Pursuing Intimacy

(This is a message especially for husbands. Last week I talked about the other side – a post especially for wives.)

In about 80% of marriages, the husband desires sex more frequently than the wife. And then comes frustration. Sometimes anger. Loneliness. Disconnect. What’s a man to do?

There’s also the 20% – those marriages where you as the husband have less sexual desire than your wife. And then comes the frustration, sometimes anger, loneliness, and disconnect also. Can we ever get this right?

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians are often quoted when this issue comes up among Christians:

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

Some husbands read this and say, “Yeah! The Bible says my wife should give me sex when I need it. So wife, come on!”

So, how’s that working out for you?

You’re probably like the husbands I hear from regularly. You want your wife to want you. You have a physical drive for sex, sure, but it goes deeper than that. You want to connect with your wife, and sex is a huge part of how you do that. You want her to respond to you, even initiate. You want her to enjoy your intimacy together as much as you do. You feel most satisfied when she feels satisfied with your time together. Truly connect sexually with your wife is when you feel closest to her, and when you feel most like a man.

If the intimacy between you has been less than great, you may have come to settle for physical release only. But part of you knows there’s more.

Back to that Scripture from 1 Corinthians. So how does it apply? What can you do about it?

The best way to summarize, I believe, is this:

Pursue sexual intimacy with your wife even if sex itself is not an option for now.

I’m indebted to Dr Juli Slattery for saying it this way. It cuts away much of the distortion and objections and points to the bottom line.

Sexual intimacy between husband and wife goes far beyond the physical acts. It’s possible to engage in physical sex with your mind and heart disengaged, thinking about anything (or someone) else, putting up internal walls, or building resentment. That’s not intimacy.

God has called you to love your wife in the same way Christ loved the church. Among other things that means putting her needs ahead of your own. When you help your wife respond to you, desiring HER more than her body, you are being like God. Studying her, alluring her, expending yourself for her – that’s part of what God has gifted you to do.

Your wife has big responsibilities too. She needs to pursue intimacy with you also. I have strong things to say to women who behave badly. (And that does NOT mean she must say YES to you any time you want sex!)

But pursuing intimacy goes much deeper than physical sex. Here’s why.

God, Intimacy, and Us

To understand what God desires for us in marriage it’s important to understand what He wants between us and Him. Paul reminds us that the connection between you and your wife is to be a picture of the intimacy between you and Christ. (Ephesians 5:32) The intimacy, connection, closeness between you and your wife is to be a metaphor, an earthly example of the relationship God is working to have with us.

So sex is holy? YES!! It should be. And it can be.

From what you know of what God desires between you and Himself, how would you characterize that relationship? As you picture an ideal connection between you and Christ, what would that look like?

Here might be some words and phrases to describe that. Loving. Deep. Satisfying. Fulfilling. Full of value. No secrets. Understanding. Transforming. Healing. Safe. Challenging. Unselfish. Forgiving. Unending. Trusting. Authentic. Enduring through good and bad. Inspiring. Can you think of others?

That’s the kind of intimacy God desires for you to have with your wife. And the kind of intimacy Paul says you should be pursuing.

How to Pursue Intimacy

Here are a few practical ideas on what it looks like to pursue that kind of intimacy with your wife. This won’t always be easy; it’s a journey that will continue throughout your marriage. But it’s immeasurably worth it.

1. Start with You.

There may be “junk” in your own life that is keeping you from true intimacy. Perhaps that’s shame and guilt from a previous sexual relationship or affair, bitterness over your wife’s past or present behavior, an addiction, walls put up through abuse or other trauma, medical issues currently, etc. Statistically women experience abuse and sexual trauma more frequently, but many men have as well!

If you’ve been seeking sex for physical pleasure only, this may mean doing some deep work in your own heart to reframe your view of sex and intimacy. It’s possible you will need to ask forgiveness for seeing your wife sometimes as an object instead of God’s child.

Pursuing intimacy with your wife may mean, for this season, that you focus first on dealing with your own baggage. If there’s something in your own body, heart, mind, emotions, etc. that is keeping you from connecting fully with her, you are responsible before God for taking action to deal with it.

This does not usually mean “no sex” while you’re “working on” your own stuff. It does mean being honest with yourself and with God, and doing what it takes to address your own roll in the intimacy challenge.

2. Study your wife.

Make your wife your primary study. Notice what makes her depleted and worried, and what makes her excited and energized. Seek to understand what makes her tick, what worries her, what drives her. Be a safe place for her to be herself, and to share herself with you. Learn what she responds to mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Notice the wounds your wife has received or is receiving, and guard them well. You’re not responsible to fix her, but you may well be the most important tool God uses to work healing in her life. Be the one she can count on and trust. Find the times, places, circumstances, and ways to communicate that your wife can truly hear, understand, and engage. Look for the ways God is working in her life, and support that.

3. Seek your wife for HER rather than her body.

You most likely see sex, among other things, as the way to deeply connect with your wife. Your wife most likely sees it the other direction; she needs to be – and feel – connected to you before she is willing or able to respond sexually. One of the best ways to help her respond sexually is to seek intimacy with her in ways other than sex.

That means things like demonstrating your respect for her and her opinions, protecting and providing, listening deeply when she has something to communicate, and helping her in practical ways. (For some wives, seeing their husband do the dishes is definitely a turn-on!) Many women spell intimacy T-A-L-K; stretch yourself if this is a challenge for you.

As for sex itself, sometimes that may mean taking more time to help her become aroused, or delaying sex temporarily until she is in a better place to respond. It may also mean romancing her when you don’t feel like it, or engaging in sex more than you would otherwise wish (if you’re in a 20% marriage). Consider coming up with a code word or signal that you both agree on indicating one of you desires sex; the other one has a chance to get mentally ready, and you then come together when it’s good for both of you.

4. Stay on your knees.

Since intimacy with your wife is what God desires for you, talk to Him about it. Ask Him to show you the places in your own heart that He needs to work on. Ask Him to fill your heart with unselfish love, wise forgiveness, and holy desire for your wife. Ask Him to help you see how you can help your wife experience intimacy in all the ways God built you both for.

There will be hiccups along the journey to intimacy. The enemy loves to distort and destroy. You and I are broken human beings. We cannot do this on our own. You will need God’s healing, His wisdom, His courage, and His grace to continue to do this well.

Intimacy at its Best

Pursuing intimacy with your wife should – and must – continue even if sexual activity is not possible for one or the other of you, whether for physical, emotional, or other reasons.

Intimacy may be scary, and hard. But the rewards of continuing to pursue intimacy with your wife will be worth it. God is asking nothing less of you.

And in doing so, you are helping both of you experience growing intimacy with God Himself.

How might you pursue intimacy with your wife this week? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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