Reclaiming Intimacy

Marriage and the Family February 11, 2016

The early days of marriage are nearly always filled with intoxicating feelings of romance, desire, and passion. These feelings create such an aura of excitement and uncertainty that they greatly enhance a couple’s awareness of the intimate experiences they share.

However, even in the best of marriages, familiarity and predictability come to characterize the relationship more and more as the sense of novelty and the intensity of emotion wear off. Gradually, the excitement and enthusiasm that once stimulated the marriage begin to decline.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the marriage relationship begins to spiral downward. Frequently, when things start to go wrong, couples try to get closer sexually, hoping to recapture intimacy and closeness. Others may try to talk it out, without realizing that intimacy is an intensely emotional or affective experience that requires more than words and reasons. Still others will shift their focus away from the relationship to their involvement with their children, careers, sports, or other interests.

So what does it take to keep love alive? What are the factors that develop a greater sense of intimacy in marriage. Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship in which two people mutually respect and enjoy each other’s company. These are the couples who know each other intimately, who are well versed in their likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams, and who have an abiding regard and fondness for each other that is expressed in big and little ways.

Following are ten ways that will help you to develop such a relationship.

1. Goodwill

The most important quality for enhancing intimacy in marriage is an attitude of goodwill and cooperation. Displaying goodwill toward your partner is absolutely fundamental to the survival and health of your relationship. Showing your partner goodwill means that each of you is on the side of the other and just as concerned about meeting your partner’s needs as your own. It means your spirits are open to each other and that you have empathy for each other’s point of view. It means demonstrating feelings of fair play and a willingness not to impugn your partner’s motives.

2. Respect and Trust

Mutual respect is a central ingredient in all satisfying, long- term marriage relationships. To have respect means to look at another and see what is really there and what potential exists. Thus, to show respect for a partner means recognizing and accepting her as a separate individual and valuing and esteeming her for whom she is, not for what you can get from her. Showing respect is not the same as romantic admiration, which is based on your idealization of your partner. Respect is clearly about honoring and appreciating your partner’s separateness and the ways in which he is unique. When two individuals develop a relationship based on mutual respect, a sense of love and trust begins to emerge. The trust each has for the other becomes a critical ingredient in creating emotional safety and fostering true intimacy as the genuine individuality and true selves of each partner blossom and flourish.

3. Effective Communication

Social Psychologist Elaine Hatfield maintains that intimacy is a process in which a couple attempts to move toward complete communication on all levels, and that the verbal expression of feelings within a relationship becomes the actual bedrock of intimacy. Communicating effectively with each other involves several skills:

  • Being sensitive to and empathizing with your partner’s feelings.
  • Talking with measured honesty of your own inner experience and feelings.
  • Actively listening; speaking and responding non-defensively.
  • Validating what you have heard, understood, and accepted as your partner’s message.
  • Affirming and encouraging your partner and demonstrating your affection for him or her.
  • Being assertive and asking for what you want.
  • Sharing together honestly your beliefs, values, difficulties, and accomplishments.

4. Mutual Commitments

Commitment is the one quality that contributes most to the continuing development of intimacy and growth in marriage. In marriages that last, intimacy and commitment go hand in hand. A lack of commitment on the part of one or both partners is one of the surest and quickest ways to undermine a marriage relationship. Any indication that there may be ambivalence or pretense about one’s dedication, loyalty, or faithfulness creates a sense of uncertainty and insecurity, causing a partner to become preoccupied with concerns about abandonment.

5. Expressing Love

Couples who spend time together enjoying leisure activities or who consistently spend quality time with each other tend to enjoy a greater sense of happiness and marital satisfaction than those who have little time to be together. Couples need to be intentional in promoting their partner’s well being and in improving the sense of bonding, attachment, and intimacy in their relationship. Following are some “minimum daily requirements:”

  • Show that you accept your partner’s ideas, suggestions, solutions, and feelings.
  • Voice your feelings of love and romantic passion. Say, “I love you” at least once a day.
  • Express your appreciation. Give compliments and affirmation to your partner at least once a day.
  • Share your feelings. Give your partner one full-bodied hug at least once a day.
  • Kiss your partner at least two different ways each day.
  • Touch each other tenderly each day to express your love and appreciation.

6. Adaptability

Intimacy is very much related to an individual’s ability to be open to change and embrace new ideas. The fine art of compromise and the skill of shifting one’s attitude or behavior to deal with changing circumstances and to cope with stress or crises are important parts of keeping love alive. Individuals who are rigid and insist on always being right are usually not well loved.

Successful couples are also flexible about the roles they play in their relationship. The way they adjust to situations and needs that change over time and the way they handle difficulties as they arise are critical to relational harmony and happiness. Where both partners work outside the home, efforts need to be made to share the workload at home. Otherwise, misunderstandings will arise.

7. Resolve Conflicts

Conflict is the gateway to intimacy. Couples who are willing to face their differences and work through their conflicts to find mutually acceptable solutions to their problems without being overwhelmed by negative emotions or causing each other to feel angry, criticized, misunderstood, ignored, or put down, have found the way to develop a greater sense of understanding and intimacy. While conflict can be a challenge to any relationship, it can also be a creative, growth-producing process that gives people the opportunity to say, “I’m sorry,” and restore the much-needed equilibrium to their marriage.

8. Sexual Satisfaction

Giving expression to sexual passion is a celebrated aspect of marriage and incorporates the desire for intimacy and closeness, both physically and emotionally. The level of sexual intimacy enjoyed is itself influenced by the overall state of the relationship, and can often indicate how willing a couple is to respect, trust, and cooperate with each other.

When marital partners understand and accommodate each other’s sexual needs to a point of mutual consent, their lovemaking activities have the ability to strengthen the bonds of their relationship far beyond the bedroom. Respect and consideration should be made for any past trauma and concerns around consent by either partner when it comes to sexual intimacy. Healthy discussion and exploration of sexual intimacy should be encouraged.

Couples may find that sexual intimacy encourages a sense of spontaneity, curiosity and playfulness that can further create a sense of long-lasting satisfaction in marriage and a strengthened relational bond.

9. Spiritual Values

Religious and spiritual values play a much more important role in marital stability and happiness than most people realize. A couple spiritual orientations helps them make sense of life and provides meaning and purpose for virtually every aspect of their lives. While a person may be virtuous without being religious, religion does emphasize those qualities most of us would consider virtuous—honesty, integrity, responsibility, commitment, forgiveness, and compassion.

Sociologist Andrew Greeley hypothesized that the warmer and more passionate one’s religious imaging, the warmer and more passionate one’s marriage—and that the higher one’s scores on the “grace” scale, the more satisfying and intense the sexual relationship with one’s partner is likely to be. He sees a direct correlation between marital intimacy and warm images of God.

10. Social Connectedness

All human beings have an innate drive to connect with another—a drive crucial to one’s esteem and survival. Couples need to develop a healthy relationship with extended family and friends and to feel that they are part of the wider community in which they live. Those who do this find that these other relationships bring additional resources to their marriage that energize and empower the relationship. They experience a greater sense of adaptability, tolerance, and openness to sharing. The improvement in self-esteem and relational skills enables couples to pursue and achieve a greater sense of intimacy and connectedness in their own marriage.

Couples who develop these intimate connections with each other are able to maintain a relational bond that grows and strengthens over the life of their marriage. They are able to give and receive love and be affectionate, playful, and adventure some. They can collaborate, cooperate, negotiate, and communicate effectively with each other.

These couples are able to soothe, stimulate, touch, hug, hold, gaze, comfort, validate, listen, respond, support, and honor each other and thereby create a safe, secure emotional environment in which love can flourish.

Genuine intimacy has become one of the major casualties in our busy, high-tech culture. In fact, many people have come to view the idea of achieving a happy, intimate marriage with some degree of caution, cynicism, and suspicion.

In spite of all our unrealistic expectations and fears, marriage is still popular. Those who set out on the journey continue to see the marriage relationship as a wonderful way to meet their personal need for love, friendship, and belong!.