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Wednesday, July 28, 2010
As I study the reader survey results, as unscientific as they are, I continue to draw some interesting conclusions. My first observation was a high level of interest by both men and women in the topic of intimacy, which I posted about here. Although this topic was had the highest level of interest for both men and women, further consideration made me wonder if they are really after the same thing.

Same But Different

If you’ve done much reading on marriage, you are no doubt familiar with the adage that women need emotional intimacy as a prerequisite for sexual intimacy. Men, however, are wired in reverse, and need sexual intimacy in order to feel emotionally connected to their wives. Of course these are generalizations, but I’ve seen this premise often enough that there must be some level of truth to it. It seems to at least be true in my marriage.

So in expressing a desire to see me write more posts about intimacy, I wonder if the husbands and wives were really asking for the same thing. Given the different tendencies I just explained, I suppose you could assume that men were seeking to grow in sexual intimacy while the women were seeking to grow in emotional intimacy.

In crude shorthand: men want more sex and women want to talk more.

Give-to-Get or Give-to-Bless

Savvy husbands and wives can divine pretty quickly that because of this difference in wiring, if they work to satisfy the intimacy needs of their spouse they are more likely to have their own intimacy needs met. As true as this is, there is a problem with taking a “give-to-get” approach to intimacy. It is a bit self-serving, and that is not going to be sustainable in the long run.

So, for example, rather than talking with your wife and connecting with her emotionally in order to get her to be more likely to say yes to sex, why not do so simply because that is what she needs and desires? Rather than giving her the minimum you think she’ll need to give you the green light later in bed, do it wholeheartedly, simply for her sake without expecting something in return. The same goes for wives. Instead of reluctantly saying yes to “duty sex” with your husband the next time he’s in the mood in order to get him to be nicer to you or more engaged, do it enthusiastically simply to bless him, without expectation of something in return.

The Fruit of Selfless Giving

There are two positive things that result when you learn to meet your spouse’s intimacy needs out of love, simply in order to bless him or her, instead of giving simply to get what you want.

First, when intimacy is returned in the manner you desire it, it feels like a returned blessing rather than simply a met expectation. How much better is it to get something you aren’t already expecting? On the flip side, if giving doesn’t result in the immediate reward you would otherwise be seeking, you will be less likely to be resentful and/or disappointed.

Second, whereas give-to-get steals the pleasure of giving and instead sets you up for disappointment, give-to-bless can help you learn to find joy in giving joy. Learning to give to your spouse in a way that meets his or her needs without imposing expectations in return is a fundamental part of living a surrendered marriage.

Caveats and Conclusions

First, an important assumption here is that your spouse is good-hearted and desires a good marriage. I am not proposing this approach if you are in an abusive marriage or your spouse purposefully acts with malice toward you.

Second, I know full well that human nature draws us all toward self-protection and self-satisfaction. I am guilty of that plenty of times. No one is able to give endlessly and never expect anything in return. I am also not saying that it is wrong to express your needs and desires to your spouse. In fact quite the opposite is true; for a strong marriage it is essential that you learn to express your needs in a healthy, non-demanding manner. How else will your spouse know how to give you what you need?

What I’m suggesting is that as you become tuned into your spouse’s needs, work toward giving yourself fully to the task of meeting those needs simply out of a desire to love and bless them, without imposing expectations. It is a journey. You won’t bat a thousand. But commit to yourself to seek out the joy and pleasure found in selfless giving.


Finally, since we started out talking about differences, let me point out the two areas in the reader survey where there were the biggest differences between men and women. By a significant margin, wives were much more interested in spiritual issues. Husbands, on the other hand, were much more interested in “understanding the opposite sex.” Interesting. Perhaps more later on this particular difference… Meanwhile:

Do you have any experiences with differing intimacy needs between you and your spouse that you’d be willing to share?


Scott said...

I want to add a note of clarification based on some feedback my wife gave me after reading this post. She said, "I don't just want to talk," meaning that physical intimacy is also important to her.

I didn't mean to imply that I don't think women want physical intimacy and that men don't want emotional intimacy. Rather, my point was that the paths and priorities are different between men and women. Men typically want physical intimacy before making an emotional connection, and women typically want emotional intimacy before making a physical connection.

I hope that clarifies my meaning.

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