This past weekend I spoke at a church marriage retreat in Branson, MO. I spoke four times about intimacy. Contrary to popular belief, intimacy involves much more than just physical/sexual intimacy. Each talk focused on a different component of marital intimacy and only one of them centered on physical intimacy.
In this three-part series, I’ll define intimacy, share some reasons why couples struggle, and unpack the four components of intimacy we discussed at the retreat. I’ll also share why it’s important for you and your spouse to grow in every aspect of intimacy.
What is marital intimacy?
First off, what does intimacy mean? I don’t remember who first said it (it might have been Tim Keller), but intimacy can be defined as to know and be known without fear of rejection. For Kristen and me, this means I know as much as I can about her, I allow her to know me, and we don’t fear rejection.
Here are a few unique aspects of this definition:
- To know someone means you are well-acquainted with them. You know how they’re wired and you make the effort to ask questions and understand more about them. Most of the time people are slow to make the effort to get to know others.
- To be known means you allow someone to ask questions of you. You’re not afraid to be vulnerable and share the good and the bad. In a world marked by self-protection and inauthenticity, it stands out when you allow someone to truly get to know you.
- Without fear of rejection means you learn about the other person and they learn about you and you’re not afraid and don’t run away and you’re not afraid of them doing the same. You don’t hide or protect because you know you’re committed to each other. This is one of my favorite, and most underrated and under discussed, aspects of marriage.
This is what God desires for us in marriage. We see it modeled in Genesis 2:25 when the writer says, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The man and woman experienced nakedness, both physically and emotionally, and felt no shame. They didn’t compare to others, didn’t hide, and didn’t have to pretend.
We all long for this type of intimacy. Unfortunately most of us don’t experience it. Why not?
Why couples don’t experience marital intimacy as God intends and we desire:
1. We’re too afraid of what others think.
I find myself so often ruled and dominated by the opinion of others. If I share what’s really going on, then others might think less of me. Instead of being real, I self-protect and share none of or only some of the true story. I see this daily in couples I work with and I know I do it in my life as well.
Rather, in Galatians 1:10 Paul writes, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I’d much rather live in light of the fact that God loves me, I’m a servant of Christ, and I don’t have to earn the approval of others.
Question: Do you seek to please God or please man?
2. They’ll throw it right back at you or use it against you.
A few weeks ago someone left an anonymous comment online and tried to use my authenticity against me. In only the second time I can think of in 13 years of full-time vocational ministry someone took a comment I made and tried to use it against me and discredit my leadership.
Fortunately it didn’t phase me much since thousands have heard me share with authenticity and only two have used it against me. But, it did create some pause the next time I had the opportunity to be vulnerable.
What you share with your spouse might be used against you, but I hope this does not keep you from your efforts to be intimate in marriage.
Question: Are you afraid of your spouse using your vulnerability against you?
3. We think we need to wait for our spouse to go first.
Love initiates and doesn’t wait for the other to go first. In Romans 5:8 Paul perfectly illustrates God’s selfless, “go-first” love for us. He writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Thankfully God does not wait for us to clean up our act before He sends Jesus.
In the same way, we don’t need to wait for our spouse to go first. Rather, lead the way and hope and pray they follow your example. You don’t share so that your spouse shares; rather, you go first because love initiates.
Question: Are you willing to go first and initiate or do you sit back and wait for your spouse to go first?
4. We don’t know how or don’t have good models of what this looks like.
Ignorance often plays a role in keeping couples from experiencing desired levels of marital intimacy. We don’t have good models from friends or family and we certainly don’t learn good patterns from TV or social media.
This doesn’t excuse us from making positive changes. We’re usually not going to learn how to experience intimacy passively or by watching others. We have to be proactive, which might include asking others with good marriages how they do this well.
Question: What couple is the best marriage example you have in your life?
5. We don’t value it or make time for it.
Life just gets too busy. We desire intimacy but seem to have no space or margin for it. We either spend all our energy with our jobs or kids or we devote our best energy to things that aren’t that important.
For example, at times I seem to have enough margin for Instagram, but not enough effort to give to my spouse to build intimacy. Or, we crush it with our jobs where we receive all kinds of affirmation but leave little in the tank for our family. We might be able to get away with it for a short season, but eventually we’ll be left with a shell of a marriage if we don’t fight for intimacy.
Question: What or who takes priority over your spouse?
I’m certain there are more reasons, but hopefully this starts a conversation. In Part 2 I’ll share the four specific aspects of intimacy we discussed this past weekend at the marriage retreat and why we need to work together on them.
In the meantime, why do you think marital intimacy is a challenge for you or for other couples? Leave a comment below and I’ll draw for a winner of a free marriage book out of all those who leave comments below.
Click here to read Part 2 in this series on intimacy.
Check out my new book, Ready or Knot? 12 Conversations Every Couple Needs to Have before Marriage. You can find Ready or Knot? wherever books are sold!