Intimacy in marriage. Men often spell it S-E-X. Women frequently spell it T-A-L-K. It’s something married couples usually take for granted at the beginning of their relationship, but later may wonder what unseen gremlin came while they were sleeping and made it all go away. It’s something that a majority of long-married couples have learned to do well, and that many couples desperately want to improve.
Either you or your spouse likely feels intimacy is lacking between you. You may wonder why your spouse seems uninterested in sex, or why it seems you have nothing to talk about when you are together. You may believe your spouse is on a different planet spiritually, or that your only choices are to bail out of the marriage or to put up with disappointment and hope you can survive the misery of loneliness.
There are other options. You CAN improve the intimacy between you. And doing so requires attending to all Four Facets of Intimacy.
Four Facets of Intimacy
The Physical Factor
This is what many people think of when they think of intimacy, and it is important. If you’re a man and you have difficulty becoming or remaining sexually aroused, or you’re a woman and sex is physically painful, you’ll naturally shy away from physically intimate situations in the future. Your brain is understandably trying to protect you from something uncomfortable: from pain, embarrassment, or feelings of failure. Medication side effects or ongoing fatigue can make intimacy difficult also.
The good news is that you can do something about this. A medical evaluation may find things that medication, or a medication adjustment, can improve. Being sensitive to the physical issues your spouse may be struggling with will improve the connection between you.
You can get better at connecting physically. Have the sex talk together regularly. Learn what arouses your spouse or turns them off. And paying attention to the other facets of intimacy listed below is likely to dramatically improve your physical connection also.
You probably are relatively aware of these physical aspects of intimacy. And many fights between couples might be helped by being more aware of them. But the other aspects of intimacy are just as and often even more important to experiencing true intimacy.
The Mental Factor
Statistically this factor may affect women more frequently than men, but either can struggle here. Past sexual trauma or previous destructive relationships can put up walls – sometimes unconscious – that take dedicated and intentional effort to bring down. Pornography is a huge factor creating destructive brain pathways around sex and relationships. Conflict in marriage that’s outwardly unrelated to sex can prevent couples from enjoying intimacy.
Included here can be religious messages that make sex “feel” dirty. Even if your logical left brain “believes” God created sex to be good, your emotional right brain may not be on the same page.
And yes, you can do a lot about the mental factor in intimacy. If you need some help to work through past trauma or to find freedom from sexual brokenness, do that work. Most important, consciously choose to take a mental step toward your spouse instead of moving away. Women, especially, may be surprised how powerfully this one technique can improve the connection you feel. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “I just can’t get interested.” And husbands, be sure to touch your wife’s heart before trying to touch her body. Whether male or female, you can choose to move closer and become engaged. Do it for the sake of your relationship together.
The Relationship Factor
Intimacy doesn’t begin in the bedroom. It begins much earlier in the relationship – and much earlier in the day. It’s been said that the true organ of intimacy is the ear. (Isn’t that how many affairs begin?) Intimacy in relationships is built on trust. Without trust, intimacy is “just sex,” and that’s not true intimacy. Trust takes time to develop and can be lost quickly. But when you are trustworthy, intimacy only becomes better as time passes.
So what can you do? Do what it takes to demonstrate trustworthiness. Give your spouse the time and grace to see that you are worth trusting. Make your heart a truly safe place for your spouse to be real. Communication – both transparent sharing and attentive listening – is one of the most powerful bonding activities any couple can engage in. Do things together; sometimes that should be deep communication, and sometimes it’s just having fun. Taking the time to invest in your relationship will pay off with much deeper intimacy.
The Spiritual Factor
There’s no stronger bond between two people than when they accept God as the force bringing them together and the glue keeping them there. Spiritual intimacy opens the deepest parts of you to each other. It’s hard to criticize, dislike, or wish ill toward someone when you share together spiritually. And there’s nothing more satisfying than exploring and fulfilling the mission God has not just for you as an individual, but also for you as a couple.
And yes, you can get better here also. Stretch yourselves to pray together out loud. Pray for your spouse both in your own time with God and together as a couple. Put God first as husband and as wife, but respect each other in the process. Talk together about what you see God doing in your lives, and in your future. Share with your spouse what you hear from God, and honor what your spouse hears from God as well. Value God’s work in your spouse’s life and in your marriage together.
Don’t fall for the trap of thinking that intimacy in marriage is only a physical thing. Take care of the physical aspects, but pay just as much attention to the mental, relational, and spiritual factors. And as you do, the bond will grow stronger between you and the intimacy – both physical and otherwise – will become sweeter and more satisfying.
Your Turn: How is the intimacy between you and your spouse? What have you found that makes that intimacy better? Which of these facets of intimacy needs your attention in this season? Leave a comment below.
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- Intimacy: it’s not just sex! All four facets of intimacy are necessary for marriage to be all it was meant to be; physical, mental, relational, and spiritual. Tweet that.
Tired of feeling disconnected in your marriage?
For more help unpacking how to improve all four facets of intimacy, download the FREE Resource Guide: 4 Keys to Re-Connecting with your Spouse.