The need for intimacy is what drives people to find romantic partners to ultimately marry. In Genesis 2 we find that Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden naming all the animals God brought before him, but for Adam there were none that made a suitable partner for him (vs. 20). So, God, who created Adam, realized that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in this world (vs. 18). So God brought Eve to Adam and he was so taken by her that he proclaimed that they were both one flesh (vs. 24) and they were both naked and unashamed (vs. 25).
The two major aspects of intimacy can be found in the above paragraph. First, they were of one flesh. They were one. They had probably achieved, over time, a complete understanding of each other to the point that both Adam and Eve were transparent with each other and there were no secrets between them. There was openness in their relationship that fostered an environment that would allow for each to share anything with each other. After all, there was no one else for each to share their deepest emotions, and that is a good illustration to those who say that someone other than your spouse should be your closest confidante, to see that they are wrong.
The second major aspect of intimacy is that they were both naked before each other and unashamed. Now if you can get past the mental image, you can appreciate this point of true intimacy between marital partners. To be that intimate, to not care about being naked in the presence of your spouse displays a huge amount of trust that has been garnered in the relationship. The consummation of a marriage is the ultimate outward display to each other that the relationship is founded on a solid level of trust that grew during the time of the dating relationship. That’s an important component to intimacy that dating partners generally don’t think about.
Sociologists have recognized the ten stages of physical intimacy between committed partners. I won’t go into them in detail, as it becomes a bit graphic in its descriptive terms, but I will say this; the first stage is catching each other’s eyes…to eventually holding hands…to eventually kissing…and so on up to the actual consummation act. If you study that out, with the progression to each stage there comes with it a need for a deeper level of trust between the two partners. And, as we saw earlier, good intimacy is built on trust. Amazingly, people today can go from stage1 to 10 within a few hours of meeting and this serves no purpose in developing any lasting intimacy between the two parties.
Marital relationships should differ in their level of intimacy from that of casual relationships in at least six different ways: knowledge of each other, caring for each other, interdependence (how we affect our spouse and are affected by them), mutuality (thinking of themselves as one as in Genesis 2:24), trust (there’s that word again), and level of commitment. Let’s look at these six a bit more carefully and it will become clear why I suggest taking a year off if your marriage is in trouble.
KNOWLEDGE: This takes time. This is a never-ending process that we as couples must continue. I used to be amazed at how two people could stay married for 20-30 years and not get tired of each other. Then someone explained it to me this way. After 20 years of marriage the person they’re married to is not the same person they were 20 years ago. Our goals, ideals, desires, fantasies, etc. change over time and as we mature and develop different priorities we can become different in many ways. So, if the level of intimacy has continued unfettered all that time, a greater understanding of each spouse is obtained, and knowledge of that new person continues to grow as that person changes.
CARING: The more I know about my spouse the more I find myself caring about her. If I love her and my love grows over time, the things that are important to her become important to me. When we call each other from work, the one question that is always asked is, “How’s your day going?” We genuinely hope and pray that we each have good days whether it’s at work or home taking care of the girls. Not only that, but there needs to be care for each other’s feelings as well, and that comes from taking the time to know and learn the needs of our spouses.
INTERDEPENDANCE: This is where we see the true wisdom of God preparing two people over time for marriage. We all have strengths and weaknesses. I, for example, if left to myself would strive for every pie-in-the-sky dream I can conjure up and I’d want to go for them. Now my wife is extremely realistic and has her feet firmly grounded on Earth. Sometimes she defers to me and other times I defer to her. Some situations require my strengths and some situations she is more suited to handle in her style. This aspect of intimacy is sometimes called being complementary. But again, that takes time and careful observation of your spouse and open communication between you both to learn what our strengths and weaknesses are, and then trust the other when you defer to them on something.
MUTUALITY: If your intimacy includes mutuality, it means that you see you and your spouse as a couple…one unit…not a couple of people. Now, a greater emphasis is placed on the relationship as well as a higher value. By now you know your spouse, and you care about them, and understand that you can be better off together than apart, so you begin to allow for more and more overlap between your needs and those of your spouse. Now that the relationship is of a higher value, you’ll begin to protect not only the relationship, but also your spouse from anything that may potentially pull the other from you.
TRUST: Trust will bring people closer and the lack of trust will cause couples to close up and drift apart emotionally and maybe even physically apart eventually. This trust grows intimacy because the only way to learn about a spouse is to have them tell us things about themselves. In dating it starts with the basics (likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc) but as time goes on and intimacy deepens and mutuality sets in and now you’re beginning to think he/she could be “the one” you need to know more. Morals and values and ideals and other issues related to forging a life together are topics requiring a level of trust on the part of the person giving all their private information. And once you’re married, the level of trust must be there because now the issues go beyond the dating things, like how you’ll raise your children, sexual intimacy issues, and others. Trust is huge.
COMMITMENT: That goes hand in hand with trust. If spouses trust that the other is committed to the marriage regardless of anything that could come about, then open communication ensues and that will inevitably deepen the level of intimacy within the marriage. You’ll continue to learn about your spouse, care about them, work with them more effectively, be evermore vigilant in guarding your relationship, more trust will be built and a growing commitment will develop.
Intimacy is a self-amplifying cycle, that is, if you infuse more into any of the six parts of the cycle, it will grow…perpetually. Unfortunately it can also be self-limiting if we don’t take the time to work the process. And let’s face it, the Western society in which we live is not designed to be family friendly. We rush to work, daycare, soccer games, piano lessons, school, church, extended family functions, and so on. We’re tired at the end of it all and we take the health of the relationship with our spouse for granted. That can go on for years. No real communicating. No real expressions of needs. Resentment can grow between spouses and intimacy can dwindle to an ember. But good news…that ember can be fired up again, but you’ll have to separate for at least a year.
Now if you think I’m advocating a separation from your spouse for a year…WRONG! You need to separate and take a year off from needless endeavors and give your marriage more time. I found an interesting concept in an article I read recently that was based on an Old Testament principle. “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5). Wow! Get married and be free from outside responsibilities for a whole year! Obviously that verse does not specifically apply to us today and cannot be fulfilled today in the context for which it was originally written. No, back in the days of Israel, when men were forced into the military and ordered to serve a mandatory time, or when the men of Israel were expected to take on any additional needs of the nation, they would just be pulled from there homes. But, the Israelites put such a great deal of emphasis on marriage that they realized the need for a new couple to build a solid foundation to last their lifetime. What they knew was that marriages are girded up by intimacy, because the deeper the level of intimacy, the stronger the marital relationship.
But notice something. This was done in the FIRST year of marriage. That’s usually the “honeymoon phase” where guys get a free pass for doing laundry the wrong way and men don’t get on their wives for anything at all. All that comes later. But Israel felt it needed to be done right away. Now if they believed it needed to be done immediately, how much greater is the need when the marriage is 5 or 10 or 15 years long. The thing that robs marriages of intimacy is what my wife calls “settling into suburbia.” It’s the scenario I described earlier…school runs, karate, daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, etc. So how do you take a year off from your responsibilities? You don’t…
Start first with doing an inventory of everything you and your spouse do, including children activities if you have children. Then, with the promise of a self-amplifying cycle, decide to give your relationship the mutuality it once had and vow to guard against its further demise. That will put things into proper priority. The goal is to spend more time with your spouse, remembering that it’s quality and not quantity we’re after. The best way to explain how to take time off from your life and apply it to your family is to give you my examples.
I’m blessed with a job that is extremely flexible. I try to work between 32-40 hours a week. That would require me to be gone four to five days a week, and if I worked opposite my wife to reduce the need for babysitting, we were seldom home in the evening together. Dinners together as a family were scarce. Since the beginning of January, I have taken to working two sixteen-hour shifts on Monday and Friday, which with overtime figured in, gives me a 40-hour paycheck. But now I am home five days out of the week. We have had more dinner meals together and I have enjoyed spending more time with my children and wife since. I’ll keep doing it that way as long as God continues to give me the hours that way.
But, this gave me more “free time” and the temptation came early to add something. I was asked to join a bowling league once a week on Tuesday nights and after talking about it with my wife, she and I agreed it wasn’t the best idea. I’d have the night off from work, but I’d be out of the house. Essentially that would have been one step forward and one step backward. Now, we don’t sit at the table and purposely work on developing a deeper level of intimacy between us, but just being together and interacting together and experiencing things together and talking about things together and sharing things together helps the cycle to move in a positive direction. Togetherness is the key.
Maybe you don’t think you can purge anything from your busy life. There’s got to be something. If something your child was eating kept making him sick you’d put a whole lot of thought into what might be causing his illness. You’d start eliminating a food item one at a time until you found the culprit and then you’d replace it with something that would be healthy for him. If you’re relationship with your spouse is not as healthy as it should be, and you cared about the relationship, you’ll look long and hard at everything. Remember, if you value your relationship with your spouse, you’ll guard against anything that may destroy that. So the ultimate question is this: Are you willing to take a “year off” for the sake of your marriage? Because if not, it’s a glaring testimony as to how little you care about your marriage and it ultimately comes down to how little you care about your spouse. After all, I’m sure you wouldn’t let your child suffer and die…I hope…so why let your marriage die?