Have you ever met a couple whose marriage seemed to glow, even in the common, everyday times? Intimacy creates that glow. It is the warm core of every successful marriage.
But Martin and Janice (not their real names) are not that couple. Married more than 15 years, yet constantly drifting apart. Now it looks like their marriage might end. The reason? Lost intimacy.
Sadly, many couples have lost their intimacy. Some never even had any intimacy to lose. Instead of a warm glow, they experience a constant chill. And, like cold people everywhere, they cover up to protect themselves.
In a survey of married couples, family therapist Stuart Johnson emphasized the importance of intimacy to a successful marriage. He found that all the happily married couples he surveyed had developed healthy intimacy in four vital areas:
- Verbal intimacy: talking together and understanding each other
- Action intimacy: doing things together that you both enjoy
- Problem-solving intimacy: finding wise, workable solutions to common challenges
- Sexual intimacy: sexual love that stimulates and satisfies both of you
As a follower of Jesus, I would add another vital expression of intimacy to those four
- Spiritual intimacy: a unified love for God and desire to please Him in every way.
All married couples experience intimacy differently, depending on their personality, lifestyle, stage of life, and even their culture. But you will find most of those qualities in every satisfying marriage.
If intimacy can do so much for a marriage, why do so many couples fail to experience it? That is a big topic, but here is the short answer: couples do not experience intimacy because intimacy is neither easy nor automatic.
Intimacy is a challenge, something that takes time, attention, and flexibility. But today many couples are just too overwhelmed to give their marriage the time it needs, and too insecure to change. The problem is not new. In fact, it is as old as the human race. Look at the story of Adam and Eve.
Here is a synopsis of the story: God created man and woman in perfect innocence. He made them to live together as one flesh — a condition unique to marriage and the closest possible expression of human intimacy. Although they were naked, absolutely uncovered to each other, they felt no shame and no need to hide. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It was. But not for long.
According to the story, God wanted genuine people, not programmable robots. So He created that first couple with the capacity to make choices, whether good or bad. There was one tree, just one, that was off limits.
Did you ever tell a child that there was one thing he may not touch, then leave the room? He cannot stand it! He just has to touch the untouchable. It was the same for Mr and Mrs Adam.
The moment Adam and Eve tasted that forbidden fruit, they felt an emotion they had never before known. That emotion was shame. It made them want to cover themselves, to hide from one another and even from God.
Can you see the difference? Before they ate, intimacy was automatic. They had no reason to hide and nothing to fear. After they ate it, shame came, and with it suspicion and separation. What once came easily, without a worry or a question, now became so difficult it must have seemed impossible.
No one knows the intimate details of Adam and Eve’s relationship. We don’t know how they talked, or laughed, or made love. But we can easily see that the forbidden fruit brought great changes to every part of their marriage.
Try to imagine feeling shame for the first time. It isn’t easy, for we have never known the pristine innocence of that first man and woman. To some extent we all live in hiding, fearful to let anyone know us completely.
People are starving for true intimacy. But there are forces in us that frustrate our attempts to nurture it. That is the human condition. Too often what we want and need, we fear and resist. In fact, in our hearts we fear, and often expect, rejection. Psychologist Paul Gilbert describes shame as “… an extreme form of the fear of the loss of approval.”
Shame leads to suspicion. We find it hard to trust and constantly wonder what others really think of us. And, since shame and suspicion tend to cause isolation, we find ourselves withdrawing from each other, becoming separated. Yet at the same time we long for intimate connections that will nurture us.
Shame, suspicion, and separation. These three obstacles to intimacy form the basis of our fears in any relationship, whether with God, friends, or spouses. Now perhaps we understand why intimacy is so difficult to develop and maintain.
Like children playing hide and seek, but not sure if we really want to come out from our hiding places, we are afraid to reveal ourselves.
That brings me to your marriage. Marriage is meant to be a relationship that is so secure, and so healing, that both partners become better and healthier because of it.
In other words, marriage is supposed to be a secure relationship that makes both partners better people.
Think, Act, Pray
1. Early in your marriage, which type of intimacy was easiest for you and your spouse?
2. Which type of intimacy has been the most difficult for you to develop and sustain?
3. Think about some of the ways you have seen the effects of shame, suspicion and separation in your marriage. What are some ways those three conditions frustrate intimacy in your marriage?