build intimacy in gay relationships

How to build intimacy in gay relationships

Intimacy doesn’t have to decrease over time.  In fact, if you’re in a long-term gay relationship, a decrease in intimacy could be a symptom of a larger issue.  While sex and intimacy are often used interchangeably, that’s not what I aim to do here. Let’s start by clarifying what I mean by intimacy.

What is intimacy?

Intimacy is a closeness that results from sharing your most vulnerable, authentic self with another person.  It can involve sex, touch, sharing of feelings, or a general sense of closeness. For example, when a man tells his husband that he’s nervous about losing his job, that’s intimacy. Intimacy is built on vulnerability.  Being able to let your partner see all of who you are, perceived flaws and all.

What can cause a decrease in intimacy?  

There are a number of things that can decrease intimacy in gay relationships.  Betrayal, substance misuse, communication issues, and blame are all things that can destroy vulnerability.  

Picture this. A gay couple in their early 40s. They have come into couples therapy because of a betrayal.  One member of the couple has been hiring sex workers on the side and lying about it. They have an open relationship, and their agreements around the open relationship make space for having sex with other people.  The betrayal is not about the sex itself. It’s about the fact that the partner who hired the sex workers was not being honest and open about it.

There is something going on under the surface that prevents honest and open communication.  It’s easy to look at this situation and be judgemental. Thinking someone is right and someone is wrong.  But when blame enters, intimacy will retreat. How can this couple have a curious and open conversation that will bring them closer together?  

Men don’t have feelings

As young men, we’re all too often taught to deny our feelings.  We learn to be strong and stoic. To keep it all inside and push through the pain.

To be in an intimate relationship as adults, it’s crucial that we learn how to feel, have, understand and communicate our feelings.  Our emotions are little bits of critical information that can help us make choices and understand what we want and need.

Making space for difference

Tolerating differences can be one of the most difficult tasks for couples to manage.  What do I mean by this?

Couples often merge together, to the point where they have trouble holding onto themselves.  This can create fear of conflict or conflict avoidance. On the other end of the spectrum it can create the perfect environment for lots of conflict.  

Think about the couple mentioned above, coming to therapy for betrayal recovery.  There was something going on in their relationship that prevented them from being honest with each other.  If they can let go of the judgement and make space for the pain, this couple has a powerful opportunity to grow.  To rekindle their intimacy.

We’re growing apart

A lot of conflict or distance can quickly kill intimacy.  If you notice that you’re growing apart or having more and more conflict, that could be a sign that your intimacy needs attention.  

Take a moment and think about how you know you’re growing apart.  Are you having less sex? Fewer connected conversations? Are you less interested in the same kind of threeways?  What is causing you to think you’re growing apart?

How to rekindle intimacy in your relationship

Once you’ve identified that you are wanting more intimacy in your relationship, the hard work begins.  It can be challenging to change a pattern or address an issue. It’s taken a long time to get to this point in your relationship and change will not happen overnight.  However, here are a few tools you can explore together to help start increasing your intimacy.

The tools

  • Date night.  It’s very important to have regularly scheduled time with your partner.  During this time, you should focus on reconnecting and enjoying each other again.  Turn off your phones, get away from the TV and find an activity that you can enjoy doing together.  If it’s a regularly scheduled weekly walk, talk or dinner, put it on the calendar and make it the last thing you cancel.  If you do have to cancel, reschedule. Make it that important.
  • Ask questions and really listen to the answers.  We all want to be seen and heard by our partners.  Ask your partner about something that is important to them and really listen.  Follow up with open ending questions. Give them some special, undivided and caring space to share about themselves.  If you want some ideas for fun questions, check these out.
  • Do some work on yourself.  Find a therapist, join a group or do some workshops.  If you pay attention to your own self-care, you’ll have more energy to be a present partner.  Put on your oxygen mask before you help out anyone else.
  • Start a project together.  For some couples who have lots of different interests, it can be hard to find overlap.  Seek out a project or hobby that they two of you can do together. Whether that’s cooking, gardening or hiking, the time that you spend working together will help create a more intimate bond.   
  • Plan a trip.  Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a foreign country, planning something together is another great way to bond. When you work together, you’re getting a chance to hold onto yourself and negotiate with your partner. This will allow you a space to team build together.  While this is similar to starting a project, a trip is a smaller thing that can allow you to find more sharing interests.

Action Item

Pick one of the items from the list above and talk about it with your partner.  Together assess how your intimacy is currently doing. Are you feeling connected?  Is there more distance than you’d like? If you run into trouble or you’d like more support with this, find a couples therapist and begin the process of increasing your intimacy.  

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.