In order to feel intimately close, a certain level of vulnerability and trust is required. The act of making oneself vulnerable and not being hurt as a result builds trust between two people. In many intimate couples, this is accomplished through physical relations. In its most basic form, one person extends an invitation to engage in sexual intercourse and the other reciprocates. If the other does not reciprocate, the first may feel rejected. If, on other occasions, the other continues to fail to return the interest, the first may stop seeking the physical intimacy desired. A barrier of mistrust is built as the first has allowed him or herself to be hurt by past rejections and expects further rejection in the future. The rest of the relationship may come apart as a result. If we cannot be vulnerable with our significant others in this very personal area, we may close up other vulnerabilities. The rejection felt as a result of this lack of physical intimacy quickly becomes the elephant in the room. It is on both parties’ minds and neither feel comfortable talking about it.
Much interaction in an intimate relationship is of a sexual nature. That is not to say that interactions between intimate partners are strictly sexual, but rather, interactions like holding hands and touching as partners pass would seem to build upon those initial feelings of closeness. Without this sense of closeness, these actions may often feel forced an insincere. The willingness on the first party’s part to engage in physical intimacy may soon die as well as a result of this lack of closeness and lack of trust. Even if the other partner expresses an interest, who knows whether this interest will maintain throughout the proceedings? If mutually enjoyable physical intimacy is accomplished, there is often the chance of pregnancy. As contraception is often the responsibility of one of the parties engaged in the act, a level of trust must be present for the act to be engaged in without fear of pregnancy. If pregnancy occurs, a new level of commitment may be added to the already unstable relationship.
The acceptance and intimacy that come with physical relations often minimize the effects of issues that may be magnified when tension from a lack of physical intimacy is present. Your significant other was short with you. An apology is a nice gesture, but the voluntary vulnerability that comes with physical intimacy contradicts what was said by the shortness in the partner’s actions. Being short with someone often says, “Your opinion, perspective, feelings, etc. are invalid and don’t matter.” The vulnerability along with the giving and taking that come with intercourse say, “I care about your wants and needs and trust and value you.” I have heard it said that sex is food to an intimate relationship. Without this giving and taking and vulnerability, the little things build up. With no release, they may fester. It’s like the dialog between Jane Smith and the marriage counselor played out in the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith:
Jane Smith: There’s this huge space between us, and it just keeps filling up with everything that we *don’t* say to each other. What’s that called?
Marriage Counselor: Marriage.
The counselor’s perspective of marriage would not seem to be completely accurate to the reality of the film if we fast-forward to the end. Everything turns around with the execution of a hot lovemaking scene. There is a bit implied about truthfulness in a relationship, but this does not change the fact the two end up happily married with a robust sex life (Kinberg, 2005). Of course, in our world, sex does not magically fix everything wrong with a relationship. I have, in the past, found myself in a relationship where sex was the only thing we didn’t have trouble with. Still, can an intimate relationship survive without sex, without food? The intimacy that comes with making love would seem necessary, but physical intimacy is not the only form of intimacy. Whether it is in the form of physical relations or some other form of giving and taking and building and exercising trust, some cooperative action toward the closeness we associate with intimacy would seem required.
Kinberg, S. (Writer) (2005). Mr. & mrs. smith [DVD].