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Section 7
Intimacy and Stress

Question 7 | Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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In the last section, we discussed testing.  Most of this section focuses on a technique for overcoming testing that tends to be productive for male intimacy clients.  Therefore, after examining testing and the Two Stages of Progression Through Abandonment that often accompany testing.

We'lll discuss the experiencing neediness technique.  In my use of the experiencing neediness technique there are five steps.  The five steps I use are confessing an inability to need, don’t fake it, keeping boundaries, confessing needs that can’t be experienced, and paying attention to what evokes hunger

When we look at the case studies in this home study course on male intimacy, we can see the merging of two fundamental patterns: 

  1. Every man needs intimacy, but the degree to which intimacy is needed is rarely met.
  2. Stress is conflict and a realistic demand to pay attention and make changes.

A conclusion can be drawn from this two fundamental patterns that the need for intimacy creates a primary stress in life.  Therefore, in this section we will discuss intimacy as a stressor.  In my practice, I often find that clients believe the goal of intimacy to be a stress reducer as opposed to a stressor in and of itself.  However, as we look at Paul and Erika’s relationship, we find that because the degree to which intimacy is needed is not met, their relationship caused more stress than it relieved. 

In this section, we will examine a session with Paul and Erika in which intimacy as a stressor was revealed.  We will discuss the scale of fulfillment and rating aspects of the relationship as ways to identify the cause of stress and a method to begin coping.  As you listen to this section, consider your male intimacy client.  How might a similar session benefit your client?  If your client is single, can you apply this cognitive approach to past relationships or his desire for a new relationship? 

Two Steps to Coping with Intimacy as a Stressor

♦ Step #1:  The Scale of Fulfillment
First, let’s discuss the scale of fulfillment.  When Paul and Erika came in for counseling, I had them rate how stressful they thought there relationship was on a scale of 1 to 10.  Paul and Erika agreed that their marriage registered an 8, which meant is was very stressful.  More importantly, however, was the scale of fulfillment.  I stated to Paul and Erika, "On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 meaning least fulfillment and 10 meaning greatest fulfillment, how do you rate your satisfaction of the intimacy in your primary relationship in terms of life fulfillment?" 

I find that when considered thoughtfully, this can be an eye opening question which is indicative of intimacy as a stressor.  Paul stated, "I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped to think about how fulfilling or unfulfilling our marriage is."  I continued to explain to Paul and Erika, "Even if your answer is a 1, very unfulfilling, you have succeeded.  The purpose is to answer the question honestly, for out of honesty comes hope and the opportunity for healthy growth."  How might your male intimacy client rate his intimate fulfillment?

♦ Step #2:  Rating Aspects
For Paul and Erika the second step to coping with intimacy as a stressor was rating aspects of their marriage.  I stated, "Think about all the various aspects of your relationship.  For example, how would you rate things like sex, conversation, consideration, hobbies, or recreation?" 

Think of your Paul and Erika.  Would it be helpful to give your clients a laundry list of relational aspects to consider and rate? 

After giving Paul and Erika a list, I stated, "Please give each serious thought.  Perhaps you will add other aspects that are integral to your special relationship.  The more the better, because by taking a close look at the areas that make up your intimate relationship, you will develop a detailed overview of the potential stresses of your personal intimacy." 

For example, Paul gave his marriage a 10 regarding childcare.  Paul stated, "Erika does a fine job raising the kids."  Conversely, Erika gave the marriage a 5 regarding childcare.  She stated, "I feel exhausted, inadequate, and that the children need much more attention than I’m able to give them.  Paul needs to participate more." 

After rating other aspects of their relationship, Paula and Erika reached the topic of intimacy.  I asked each how they would rate the marriage regarding intimacy.  Both Paul and Erika seemed hesitant and unsure.  After a lengthy discussion, each decided they rated their marriage only a 1 for intimacy. 

Think of your clients.  Would a rating of 1 regarding intimacy be a revelation to them?  Also, regarding Paul and Erika, it was a revelation that they were in complete agreement about their intimacy rating. 

As Paul and Erika’s dialogues progressed, they discovered that each was satisfied by different amounts of fulfillment in the various areas of their marriage.  Paul stated, "I guess we don’t always have to want the same amount of satisfaction in the same thing but that we need to talk about it until we both have a degree of comfortableness."  As you have found, clients have different needs.  I find that, regarding various aspects of the intimate relationship, some clients are satisfied with scale ratings of 2 while others experience high levels of stress with any ratings less than a 7. 

Would you agree that, as with Paul and Erika, once stress is addressed, the hidden motivations and messages examined, and each partner satisfied, then the numbers fall away and the fulfillment stands alone, no longer an issue?  How might this method of identifying intimacy as a stressor benefit your client?  Would it be helpful to play this section in an upcoming session?

In this section, we examined a session with Paul and Erika in which intimacy as a stressor was revealed.  We discussed the scale of fulfillment and rating aspects of the relationship as ways to identify the cause of stress and a method to begin coping. 

In the next section, we will discuss the technique of reromanticizing.  Reromanticizing is a technique consisting of four steps.  The four steps in the reromanticizing technique are identify what is pleasing now, identify what used to be pleasing, identify what the client has always wanted to pleased by, and combine and prioritize.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cloutier, B., Francoeur, A., Samson, C., Ghostine, A., & Lecomte, T. (2021). Romantic relationships, sexuality, and psychotic disorders: A systematic review of recent findings. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 44(1), 22–42.

Garza, K. P., Weil, L. E. G., Anderson, L. M., Naranjo, D., Barnard-Kelly, K. D., Laffel, L., Hood, K. K., & Weissberg-Benchell, J. (2020). You, me, and diabetes: Intimacy and technology among adults with T1D and their partners. Families, Systems, & Health, 38(4), 418–427.

Hanley, K. E., Leifker, F. R., Blandon, A. Y., & Marshall, A. D. (2013). Gender differences in the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms on community couples’ intimacy behaviors. Journal of Family Psychology, 27(3), 525–530.

Karbelnig, A. M. (2018). The geometry of intimacy: Love triangles and couples therapy. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35(1), 70–82.

Milek, A., Butler, E. A., & Bodenmann, G. (2015). The interplay of couple’s shared time, women’s intimacy, and intradyadic stress. Journal of Family Psychology, 29(6), 831–842.

Riggs, D. S. (2014). Traumatized relationships: Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, fear of intimacy, and marital adjustment in dual trauma couples. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(3), 201–206. 

What are two ways to identify the cause of stress in an intimate relationship and help clients begin to cope with that stress? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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