When Dara and Kevin were in premarital counseling, their pastor asked them to list five habits or personality traits about the other person that they found annoying. Dara stared at her blank piece of paper and said, "Honestly, nothing about Kevin annoys me."
By their 10-year anniversary her grievance list had grown, primarily because of the stress of managing two kids, a demanding job, a monstrous mortgage, and an incontinent cat. These made even the little problems between her and Kevin major annoyances, and left her little energy for sex.
Every couple wishes the romance and starry-eyed love could last forever. But at some point every husband and wife must cross the invisible line between fantasy love and real life, where the majority of marriage is lived out.
Even King Solomon and the Shulammite crossed that line as problems threatened to erode their intimacy: "Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom" (Song of Songs 2:15). She told him, "We've got problems. Can't you see those little foxes? They're going to ruin everything for us. Do something about this."
Most Old Testament scholars agree that the vineyards in this verse represent Solomon and the Shulammite's love. Everything seems perfect, except that she spies some little foxes in their vineyard, and warns Solomon of their presence. While seemingly harmless, foxes dug holes and passages that loosened the soil around the vines, preventing them from developing a stable root system. In this instance, that root system is their intimacy.
Proverbial symbols of destroyers, the little foxes in this passage symbolize the small problems that gnaw at the root of their love.
We must catch those foxes that gnaw at the root of our love, because if we don't, they'll destroy our desire for sexual intimacy.
A recent cover of Newsweek showed a husband and wife in bed, dressed in full-length pajamas. He stares blankly at a computer on his lap while she shovels spoonfuls of Häagen-Dazs into her mouth, a zoned-out look on her face. A blaring headline reads, "No Sex, Please, We're Married." The subtitle asks, "Are Stress, Kids, and Work Killing Romance?"
The answer? Yes! Stress is eating us alive. And the two most common foxes, or intimacy killers, for married couples? Work and kids.
Intimacy Stealer #1: Overwork
Work, work, work. According to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Americans worked 350 hours more this year than last year, and this upward trend continues. And the result is neglected marriages.
John works 75 hours a week under the guise of providing for his family. Amy's request for him to spend more time at home unleashes strong emotion in them both. He's angry: "Doesn't she understand the pressure I'm under?" She's despondent: "Doesn't he see he's becoming a stranger to me?"
Men are not the only ones who suffer from overwork. Women who are employed full time are usually still the main family and house managers. And don't forget about stay-at-home moms.
Lynne is a stay-at-home mom. You'd think she'd have time on her hands, but she homeschools their five children, manages the household, teaches Sunday school, and sells cosmetics on the side.
If you asked Lynne, "How's your sex life?" she'd answer, "Sex—what's that?"
It used to be that several times a year, Americans took a vacation. They retreated to a quaint cabin (with no television) by a mountain lake, where they sipped lemonade, listened to the katydids chirp, and enjoyed the chance to get away from the phone and their daily routine. These days, instead of getting away, we take it all with us. On our last vacation, we each took a cell phone and a laptop. Count it up: between us, five days away with four cell phones, four laptops, two Palm Pilots, and two Day-Timers.
Unfortunately, constant connections with the outside world can leave us disconnected from our mate.
Intimacy Stealer #2: Children
First you married, then you had kids. Problems surface when couples reverse this order. We best serve our kids when we make our marriage our first priority. Children, while gifts from God and a joy to parents, require constant care, diminishing opportunities for intimacy. Cassie told us: "I've got three preschoolers. I'm so exhausted from kids pulling on me all day that by bedtime, I can hardly move. Then my husband wants sex, and he wonders why I'm irritated. The last thing I need is another person pulling on my worn-out body."
Murphy's Law says, "Sex makes little kids. Kids make little sex."
Jody and Linda: Years ago, when our kids were preschoolers, we realized we needed some time alone as a couple. After years of being pregnant and nursing, Linda was beyond exhausted. So we planned a weekend away. We secured a woman to stay with our children. Everything was in place—and then the babysitter got sick. So we planned a second getaway. Again, we spent days getting every detail in place—then Linda got sick. On our third attempt, we thought, Surely this time it will happen—and the car broke down. Our attempts to be alone were adding more stress to our already stressed-out lives, but we were determined to spend time together, without kids. On the fourth try we had our weekend away. It was glorious, well worth fighting for.
Steal It Back!
In our busy, stress-filled lives, we race from work to children to marriage, and in our race we end up putting out fires rather than living by priority. One couple described it this way: "We keep saying we'll find time for us—next year will be different, the kids will be older, work commitments will be different. We've been saying these things for five years and nothing has changed. We've finally realized we must find time today, this week, not next year."
Perhaps part of the problem is our perspective. It isn't about finding time; it's about making time.
So what do we do about work and kids? How can we catch these foxes and recapture intimacy?
1. Talk to God. If your heart isn't right, you'll dismiss how to spend more time with each other with an apathetic shrug, and a "No, I don't want to do that." The starting place to create time for your mate is to ask God to instill in you a desire to make your sex life a top priority.
2. Schedule time on your calendars. Sit down together with your calendars. Across the top of a piece of paper, write the name of each family member, making a column for each. List the activities associated with each person, and how much time that activity takes each week. Be sure to include transportation time as well as time spent in planning or preparing for the activity. Your goal is to review all your current activities so you can recover a minimum of two hours a week and one weekend a year that the two of you can devote to time alone together. To accomplish this goal, you'll need to eliminate or curtail certain activities on your list. Review each activity and ask these questions: Can this be eliminated from our schedule? If not, how can we minimize its drain on our time? Discuss how you can grab two hours a week to focus on each other, and mark out that time on your schedule.
3. Interview an older couple. Invite for dinner one or two older couples whose marriages you respect. Ask them questions such as: How did you keep your marriage a priority? How did you make time for intimacy? What's your most memorable romantic time together? What suggestions do you have for us as a couple? Is there anything you'd change about the priority you placed on your relationship?
Their wisdom will inspire you to create marriage minutes together.
4. Brainstorm with couples your age. Organize a "Potluck With a Purpose" and invite couples who also want time together. Ask every couple to be prepared to share three creative things they've done to grab marriage minutes. Compile a master list and ask the couples if they're willing to meet every six months (or year) to update the list.
5. Fast from television for one week. You'll be shocked how much time you'll have for romance when you turn off the tube. Try it for one week and see the difference it makes in finding time to enjoy your intimacy.
6. Hire a babysitter. Don't waste your babysitting dollars on going to see a movie! Instead, hire a sitter to take your kids to a park Saturday morning for two hours while you spend that time at home—in bed.
7. Schedule a motel date. When curious teenagers fill the house and won't go to bed before midnight, it can short circuit your love life. Leave your teens with a pizza and a good movie, pack a picnic basket filled with fun food, a CD player, candles, and scented lotion, and go to a motel from 5-11 p.m. You'll be amazed at how much loving and talking you can do with no ringing phones! It's cheaper than dinner out and a movie— and more fun!
8. Enjoy the Sabbath rest. God asks us to take a Sabbath rest. Our bodies were made for a day of rest once a week. We encourage you to work and do activities with your kids for six days, but then take off one day. No work. No shopping. No running to sports activities. Instead, set aside the entire day to worship God, take naps, rest, and play together. This is part of intimacy—finding rest in each other, lying in each other's arms, and enjoying the closeness without the stress of life.
Adapted from Intimacy Ignited. ©2004 by Joseph and Linda Dillow and Peter and Lorraine Pintus. Used by permission of NavPress.
Copyright © 2004 by the author and Christianity Today.