You enjoy holding hands when you walk down the street and you can tell that your spouse doesn’t like it. In fact, she doesn’t seem comfortable with much physical intimacy outside of sex. Is your marriage in trouble? Turns out you may just have opposite styles of intimacy in relationships.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, we tend to settle into relationships with our intimacy style opposites. Giving types shower their spouses with loving gestures and cuddle time. They enjoy drawing out reactions from their more reserved partners. Their Reserved spouses secretly enjoy the commitment and loving gestures of the givers–they just aren’t comfortable with reciprocating.
Much of our preferences for intimacy in relationships comes from our early family environment. Some families are very “touchy-huggy-kissy” and display affection through physical intimacy. Other families express love and caring by spending quality time together, planning adventures and meals, and helping each other out. These experiences frame our expectations for what a loving relationship will look like. Falling in love with someone of the opposite style can be confusing and unsettling when our expectations aren’t met.
Marriage problems arise when these differences go unacknowledged and un-discussed and assumptions are made about the causes of the behavior. If you are a reserved or avoidant type, make sure your spouse knows you love him/her very, very much, and just have a different way of expressing it. Also be clear on how to communicate in a relationship about when you are upset or feeling down. This way your spouse won’t have to worry that your normal reserved personality is a sign that something is wrong–he knows that if something is wrong, you will tell him.
In the end, making marriage work between intimacy opposites takes adaptation on both sides. Your intimacy style is part learned and it can change. Be open and accepting of who each of you are and what you need, and also stay willing to experiment with new ways of being. At the same time, marriage counseling can help you work through underlying issues that may be causing trouble. For example, you may be reserved and avoidant because you have experienced a traumatic relationship in the past. Delving into these issues with your spouse and marriage counselor will help increase understanding and compassion, and strengthen your relationship!