Henry was usually jovial and positive. Last night, however, he came late to our church meeting and didn't have much to say.
"I'll never understand women," he told me after the meeting. "My wife thinks we need more intimacy. She says we aren't as close as we used to be. I don't know what she's talking about. I thought we had a good marriage."
There's something about our psychological, spiritual, and physical makeup that cries out for intimacy with another. That's because God designed marriage to be the most intimate of all human relationships, in which we share life intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Are you and your spouse intimate in these ways?
Intellectual intimacy. This isn't about discussing highly intellectual ideas. The important thing is discussing your thoughts. They may be thoughts about food, finances, health, crime, work, politics. They reveal something of what's gone on in your mind throughout the day.
Social intimacy. This has to do with spending time around the events of life. Some of these events we experience together; others happen while we're apart and are shared through open communication. Much of life involves doing. When we do things together, we not only develop a sense of teamwork, we also enhance our sense of intimacy.
Emotional intimacy. Feelings are our spontaneous, emotional responses to what we encounter through the five senses. I see the fire truck racing down the road and I feel troubled. You touch my hand and I feel loved. When we share emotions, we build emotional intimacy.
Spiritual intimacy. Often the least excavated of all the foundations of marital intimacy, yet this has a significant impact on the others. It doesn't require agreement of belief on every detail. Instead, we seek to tell each other what's going on in our inner self. It's discussing our thoughts about spiritual realities. The purpose isn't agreement, but understanding.
Physical intimacy. Because men and women are different (long live their differences!), we often come at sexual intimacy in different ways. The husband's emphasis is often on the physical aspects—the seeing, touching, and climax are the focus of his attention. The wife, though, comes to sexual intimacy with more interest in the relationship. To feel loved, appreciated, and treated tenderly brings her great joy. Sexual intimacy requires understanding and responding to these differences.
An essential ingredient of intimacy is allowing your spouse to be himself without striving to conform him to your ideals.
In intimacy, we try to grow closer together, not to eliminate the "otherness," but to enjoy it. Men and women are different and we must not, even with good intentions, seek to destroy those differences.
What keeps us from experiencing intimacy? All of us are egocentric; the world revolves around us. Yet, when we focus on self, we lose intimacy.
The opposite of self-centeredness, then, is love. Love concentrates on the well-being of the spouse. We take time to listen to the thoughts, feelings, and desires of our spouse. We seek to understand and to respond with empathy. We choose to do things with each other, even things that may not be our favorite activities, simply because we want to be with each other.
In the context of such intimacy we become supportive and caring of each other, which builds a stronger, more contented marriage.
Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., a marriage and relationship expert, is author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts.
Copyright © by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.