Written by: Krista H. Renella 

When partners become more important to us, the closeness/intimacy/passionate feelings in the relationship slowly go away. 

This is a natural and normal response in all relationships! Things are not going wrong; the relationship is just growing in emotional maturity, friendship, independence and closeness. When both partners build both independence and closeness emotional, sexual, and physical intimacies will only get better!

How did we get here?

It usually happens like this: we feel passionate and secure in our relationship, then things begin to change. It feels like we are now taking different paths. However, passion and the "in love" feeling that we've relied on slowly begin to fade. And what comes after those wonderful "honeymoon years" is reality. We begin to see who our partner is/is not and who we are/are not.


Sometimes we do not have a true sense of ‘who we are’ and feel that we have to either conform to our partner or wait for them to fill our needs. It is scary to take risks in relationships. Rather than challenge these uncomfortable feelings and the sense of growing apart, we may avoid discussion or the confrontation of it, leading us to even more painful and disconnecting feelings! 

What is going on with us?

At some point, nearly everyone feels they have to choose between themselves and their relationship. The most important part of being in a relationship is “holding on to yourself”, rather than compromising your own needs/beliefs. If we depend too much on others to make us feel a sense of self-worth we will end up unhappy, resentful, and unfulfilled.

What is 'DIFFERENTIATION'? (chart below)

Differentiation is being independent and close to others at the same time. People can have different levels of differentiation from very high - to - very low. Your differentiation level can be changed with working on your fears and building your self-confidence level. Awareness is the first step to changing your differentiation level!

We have sexual problems, why focus on ‘differentiation’?

Intimacy (emotional and physical connection), not just orgasm, is the focus of coming together sexually; intimacy is only made possible through differentiation. Sometimes sexual problems create other problems like arguments, separation, and divorce. Other times, sexual problems are the result of emotional problems. More than 50% of the time, couples with sexual issues have another unspoken problem.  

                                Higher Differentiation                          vs                    Lower Differentiation  

  1. Can stay connected with people who disagree with them & rely on their own sense of self for validation and comfort
  2. Do not rely on other’s acceptance and approval to determine their self-esteem
  3. Do not react quickly when they feel strong emotion; they take their time to think about what to say or do  
  4. Defend their beliefs without becoming angry, controlling or wishy-washy
  5. Can say: “this is who I am and who I want to be”, but aren’t threatened by what others may want of them
  6. Know that they are responsible to others, but not responsible for others; are able to set firm boundaries 
  7. Are able to say what they want/need and can ask for help 
  8. Know that disagreements and anxiety are ways to grow and are only temporary 
  9. See growth and independence as strengths and important to love and intimacy; are able to balance being both separate and close with partners
  1. Have an identity that is reflected sense of self – they need constant contact, agreement (or disagreement/fighting) from others
  2. Rely on other’s acceptance and approval
  3. React impulsively; less clear-minded
  4. Have trouble standing by their beliefs; easily persuaded
  5. React in fear or self-protection to other’s thoughts and behaviors and are not clear with who they are or what they want
  6. Feel obligated to manage other’s feelings and do not have firm boundaries
  7. Are unable to ask for what they want/need and unfairly push their needs on others or shut down
  8. See diversity and disagreements as useless and threatening to their relationships
  9. Cling to others for security and demand reaction from others or separate from partners and have trouble with closeness

What can ‘I’ begin to do to help our relationship?

  • Give the best of yourself to stand up and save your relationship!
  • Hold on to your sense of self and state your boundaries.
  • Practice “hugging till relaxed” which is hugging your partner while soothing yourself. You hold each other for as long as you can.
  • Also, try “heads on pillows” which is a long-duration eye gazing with your partner. Each of you lies on your side, with your clothes on or off. Then, both put your head on your own pillow and gaze at each other for as long as you can; 5 minutes or 10 minutes are both good amounts of time to aim for.
  • Sign up for individual and couples therapy for self-growth and differentiation and to enable a deeper connection with your partner

Sadly, we often don’t believe that we would be loved if we were truly known in relationships. Lying in bed, gazing at each other, being in each other’s arms, and just taking the time to be together can bring feelings of true acceptance and tears of joy.

Use your natural sexual behavior as a window into yourself, your partner, and your relationship.

Other Resources

Differentiation: The Most Loving Thing You Can Do - From Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. http://realtruelove.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/differentiation-the-most-loving-thing-you-can-do/

Gehart, D. David Schnarch’s Sexual Crucible Approach. EPC 677 Couples Therapy. California State University, Northridge.

Schnarch. D. (2011). First Differentiation-based approach to marital and sexual therapy. http://crucibletherapy.com/about/david-schnarch

Schnarch, D.M. (1998). Passionate marriage: Keeping love and intimacy alive in committed relationships. New York: Holt.

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