Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. – Genesis 2: 22-25, NIV
These verses from the opening book of the Bible speak to what one author has named the “mystery of marriage”. How is it that two people, with distinct personalities, needs, giftings, family and personal histories, as well as bodies, could come together and be “one flesh”?Whether one is as poetic as Adam in his descriptions of how this woman was separate and distinct from him, and yet also a part of him, what is true of marriage is this – when two people pledge to give their lives to each other, that changes everything, and they come to experience this separate-and-distinct-yet-part-of-one-another reality Adam waxes lyrical about.
In a healthy marriage, the two spouses know one another intimately, and even when they’ve known each other for a long time, that intimacy can always go deeper as they both maintain that close connection and discover new depths to their partner. Perhaps your marriage has hit a snag and you feel a bit disconnected from one another.
Maybe you haven’t been intimate with one another for a while now, and you are strangers to one another, or perhaps you know each other well, but that knowledge feels stale, and your relationship has settled into a predictable pattern that isn’t sparking your joy.
Perhaps you’ve been enjoying one another, and desire to continue going deeper still. Whatever your situation, any marriage can always stand a bit more intimacy and a closer, more fulfilling connection between the spouses.
Different types of intimacy.
When speaking about intimacy in marriage, there are different types, though one’s mind may drift automatically toward physical intimacy. Undoubtedly, physical intimacy is a part of any healthy marriage, and it includes a wide variety of expressions, from holding hands, giving each other a big squeeze and a kiss when you see each other, to making love, or cuddling together in bed at the beginning and end of the day.
Another form of intimacy is emotional intimacy, which is where two people feel connected to one another. They both feel known, heard, understood, cherished, seen, and loved. They can invite the other into their inner world, knowing that they are accepted as they are.
Emotional intimacy requires open communication and deep vulnerability. Allowing another person to get to know us beyond the façades we often put up around others outside the relationship is a journey into humility that we aren’t always prepared for or willing to take.
It can be scary to be that vulnerable because making ourselves known and then being rejected is a pain unlike any other. Physical and emotional intimacy often work hand in hand with one another and deepening the expression of one will often lead to meaningful gains in the other.
Obstacles to intimacy in marriage.
With both physical and emotional intimacy, there are ways in which the desire to be one flesh can be stymied, whether deliberately or by happenstance. Some of the challenges and obstacles to intimacy in marriage include:
Have you ever come across those families that sit at the dinner table for dinner, play games, have fun together, and are free with their verbal and physical expressions of praise and affection? We learn a lot from our families, and that includes how and to what level we feel comfortable expressing our emotions.
Vulnerability may not be your strong suit because you may not have seen it modeled in your family, and you may perceive vulnerability as weakness. Maybe holding hands and being physically affectionate is not your thing because that’s not how your family did it, and you’re not comfortable with it.
Being open toward other people is like sharing a weakness or vulnerability with them. When such vulnerability is met with acceptance, respect, and care, you feel emboldened to trust that person further with even more of yourself. When it is met with betrayal, however, or disrespect, that can make it hard to trust that person, and even other people that have nothing to do with it.
If your willingness to be vulnerable was met with the betrayal of trust, such as if your partner gossips and spreads your business about, or by the betrayal of infidelity, that can make you cautious about how vulnerable you are, or it can make you hard and unwilling to invest such trust in another person again. Those hurts go beyond the relationship or situation in which they were received.
21st century America is a busy place and time. Few people have a healthy work/life balance, and that means our relationships and the capacity we have to take the necessary time to invest in our relationships is limited. Getting to know someone and sharing yourself with them and vice versa takes time.
You need time to talk to share yourself with them; you need time to share experiences that help you bond, and you need time to see if a person is trustworthy in the long run. Our busy lives stand in the way of all that, and we need to actively avoid defaulting to shallow relationships.
A lack of concern, and conflict.
Within a marriage, it’s also possible to stop caring about your spouse, to not want to remain connected to them. There are many reasons this might occur, including being hurt by them, or simply not finding them interesting anymore.
Without that drive to connect to another person, it’s unlikely one will avail themselves of the opportunity to know the other. Additionally, when conflict occurs within a marriage, it can bring about a disconnect between the spouses. If anger and resentment take root in the relationship, they can become a huge obstacle to physical and emotional intimacy.
How to deepen intimacy in your relationship.
These various obstacles to intimacy in marriage are not immutable. Gulfs can be bridged, and broken hearts can be mended with time and patience. A marriage can move from being a relationship of two disconnected and uninterested people toward a fervent, white-hot passionate relationship. A few ways for you to do this include:
Put in the effort.
Intimacy in marriage isn’t an automatic thing, whether you’ve never had it between the two of you, you had it and somehow lost it over time, or from the accumulation superficial or deep wounds. You can work on building or rebuilding your intimacy by making use of a few of the exercises that couples therapists suggest to their clients for that purpose.
Some exercises that can be used to build intimacy include having an extended cuddle time at any time of the day. Holding one another for extended periods releases oxytocin, one of the feel-good hormones that help to deepen your connection and improve your mood. It can even help you to sleep better.
You can practice soul gazing, where you and your spouse sit close enough to one another so that your knees are nearly touching, and simply look into each other’s eyes, silently facing each other and maintaining eye contact for around three to five minutes. This exercise is simple and is meant to develop your sense of connectedness with one another. Can it get a little awkward? Yes, but stick with it and be intentional, letting it turn from awkward to noticing new things about your spouse.
Stay curious and adventurous.
One of the obstacles to intimacy is growing accustomed to one another, and assuming that you know your spouse in and out. True, you may know them well, but when we lose our curiosity about them, it can begin to undermine intimacy.
Are you still willing to ask your spouse questions about themselves and what they are interested in? Are you open to responding to questions and making yourself available to be known by them?
A couple can open themselves to remaining intimate and deepening their intimacy by having new experiences together. It is in new experiences that we are challenged anew; that we rediscover ourselves and one another. So go on a road trip, try something you haven’t done before like a cooking class or archery; have an adventure together.
Create time in the relationship for intimacy.
With lives that are occupied with work, kids, hobbies, and so on, couples don’t always have the time they’d like to connect and just hang out. This is another area where it pays to be intentional.
It can take the form of regular check-ins with each other during the week or as a date night. To get the most from these times, you would do well to get rid of your electronic devices so that you have uninterrupted time with each other. After all, the point is to know the other person, to enter their inner world and invite them into your own.
Practice vulnerability and learn how to be a safe space for your spouse.
To grow in emotional intimacy requires vulnerability, and sometimes you need to practice that skill. The exercises mentioned above can help in that respect, but another helpful skill is learning how to listen well.
Effective listening is an invaluable tool in fostering intimacy, which allows you to listen without judgment and creates a safe space for the other person to express themselves. If your spouse feels like they can talk and be truly heard, that can embolden further and deeper conversation.
Creating a safe space for your spouse means not interrupting them, assuming you know what they mean, or jumping to conclusions and dismissing what they’re saying. This can create the right atmosphere for more self-disclosure.
When you’ve been hurt or hurt each other, to move through such hurt to rebuild things requires forgiveness. This will help deal with resentment, the enemy of intimacy. Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you want to preserve and cultivate intimacy.
The issues surrounding intimacy in marriage can be complicated, and where you may not have the tools to work through such complexity, having a therapist come alongside you as a couple to work through those issues can be invaluable. Couples counseling helps a couple to discover what may be undermining their intimacy, and it effectively equips them to face those challenges together to strengthen their partnership and deepen their intimacy.
“Holding Pinkies”, Courtesy of Jasmine Wallace Carter, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Couple in Love”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Nappy.co, Public Domain; “Lead On”, Courtesy of Maksin Goncharenok, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Couple Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Brady Knoll, Pexels.com, CC0 License
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