The Sex vs. Emotional Intimacy debate | how to make both partners feel loved in a relationship


Whether a person feels loved by receiving sex or by receiving emotional availability the simple truth is that these are simply activities that require very little time and effort if done with consistency, open-mindedness, humility, unconditional love, and complete undivided attention to your partner in the moment of engagement.

We all have the need to feel both important and understood in order to feel loved in a relationship…

The tricky thing is that we need to do different things to offer validation that our partners are important to us and we need to engage in different behaviors to display that we understand our partners.

There is a common stereotype that men need sex in order to feel important, and men need sex in order to feel as though their needs and emotions are understood…

The stereotype for women is that women need their emotions to be listened to feel important and they need the emotional content of their story lines to be reflected and validated in order to feel understood.

In short men need sex to feel loved and women need their partner to be emotionally available…

Now the gender stereotypes are not particularly accurate, but there is some truth in the over simplification of how to love your partner.

Now if you have a partner (male or female) that desires sex in order to feel important and understood (and therefore loved)… then your task is relatively straight forward… you simply need to have engaged and mutually fulfilling sex with him/her.

But here is the difficult part that couples therapists see quite often in relationships… it is virtually impossible for a partner to offer engaging and mutually fulfilling sex to a partner that is not meeting their emotional needs.

The partner can offer the basic mechanics needed for bodily orgasm, but the desired ‘connection’ or interest will often be absent. Though the body is somewhat satisfied the, “I want you to want it” desire will often be unmet… the person will therefore have benefited from getting a sexual need met, but they will not necessarily feel loved.

What do you do?

This is the age old chicken or the egg argument – do you increase the sex with the hopes that the other partner will be more emotionally available once his/her sexual needs are being met? Or do you continue to have sexuality be mostly absent in your relationship until you address the communication deficits to ensure that the other partner can adequately meet the emotional needs of their partner?

Well if you just have sex… the sex will not be particularly fulfilling to either partner… and one partner can feel used and further distanced.

If you just work on communication you will be essentially training a frustrated, distracted, and often bitter partner… none of these adjectives are particularly conducive in building a patient, empathetic, and selfless listener.

The answer is to do both concurrently.

As long as there aren’t significant difficulties in your relationship (verbal abuse, infidelity, substance abuse, or stubborn defensiveness etc.), then the best tactic is to be a bit humble… acknowledge with gentle acceptance that you have not been giving your partner what they need to feel loved.

The point of this insight is pattern recognition as opposed to guilt… take a step back from your ego and focus on the dynamics of your relationship. Guilt is both unnecessary and unproductive in this situation…

Falling into such patterns where emotionally fulfilling interactions and sexual engagement lose frequency is normal and often completely accidental… it often just happens…

Often we stopped offering the love our partner needs as we started giving them the love that we need for ourselves instead… this is a simple and common mistake that does not need a huge amount of time to recover from.

In short, if you can both put down your defenses and humbly look at your dynamics, then a simple agreement to change is all that is necessary.

NEVER PLAY THE GUESSING GAME – “IF HE/SHE LOVES ME THEN THEY WILL KNOW HOW TO MEET MY NEEDS.” This cognition will continually leave you disappointed… be very specific in what you need from your partner and exactly how they can fulfill that need.

After you have openly educated your partner on what your needs are and how they can meet those needs, they will slowly improve their ability to meet your needs without direction, but you will change and your needs will change…

Make sure to give updates so that your partner is not attempting to meet your needs with outdated techniques.

Again, there are relationships that have endured more hardship such as impacted trust, contemptuous behaviors, withholding sex or emotional intimacy for control reasons etc. … these dynamics are also very workable, but a process of acknowledgement and forgiveness will also be needed (seeking out a therapist in such instances is in the best interest of your relationship).

Sex and emotional intimacy are such hot button topics that they seem to foster defensiveness any time they are brought up in a significant relationship.

Your defensiveness will derail you from getting your needs met.

“I thought that I was ________ “, or “what about the time when _______________”, are examples of defensive responses. If you desire to fix this concern without significant effort then you must proceed with humility… you are not supposed to be perfect… it is in your best interest to be adaptable.

Emotions are not rational and they do not need to be!

If a person FEELS as though their needs are not being met then there is absolutely no reason to argue or defend…

Using ration to explain why a person shouldn’t feel a certain way is entirely irrational.

“I was giving you ___________ and you were looking for ______________”

“I was receiving ____________ and I am looking for ____________”

“Can we change our pattern?”

If you are there for your partner on a regular basis when they need emotional availability or sex you will find that it is relatively easy to meet their needs… when done with consistency these ‘need meeting encounters’ take far less time than many relatively unimportant tasks that you engage in regularly (ex. reading the paper, watching TV, making a snack, talking on the phone, checking your email, walking the dog etc.)

Despite the cognitive distortion that is somewhat the norm in our culture, it is neither more demanding nor time consuming to meet the needs of your partner than it is to walk your dog, manage your hygiene, enjoy a casual phone conversation, have a cup of coffee etc… are these activities more demanding of your attention or more important than making your partner feel loved?

For more information on how to increase your ability to be emotionally available for your partner you may view my blog at the link –

For more information on how to increase your ability to be sexual with your partner you may view my blog at the link –

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Timeouts for adults – conflict resolution and avoidance strategies

Quick summary: Timeouts are not just for children – adults should use them at times as well… the difference being that you should give yourself a timeout, and not your partner (if you tell your partner to go take a timeout you are likely in for a bit of conflict). There are many different things that affect our emotional disposition (our mood)… and there are some emotional states which are not best suited for certain interactions. It is helpful in a relationship if a partners can monitor their feelings and make the appropriate choice to take some space (a ‘timeout’) if they are sensing that they will not being able to engage an interaction with their partner in a constructive, honest or reasonable way. Often we present anger when we have not had the time to understand our emotions for ourselves… if you look back on some of your experiences of anger you will probably find that the underlying emotion (the emotion who truly desired to express) was a different feeling – sadness, embarrassment, confusion etc.

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