Reciprocity and Intimacy in Couples Therapy


Intimacy can be defined in many different ways.  One expectation that seems to often come up as couples move towards intimacy is the idea of reciprocity, that is, that if one person shares, the other has to also.  An example is: if I say I love you, you should say I love you back. If I say something about how the love making we just experienced was great, you would say the same thing back.  But that expectation causes problems and even often hinders intimacy.  A question will get you to thinking about this issue: Can you tell your partner important information about you and that’s it?  She or he doesn’t have to say anything back? Conversely, can you hear an intimate statement from you partner and not just parrot something back?


Let’s look at this from a different angle.  If you feel compelled to reveal something about yourself because your partner revealed something, are you really being intimate?  Revealing that you love someone is different than saying, “I love you,” after your partner has just said it to you.  It can be surprising to some clients who come to a couples therapy office when they share something important and the therapist doesn’t make sure that the partner shares something as well.


Differentiation is a term that has been used for a long time in the marital/sex therapy areas (see Schnarch, or Kerr and Bowen).  It is something you desire but is hard to get.  It is getting yourself healthier, being stronger emotionally, being able to sooth yourself.  People that are more differentiated are able to share without expecting their partner to share back.  Additionally, more differentiated people don’t share back only because their partner shared with them.

So, perhaps you could challenge yourself.  Make sure your partner has your attention and no one else is around, then you share something important and personal about yourself with your partner, and that’s it.  You don’t expect anything in return (other than you would like him or her to hear you, but you don’t even expect that).  It would be an intimate thing to do.

About Robert Kraft Ph.D.

Robert G. Kraft, Ph.D., is a career psychologist in Omaha, NE. He earned his doctorate, as well as his bachelors and masters before that, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and has practiced in Nebraska ever since. As well as maintaining his practice, Dr. Kraft is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Creighton University School of Medicine, where he teaches residents about psychotherapy. He served on the Executive Committee of The Center for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis for five years, consulted with Richard Young Memorial Hospital for over 11 years and worked as a psychologist for over a dozen years before branching out into consulting and starting private practice. Outside of his work as a therapist in Omaha, he built a website about Vintage Martin guitars and developed software that helps mental health professionals with billing.