Cultivating Intimacy Requires Hard Work, "Communication in Marriage". Part 3
By Norman & Ann Bales Of All About Families
Intimacy involves many different levels of relationship. The components of intimacy include, closeness, shared experiences, bonding, warmth and affection, openness, honesty. Perhaps friendship may be the best synonym.
The American family system is built on intimacy. In his book, Family Ministry, Charles Sell wrote,
"The American family system is built upon the affection between the sexes. Americans expect the male-female relationship to be the most important source of emotional satisfaction and support. This does suggest that they achieve intimacy; the point is that they value it." (p. 38)
Intimacy is a need that all people have. This need is not necessarily sexual, although sexual intimacy is indeed a form of intimacy, which is legitimately fulfilled only in the husband-wife relationship (Hebrews 13:4). We may have intimacy with people other than our spouses, but not sexual intimacy. As a matter of fact it is important to be able to build and sustain friendships with other people in order to know how we can best establish intimacy in our marriages. "People with no friends usually have a diminished capacity for sustaining any kind of love. They tend to go through a succession of marriages, to be estranged from various family members, and have trouble getting along at work. On the other hand, those who learn how to love their friends tend to make long and fulfilling marriages, get along well with people at work, and enjoy their children." (Alan Loy McGinnis. The Friendship Factor. p. 9.)
McGinnis illustrated intimacy is his story of the friendship between Jack Benny and George Burns. In their comedy routines, Jack Benny always wanted to play the violin, but played it so poorly no one wanted to listen. George Burns wanted to sing, but couldn't carry a tune. When Benny died, Burns said, "Jack and I had a wonderful friendship for nearly 55 years. Jack never walked out on me when I sang a song and I never walked out on him when he played the violin. We laughed together, we played together, we worked together, we ate together. I suppose that for many of those years we talked every single day." We need to work for that kind of intimacy in our marriages.
EVERY BODY WANTS INTIMACY (EVEN GUYS)
"Friendship is the model for all intimate encounters. The basic ingredients for a good marriage, according to sociologist Andrew Greeley, are friendship, plus sex." (McGinnis. p. 9) Testimony of the Scriptures regarding intimacy (Genesis 2:24-25; Luke 15:20; Romans 12:10;Galatians 5:22; Colossians 2:12 Colossians 3:12,19; Titus 2:4; Hebrews 13:1.
The scriptures also testify to the importance of intimacy. When God instituted marriage he said,
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24).
Intimacy is evident in the story of the prodigal son. The two estranged men reunited with warmth, touch and affection, "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20).
Throughout the New Testament letters, Christians are encouraged to develop close, caring, considerate relationships with one another.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
"Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them."
"Keep on loving each other as brothers."
But what about the guys? Numerous Biblical examples suggest intimacy between men. When the elders of the church in Ephesus realized they would never see Paul again, "They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him" (Acts 20:37). That sounds strange to those of us who have been reared in American culture. It does not sound so strange to men who live in other cultures. We like to portray ourselves as tough guys who can get by just fine without affection and warmth, but the truth is we need intimacy just like everyone else. If a man denies his need for intimacy when he is with his wife, he makes a poor choice.
WHY DO WE CHOOSE TO GET MARRIED?
Back in 1955, Paul H. Landis wrote a book titled Making the Most of Marriage. He said,
"There has been a profound shift in the purposes and objectives of marriage over a period of a few decades, and therefore in motivations for marriage. Marriage was once primarily an economic institution and mates were chosen in considerable part for their ability to 'make a go' of the economic aspects of marriage. Both husband and wife had heavy work roles, if the family was to be a success. The family was the unit of survival in the socioeconomic system. The numerous duties performed in the home and on the farm made the family relationship the primary one in every aspect of life.
It is no longer so, and because it is no longer so, marriage has come to be viewed as a means for personal happiness and companionship, and not primarily as a means for subsistence or of survival. While domestic skills on the part of the wife, and thrift and industry on the part of the husband, are still standards by which successful marriage is sometimes judged, the success or failure of a marriage does not hinge primarily on these factors, but upon the ability of husband and wife to meet each other's psychological, emotional and companionship needs."
Although Landis wrote more than forty years ago, he clearly documented the fact that a shift had taken place in the way people viewed marriage. They were expecting more from the expressive side of marriage, which means they wanted greater intimacy. If anything, this desire for intimacy has become even more intense in the intervening years.
The recent movie The Bridges of Madison County is set in a time period roughly forty years ago. The stars of the movie are seeking intimacy. The farm wife is torn between her commitment to her husband and her desire for intimacy, which she does not think she gets from him. As a result she crosses the line to infidelity. Was it the intent of the film's producers to say that intimacy is more important than commitment? Is intimacy worth compromising one's marriage vows? We must stop and ask if it is really worth compromising our integrity to gain intimacy. We must ask if such short-term intimacy at the expense of one's morals is really intimacy at all.
How Do We Get Rid of our Fear of Intimacy?
- We must remain committed to our spouses (Matthew 19:6).
- We must learn to be transparent and open. We need to practice tactful self-disclosure, admit our weaknesses, shortcomings and struggles. (James 5:16)
- We must take the step of trusting one another, which means you run the risk of being hurt. "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. Yet to refuse to love is the greatest of all human tragedies." - C. S. Lewis.
- Make it a point to know one another. The Bible uses the word "know" to describe sexual intimacy (eg. Genesis 4:1). But the intimacy of knowing goes far beyond the sex act. It involves understanding another's thoughts, feelings, desires, dreams, longings and shared experiences.
- Intimacy grows when:
- Couples risk greater openness.
- Couples learn to be emotionally present with each other.
- Couples develop a high degree of caring for each other.
- A climate of trust is based on commitment to fidelity and continuity.
(Source Howard and Charlotte Clinebell. The Intimate Marriage. pp 25-26)
WE NEVER STOP CULTIVATING INTIMACY
Rabbi ben Ezra
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth plans but half; trust God; see all, nor be afraid.
"In that most intimate of friendships called marriage, the opportunities and demands for a relationship of depth are pervasive. Intimacy is an art with as many expressions as there are artists to express it. It is often expressed in the sharing of thoughts and ideas and feelings. It is expressed in shared joys and sorrows, in respect for the deepest needs of the other person, and in the struggle to understand him. Intimacy does not suggest a saccharine sentimentalism; it can be expressed in constructive conflict, which is the growing edge of a relationship. Intimacy is not a constant, but is expressed in varying degrees in the ebb and flow of day-in, day-out living. And intimacy is never a once for all achievement but must be nurtured throughout marriage; with this care, it grows and changes with the stages and seasons of marriage." (Clinebell. pp. 24-25).
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