The Most Essential Ingredient for Growing Intimacy

Grace is an invitation to intimacy.

 

This is the sixth and final post in my series on choices that lead to The Path of Intimacy. Go here to see where this started and to get a complete list of the related posts in this series.

So far we’ve covered a number of choices that will help put and keep your marriage on the Path of Intimacy. We’ve addressed the fact that the deepest form of intimacy involves your whole being: spirit, soul (mind/heart/emotions) and body. We’ve seen the importance of being transparent and open, bringing the fullness of your self to your marriage, acknowledging the important role that trust plays in bringing about an atmosphere of living “naked without shame.” Last time we looked at the fact that you can have as much intimacy in your marriage as you choose to work for and that you can always have more if you go after it.

So what is left? What is the key ingredient that remains? Grace.

Grace is an invitation to intimacy

Grace is what keeps your marriage on the Path of Intimacy when other forces would knock you off.

Grace is nothing more than unmerited favor, mercy and kindness. Easy to say, but really hard to do. But grace is one of God’s most significant attributes and one that we would do well to mimic in marriage. It is God’s grace, mercy and loving-kindness that draws us near to him in intimacy. It’s his kindness that leads us to be transformed and renewed in the way we think and act, not his judgment or wrath (Romans 2:4). Grace has the same power to transform you and your spouse in your marriage.

“But wait,” you say. “You don’t know my [husband/wife]. You don’t know what I put up with!”

OK, I’ll admit it, I don’t. But here’s the crazy thing about grace: God knew everything about you, every sin and weakness, every bad choice, angry word and spiteful act you would ever commit, yet he chose to let his own Son, Jesus, be put to death so that he could have intimacy with you forever. That is grace. Ridiculous, extravagant grace. It is reckless mercy, and it is what we are called to duplicate.

“I’m not God,” you reply.

Neither am I. I’m not anywhere near as good at this grace thing as God is. Nobody will ever be. But I know enough to know that there is a promise in grace: that promise is intimacy. Grace is an invitation to intimacy.

Yes, our spouses are full of flaws and mistakes and at times will come out with unkind words and careless actions. As long as there are people involved in marriages, there will be pain. Plenty of it. Don’t let the pain knock you off the Path of Intimacy. At least not for long.

You have to want intimacy more than you want perfection.

It’s really that simple. I’m not saying it is easy. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I do know the power of grace. It’s simply amazing. (Wait, isn’t there a song about this Amazing Grace…)

So if it is the Path of Intimacy you want, choose the way of grace. Be extravagant in giving it and gracious in receiving it. It will do wonders for the intimacy in your marriage.

Have as Much Intimacy as You Want

If you are willing to do what it takes, the level of intimacy you enjoy is boundless.

 

This is the fifth in my series on choices that lead to The Path of Intimacy. Go here to see where this started and to get a complete list of the related posts in this series.

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 bold 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

  1. You can have as much or as little intimacy in your marriage as you want.
  2. There’s always more.

How Much Do You Want? How Much Do You Want It?

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. Marriage begins with spiritual intimacy. This is the great mystery of two becoming one. Appreciating that you are already one enables and deepens intimacy in the realm of the soul (emotional and intellectual intimacy,etc.). The ultimate act of intimacy is found in your sexual union, which is a unique kind of intimacy that is reserved for your and your spouse alone.

There can be breakdowns or issues in any of these areas. 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. Just like in your journey with God, you can always be closer to your spouse. I purposefully use the word “journey” to describe the lifelong pursuit of deeper marital intimacy. It never stops. Or at least it shouldn’t.

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? Are you vulnerable in the bedroom? As for intellectual and recreational 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 that 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 in understanding what it means to be “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 own 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?

 

Choose to Lose the Shame

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 3:7-10

Shame 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. Fear and shame work together to prevent and maybe even destroy intimacy in your marriage.

Choose to lose the shame. Choose glory instead.

 

Choose Trust

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.

Intimacy – It’s Not What You Think

 

This is the second in my series on intimacy. Go here to see where this started and get a complete list of the related posts in this series.

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.

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, to bare your heart. Bring your strengths and share your weaknesses. Be open with 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.