You thought you wanted intimacy when you got married. But did you realize what kind of work it would take? Perhaps you imagined intimacy would just happen and the prickly reality of two human beings struggling with their oneness has left you disillusioned. But it’s absolutely possible to address and overcome the barriers keeping you from intimacy with your spouse.
Remember that in marriage intimacy and sex are related but they are not the same. If your sex life together is not what either of you wish, I’d encourage you to look past the physical and consider things from the viewpoint of intimacy.
Don’t keep squandering your energy doing what you’ve already discovered doesn’t work. Get over yourself long enough to evaluate what’s blocking the intimacy between you. And this is not just “my spouse won’t give me sex” or “I hate sex.” Look deeper than that. This is about matters of the heart.
Here are five barriers to intimacy and how you need to address them.
You brought old stuff with you into your marriage. You learned things about relationships, marriage, sex, intimacy, and love very early in life. You’ve been harmed sexually and in other ways. Perhaps you have not yet completely “finished” past relationships. Some partners do not fully leave their family of origin when they say “I do.” You may be carrying distorted religious messages around intimacy and marriage.
I spoke with a woman yesterday who is just now realizing how the broken mental templates around marriage she received from her dysfunctional family growing up have been deeply harming her marriage. Addressing your old baggage feels hard. And I have yet to meet someone struggling with intimacy who doesn’t have old baggage of some kind to deal with.
If you desire better intimacy, deal with your “stuff.”
Every marriage is the union of two sinners, two people with different personalities, life experience, needs and desires. There will be conflict between you. Marriage is not primarily a place to be happy; it’s first a laboratory in which you learn to love well. That doesn’t mean you put up with bad behavior from your spouse (or yourself). It does mean all the stuff you need to work through will impact the connection between you.
Letting conflict remain unresolved only builds a higher wall between you. Resolving conflict doesn’t mean you always come to see things the same way, but that you consistently return to being on the same side of the table working toward solutions together.
Fear of Being Known
By its very nature intimacy is vulnerable. Remember, intimacy is not the same as sex. Sex can happen with no intimacy, and there are other ways to experience intimacy apart from sex. You can only experience intimacy when the clothes come off not only your body but also your heart and mind.
And that’s scary.
What will my spouse think if they see the true me? Can I handle the vulnerability and perhaps shame of truly being seen and known? Where am I hiding? Will I take the risk of coming out from my hiding place and allow my spouse to get that close? Will I offer the safety my spouse needs so they can come out from hiding as well?
As long as your spouse is a person of good will, stretch yourself and “do it afraid.”
Making it All About ME
Approaching marriage from the position of demanding all your needs be met will make true intimacy impossible. No single human being can carry the weight of meeting all your needs anyway. More importantly, marriage only works when it’s mutual. Intimacy is impossible between two people when one is in a position of power over the other. You cannot demand intimacy; you can only nurture it by being the invitation for your spouse to come closer.
Intimacy happens when both people feel seen, known, and understood. When you communicate you must both listen to understand and share what’s truly on your heart. In making love you both passionately give and joyously receive pleasure. That’s vulnerable, but that’s the point of intimacy.
This is a large part of why pornography is always destructive to a relationship.
Make the relationship a higher priority than either of you individually.
Duty and Demand vs. Love and Play
Doing anything from a sense of duty closes off the deeper places in your heart, making intimacy impossible. How close to your spouse do you feel if you’re doing something only because you have to? Demanding something such as sex from your spouse puts you in a power differential that precludes intimacy. You don’t just want sex; you want your spouse to want you. And that can only come from play and love, not demand.
Marriage certainly necessitates difficult conversations and working through hard things. But there must be times of joy and play if your brain is to feel loving attachment to each other. Play helps lower the walls in your own heart that you’re hiding behind. This means having fun together in all kinds of ways and including play in your sexual experiences together.
Play and love are connected in this sense. Play can improve the sense of safety between you. And when combined with a sense that both of you are for the relationship the bond between you becomes stronger.
Being seen and known and inviting your spouse to be seen and known doesn’t happen quickly. It’s risky. (If your marriage is toxic, you’ll need a different approach.)
But if you desire intimacy that’s more than superficial, that leads to being “naked and not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25) physically, emotionally, and spiritually, it’s worth the journey to get there.
Your Turn: Do you truly want intimacy with your spouse? Or do you just want a physical orgasm? Are you willing to contend with the barriers keeping you from intimacy together? Leave a comment below.
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- Intimacy in marriage is not just sex, and it doesn’t just happen. It requires contending with the barriers keeping you from intimacy with your spouse. Tweet that.
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