Love is the Answer–It’s the only way to intimacy, but it’s not the romantic love that you are thinking about.

Through the course of my work as a sexologist in Singapore, I have witnessed couples – locals and expats – who overcame multiple seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their relationships to be together, and then to stay together.

This has often included them being in the midst of a crisis or transition—recovering from an extra marital affair, healing from other forms of indiscretions, grieving over the loss of a family member, or adjusting from migration or relocation (for interracial couples or foreigners to Singapore). Some of the other relationship issues involve work stress, cultural differences and miscommunication, which may consequently lead to sexual performance anxiety, and disconnect from love and intimacy.

At times, this is exacerbated by physical challenges around minor health conditions, major illnesses, or menopause or andropause (male menopause). There are also the effects of medication to grapple with—some of which hamper sexual desire—such as anti-depressants.

Sex, love and intimacy are regarded as interrelated. Since sex is often viewed as the physical expression of love, the lack of sex in a relationship can pose problems especially with regards to feeling loved and accepted unconditionally. Whilst sex is not the most important thing in a relationship, the lack of sex can become an issue if one partner feels it is one.

Love is the Answer

This is especially pronounced where unequal power dynamics are created from one partner being the sole breadwinner and the other being a homemaker, financially dependent on the other; or even from couples who worked alongside each other in the same company (usually their own). This is usually complicated by their own questioning of male-female roles, and the usually unspoken expectations imposed upon their partner.

More than once, I have been touched by the manifestations of love evident between the couple sitting before me—from the way they link fingers, gaze into each other’s eyes or smile from the heart. It’s almost akin to subconsciously saying “It’s us against the world” as they brace themselves for their session with me.

The saying, “You need to learn how to love yourself before you can love another” certainly rings true.

I have also sat mainly silent, witnessing the onslaught of tears, shouts and yelling as couples express the pain from the depths of their soul. I continue to be amazed by the resilience we humans possess—they actually come back for more sessions! Better yet, they begin to get better amid with small steps. I have had clients come back completely transformed in the form of their countenance—from being despondent and scowling, to returning with increasingly radiant and beaming faces.

I have come to recognise that I am most useful when it comes to helping my clients reconcile within themselves the kind of person they want to be, before discussing the relationship they desire to be in (including the sexual aspect). From there, I will facilitate greater understanding of the ways they long to be loved.

In short, they need to take steps to being whole and complete themselves (inside) before they can begin to express and reach out to their partner (inside to out). The saying, “You need to learn how to love yourself before you can love another” certainly rings true.

Once the intellectual and emotional sharing in the relationship stops, feelings of love, intimacy and passion in sex will end soon after.

Here are some tips relating to love I would like to recommend to you:

  1. Exercise extreme self-care. Self-care refers to taking care of your needs—listening to your body and resting when you have tired instead of over-extending yourself, and eating when you are hungry instead of waiting till you are famished. It‘s the way a parent would take care of a child by attending to their needs. Care for yourself as you would a child—with extreme care.
  2. Practice self-love. Self-love consists of your internal dialogue or self-talk, and how you treat yourself when you mess up. While we often look externally for validation of worthiness, this unconditional love for self-stems from the understanding that you can only be truly good for somebody else when you can first love and accept yourself—warts and all.
  3. Commit to honesty. A lot of relationships fall apart, or the sex within them is not very good anymore because couples have fallen into a rut and begin to take each other for granted. Be honest with yourself about your happiness level, and take steps in being real with your partner in growing the relationship from strength to strength.
  4. Open to intimacy. Intimacy involves removing your protective layers and facades, revealing yourself, connecting mentally, emotionally, and sexually with your partner. It could mean getting to know each other all over again, exploring non-sexual areas, before working up to primary erogenous zones such as breasts and genitals.
  5. Play nice. Any kind of abuse—whether physical, emotional, physiological—does affect intimacy. Once the intellectual and emotional sharing in the relationship stops, feelings of love, intimacy and passion in sex will end soon after. Genuine praise, appreciation and small gestures of kindness expressed can go a long way in maintaining closeness and nurturing love in relationships.

To have the loving relationship and mind-blowing sex you have always wanted, you need to return to love. The answer is love.

This article was originally published in Sex in Love (Essay) in The World Book of Love edited by Leo Bormans in 2013.