We all have a deep need to be fully known and truly loved by our spouse, but what happens when intimacy in a mariage does not come easily? In this article, Maria Dyck shares her experience and some questions we can ask ourselves when we are experiencing a lack of physical, emotional, or spiritual intimacy within our marriage.
Maybe it’s my personality. Perhaps it’s the result of my strict Mennonite upbringing. Maybe it’s the remnants of trauma. Whatever the case, intimacy in any relationship—and particularly in marriage—does not come easily to me.
Like many newlyweds, my husband and I naïvely jumped into marriage assuming our love for each other was enough to endure whatever lay ahead. It wasn’t until we hit the grinding stage of our marriage, complete with 3 toddlers, a mortgage, and a minivan, that we began to feel we were missing an important element in our relationship.
But was there more? Was it enough to simply get along? We knew how to walk hand-in-hand. But we struggled to connect eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart. We grappled with these questions as we sought to understand what intimacy in a marriage looked like in biblical terms versus what we had seen in our Mennonite culture. When we heard the word ‘intimacy’, we wondered what did that even mean beyond the physical?
While we often refer to intimacy as a sexual connection, true intimacy goes beyond the physical to include emotion and spiritual connections as well. Authentic intimacy may be best described by author Timothy Keller. “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. And to be known and not loved is our deepest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”
A Need for Love
We have a deep need to be fully known and truly loved. And while we may experience emotional or spiritual intimacy with a friend, no relationship encapsulates this idea more fully than marriage. It is in marriage that we are our most vulnerable—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually. But it is also in marriage that our inability to be intimate is most obvious.
For many people, intimacy in a marriage does not come easily. We all have our own story as to why this might be the case. But Scripture gives us a glimpse of the underlying root of the issue, and to understand it we must go back to the beginning.
A BROKEN INTIMACY
When God created Adam and Eve, their relationship was perfect—not just with each other but also with their Creator. Genesis 3 tells us God walked in the garden alongside Adam and Eve every evening, giving us a glimpse of the closeness they shared in daily life. Adam and Eve were free in every sense of the word, and the fact that they were naked indicates how natural, safe, and comfortable they felt in their world.
But then sin entered the picture.
The Struggle to be Known
And along with sin came shame and condemnation, thrusting Adam and Eve into a hostile environment. Their immediate reaction to hide—not only their naked bodies but also from their Creator—tells us all we need to know about how sin broke the bond of intimacy between God and man and woman.
To this day, we are still tempted to hide. Whether we are hiding from God, from ourselves, or from those around us, shame keeps us from enjoying close and intimate relationships. Once we understand where our struggle with intimacy comes from, we can begin to unravel the cords that keep us from being fully known and truly loved as God intended. And to do that, we must begin with the most important relationship of all.
INTIMACY WITH GOD
Before we focus on intimacy with others, we need to first learn how to be intimate with God. Time and time again, Scripture points out the heart of God and His desire to be near to His people. In fact, our entire Christian existence depends on the Holy Spirit residing within. Not beside, in front of, or behind, but within—our souls. God could not have placed Himself closer than He did! Through the Holy Spirit, God offers us an incredible opportunity to draw near to our Heavenly Father.
So what keeps us from enjoying intimacy with our Savior?
Sin and Shame
Just like Adam and Eve, sin and shame follow us everywhere. Sin severs the connection we have with God while shame convinces us that God could never love a sinner like us. That our sins are too great, and that His grace is not enough to cover our disgrace. Satan uses these lies to keep us from experiencing the freedom Christ offers. If we long to experience this freedom, we must first confess our sin to God and accept His forgiveness. Then we must denounce the lies Satan uses to keep us from enjoying God’s gift of grace.
Experiencing Christ in a close and intimate way is crucial if we are to have a healthy relationship with our spouse. If we cannot experience closeness with our Heavenly Father, how will we ever experience it with a fellow broken sinner? And if we don’t allow God—who created us and whose love is perfect—to fully know us and truly love us, how will we ever open ourselves to another? In our Heavenly Father’s hands, we experience an intimacy that heals our soul, mends our wounds, restores our trust, and washes away the shame and condemnation that hound us at every turn.
INTIMACY WITH MYSELF
As we learn to walk intimately with Christ, we learn to see ourselves as He sees us. We see our fears, our insecurities, and our coping mechanisms. God reveals this brokenness inside of us not to shame us, but to heal us. As we learn to accept His love, it builds up within us until we can’t help but pour it out on those around us. We cannot give what we have not received. But what we have received we can give freely.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We hear much about the former, but we sometimes forget about the latter! For many years I had no idea how to love myself because I thought it was prideful. I grew up thinking true humility was hating myself while loving others. But that’s not true. True humility is understanding our value and significance in Christ while valuing our neighbor at the same time! We cannot love those around us if we hate ourselves. Otherwise, our love would be limited and conditional.
But healing, learning to walk in truth, and loving myself is a messy affair that takes time. One of the greatest tools we can use is the gift of a wise counselor. Someone who can listen to our story, guide us in truth, catch our lies, and remind us of our identity in Christ.
In the 20 years since I’ve been married, I’ve noticed a pattern. When I am secure in Christ and enjoying His fellowship, I am content with myself and able to love my husband more openly. It’s like a domino effect. The more I stay tethered to and anchored in Christ, the more I am made whole. And the more I am made whole, the more I am able to love and be loved by others.
INTIMACY WITH MY HUSBAND
Intimacy is wholly dependent on the two pillars of honesty and trust. If we cannot trust, we cannot be honest. And if we cannot be honest, we cannot build trust. If one of the pillars cracks or breaks, the damage can be irreparable. Because of this, it’s vital to carefully choose whom we are going to trust.
Even if your husband is a good and trustworthy man like mine, intimacy can be a struggle as we learn to put what we know into practice. Two sinners tethered to each other for life is not for the faint-hearted! Learning to be intimate takes time—a lifetime—and practice. However, when you and your husband are committed to learning, growing, and honoring Christ, it is inevitable.
Learning to be Intimate
When I’m struggling to be emotionally, spiritually, or physically intimate with my husband, I find it helpful to ask myself a few questions:
- How is my relationship with God? Do I live in light of his love? Am I struggling to be in His Word and pray?
- How am I feeling about myself? Am I feeling insecure or like a failure?
- Is my husband doing something that’s irritating me? Has trust been broken? Is there an issue we need to discuss?
When I search my heart, I find there is usually a reason why I’m struggling to connect with my husband. And finding the answer relies on how honest I am with God, with myself, and with him. Sometimes when I can’t find the answer, it’s helpful to say to my spouse, “I’m having a hard time connecting right now. Just give me a moment while I figure it out,” so at least he knows I’m struggling. This also gives him a chance to offer his support and be ready to talk when the time is right.
Free to Enjoy Intimacy
Sometimes, I marvel at how far I’ve come in the last few years in trusting my husband and enjoying a new level of intimacy in our marriage. Other times, I realize I’m still struggling to accept God’s unconditional love for me. I have to fight the temptation to hide myself not only from God but also from the man who has loved me for the last 20 years. This may always be my struggle. But I know it will not last forever. There will come a day when I will stand before God in my unveiled self with the bonds of sin forever broken. I will then be fully free to enjoy intimacy as God intended.
Are you experiencing a lack of intimacy with God, with yourself, or with your husband? Consider asking yourself the questions Maria shared above. Where might you need to adjust in order to grow in your honesty, trust, and vulnerability in your relationships?
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