Lack of Intimacy in a Relationship: 10 Damaging Effects

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Intimacy is what makes partners feel loved and safe with one another. It’s core to our experience of love, and it’s the catalyst of all trust.

It’s what makes a marriage different from a friendship, roommate situation, or literally any other relational dynamic.

So a lack of intimacy in a relationship is one of the greatest threats to any marriage.

And while it is possible to stay together when there’s a lack of intimacy, it often comes at the expense of your happiness, well-being, and overall fulfillment.

So in this blog, you’re going to learn:

  • why intimacy in marriage matters so much
  • what causes a lack of emotional or sexual intimacy
  • the devastating effects of a lack of intimacy
  • And how you can improve intimacy and your emotional connection

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effects of lack of intimacy in a relationship

What Causes a Lack of Emotional or Physical Intimacy?

A lack of intimacy stems from disconnection: stress, busy lives, poor communication, unresolved issues, or personal struggles can all create emotional distance and inhibit closeness. Leaving partners feeling distant and alone.

Having said that, it is normal for relationship issues to ebb and flow:

Life changes, and sometimes intimacy fluctuates based on these circumstances.

But if a lack of intimacy has become a persistent problem and it hasn’t been addressed, it’ll likely get worse. Resulting in everything from a sexless marriage, to deep resentment, to ongoing communication problems.

While intimacy issues can happen for many reasons, here are the main causes:

There’s Trust Issues

Of all the problems that can impact intimacy in a relationship, we think that a lack of trust sits at the very core. After all, it’s hard to truly feel close to someone you don’t implicitly trust.

Trust takes a long time to build. But it can be destroyed in a single moment. Trust can be impacted by:

  • Bad experiences in past relationships.
  • Fear of vulnerability, closeness, or fear of getting hurt.
  • A history of deceit in the relationship.
  • Infidelity.
  • Commitment issues.

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You Have Unresolved or Unaddressed Conflict

The inescapable truth is that conflict is universal in every romantic relationship.

But in a healthy marriage, the key difference is approaching conflict in a constructive way and working through problems together.

So if you frequently argue or don’t know how to resolve your disagreements, your problems don’t just disappear simply because you’ve changed the subject. This unresolved conflict eats away at connection, ultimately driving a wedge between you.

You Have Mismatched Schedules

It might sound obvious, but it’s hard to prioritize emotional intimacy or your sex life if you barely see each other. So if you’re struggling to build quality time around your hectic schedules, it’s likely having a huge impact on the level of intimacy in your relationship.

woman with bus schedule causing lack of intimacy in relationship

You’re Dealing With Compounding Stress

Life gets busy, and when you feel like you can’t keep up with All The Things, that stress can bleed into your relationship. You might not feel like you have much time or energy to give each other. Which will eventually snowball into emotional disconnect.

Research* shows that stress causes numerous emotional and physical side effects, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, and brain changes that can increase the risk of addiction, depression, and anxiety.

So if you struggle to regulate stress, this will absolutely affect how well you’re able to connect in your marriage.

You Have Mismatched Sexual Desire or Sexual Dysfunction

Intimacy problems can stem from unresolved sexual issues, such as feelings of shame and guilt around sex, or medical issues that interfere with arousal.

There’s also the high-desire / low-desire dynamic, which tends to show up in every relationship. Without the tools to deal with a mismatched ‘sex drive’ or ‘libido’, you might find yourself stuck in a sexless marriage (which will further prevent emotional intimacy).

couple with lack of intimacy causing unresolved conflict

You’re Not Communicating Well

How well can you talk to your partner?

  • Are you quick to react, or slow to repair?
  • Can you honestly convey your needs when you’re struggling?
  • Are you able to share your thoughts and feelings – including “negative feelings” – without it spiraling out of control?
  • Do you “assume the worst” in each other?

Healthy communication sets the stage for a strong emotional and verbal connection, and lays the foundation for trust and emotional safety.

You’re Dealing With Mental Health Issues

Problems with depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms can affect everything from self-esteem to motivation to physical energy. So if you’re struggling with your emotional well-being, you might pull away from your partner. It’s also common to lose interest in sex or intimacy as a whole.

Let’s be clear here – mental health issues are not your fault.

But if you’re not taking care of yourself, your relationship will suffer too. If this is you, reach out and get support. Your wellbeing and your relationship will thank you.

unhappy couple dealing with lack of intimacy in relationship

10 Negative Effects of Lack of Intimacy in Your Relationship or Marriage

A lack of intimacy affects people in different ways. But make no mistake: it will always affect the relationship.

Here are 10 damaging effects that intimacy issues can have on both you and your relationship:

1. You Feel Lonely

Without emotional intimacy, your relationship is an incredibly lonely place. You don’t feel safe to open up, and your partner feels like a stranger. Sharing a life with someone yet feeling unseen and unknown is a deeply painful form of emotional neglect.

A lack of physical and sexual intimacy exacerbates that sense of loneliness. You can even start to feel starved of affectionate touch, which research* shows is a fundamental human need.

2. Low Self-Esteem

It’s a misconception that we can love ourselves 100% and be fully confident on our own.

We’re social creatures, and we depend on support and connection to feel secure. One of the most beautiful things about a relationship is that it can help you to love the parts of yourself that you once believed were unlovable.

Emotional and physical intimacy are a key part of that process. Which means that a long-term lack of intimacy can make you feel insecure and question yourself. You might wonder if you’re doing something wrong to cause emotional withdrawal, or if you’re inherently unlovable.

A sexless marriage also comes with its own unique feelings of rejection:

If your partner keeps turning you down for sex, you might start obsessing about your body image or have worries about cheating. It’s not just about the physical connection either – it’s the closeness and love it creates. All of which are important for self-esteem.

3. Sexual Dissatisfaction or a Loss of Sexual Desire

For most couples, a fulfilling sex life is built on both quantity and quality.

Feeling sexually connected is a balance of:

  • how much you enjoy being physically intimate with each other
  • the emotional and physical intimacy that happens outside of the bedroom

So if you feel disconnected in your relationship, you probably feel sexually disconnected too. Which in turn affects your sexual desire.

And while frequency isn’t everything, if you’re rarely having sex, you’re probably not feeling great about it either.

couple with lack o intimacy not communicating well

4. Your Emotional Connection Has Eroded

Emotional attunement is everything in a relationship. But a lack of intimacy makes it hard to feel connected.

You might feel like you’re walking on eggshells when you’re together. Or you might find that you start prioritizing other relationships, activities, or personal interests instead of your marriage.

➥ Discover the proven practices to reignite connection and create soul-deep intimacy with our online emotional intimacy course for couples.

5. You Resent Each Other

Resentment is one of the most insidious feelings you can have in a relationship.

If you feel like you’re trying to connect to your partner and they keep pulling away, you may notice yourself feeling a growing resentment. This can cause you to question the marriage altogether, and over time is a death sentence for a relationship.

6. You Keep Fighting

Look, happy couples argue. Some of them even argue fairly often.

But couples who struggle with intimacy tend to argue without resolution. There can be a sense of hopelessness that things won’t get better.

Without a deep sense of intimacy and connection, conflicts will tend to get more serious over time. You might find yourself saying increasingly nasty things, threatening to leave, or doing things you later regret.

7. You Want to Escape… With Something

A lack of intimacy can lead people to seek emotional or physical comfort in other places. This is where you see people fall into substance use, compulsive eating, excessive pornography use, shopping, or other types of escape behaviors.

woman struggling with parenting issues lack of intimacy

8. You’re Struggling With Parenting Issues

Intimacy goes way beyond the bedroom:

It’s also what helps you feel united in building and raising your family. It’s what helps you stay on the same page as you navigate the often challenging task that is parenting.

And whether you realize it or not, children can tell – from a very young age – if their parents aren’t happy with each other. They pick up on the anxiety and tension, and that stress can affect the entire family unit.

9. You Seek Connection Elsewhere

Cheating isn’t just about sex.

If intimacy issues don’t get resolved, one or both partners might look outside the marriage to satisfy their sexual and emotional needs. Chronic pornography use can also be a misguided way of avoiding dissatisfaction and attempting to get intimacy needs met.

While marriages can survive infidelity, the road to recovery is long and arduous.

10. You’re Heading Towards Separation or Divorce

Despite a lack of intimacy, couples can and do stay married for a long time.

But obviously that doesn’t mean their relationship is meaningful, or even remotely satisfying.

The sad truth is that if intimacy issues don’t get resolved, the disconnection will almost always lead to a complete relationship breakdown. With one – or both – partners seeking separation. Sometimes that conversation sparks a turning point. But in many cases, years of underlying hurt means it’s too little, too late.

couple feeling emotionally intimate connected

How to Bring Emotional and Physical Intimacy Back Into Your Marriage

Regardless of the underlying issues affecting your relationship intimacy, it’s important to remember that intimacy can be built. It’s a brick-by-brick process. You need to start slowly and build momentum over time.

Remember also that building intimacy in marriage is a team effort: you both need to be willing to prioritize this fundamental need.

Here’s a few key steps you’ll need to take:

Acknowledge Your Intimacy Fears

Marriage intimacy issues often come from deeper intimacy fears rooted in past relationships or childhood. If you grew up with divorced parents for example, you might default to assuming that you won’t be able to make it in a long-term relationship.

Here’s some helpful questions for you both to reflect on:

  • What messages about relationships did you receive growing up?
  • What beliefs do you have about vulnerability and openness?
  • How might past negative experiences shaped your perspective on connection and safety?

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Consider What You Truly Need From Each Other

Reflect on what you believe is missing from your marriage:

  • more teamwork and collaboration?
  • a deeper connection?
  • more intimate and connected sexual intimacy?
  • better communication and conflict resolution skills?

Maybe it’s all of the above.

Now think about why these matter to you. What would having that need met change for you?

Because the clearer you are on your relationship vision, the easier it is to create what you want.

(Need help getting clarity on your relationship vision? Don’t miss our Conscious Relationship Blueprint).

Date Each Other Again

OK, this is totally Generic Relationship Advice 101.

But if you’re honest, do you put the same effort into your relationship like you did in the Honeymoon Phase?

Think about those euphoric and tantalizing emotions you experienced right when you first met. Back when it was light, easy, and fun.

Now, you can’t go back to the beginning. But you can try to spark some of that excitement you initially felt.

‘Dating’ needs to be intentional and deliberate to be effective. So think about what kinds of activities and conversations make you feel connected to one another. Then, make the time for it!

Commit to Healthier Communication

If you struggle with communication, upgrading your skills is a top priority.

Healthy communication comes down to:

  • deeply listening to your partner (without interrupting)
  • expressing your needs assertively and calmly
  • recognizing when you need to take a break due to feeling escalated
  • aiming to ‘assume good intentions’ and give your partner the benefit of the doubt as much as possible
  • respecting that you will inherently have different needs at various points

We both struggled with conflict in our relationship, as neither of us saw healthy approaches to conflict growing up. (👋🏻 Hello conflict avoidance, Silent Treatment, and all out shouting).

We realized we needed to work on our communication skills if we were going to thrive. Once we cracked the code though, we learned that conflict could actually bring us closer together.

Know that improving communication is possible, and it may well be one of the best things you do for your connection and the intimacy in your marriage.

Prioritize Your Sexual Health

To be honest, a sexless marriage can still be fulfilling. But only if both partners truly don’t care about sex (which is rarely the case).

That’s why working together to build sexual intimacy is so important.

The good news is, no matter where you’re at with your sex life right now, or if your desire is completely mismatched, it’s totally possible to reignite your sexual connection.

Celebrate Small Achievements

Look, building intimacy in your marriage doesn’t happen overnight.

It takes time, effort, and loads of practice. And without doubt there’ll be setbacks and moments of disappointment and frustration. But cheering each other on and celebrating even the smallest of wins will help you build momentum – while also strengthening your connection.

Seek Professional Guidance

Asking for help is one of the best decisions you can make for your relationship.

Because with the resources available in this day and age, it’s no longer acceptable to stay stuck in old habits.

As intimacy coaches for over 10 years, we help couples take their relationship to the next level by offering specific practices to strengthen honest communication, build emotional intimacy, and improve your sex life.

Ready to discover how we can help?

Our Reignite Your Love Life home study course helps couples discover their sexual blueprint, reawaken a dead bedroom, remove pressure around sex, and avoid entering the dreaded housemate/roommate zone again. If you know it’s time to work on your sex life, this course is the perfect next step for you.

Having arguments, conflicts, and fights you don’t know how to resolve? The Conflict To Connection communication course for couples is for you.

Or if you’re ready to step up and transform your relationship, schedule a time to learn more about our premium mens, womens, and couples coaching programs.

Causes of a lack of intimacy in a relationship
Effects of a lack of intimacy in a relationship
Sources & References
At Practical Intimacy we’re committed to keeping our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. We use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles.

Keltner, D. (2010, September 29) Hands On Research: The Science of Touch. Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research

Understanding the stress response. (2020, July 6) Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

Jodie Milton & Reece Stockhausen, Relationship & Intimacy Coaches @ practicalintimacy.com

Reece Stockhausen & Jodie Milton have made improving people’s lives and relationships both their passion, and their career. With over 25 years experience in the Personal Development industry, and a decade coaching singles and couples, their no-BS advice has been featured in Today, The New York Times, Yahoo!, Insider, Cosmopolitan, and Men's Health.

Book in for a complimentary online video call to discover how their men's, women's, and couple's coaching programs can support you.

Get your sex life back with the couple’s complete guide to initiating sex and reigniting desire in a long-term relationship.

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