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Friday, October 29, 2010
Would it offend you if I told you that you can have as much intimacy in your marriage as you want? I know it’s a risky statement. And I know there will always be exceptions, such as a spouse who is ill-willed, abusive and/or unwilling to put anything into the marriage.
But in general, I believe two things about intimacy
- You can have as much or as little intimacy in your marriage as you want.
- There’s always more.
How Much Do You Want?
There’s an important companion question to the question of how much intimacy do you want. How much do you want it?
Intimacy is organic, a living thing. So if you want it to grow then you have to feed it. A lot.
Left untended, the natural track of intimacy is decline. The Path of Separation, as I call it, is an easy one, and to some extent it is the path of human nature. It is easy and natural for you each choose to focus on your selves, your own needs, your own fulfillment and satisfaction. If you choose to live self-focused and self-protected, intimacy will eventually wither and die.
The Path of Intimacy, on the other hand, takes deliberate choice, or should I say deliberate choices. Lots of them.
I believe that optimally there’s a progression of sorts on The Path of Intimacy, as I’ve said before. It starts with spiritual intimacy, which enables and deepens intimacy in the realm of the soul (emotional and intellectual intimacy), all of which culminates in the ultimate act of intimacy, sex.
There can be breakdowns or issues anywhere along the way. If it is more sexual intimacy you are after, look back to spiritual and emotional intimacy for issues that need to be addressed. Are spiritually connected? Do you pray together and talk about your spiritual lives regularly? How are you doing with emotionally intimacy? Are you willing to be “naked without shame” in the realm of the soul? Are you transparent with your spouse and intellectually honest? Do you express love in the way your spouse wants it to be expressed? Husbands, do you cherish, protect and nurture your wife? Wives, do you show your husband the kind of respect and admiration he seeks?
How much are you willing to invest to get the kind of intimacy you want?
There’s Always More
Regardless of where you are on the Path of Intimacy, there is always further to go. I purposefully use the word “journey” to describe the lifelong pursuit of deeper marital intimacy. It never stops. Or at least it doesn’t need to.
If you are feeling stalled or even if you are feeling like you have maximized the intimacy you enjoy with your spouse, ask yourself whether you have stopped investing in it. There is always more you can do to stretch yourself and your marriage in ways that enhance intimacy.
Again, I encourage you to look broadly up and down the path for opportunities to grow intimacy. In your sex life, how often do you try out new things in the bedroom or seek new adventures in physical intimacy? As for intellectual intimacy, have you considered learning a new hobby together, taking dancing lessons, researching and visiting a new country, or jointly getting involved in a worthy cause? Is the emotional intimacy between you still growing, or have you decided you already know everything about each other there is to know? In your spiritual life, think about reading a good book the would spur you to spiritual growth, joining a small group or getting involved in a ministry.
Each area of intimacy feeds the other, so as the two of you continue to grow toward becoming “one flesh,” make sure that intimacy is thriving and growing in your whole beings: spirits, souls and bodies.
Focus on Your Part
There’s a strong temptation when dealing with the area of intimacy to play the blame game. It’s easy to blame our spouse for the lack we feel in the intimacy department. While the truth is that maximum intimacy is only achieved when you are both work at it diligently, it is also true that you can only change you.
Of course I encourage honest, open, and non-defensive expression of needs and desires. After all, you partner can’t possibly satisfy and delight you (which should be their primary focus) if he or she doesn’t know what you want and need. But truthfully, most of your effort should be focused on what you can do in your role as husband or wife to enhance intimacy. What are you doing to satisfy and delight your wife or husband? Where are his or her needs going unfulfilled?
If at all possible, and this is where it gets really hard, do the things you know you should do to enhance intimacy without the expectation of getting something in return. You want to avoid the mentality of “giving to get” and instead think in terms of “giving to bless.” This is the way of selfless and unconditional love.
Where are you on the Path of Intimacy? How much more do you want? And what are you willing to do to get it?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
This is the fourth in my series on choices that lead to The Path of Intimacy. Go here to see where this started and get a complete list of the related posts in this series. Today’s post closely relates to my last two, choosing Trust and Transparency in your marriage, so go back and read those if you haven’t yet.
There is another choice to be made that impacts your ability to live with trust and transparency toward your spouse. That choice involves shame.
What is shame? Shame is the painful emotion caused by an overwhelming sense of guilt, embarrassment, and unworthiness. Shame is what drives us hide ourselves. Look what happened back in the Garden of Eden after the fall, when the paradigm of being “naked without shame” (transparency) gets replaced by a paradigm of shame:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?" So he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." Genesis 3:7-10Shame causes us to run FROM God and hide instead of TO Him with our weakness and inadequacy. As we see in this passage, shame creates an atmosphere of fear instead of trust. When we mess up, we run for the fig leaves. But, instead of hiding in shame, God wants us to draw near to him without hesitation or hindrance, knowing that we are fully loved, just as we are, completely cherished and accepted by him through the finished work of the cross.
Shame destroys intimacy with God. Shame destroys intimacy in marriage.
Shame is a powerful human emotion. It’s one of Satan’s main weapons in attacking our relationship with Jesus. Shame will cause us either to accuse our selves or to excuse ourselves by blaming another, neither of which is helpful. Shame can keep a marriage trapped in fear, distrust and secrecy. But how do we choose to lose the shame?
Let’s consider what the opposite choice might be? You might guess that transparency is the opposite of shame. You might guess that it’s pride. Close, but not quite.
The opposite of shame is glory. It’s a little-used word today, especially when we talk about people. Maybe we don’t have so much trouble attributing glory to God, but humans? I say yes!
You see, shame has to do with disgrace, but glory has to do with grace. To live in shame is to live in darkness, hiding in the shadows, but glory allows us to live in the light, out in the open. Shame leads to dishonor, doubt and fear, but glory leads to confidence, delight and a sense of honor.
We were made in the image of God; we were made to be glorious.
But how do we choose to operate in the place of glory instead of the place of shame? Here are a few ideas:
- It is unconditional, sacrificial love that makes the way for us to be glorious, despite our weakness and failings. Believe that love is at the core of all your spouse says and does, even when it doesn’t always appear that way.
- Grace, grace, grace. Give it generously. Receive it thankfully. Learn to see your self and your spouse through the eyes of Christ. This one is huge!
- Never, ever use shame to manipulate or punish each other. It never really gets you what you want anyway.
- Desire intimacy more than perfection (in your self or in your spouse) and realize that condemnation puts you quickly onto the Path of Separation. Deal with issues in a way that preserves the connection with your spouse.
Most of all , you have to believe that you were made for glory. Not so sure? Take a look at how your Bridegroom, Jesus, sees you:
…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:27
Shame causes you to become insecure and self-absorbed, and the corresponding fear causes you to be self-protective and to hide your true self. Fear and shame are evil step-sisters. They work together to prevent and maybe even destroy intimacy in your marriage.
Choose to lose the shame. Choose glory instead.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
I posted last time about the first choice that will lead your marriage down the Path of Intimacy: transparency. Why is transparency so important? Because the highest form of intimacy comes from being known completely and yet loved absolutely.
I understand that getting “naked” before your spouse can be a scary proposition, but there is something that can help make the choice to bare your real self to your spouse a little easier. That something is an atmosphere of trust.
How do you choose trust?
Trust starts with you both believing that love is at the center of everything you do. Deep conviction about the other’s love is the essential foundation upon which other trust will develop. Each must also trust in the other’s understanding of the bridal paradigm and in your mutual desire to wholeheartedly go after a surrendered marriage. Trust that your spouse has a good heart.
For trust to be nurtured an atmosphere of faith is also required. Believe in your spouse and your marriage. If faith is the expression of belief, then trust puts that statement into action. In effect, trust says, “Because I know you and know of your love for me, I put myself in your hands.” So yes, transparency follows from trust, but trust also follows from transparency. When you reveal parts of your self, and find in return the love, grace and acceptance of your husband or wife, then you will become more willing to reveal the real you – all of you.
Trust is not simply passive acceptance, but rather an act of purposeful surrender. Trust says no to fear and yes to faith.
Whenever I think of trust I remember a retreat game I played in high school that was an object lesson in trust, where one person was blindfolded and told to fall over backward into the waiting arms of their partner. To me it’s an apt picture of trust in a surrendered marriage. Believing that your spouse will “catch you” means that you have faith in the fact that you and your spouse are partnered together in this marriage endeavor and that each is looking out for the other.
Growing your trust level is a part of learning to live as one flesh. For when you we are irrevocably joined with one another, it means that if you win, I win too. Trust is fostered when the inherent value you see in your spouse is spoken of through consistent expressions of admiration. Most of all trust disarms the enemy, whose weapons include accusation, shame and fear. (More on that next time.)
Are there places in your marriage where doubt and fear have taken over? What can you do to choose trust instead? Trust opens a wide path to intimacy.
Friday, October 15, 2010
I mentioned last time that men and women tend to look at intimacy differently. In general, and I know I’m stereotyping a little here, men think of sex and women think of romance. Of course it’s not really that polar. Men and women probably think of both sex and romance when it comes to intimacy, but the mix between the sex component and romance component is probably pretty dissimilar.
The thing is, whether you think more of sex or romance, if you limit your thinking to those two areas then you will limit your progress on the Path of Intimacy.
The first choice you must make to get on the Path of Intimacy is to first forget about sex and romance. Huh? Yep, forget about ‘em – at least for now. While these may be meaningful destinations further down the road, they can actually distract you from making the necessary choices that start you on the journey to deeper intimacy.
What’s the first choice to make when you want to get going down the Path of Intimacy and get off the Path of Separation? Choose to get naked. And no, I’m not talking about sex again.
I’m talking about transparency. I’m talking about being naked without shame. Do you remember this little passage of scripture?
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed Genesis 2:24-25
Yeah I know a lot of people think this is just talking about sex, but they’d be looking at it way too narrowly in my opinion.
This verse is talking about two becoming one in every sense, spirit, soul AND body. It’s talking about being real and bringing the fullness of yourself to your marriage, the good and the not so good.
You can’t have fake intimacy. It’s a non-starter.
So start down the Path of Intimacy by first choosing to get naked, to get real. Bring your strengths and bare your weaknesses. Share your hopes and dreams as well as your doubts and fears. Communicate with integrity about your successes as well as your shortcomings. Help your spouse love you by teaching him or her the things that delight, excite and inspire you.
Being transparent with one another is the only way to create an environment where intimacy can thrive.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Ask a dozen people what it is, and you’ll get 13 different answers. Men and women tend to define intimacy differently, and I think there are also some generational differences in how people look at it. It’s elusive and hard to pin down. If you ask a married couple if they are feeling intimate with their spouse at any given time, they will probably tell you how they feel (yes/no/somewhat), but they may not be able to say exactly why.
As elusive as it seems, most everyone seems to understand its importance to marriage. As my new reader survey results continue to show, intimacy is one of the most sought after topics on my blog. So even though I've touched on it periodically, I decided it's time to really give the topic the attention it is due.
Intimacy is a Living Thing
It is important to understand that intimacy is organic; it’s a living thing. As such it is either growing or dying. Very few living things can stay dormant for very long and still survive.
Regardless of how you define intimacy, you are either growing toward each other or growing away from each other as a couple. I look at this dynamic as a couple either being either on the Path of Intimacy or on the Path of Separation. And make no mistake; you are on one or the other.
When left to inertia and natural human tendencies, intimacy will tend to decline. It just doesn’t happen on its own. It takes a conscious effort to get on and stay on the Path of Intimacy, whereas the Path of Separation is easy to enter and even easier to stay on.
This is why so many couples seem to wake up one day suddenly asking themselves questions like: “where has the passion gone?” or “why does he always treat me like that?” or “why doesn’t she trust me?” or “why does he leave everything to me?” or “does she always have to be such a nag?” or “isn’t she attracted to me any more?”
The Path of Separation that leads to these questions can be a subtle one. You may be on it for months or even years before you realize that you are in a marriage that lacks the kind of intimacy and passion you once had; the kind of intimacy and passion you desire. Often by that time old habits and patterns of thinking are deeply engrained, making it difficult to reverse course and get back on the Path of Intimacy.
But it is possible. Very possible.
Wouldn’t you rather wake up one day saying things like: “Wow, I didn’t know it could be that good after all these years,” or “I can’t believe we are still so in love,” or “this just keeps getting better and better,” or “I’m so thankful I married my best friend,” or “You are the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I plan to spend some time on the important topic of how to choose the Path of Intimacy. I want to look at how the choices we make either put us on the right or wrong path when it comes to intimacy. I want to examine things that destroy intimacy and things that build it up.
If you desire a more deeply intimate marriage, stick around for this series and join in on the discussion.
Index to the rest of the Intimacy Series:
- Intimacy - It's Not What You Think!
- Intimacy - Choose Trust
- Intimacy - Choose to Lose the Shame
- Intimacy - As Much as You Want
- Intimacy - The Most Important Ingredient
Saturday, October 2, 2010
A few months, back in my post entitled “Finding the Right Words,” I clarified for my readers what I mean when I use the terms surrender, submission and headship. Essentially I use the term surrender, which applies equally to husbands and wives, to convey the paradigm shift of turning from self-focused living to a life focused on your spouse. It means bringing the fullness of who you are into your marriage partnership and choosing to focus your self and abilities for the betterment of your spouse and your marriage. A wife’s surrender takes the form of submission to her husband; the husband’s surrender takes the form of sacrificial, servant-hearted leadership.
Today I want to dig a little deeper into a few words on a wife’s side of the surrender equation by looking at three ways in which surrender can be manifest: respect, submission, and trust.
I’ll start with respect by noting how the Apostle Paul ends his instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5 with this summary:
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.Though he begins this text with instructions to wives on submission, he ends with the need for them to respect their husband. But are these really the same thing? Let’s look more closely.
Strong’s defines the Greek word Phobeo, in this context, as to reverence or treat with deference. Some dictionary definitions I’d like to include here are: holding in honor or esteem, to pay proper attention, and to show consideration for.
I have mentioned before the survey results that clearly show the highest stated need for husbands is the need to feel respected, in contrast to wives’ highest need, which is for love and affection. Interestingly, these are the very two things that Paul includes in his summary, quoted above.
In contrast, Strong’s defines the Greek word for submission, hupotasso, as “to arrange ones self under,” and “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”
So what’s the difference between submission and respect? The way I see it, respect is the attitude and submission is the action that flows out of the attitude.
Emmerson Eggerichs, in his book “Love and Respect,” makes a pretty strong case that a wife’s respect should be unconditional in the same manner that a husband’s love should be unconditional. By this he does not mean unconditional admiration, agreement or approval. What I think he is getting at is the idea that if respect and honor is not the primary expression of your unconditional love for your husband, he will not feel loved. Again, this doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with or approve of his attitudes and actions. It means you approach him with respect out of reverence for that fact that he is your husband. See the difference?
But I also believe that without respect, martial submission is really hard. A husband who requires grace from his wife in order for her to act with respect toward him will make her job of submission much more difficult. So although I tend to agree with Eggerich’s call for unconditional respect, a husband who works to earn that respect will add grace to his wife rather than requiring it from her, and in so doing further enable her to walk in submission to him.
Submission is the act of preferring another above your self - a strongly biblical principle. In the marital context, it means a wife yields her self in deference to her husband. Respect is the attitude that enables her submission.
Trust, on the other hand, is a separate dimension of the marital equation.
While there is no biblical reference that I have found that directly calls for a wife to trust her husband (or vice-versa), trust should be a central principle of any marriage that strives to be a reflection of the love relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church (what I call a “bridal paradigm” marriage).
Whereas respect should be shown without condition, and submission should be the default position in most cases, trust must be earned by a husband.
Trust grows out of consistent demonstration by a husband that he desires the best for his wife and their marriage and that his intention is to cherish and nurture her and help her to be all God intends her to be. He must earn her trust through the demonstration of caring and godly leadership, through consistent attention to her needs and desires, and through the strong but fair exercise of his authority.
By earning his wife’s trust, a husband can propel her past the issues of respect and submission and into the joyous place where she willingly joins herself to her husband, where two truly become one.
When husband and wife two are living as one, then when either person wins, the other wins by definition.
What do you think of my definitions? Do you buy into Eggerich’s idea of unconditional respect? Does the establishment of a deep level of trust help lessen the issues of respect and submission?
See also: Love, Respect and Submission from my "What I Believe About Marriage" series
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