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If you’re thinking of getting married or already are, you’re going to get a lot of advice. Us married people have a hard time not doing that. Sorry. I think it’s because so much wisdom about marriage is learned the hard way—in the midst of screwing it all up. So, no advice here today. Just a short quiz that I hope will start a conversation for you and your spouse (or soon to be) about one big idea that we are still learning after 20+ years of marriage:
Intimacy is so much more than sex.
Sex tends to come easier when you’re first married so couples assume they have great intimacy. But I’ve come to believe there are actually six different kinds of intimacy, and not many of us are great at them all.
Intimacy isn’t just sex, though sex can be an indicator of whether we are experiencing intimacy in other ways or whether something is “off.” Physical intimacy (of all sorts—not only sex) is usually the outcome of feeling loved, known, appreciated— meaning other types of intimacy are in good, working order!
TYPES OF INTIMACY:
Spiritual - Spiritual intimacy is formed when a couple openly pursues God together in daily life. These couples experience the deepest togetherness and connection through spirituality, religious community, shared Bible reading, or other pursuits that stem from their common faith (giving, volunteering, etc). Couples with high levels of spiritual intimacy are ”on the same page” in their worldview and what’s important about life itself.
Recreational - If you have recreational intimacy, you easily connect during recreation, play, or rest. Couples with this kind of intimacy tend to strengthen their bond in something “purposeless” together on an open afternoon. In all likelihood, these couples share commonalities in hobbies, sports teams, random interests, or leisure activities.
Intellectual - Couples with intellectual intimacy are interested and engaged in the thoughts and ideas of the other. This doesn’t mean they think the same, but rather enjoy discussing and investigating the concepts and curiosities swirling around in their partner’s brain on a variety of subjects. Respect is easily communicated between them as they seek out the other’s thoughts and input on a variety of subjects.
Functional - Couples with functional intimacy are amazing at teamwork. They work together against a goal or purpose and make it through busy times with less stress than other people. Their day-to-day homes seem to just run a bit smoother because they move together in ways they barely notice. This kind of teamwork intimacy is often overlooked and underappreciated because its impact on daily life is high!
Emotional - Couples with emotional intimacy share their feelings well, giving and receiving care, compassion, understanding, and affirmation. These couples probably have regular times of conversation to inquire about their partner since this type of intimacy depends on talking to one another. Self-awareness is key as couples with this intimacy must be able to articulate what’s happening inside them for their partner.
Physical - If you and your spouse enjoy high levels of physical intimacy then you’re in sync around physical affection and sex. The times of feeling truly connected in these marriages are dictated by physical closeness. If regular physical intimacy or sex is interrupted (illness, discomfort in pregnancy, travel, etc) these couples might be quicker to feel distant or alienated from their partners because of the natural physical closeness they enjoy together.
TIME TO ASSESS YOUR INTIMACY
Assess your strengths and weaknesses in intimacy as a couple with the simple quiz below. It’s not hard at all. It’s also not scientific. Just trust me and do it anyway. My experience as a wife and a pastor tells me that the ones you stink at are going to cause you trouble if you don’t see them now. My desire is only that you’d have some better language to talk about these before you get 20 years down the road wondering why you’re always fighting about the same old crap.
1. Today’s challenge: Take the quiz.
2. Tomorrow’s challenge: Compare answers. Get some food and ask your spouse one question: Is there a type of intimacy you want us to grow in?
Have I earned just one piece of advice? OK, two. I want to give two. Even though I promised not to give any!
1- Play to your strengths. Do what you’re great at with intention and regularity. Don’t beat yourself up in weak areas. We all have them!
2- Decide on one simple way to keep growing intimacy. For us, it usually comes back to emotional intimacy. We tend not to take the time and energy it requires to share deeper feelings on a regular basis. There are lots of reasons for that: some practical, some personality, some that stem from past hurts. We don’t have time to get into all those here (and I’m not lying down on a therapist’s couch), but it continually trips us up.
To practice we kept a note open on our phones and jotted down a word or two when we felt a strong emotion during our week. Then we’d have coffee on Saturday morning and share one. Easy. It helped me fight off my (bad) assumptions that because my husband wasn’t communicating his emotions that he didn’t have any or he didn’t care about mine. It grew us both in self-awareness and kept us getting to know each other. Yes, even after 20 years that’s necessary!
Any kind of intimacy can be grown and developed. In the book of Ephesians in the Bible, one of the early Church leaders named Paul writes that we should “Follow God’s example…and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Eph 5:1).
We all want to love our spouses. I have seen intimacy grow when I try to understand and put the needs of my husband ahead of my own. The life of Jesus continually exemplified love by putting others’ needs first. Philippians 2 says that he took this so far that he died on our behalf in order to repair the intimacy we’d lost with God, His Father.
Intimate relationship is what we were made for—with one another and God. God created marriage to be a living example of the kind of intimacies that we can have with him, through Jesus.
God is a fan of your marriage. The success of your marriage is personal to Him. We’ve experienced over and over just how willing He is to help when we seek Him. Here’s my prayer for my marriage and yours:
Father - You are the only one who can help us make marriage work for a lifetime. You have everything we need. Show us how to come to you for help. You’re invited in to help us keep getting closer to one another and to you. Amen.