Trust: A Critical Component of Sexual Intimacy in Committed Relationships

Richard Nicastro, PhD, examines how the sexual intimacy stakes rise when you fall in love.  He highlights the conditions that either encourage or discourage trust in a committed relationship.

When love becomes part of the relationship landscape, when the other starts to matter to you, then how they respond takes on a heightened importance. And once love is set into motion, the more you are moved to share and give of yourself to your partner, the more vulnerable you become. Now trust becomes increasingly important to the workings of your relationship.

Trust isn’t just a concept couples must learn about—rather, it’s a subjective experience that must be repeatedly lived and felt. When trust is experienced in this way, the relationship offers a secure space for the couple, a space that offers solace and opportunities for deeper sharing and connection. Once mutually established, trust can then quietly recede into the background of the relationship where it continues to support the couple, offering comfort and stability, allowing each person to take the risks necessary for meaningful emotional and sexual expression and connection.

There are conditions that enhance or violate trust.

Trust requires certain relationship conditions in order to take hold, and when these conditions are violated, when the foundation of trust is shaken, anxieties and insecurities awaken. The intensity of your trust-insecurities may periodically intrude or they may blanket every aspect of your relationship. A lack of trust (or trust that is doubted/questioned) is emotionally disruptive to all involved, and for emotional and sexual intimacy to be (re)established, trust must first be established.

Pro-trust Conditions

  • accepting / encouraging
  • sensitive / concerned
  • emotionally open
  • responsive / engaged
  • committed / reliable

Anti-trust Conditions

  • critical / judgmental
  • aloof / indifferent
  • defensive / closed-off
  • unresponsive / detached
  • erratic / unpredictable             

These behaviors (both pro- and anti-trust) take on particular significance when they come from the person you love and care for. The loved spouse/partner has particular power and influence over you—the power to help you feel secure and connected as well as intensely insecure and anxious. When trust conditions are violated, couples often shift from a secure to an insecure-anxious way of relating (even when anger predominates, the anger is often fueled by undercurrents of anxiety about losing the other).

“Having sex with someone I didn’t really know or care about was easy. It’s when I fell in love that sex became amazing and dangerous at the same time. All of a sudden, trust and the potential for betrayal became relevant.” ~Eric, 33 years old

During sex, the stakes are always elevated because sexual intimacy is inherently risky emotional business—that is, the level of emotional vulnerability evoked with someone you deeply care about presents both the potential for intimate sharing and authentic contact and, when things go awry, emotional wounding and withdrawal. And during these heightened-vulnerability circumstances, your best intentions may not be enough to circumvent painful misunderstandings.

Having conversations about the conditions you and your partner each need to enhance trust is important in making these conditions explicitly known to you both. Using the above list of pro- and anti-trust conditions can be a good starting point to jump-start such a discussion. Remember, when trust is solidified, the couple enters an orbit of emotional security surrounding the marriage/relationship, a security that allows for the potential of deeper emotional sharing and sexual exploration and expression.