PARTNER: (Mirrors)

    PARTNER: (Summarizes) ‘Let me see if I got all of that. In summary, your caretakers were generally  _____ and the relationship challenge you had with them was to _____. When you remember that, you feel _____. What you needed from them was _____, and not getting that from them, you brought _____ to our relationship. Did I get it all?’

    PARTNER: (Validates) ‘You make sense, and what makes sense is that if your caretakers were _____, then your challenge would have been _____, and that your relationship need would be ______. It also makes sense that not getting that in your early years, you would bring it to our relationship. Is that an accurate validation?’

    PARTNER: (Empathizes) ‘And given that, I can imagine that if you’re relationship need to ______ was met by me, you would feel _______ (glad, relieved, happy, connected, heard, etc.). Is that your feeling? Are there other feelings?’

    PARTNER: ‘Thank you for sharing with me your unmet need caused by your childhood challenges. I want very much for you to have your needs met in our relationship.’

    YOU: ‘Thank you for listening and for wanting to understand this about me, and for helping me with it.’

    Give each other a one-minute, full body hug.


    Finally, let me know how it went in the reply section below! Share your story with all of us!

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      My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

      Our marriage fights began on the honeymoon! Is there any hope for us?

      This was our story!

      But we learned that with the right skills you can turn a marriage with conflicts into a relationship with a deeper connection!

      That’s because conflict is a sign that something new wants to emerge in your relationship. Something that will bring healing, wholeness and deeper connection.

      And sometimes that sign shows up as early as the honeymoon!

      That’s what happened to Sandy and me!

      For years, Sandy and I have been on a journey in our own marriage.

      That journey is from an unconscious and reactive relationship to a conscious and connected relationship.

      For us this means’¦

      • Moving from blaming and defensiveness to empathy and connection.
      • Realizing that behind every criticism is a desire not expressed.
      • Realizing behind every angry outburst is a desire being expressed but not heard because of the way it’s delivered.
      • Realizing that behind every withdrawal from conflict is a fear of being controlled or smothered.
      • We are still working on it, moving from the Romantic Stage – through the Power Struggle Stage – into the Mature Love Stage and World Impact Stage.

      The Romantic Stage

      It all began with two people madly in love – Chuck and Sandy.

      I’ll save you the sappy details but we were IN LOVE. I took her to Ernie’s in San Francisco for dinner. Then to the Top of the Mark – Mark Hopkins Hotel for drinks.

      And while looking out over that beautiful city, I asked her to be my wife. She said ‘yes’! And I was the luckiest guy on the planet.

      The Power Struggle

      Most couples see signs of the Power Struggle anywhere from two months to two years after the wedding vows.

      Our power struggle began on the honeymoon. That’s right. As a matter of fact on the day after the wedding.

      Sandy had given me a beautiful watch as a wedding gift – a battery powered, electronic watch. One of the first of its kind. I’d never had one before.

      Problem is, there was no instruction manual. So I spent the first couple of hours ‘the morning after’ (yes, the first day of our honeymoon) trying to set it up (yeah, I know.).

      To me this was normal. Not doing anything wrong here. Except for one detail. I was married now. Not alone. And we were on our honeymoon for cryin’ out loud! Now that I’m married, it’s not really cool to just do what I want, without any consideration for the other person in the room.

      But how was I to know?

      As Sandy tried to communicate her disappointment to me, I immediately felt attacked.

      Feelings of inadequacy overwhelmed me. So I pulled away from her – literally withdrew from the conversation. This really upset her and I had no idea why or what to do.

      It was horrible!

      Even though we ‘coped’ and moved on, this tragic episode began a pattern that would last for years. I’d get lost in my world (work, hobbies, whatever). Sandy would feel abandoned.

      She’d express disappointment. I’d pull away further. That would trigger more feelings of abandonment, resulting in more expression of disappointment, which would cause me to’¦well you get the idea.

      Not good!

      Welcome to the Power Struggle!

      All she wanted was a close connection with me. That’s what marriage is supposed to be, right?

      Like many couples we struggled to cope with this pattern. But it always costs when you merely cope with a problem rather than dealing with it.

      The price we paid for years was the insecurity of an unstable connection that could be easily ruptured.

      Two precious daughters were born, as we continued to do the best we could.

      What we didn’t realize is that both of us had brought our childhood wounds and defenses into our marriage. Unconscious pain from childhood that drove me to abandon ship when criticized, and that drove Sandy to criticize when abandoned.

      The Breakthrough

      I’ll save you all the gory details. But it was fight after fight. Silent-standoff after silent-standoff. Literally “second verse same as the first – a little bit louder and a little bit worse.”

      Over and over’¦and over again.

      But a breakthrough came when we began practicing Imago Couples Dialogue. The therapy I now use with couples every week.

      The process slowed us down in a way that helped regulate our emotional reactions. And that gave us a chance to see each other – things about each other we’d never seen before because of all the defenses.

      Then we began to embrace our differences, and empathize with each other.

      And we began to see how our childhood dramatically affected our relationship.

      Sandy grew up in an amazing home. She was SO attractive. And so was her family. Her parents did a great job. But even with great parents, all children experience wounding at some level. It’s inevitable.

      When Sandy was 2 ½ years old her mom had twins. Both infants suffered with colic. And both mom and dad were consumed by the need to care for them.

      Some of what Sandy needed was lost in the process. Her mom was amazing. And dad too.

      But no matter how good you are as parents, wounds happen to our children in ways we’re not aware of.

      This feeling of abandonment surfaced many times later growing up.

      Once when her older brother got to stay out much later with his friends on Halloween. And got SO much more candy. And she remembers another time waving goodbye to her older brother as he and his friends drove away for a ski weekend at Tahoe. Once again she felt left behind. And left out.

      Experts say that approximately 90% of our upset comes from history. 10% is related to the present.

      The Dialogue help me see that the pain that Sandy felt on our honeymoon was not just because of me.

      I was not the source of her pain, only the trigger.

      chuck starnes relationship coach
      Chuck and Sandy at Waikiki Beach

      The Mature Love Stage

      Here’s what we learned that helped us move from the Power Struggle to Mature Love.

      1. A childhood wound of abandonment can be activated when your partner disconnects from you.

      For me to ‘leave her’ for a watch brought back all that pain from childhood.

      Am I worth being taken care of? Am I worth pursuing? Am I more important than a watch?

      2. Healing comes when you finally get what you needed in childhood from your intimate adult partner.

      Sandy wanted me to choose her. To be close to her. To be enamored with her, not a watch (even though she gave it to me.).

      Even though that didn’t happen then, it happened later.

      During one of the Dialogues she made a change request.

      In a moment of safety and empathy she made this request.

      ‘The next time you feel like pulling away from me will you make an appointment with me to dialogue and tell me about the feelings that make you want to withdraw.’

      It was a stretch for me. But when I did it, it brought healing.

      It was amazing how granting this change request helped me overcome the force of my own adaptations and stay present with her.

      And when a change request like this is granted, your lower brain, where all your memories and pain and defenses reside, is not going to say in that moment, ‘We’ll you’re about 20 years too late!’

      No! It’s going to say, ‘Finally I’m getting the love I always wanted!’

      And healing is the result.

      3. Growth comes to the one bringing healing.

      That would be me.

      I can’t tell you the feelings of wholeness I experienced as I stretched and grew in to this kind of behavior Sandy was asking for.

      Staying present with her was VERY hard because all I felt was anger and fear and wanting to run!

      My strategy from childhood, which helped me stay alive, was not going down easily (I’ll talk more about this next week).

      It literally called me to access a part of myself that I had lost and never developed growing up.

      And the feeling of wholeness was something wonderful like I’d never felt before.

      So what about you?

      Did your fights start early on like us?

      Is it hard to understand why you fight?

      Does your partner’s reaction seem extreme?

      Join us on this journey toward healing and wholeness.

      Get the skills you need to turn marriage conflicts into a deeper connection and passion together.

      If you haven’t already…

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        How can my marriage survive an affair?

        Does an affair mean the end of my relationship? Betrayal runs deep. Can I ever recover from this infidelity?

        Here are five steps that I’ve seen couples use, not only to recover, but to discover a whole new relationship beyond the crisis of an affair.

        1. Agree that it was an affair

        You can’t even begin to move forward if someone is denying that what they did was cheating.

        How do you define cheating or “an affair”?

        In our digital age, the definition of cheating is expanding.

        When experts are asked what percentage of people cheat,they say somewhere between 26% and 75% depending on how you define cheating.

        Is it cheating to engage in sexting? hooking up? a one night stand? secretly going on dating websites? watching pornography? or’¦?

        Whatever your belief is, the definition of infidelity is expanding today.

        Esther Perel says that infidelity consists of three elements.

        (1) A secretive relationship – which is the core structure of an affair.

        (2) An emotional connection – to one degree or another.

        (3) A sexual alchemy – based on fantasy.

        Here’s my definition:

        Infidelity is any emotional intimacy or sexual activity outside your relationship that causes your partner to feel that trust has been violated.

        If you want to repair your relationship, you must start by validating your partner’s feelings, even if you don’t fully agree with their definition.

        So, step one, agree that it was infidelity. Or at least validate your partner’s feeling of betrayal.

        2. Let your partner know what the affair did to you.

        I’m talking about letting your partner know the depth of your pain.

        You gotta unpack what this impropriety did to you. You can’t just keep it all inside. You have to let it out.

        And it must be expressed in a safe conversation, where you feel heard and validated. If the conversation is not safe it will not work.

        And the person who needs to hear it is the one who hurt you.

        Jim and Cheryl’s relationship was devastated after Cheryl had a ‘one night stand’ with a man she met in a bar.

        I suggested that Jim let Cheryl know what this did to him in a structured couples dialogue.

        He said to Cheryl, ‘I feel like everything I value as a man has been ripped out from under me. I thought we were lovers and partners parenting our children. I thought we were best friends.

        ‘And now I don’t even know who you are or what ‘we’ are.

        ‘I felt like I was your ‘only one’ forever, and that I was irreplaceable, and that I could confide in you, and tell you all my secrets, and have you tell me yours. Now I realize like none of that is true.’

        Cheryl was able to mirror these painful statements back to Jim without feeling judged. And this enabled her to validate his feelings, and empathize with him in the deep pain of betrayal.

        The key was ‘without being judged’. This made the conversation safe so that Cheryl could empathize and feel the pain Jim was experiencing.

        That’s when the healing process began.

        3. Listen to what the affair meant to your partner.

        Just as you need your partner to see what the cheating did to you, you’ll also need to know what it meant to her.

        Was it love? Is he better in bed than I am? Does it mean I’m not enough? What did this person give you that I could not?

        Things like that.

        So after Jim had shared with Cheryl what her unfaithfulness did to him, we switched roles and Cheryl told Jim what the affair meant to her.

        ‘For most of our marriage I have not really felt like a wife, but more like a child. I know you mean well, but from the very beginning, you’ve taken charge in a way that feels more like my father than like a husband.’

        Cheryl went on explaining how she always had to do what was expected of her and be a ‘good girl’.

        This was how she grew up and this is what she brought into her marriage.

        She felt like she was never able to break out of the constraints and find who she really was.

        It became clear that her affair was about the freedom she never had.

        She said, ‘For that moment, I felt alive again like I haven’t felt in years.’

        As painful as that was for Jim to hear, he was able to empathize with Cheryl.

        He began to see that she wasn’t turning away from him. She was turning away from the person she had become.

        She wasn’t looking for another person. She was looking for another self.

        For years she stuffed the anxiety, loneliness, and isolation she felt within her. But one night after a few drinks, it all came out, driving her to do something she never imagined she would do.

        As Jim listened over a period of weeks, and continued to mirror Cheryl’s feelings, there was a slow shift in his heart.

        Instead of seeing her as someone trying to hurt him, he saw her as someone who was hurting.

        Jim said something like this (I can’t remember exactly, so I might be embellishing a bit, but it went something like this).

        ‘I don’t justify what you did. And I don’t minimize the pain it has caused me. But now that I see you, it makes sense how this would happen.’

        Before this step, Jim declared that he could never forgive Cheryl for what she had done.

        But at this point, forgiveness came. Forgiveness came as Jim experienced tremendous empathy and compassion for Cheryl.

        4. Acknowledge that you both have been having an ‘affair’.


        We tend to want to label the ‘victim’ the good spouse and the ‘cheater’ the bad spouse.

        But the reality is

        Both spouses are guilty of taking ‘exits’ from the relationship.

        An exit happens whenever we look to something outside the relationship to meet a need that should be met inside the relationship.

        One partner may be having an affair with a person. And of course this is socially unacceptable and emotionally threatening.

        But the other partner, who is not having an affair with a person, is having an affair with something. Could be the children. Could be the career. Could be the internet. Could be a hobby.

        Affairs happen when couples collude to manage their intimacy outside the relationship because it’s not safe inside the relationship.

        They stop using the relationship as intimacy’s primary expression because it’s too dangerous. Because the relationship is not safe enough, they go outside the relationship.

        The one who had an affair with a person has done damage in the social context, but the one who takes a relatively ‘innocent’ exit has also done damage by leaving the relationship.

        For years, whenever Jim would feel the unconscious anxiety of his disconnection from Cheryl, he would turn to nights out with his guy friends.

        And although he never crossed a line, he admitted that he’d often fantasized about it. He also admitted that in times of frustration, when Cheryl pulled away from him, he had turned to pornography.

        My dear reader, this is so typical!

        Whenever a couple is not living in a safe, stable and secure connection, both partners will become guilty of an ‘affair’.

        Whether this affair is with a person or not, it drains the relationship of energy that should be put into the relationship.

        So, not only did Cheryl commit to ‘close the exits’, Jim did as well.

        Having understood what the affair did to Jim and what it meant to Cheryl, they made a commitment to take the energy they previously expelled through various activities outside the relationship and turn it toward the relationship.

        How? By ‘closing the exits’.

        There’s a final step that will help you move from healing into an entirely new relationship.

        5. Turn ‘crisis’ into ‘opportunity’

        For some couples an affair is the last ‘nail in the coffin’ of a marriage that was already dead.

        But for others,

        The affair is a crisis that opens up new possibilities.

        For Cheryl, it was an opportunity for her to say, ‘I love you Jim, and want to be with you. But I do not want the relationship I’ve had with you.’

        For Jim, it was an opportunity to hear that, and be open to changes that he would have never been open to before.

        They shared their dreams with each other as they worked on their ‘relationship vision’ together.

        And as they envisioned the relationship they always wanted, they were now more than willing to give up all the ‘exits’ that would prevent them from living this dream together.

        For Jim and Cheryl the affair was an opportunity to ditch the status quo that really wasn’t working well for either of them, and to enter into a whole new relationship.

        As a result, over time, they discovered a relationship that was far more intimate and exciting than they ever had before.

        This is what you call turning crisis into opportunity.

        Later, Jim and Cheryl shared an insight I want to pass on to you.

        ‘When you’re finally getting the love you want from each other, you’ll be amazed at how trust is rebuilt and infidelity is inconceivable in our path forward.’

        How about you today? Has your marriage been shattered by an affair? Take these steps and begin to turn the crisis into an unprecedented opportunity.

        And I can help.

        Do you know a marriage that has been shattered by an affair? Forward this blog to them.

        And post your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

        Until next week!

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          Feel trapped in a sexless marriage? Here’s how to change that!

          What if you could transform your sexless marriage into one where you “make love” all the time?

          ‘Not possible, Chuck!’

          But it IS possible, when you understand what it means to truly make love.

          Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote a book entitled…

          I love this title!

          It’s brimming with hope, isn’t it?

          (Click on the link below to get this ebook free.)

          The title implies what we all know intuitively. That there’s more to making love than having sex.

          Sex is the ‘icing on the cake” (the cake being emotional connection).  

          I can hear you saying, “What’s a cake without the icing?

          Right! But then again, what’s the icing without the cake? 

          Unfortunately, in a sexless marriage you’re probably not getting the cake or the icing. 🙁

          Are you in a sexless marriage?

          Experts define a sexless marriage as having sex no more than 10 times in any given year, or less than once per month.

          That includes 20% of couples married today.

          However, 40% of couples report being unsatisfied with their sex life.

          I don’t see how they can define it that way because everyone is different. Some experts stretch the definition a bit. 
          Take a look and see if you fit.

          For example, if you want sex daily and you get it less than once a week, some experts say you fit the ‘sexless marriage’ category. I guess it’s all relative.

          What’s so bad about a sexless marriage?

          1. A sexless marriage is a painful disappointment.

          “This certainly was NOT what I was expecting in my marriage. And it hurts to think about all I’m missing.”

          Sometimes the disappointment is so painful the marriage doesn’t survive. 

          In one study 50% of men surveyed said that they would not have married their partner had they known their marriage would have been sexless.

          My bet is, if you asked the wives of those men, you’d get the same answer.

          2. A sexless marriage misses out on many wonderful health benefits.

          Medical studies show that frequent sex helps us maintain youth, because it triggers more human growth hormone.

          It also reduces the risk of prostate cancer, burns calories, boosts immune and cardiovascular systems, and relieves stress.

          “That’s great. But if I’m not getting it, this just adds to the pain of all I’m missing.”

          3. A sexless marriage misses out on the closeness that makes us feel fully alive.

          Sex promotes the flow of oxytocin, the chemical that promotes the feeling of bonding.

          And that bonding is what helps us feel fully alive.

          When sex is regularly experienced as a special activity shared only with each other, this bonding enhances the relationship, keeping it monogamous, loving and strong.

          4. A sexless marriage may make your marriage vulnerable.

          When you’re not experiencing intimacy, you may become vulnerable to substitutes that aren’t so healthy.

          There are plenty of ‘illusions of intimacy’ we can fall prey to. Anger and disappointment over a sexless marriage can drive us into cheating, pornography, and other unhealthy exits we use to try and fill that huge vacuum that exists.

          One husband said that after years of being rejected on a regular basis, and after begging his wife to change with no result, he started signing up on dating sites online. 

          He said, “I no longer feel anything for her, and I don’t even care if she finds out.”

          It can be really painful living in a sexless marriage.

          What can I do to change my sexless marriage?

          Here are three steps that can help you learn to “make love all time” in a way that can reignite your sexual passion for each other.

          1. Create safety in your relationship.

          The biggest reason for a sexless marriage is probably not your plumbing or some kind of sexual dysfunction.

          Sexless marriages happen because you don’t feel safe in your relationship.

          I’m talking not just physical safety but emotional safety.

          Talking is the most dangerous thing we do. We jeopardize safety when we criticize each other with words like…

          ‘Why are you so cold and resistant to sex?’
          “Why is it that every time we cuddle you have to have sex?”
          ‘I feel like you only need me when you want sex. It makes me feel used.”
          ‘I’m tired of you rejecting me.”

          These kinds of put downs create walls of fear between you.

          With walls of fear you can’t be vulnerable emotionally. It follows that you won’t want to give your body to a partner you’re walking on eggshells with.

          When I don’t trust you with my emotions, how can I give my heart to you. If I can’t give my heart to you, how can I give my body to you?

          The Couples Dialogue is a powerful tool that can help you create safety and rekindle sexual desire.

          Use the Couples Dialogue to MIRROR – VALIDATE – and EMPATHIZE with your partner’s feelings about where you are in your sex life.

          Empathy dissolves criticism and enables you to connect emotionally. You can’t be empathetic and scary at the same time. So use the Couples Dialogue to create safety in your relationship.

          2. Flood your partner with tangible acts of non-sexual love.

          Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to identify things that make your partner feel loved and cared about.

          Then start with those non-sexual items (like “I feel loved and cared about when you make me coffee in the morning.” or “I feel loved and cared about when you watch the kids and give me a break to go shopping.”).

          Flood your partner with 3 or 4 of these caring behaviors every day for a month with out expecting anything sexual in return.

          When you consistently do things that make your partner feel loved and connected with you, your partner’s sexual desires can be awakened. The key is patience. Do these tangible acts of love unconditionally until the ice melts and sexual desires rekindle.

          3. Ask for what you want sexually.

          Often one partner has needs and expectations that the other partner knows nothing about.

          Sometimes we’re angry because we’re not getting what we want, and yet we’ve never even asked for it.

          We’re all different.

          Some partners need to feel an emotional connection before they can be open to sex.

          For some partners sex is the way they get to that emotional connection.

          For some sex is an event. For others sex is an experience that includes an event.

          A breakthrough comes when you stop expecting your partner to be like you. It’s time to give up those romantic projections and expectations that have nothing to do with who your partner really is, and start asking for what you want.

          Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to list even your most private sexual fantasies. Allow your partner to put an X by those he or she is not ready to give. Be patient and focus on the first two steps (1) building safety and (2) flooding your partner with non-sexual acts of love.

          Then, as things change, and sexual desires in your partner start to be rekindled, use your dialogue skills to share those private fantasies, going deeper into why those things make you feel loved and cared about.

          This kind of emotional connection and communication prepares the way for the best sex possible.

          I hope you can imagine what effect that could have in your bedroom!

          Here’s to making love all the time – and enjoying sex too!

          Click here for Harville and Helen’s book offer: How To Make Love All The Time and Enjoy Sex Too (and two other great books as well).

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