At its core, intimacy in a marriage is about being known. Yet in the midst of life’s day-to-day woes, and in a culture that has perverted the idea of intimacy in every possible way, it’s difficult to know how to get there. In this article, Alissa Coburn shares 5 practical ways you can grow in intimacy with your spouse and 3 ways you can damage it.
When we hear the word ‘intimacy’, our minds often immediately turn to sex. We live in a sex-crazed society, so perhaps that’s no surprise. Intimacy, though—particularly in a marriage—involves so much more than physical intimacy (although it does include it). At its core, marital intimacy is about being known.
In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, God ruled that it was not good for man to be alone. And so, from the very body of man He sculpted the perfect compliment: woman. When Adam laid his eyes upon this beautifully-crafted creature made just for him, he said: “‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man’” (Genesis 2:22-23). The text continues by saying, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:24-25).
Adam and Eve saw one another completely, openly, and unveiled. Adam saw Eve in her entirety, and he delighted in her. They were completely uncovered; they knew no shame. Oneness in marriage was born—but it wouldn’t last long.
A LOSS OF INTIMACY
The serpent coaxed Eve with the promise of knowledge, so she defied God and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. As a result, she got exactly what she asked for: knowledge of evil. The Bible tells us immediately after they ushered sin into the world, Adam and Eve experienced barriers to their intimacy. For the first time they felt the burden of guilt and shame. They recognized their nakedness and sewed together fig leaves to hide.
Every person born since has experienced the consequences of that first transgression, and every marriage has suffered from the same effects. We err, we fight, and we wound. If we’re not diligent in our pursuit of oneness then shame, guilt, resentment, and bitterness build up between us.
After they were expelled from the garden of Eden, Genesis 4:1 says that Adam ‘knew’ his wife, Eve, and that she conceived their son Cain. The word used here is the Hebrew word ‘yada’, and in this case, it’s obviously a euphemism for sexual intercourse because it resulted in conception. However, the term also informs us of the true goal of intimacy in marriage: to know and be known.
KNOWING AND BEING KNOWN
Let’s be honest, though. In the midst of life’s day-to-day woes, and in a culture that has perverted the idea of intimacy in every possible way, it’s difficult to know how to get there. We begin to feel like true intimacy is hidden and guarded with a flaming sword (Genesis 3:25) while we’re wandering around in the wilderness just trying to survive.
However, we don’t have to stay here. God has given us new life in His Son. And that new life can and should penetrate every aspect of our lives, including our marriages. He’s made a path forward for us.
Below I’ve compiled a few practical ways to invite intimacy into your relationship with your husband–and some practices you should avoid.
5 WAYS TO GROW IN INTIMACY
1. Be Intentional
In early 2020 my husband and I went on a dreamcation—a weekend for us to dream and seek God’s plan for us. We settled into our little rental in the mountains, and I was excited to begin a weekend of dreaming, exploring, and praying. However, expectations and reality rarely align. One night we went to a cute little restaurant, and somewhere between the appetizer and the entrees, a reality check smacked me in the face: we had drifted.
There had been no major conflicts or quarrels. Neither of us had any hidden indiscretions. We had simply allowed the busyness of life to pull us apart. It didn’t happen suddenly, but it sure felt like it. My husband was sitting across the table from me, but spiritually and emotionally, I’d lost him.
We spent the next few months swimming against the current of life, trying to find our way back to one another. His long hours at work and my long hours in quarantine with our children threatened to pull us apart. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit and a lot of intentionality, we were able to find our way back to oneness.
As Christians, we have an enemy whose first recorded action on earth was to bring a rift in the perfect unity of the first couple. Now, many millennia later, nothing has changed. Our enemy still seeks to divide us, and his greatest tool is distraction. If he can keep our minds and hearts busy enough, we’ll drift apart on our own.
Our best tool to fight the drift? Intentional pursuit. When we consciously and consistently pursue the hearts of our husbands, we disarm the enemy and strengthen our marital bonds.
2. Ask Questions
I will tell just about anyone anything. My husband, on the other hand, would be content to listen to me ramble without ever talking about himself. This makes him a great listener, but sometimes it isn’t profitable for our relationship.
Early in our marriage, I complained that he was hard to know and that our relationship felt one-sided. I wanted him to communicate his thoughts and feelings. I wanted to know how God was working in his life and where he was struggling. It took some time, but eventually I learned the secret to knowing my husband: ask him questions.
Now I ask him how he’s doing spiritually and how he’s feeling about life and work. I ask him what he thinks about what’s going on in the world and in the lives of our kids. When his answers are short or unclear, I ask more questions.
I’ve learned a lot about him through this intentional pursuit, and it’s grown our relationship in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Now, he’s quicker to share with me without prompting, and I’m learning ever more about the amazing, kind, intelligent man God gifted to me. Asking questions has changed our marriage.
3. Be Known
Perhaps you’re more like my husband—content to listen and not overly eager to spill your guts. This might be great for some of your relationships. However, in your marriage, I’d urge you to let your guard down and be known. The path to true emotional intimacy is through transparency and vulnerability.
The definition of the word ‘vulnerable’ is “open to attack or damage.” That sounds like a great reason to erect walls around your heart. But vulnerability and transparency in a marriage are critical. You must be fully known so that you can be fully loved.
Like us, our husbands are human. Intentionally or accidentally, we will hurt one another. But the good news is that we know a Healer. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and subsequently suffer damage or loss, the Holy Spirit lives in us to comfort us. He reminds us that we can extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness because it has been lavished upon us by our Savior. If you love God, you are known by Him (1 Corinthians 8:3). Allowing your husband to know you can be a wonderful way of reflecting that divine love.
4. Pursue God Together
First, let me acknowledge that this may be hard for some of you. Maybe your husband isn’t saved and you’re pursuing God on your own. Or perhaps your husband is a believer, but his Christian walk isn’t bearing much fruit. That is not easy. If that’s what you’re going through, I’d encourage you to keep pursuing God and your husband! Let God’s Word guide you as you seek intimacy with both of them (and pay special attention to 1 Peter 3:1-7).
If both you and your husband are saved, pursuing God together is imperative. Sadly, many Christian couples attend church together every Sunday but never seek deep spiritual intimacy. They pursue God separately, never daring to bare their souls before Him together.
It’s great to worship together on Sunday, but don’t leave it there. Read the Word together; study it and teach one another. If you’re both members of the body of Christ, then you’re called to grow to maturity in your faith together, becoming daily more like Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Regularly pray together. When Jesus was teaching His disciples about how they should live, He said, “Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). You and your husband add up to two, so if you want intimacy in your marriage, the best thing you could do is ask God for it!
5. Be Lovers
Sexual intimacy is an amazing gift. God could have made us reproduce in many ways, but he chose sex. Like everything good He created, sin perverts and distorts it. But within the confines of marriage, sex can be at beautiful expression of oneness. Because of that, it’s important that we make sexual intimacy a priority.
For my husband and I, there are seasons where this has been difficult. Whether it was newborns needing constant attention, teenagers getting into trouble, or exhaustion from packed schedules, many days we’ve fallen into bed and sex has been the last thing on our minds. Nevertheless, it’s important to God, so it should be important to us. In fact, an entire book of the Bible is dedicated to the subject of pursuing a marriage partner and then delighting in them in every way, including physically. (If you haven’t read Song of Solomon, I highly recommend it.)
Physiologically, we are designed to bond through sexual intercourse, and this is particularly true for our husbands. Oxytocin, which some have dubbed “the love hormone,” is typically found at higher levels in women than men and is an important part of the childbirth and nursing process. When it’s released, it promotes bonding and memory-building. Though men’s oxytocin levels are lower, during sex their bodies are flooded with this powerful love hormone. Perhaps this is one reason Paul wrote to the Corinthians that husbands and wives shouldn’t deprive one another of physical intimacy unless it was agreed upon by them both, and then, only for a prescribed period of time for the purpose of dedicated prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5).
Physical intimacy in marriage isn’t only comprised of sexual intimacy, but it is a key component. If we want intimacy with our husbands, we must dedicate time, energy, and effort to pursuing them physically. It can be difficult in some seasons, but it’s always worth it.
3 WAYS TO DAMAGE INTIMACY
I daresay most of us would not admit to having contempt for our husbands. Nevertheless, it’s present in many marriages, and it’s killing them. Mirriam-Webster defines contempt as “lack of respect or reverence for something,” or in this case, someone. Dr. John Gottman, a secular but brilliant researcher in the area of relational intimacy says this: “When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship, you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while you’re feeling upset. You can’t remember a single positive quality or act.”
Sound familiar? I wish I could say it didn’t.
There have been times where I’ve lost sight of everything good about my husband. I’ve allowed my complaints about him to overshadow his positive attributes, and I’ve reduced him to his faults. Often, I’ve belittled him with my words or even through my tone, facial expressions, and body language. Our mouths speak out of the overflow of our hearts (Luke 6:45), and before my heart can overflow into my mouth, it dramatically affects my face.
If frustration, snark, and sarcasm are ever-present in your communication, I’d gently recommend seeking the Lord and asking Him to reveal your heart. Ask Him to root out any offensive ways of communication that may be damaging intimacy with your husband, and let Him lead you toward loving and respectful speech that builds up instead of tears down.
2. Unresolved Conflict
A wise pastor once drew a picture of conflict I’ll never forget. He drew a simple stick figure of a married couple. Then, as he named different conflicts they experienced, he drew bricks between them—one brick per conflict. Over time, the wall became so high that they could no longer see one another. As a result, their relationship was almost dead.
Intimacy can’t exist behind brick walls. Unresolved conflict creates walls around our hearts, and intimacy, oneness, and unity cannot thrive without relational proximity. I think it’s for this reason that Paul urged us not to let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4:26), and why Jesus told us to resolve conflicts before offering gifts on the altar (Matthew 5:23).
It’s best not to let bricks of old arguments build between us, but what if you’re already standing behind a large, looming wall? Don’t be afraid to get help taking them down. Seek help from a pastor, mentor, or professional counselor. Pray and ask God to help you find assistance, and continue to ask for His healing and guidance.
3. Untreated Barriers
Physical intimacy in marriage is vital, but sometimes there are medical or emotional barriers. My husband and I have both experienced these to varying degrees, and sadly we often allowed them to drag on for far too long before addressing them.
Some of you may be dealing with intense past trauma or ongoing medical issues. Those can be daunting and may never simply ‘go away’. My heart is with you. Please continue, though, to try to work toward physical and emotional intimacy by doing whatever is necessary, whether that’s counseling, treatment by a physician, or a combination of the two.
No matter what, if issues persist, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and to pursue healing from the Lord.
INTIMACY IS A JOURNEY
Like our pursuit of perfection in Christ, intimacy in marriage is a never-ending journey. Paul’s advice to the church in Rome paints a beautiful picture of the pursuit of unity:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evel; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:9-13).
As we seek to grow in intimacy with our husbands, let us lean on the Spirit to help us grow in patience, honor, joy, affection, goodness, and love.
What practical advice would you give to those seeking to grow intimacy in their marriages? Are there practices that have been helpful to you? What part of what Alissa shared resonated with you the most?
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