Healthy Ways to Choose Intimacy: It Could be Dangerous

People are messy, and therefore relationships are messy. The closer you get to people the messier it gets. Your heart desires, needs, intimacy. And at the same time rejection, gas-lighting, toxicity, or even abuse may complicate things. If you choose intimacy it could be dangerous; it might have been such for you. That being true, what do you do with that need in your soul?

Intimacy gone wrong is perhaps evil’s most sinister way to keep human beings in hiding – from others and from God. You opened your heart, knowingly or unknowingly, and it was squelched, stomped on, marred, or exploited for someone else’s gain. Many men and women carry such wounds from childhood. And many have experienced harm now in their closest friendships or their marriage.

Some respond by trying harder to fix a broken relationship, seeking to become the kind of person their “opponent” will find acceptable, hoping therefore to stop the harm and gain connection. Others focus on hiding, hoping that will keep them safer. And even if the harmful relationship itself has ended, your whole system recoils at risk of opening your heart again.

And so the heart withers, because your need for intimacy doesn’t go away.

There are healthy ways to choose intimacy in the real world. None of this guarantees you will never experience pain, but it will mean you can thrive and become who God intended you to be.

Choosing People Wisely

When He was here on earth Jesus loved everyone the same, but He did not give everyone equal access to Himself. The people He spent time with and invested most in were those who could receive what He came to give and who valued their relationship with Him. Those who sought to control or correct Him weren’t allowed close. Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:25), and He had appropriate boundaries.

Much of our contemporary Christian culture has too often given the message that to be a good Christian means you are “nice.” Was Jesus nice? No! God save us from niceness! The goal is not niceness; the fruit of the Spirit is love and kindness. And there’s a big difference.

That has big implications for your relationships today. You get to choose who you open your heart with. Some people are not safe; they will take advantage of your vulnerability. You are like Jesus when you wisely set up and maintain appropriate boundaries.

AND, like Jesus, you must have your Peter, James, and John. This feels particularly difficult when you’ve been previously wounded in relationship. The point is not to choose perfect people; there aren’t any. The point is to choose your people wisely. You may need to grow significantly in your ability to discern who might be appropriately safe.

You must have your people!

Exploring Trust

Many people who struggle with intimacy have an all-or-none approach to trust; the other person is black or white, good or bad. But almost every human being is a mixture of places they are incomplete and sinful, and places where they have become whole in some measure. You’re looking for one or a few who are reasonably trustworthy even if imperfect.

If you tend to jump all in with trust and then get burned, you’ll need to slow down. Test out a potential romantic partner, a new friend. When you share a piece of your heart, do they hold it in confidence? Do they hear you, see you, value the gift of yourself that you’ve offered? Or do they hold what you’ve shared as a bullet ready to be fired against you when it will hurt the worst? When someone shows you who they are, believe them.

And if you tend to stay in hiding, you’ll have to stretch yourself hard and risk opening more of your heart with someone or a few someones who might be safe. I recently spoke with a man who had been part of a small group of guys for years, but they only knew a portion of his struggle. He finally chose intimacy and gathered the courage to tell them the whole truth; they received him with grace, and he experienced tremendous relief and support.

I’ve also worked with marriages where one spouse feels unsafe and the other spouse is pressuring for vulnerability. That never works! If you’re the one feeling unsafe in your marriage, honor your gut and get some help. If you’re the one whose spouse is holding back, ask yourself, What’s it been like to be married to me? How can you be the invitation for your spouse to come closer?

Choosing Intimacy with Jesus

Your past experience of intimacy gone wrong will impact your internal picture of God in profound ways. You will naturally hide from Him as well. But you already know that will limit who you can become.

Well, your logical L brain knows it. But your R brain, what neurobiologists call the master switch of your internal system, may deeply struggle to believe that God is good, and safe enough to get closer to. That part of you doesn’t really want Him to come close; you’d rather He “fix” you using some telehealth remote procedure.

Just recognizing your internal barriers to intimacy with Jesus will be a great start. This isn’t about what you “should” feel; it’s about what your soul has come to deeply believe. You might journal or talk with a friend about what the deepest part of you feels God feels about you.

Then tell that to Jesus. Let Him know how ambivalent you are about Him coming close. Give Him a chance to respond and to show you how He truly feels about you, and what kind of person He truly is.

And intentionally growing in intimacy with Jesus, letting your internal walls down with Him, will grow your internal resilience for when the humans around you let you down. You’ll always have a safe place to run – His arms.

Choosing intimacy is worth it. Choose wisely. And my new book Sexpectations talks a lot more about that.

Your Turn: What has your experience led you to believe about what you’ll experience if you choose intimacy and open your heart again? Leave a comment below.

Want More? This week on the podcast I talk with Dr. David Hawkins about narcissistic and emotional abuse in marriage. If you’re married or contemplating marriage, don’t miss this! Listen or watch.

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How’s Your Intimacy Life?

My new book Sexpectations: Reframing Your Good and Not-So-Good Stories About God, Love, and Relationships helps you unpack all that. If your heart is struggling with anything around sex, love, and intimacy, you need this! This book will help you:

  • reinterpret your sexual story with honesty and compassion
  • find freedom from shame, compulsive behaviors, past harm, and hiding
  • redefine the way you look at God, sex, love, and relationships
  • orient your sexuality as God intended and embrace what He has for your future
  • experience Jesus coming right into the middle of your story to bring healing and wholeness

Check out our new Sexpectations website where you can find related resources, download a free chapter of the book, and order the book for yourself.