Sex Addiction : a guide for couples

Week 6 : Rebuilding Intimacy – part 1

We have reached our final blog in our blog series on helping couples look at their relationship following the discovery of sex addiction or porn addiction in their relationship.  The material for this blog is taken from Paula Hall’s new book “Sex Addiction – a guide for couples” which was released on 28th February 2019.  Rebuilding intimacy is the last chapter in her book and it is one of the longest chapters! so we have decided to split the topic into two.  Part 1 will focus on rebuilding non-sexual intimacy.  Part 2 will focus on rebuilding sexual intimacy between the couple.

If you have missed the other blogs in our series - here is a recap:

  • Week 1 focused on the couple obtaining individual help following the discovery of sex addiction.
  • Week 2 focused on understanding ‘therapeutic disclosure’ and how to conduct one. 
  • Week 3 focused on how to review the strength of the relationship
  • Week 4 focused on making the decision to stay together or is it time to end the relationship.
  • Week 5 focused on rebuilding trust in the couple relationship

What is intimacy?

To express true intimacy can be quite scary for couples because you are required to be vulnerable and courageous with the risk of being rejected for your efforts.  Intimacy requires you to be honest and open about what you are thinking and feeling.  Intimacy is:

  • Being your true self
  • Communicating openly
  • Being curious and learning about each other
  • Acknowledging you and your partner as separate, autonomous individuals
  • Respecting differences of perception
  • Building resilience to sometimes feeling misunderstood, hurt and rejected
  • Sometimes getting it wrong and disappointing your partner
  • Being willing to take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behaviours

What can block intimacy?

There are 3 common blocks to intimacy that are learned from childhood, these are:

  • Lack of trust –we fear intimacy because we think we’ll be taken for granted or it will be turned and used against us.  You might not trust yourself to get intimacy right.
  • Control – we have learnt that the only way to get our needs met is to be in control and manipulate others emotionally or physically.
  • Low self-esteem – not having a strong self of who you are and what you believe, hinders your ability to tolerate that someone else can have a different reality to you.

The level of intimacy you experienced growing up will have a direct impact on how you are able to experience life now, how to receive intimacy and how to show intimacy.  If you identify with any of the three common problems listed above, then we suggest talking to a counsellor about this as they can help you identify ways you communicate, how you see the world and what defences you have put up to help you feel safe in the world.  Some of those defences are useful and others can stop us building intimacy. 

Techniques for deepening intimacy

Building intimacy can only be achieved by action.  Here are a few techniques on how to deepen intimacy between the two of you:

  • Intimacy requests – on alternate days, each partner makes an intimacy request.  The request should be non-sexual and achievable e.g. join me on a dog walk, bring me a cup of tea in the morning, make the children’s packed lunch etc.
  • Love needs – rank the love needs below from highest to lowest and then share with your partner.
    • Affection – enjoying non-sexual physical touch, both receiving and giving.
    • Affirmation – being complimented and positively praised verbally, or with gifts, for who you are and what you do.
    • Appreciation – receiving thanks, whether through words or a gift, and being noticed for the contributions you make to the relationship and to the home and family.
    • Attention – spending time together with the full attention of the other, whether that’s sharing how your day has been or your inner thoughts and feelings.
    • Comfort – being able to talk about difficult things and both giving and receiving physical tenderness and words of comfort.
    • Encouragement – hearing positive words of encouragement when you’re struggling with something, or being offered a helping hand. 
    • Security – receiving any words, gifts or actions that demonstrate commitment to the relationship.
    • Support – hearing words of support or getting practical help.
  • Five-a-day – improving your physical intimacy by getting into a daily habit of touching one another.  This increases a couple’s biochemical bonding.  When we touch someone, a chemical called oxytocin is released.  Oxytocin inspires us to touch more and increase the bonding in our closest relationships.  When couples literally lose touch with each other, their chemical bond weakens and they’re more likely to drift apart.  The goal is for the couple to touch at least 5 times a day – but the touch needs to be non-sexual e.g. a kiss when you wake up, hold hands while watching TV, hug while washing up etc.
  • Caring behaviours exercise – 3 questions to answer and share with your partner.  Answers need to be non-sexual.  Be honest and kind, to help each of you identify what actions show that you care. 
    • The things you do now that touch my care button and help me feel loved are….
    • The things you used to do that touched my care button and helped me  feel loved were....
    • The things I've always wanted you to do that would touch my care button are....

We hope the above suggestions gives you some ideas on how to start rebuilding intimacy in your relationship.  By working on these areas first, it will be easier to rebuild sexual intimacy – more on this in our next blog.