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Thursday, March 17, 2016

How you and your spouse define intimacy makes a difference in your quest to attain it. 

I'm wrapping up my intimacy series today with a final look at the findings from my "What is Intimacy?" survey.

It seems every couple wants more intimacy, although a husband and wife may define it differently. I think that God hardwired each of us to desire intimacy. It's in our nature because it's in his nature, and we are made in his image. 

As I've said previously, I believe deep and abiding intimacy is the highest goal of every marriage.

See the end of this post for more on this fascinating study.

Hardwired for Intimacy

This innate need for intimacy is not just my personal opinion. I recently heard of a scientific study that followed the lives of 714 men for 75 years, starting in 1938, in an attempt to understand what makes for a happy, healthy life. Three keys to happiness, as reported in the study, were:
  • Close relationship with family and friends matter more than money or fame or high achievement (loneliness is toxic)
  • High quality relationships matter more than a large quantity of them
  • Stable, supportive marriages actually improve brain function and memory
In summary, close intimate relationships, including marriage, are the key to long term happiness and health.

The Differences

In my own, rather non-scientific survey, I asked people to define intimacy, then I asked them how satisfied they were with the intimacy in their marriage, as they had just defined it.

I'll preface these remarks with the admission that people's answers to those two questions don't provide enough insight into individual relationships to be able to understand all the underlying intimacy issues. However, it's easy to see that those who reported themselves as satisfied (either somewhat, mostly or completely) with the intimacy in their marriage and those who said they were dissatisfied (either somewhat, mostly or completely) differed most in their definition of intimacy in five areas:

Three keys to satisfaction

Lets look first at three significant areas where those who reported being most satisfied with the intimacy in their marriage differed in their description of intimacy from those who were less satisfied. (Where the blue bars in the chart are higher than the orange bars in the chart).

1) Oneness

In total, more than half of those who were satisfied with marital intimacy described it as including things like oneness, closeness and being connected at a deep level. They also frequently mentioned that this connection extends to physical, emotional and spiritual (see the next two difference). This compares to only one in three of those who were less satisfied with intimacy who included such descriptions.

Takeaway:  Intimacy is about connection.

2) Spiritual intimacy

The second biggest area of difference between satisfied and unsatisfied respondents was in the area of spiritual intimacy. Those who included the aspect of spiritual oneness when describing intimacy, were significantly more likely (38% vs 22%) to report being satisfied with the intimacy in their relationship.

This makes sense to me, because I believe that limiting intimacy to just the physical and emotional dimensions of your being will leave a significant hole in the level of connectedness a couple can experience

Takeaway:  Spiritual intimacy is essential. It completes the picture.

3) Whole being oneness

The last are of difference (blue bars vs. orange bars) is among those who described intimacy as being experienced in the whole of your being -  body, soul and spirit. Those who understood this were more likely to be satisfied (33%) than unsatisfied (22%) compared to those who limited their definition of intimacy to taking one or two areas. Most often, the missing dimension, as mentioned in number 2 above, was the spiritual dimension.

In truth, intimacy goes beyond the three areas that came out most prominently in the survey (physical, emotional and spiritual). It also includes, but is not limited to, financial intimacy (shared finances), recreational intimacy (shared fun), intellectual intimacy (shared learning) and more.

Takeaway: Intimacy happens best when it includes the entirety of your being - wholehearted intimacy.

Two  Unmet Needs

Now lets look at two areas where the orange bars (dissatisfied with intimacy) were higher than the blue bars (satisfied with intimacy) in the chart. I would equate these to unmet needs in the relationship.

4) Vulnerability

I touched on vulnerability in my last post.  The survey results showed that wives were significantly more like to describe intimacy with words like vulnerability, transparency and openness than were husbands. I also observed that wives, on whole, were less satisfied with the intimacy in their marriages than were husbands. Putting these two differences together, we can see from the chart above that those looking for vulnerability from their mate were more likely to report dissatisfaction with intimacy.

Takeaway: Intimacy requires fully knowing each other, and is especially important for husbands to understand about their wives.

5) Time

The last significant difference between those who were satisfied vs. dissatisfied with intimacy were those who defined intimacy in terms of time spent together. Clearly, those needing time with their partner in order to feel connected were more likely to report themselves as dissatisfied with the intimacy in their marriage. Perhaps these are individuals for whom quality time is their love language but who are not having that need met.

Takeaway: If time spent together is important to your spouse, it needs to be a priority for you as well.

As you and your spouse journey down the path of intimacy, I hope this little series has been helpful and that it has prompted some good conversation between you. If you'd like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment.

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