Why do men and women get married? Such a simple question deserves a profoundly simple answer – because they want to share their lives with a spouse in a very intimate way. As humans we yearn to be close to another, to be fully known, yet despite this, to be unconditionally loved.
“Intimacy” includes physical closeness and to many this quickly gets translated to meaning a sexual relationship. Of course married love includes sex, as it should, but long married couples will often relate that the sexual part of their relationship is only one of many ways they are intimate with each other.
Other forms of intimacy are emotional, intellectual, heart- to- heart conversations, working together at common goals, and spiritual intimacy. True marital intimacy usually involves being honest with your spouse and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Because you know your spouse well and trust him/her not to hurt you, you are willing to give yourself completely and risk the unknown.
In emotional intimacy a couple shares their joys, fears, frustrations, sorrows and, yes, anger with each other. This doesn’t mean that spouses yell and scream at each other- or, worse, hit each other- but it does mean that hard feelings can be shared, too. The challenge is to find ways to do this respectfully. It can be scary at times to let down one’s emotional guard, but when trust is developed over time, it feels safe. Emotional intimacy is one of the strongest bonders in a marriage. It is violated when a spouse shares intimate thoughts and feelings with a friend, co- worker, or on- line. This can feel like betrayal even though it doesn’t involve sexual infidelity.
Intellectual intimacy comes when spouses share a vibrant life of the mind with each other. It may be discussing a book, movie, or play, dissecting all the nuances of the plot and symbolism. It might be the high of attending a concert together that stirred your souls. It might be knowing that you share similar opinions on social, political, or religious issues. It’s not a matter of equivalent education, but rather equivalent thirst for knowledge that feeds your common spirit.
Heart- to- heart conversations might be the way that you develop emotional or intellectual intimacy, but sometimes the conversations might not be about anything that momentous. It might just be sharing the stuff of everyday life. What concerns are you carrying about your child? Is there a decision to make about a job or a move? Is there a joke that you know your spouse will understand even though it’s not laugh out loud funny?
Sometimes deep intimacy can come without words. It may be a knowing glance as you drive along the highway, and you appreciate the view together, or a long consoling hug when a tragedy strikes your family. It can also be the feeling of satisfaction when doing yard work, household repairs, or working on a social cause together.
Spiritual intimacy should not be dismissed as too esoteric or something just for “holy people.” Prayer is a personal encounter with God. Letting your spouse peek into a sliver of that relationship by saying heartfelt prayers of petition or thanks together is the beginning of becoming soul- mates. See, Who Me, Pray?…With Her for ideas.
And of course, there is sexual intimacy. This physical intimacy is so special and profound because it lays bare our bodies in their beauty and imperfection for the pleasure of our spouse. Such a private moment. Such a momentous act of total self-giving and trust that we don’t share with anyone else. It celebrates our joy and stirs us out of apathy. The possibility of new life being born from this loving act is a miracle almost beyond comprehension.
Being human, we are not perfect. At times we’ll fall short of the ideal of never hurting our spouse. There may be times when trust between spouses is broken. At times like this a couple must reach deeply into their reserve of love, change what needs to be changed, and ask forgiveness. That too, is an intimate act.