You want intimacy. That’s why you got married! But intimacy doesn’t just happen; there are several necessary ingredients that must be in place for intimacy to thrive. Whether you’re just getting started or trying to rebuild after relationship trauma, the road to intimacy starts with honesty. And next comes the critical ingredient of safety in your marriage.
If your attempts at intimacy (not necessarily sex!) become frustrating, a likely roadblock is a lack of safety. You try to talk but your spouse shuts down, or it ends in a fight. You ask for sex hoping to connect, and your spouse either pulls away or gives in in a most unsatisfying way. Those kinds of interactions are evidence that safety needs to improve.
You may want to say, “Of course we’re safe with each other!” But how safe do you really feel? How safe does your spouse feel? Intimacy cannot happen without a sense of safety.
Some marriages look sort-of OK on the outside, but the spouses are not experiencing real safety. For example, the relationship where a dominant husband whose word is law and a submissive wife who toes the line may sometimes survive for a good while if both of their hearts are truly clean. But that will never result in intimacy.
So husband, if you want your wife to want you, you must develop a character and culture of safety. Wife, if you want a strong connection between you and your husband, you must work to become a safe person and place.
Once you are both committed to honesty, what does building safety in your marriage look like?
How Safe Am I?
What does it cost you if you disagree with your spouse? How well is power shared between you? Is manipulation or control going on? Are you using your spouse? Is your spouse using you? What secrets are you or your spouse hiding? Those are a few of the questions that help clarify the level of safety between you.
When you wake up every day or walk into a room the first thing your brain asks is, “Am I safe?” When something threatens or harms you, your brain automatically raises an alarm and puts up a wall to protect you. That’s not conscious; it’s part of being human.
If your spouse’s past behavior has led you to feel unsafe with them, the walls in your heart don’t come down just by wanting them to. And just as important, if your spouse has walls up that prevent them from getting close to you, something caused that to happen. It may or may not have been you. But unless your spouse has an evil heart, their pulling away is not because they are out to “get” you.
Becoming a Safe Person
One of the most important things you can do in building intimacy is to become a safe person. Your head may agree with the truth that you cannot change your spouse, but how well are you living that out? Does your spouse feel as though they can never be good enough for you? Are you regularly pointing out where they’ve done wrong? That’s a parent, not an intimate partner. If you make your spouse “pay” when they disagree with you or disappoint you, you’re still trying to manipulate and control.
To become a safe person, you’ve got to do your own work. If you’ve been traumatized in marriage, or struggled with addiction (such as to pornography), this is not easy. It requires you deal with your own baggage instead of expecting your spouse to “fix” you or make you happy. You seek healing for your own wounds or trauma.
This also involves seeking the Holy Spirit’s insight on your own heart and letting Him do His work to change you. You learn to apologize when you’re wrong. You’re committed to this process regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do.
Becoming safe means you’re learning to feed yourself rather than relying on your spouse. You learn to identify when you’re triggered, and to make intentional choices about how to respond instead of reacting emotionally.
Creating Mutual Safety
The kind of safety that is required for intimacy is one of shared power. Balancing power means you both can listen and truly hear each other when you communicate. When either of you is triggered, you can communicate that to each other, and take personal responsibility for how you respond.
Such communication might sound something like, “Honey, that’s hurtful. You likely didn’t mean to hurt me, but that makes me want to run and hide.” That’s different from criticism, which might sound like, “How could you say or do that? Haven’t you learned by now?” Mutual safety means you’re each owning your own stuff instead of blaming the other.
For the many couples where pornography has created much of your sexual expectations, this means the entire pattern of sexual arousal and response will need to be rebuilt. A sign this is happening is when you can truly seek your spouse’s heart instead of their body, and your spouse senses this.
And a word to some “submissive” wives; keeping quiet does not usually mean you are safe. If you are being harmed and don’t speak up or stop it, your husband (or others) is not really safe with you. Safety includes being honest about the impact others have on you.
Not Safe? What Then?
If your spouse is not a safe person, you are still responsible for how you respond. You may need to get some outside help, and to protect yourself for this season. That means coming to understand the walls in your own heart, and being intentional about what you do next.
If your spouse basically has a good heart, they may respond to an invitation to address honesty and safety in your relationship. They likely want intimacy too! If you frame your invitation as finding ways to improve intimacy, your marriage may be able to build a culture of safety.
Finally, your only place of ultimate safety is with God. Every human being will let you down and harm you in some way. Basing your inner sense of safety on your relationship with God will bring resilience and courage to work out these challenges in your earthly relationship as well.
Your Turn: How much safety is there in your marriage? What are you going to do next in building an increased level of safety between you? Leave a comment below.
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