By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
Intimacy is intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. This series explores why couples can’t connect and how they can change that.
References “Passionate Marriage” by Dr. David Schnarch
As you learned in the previous article offering three reasons couples don’t connect, the insecurity you both bring to the relationship limits how intimate you and your partner become. If you both insist on holing up in your respective forts, wary of letting the other in, you will never experience the “wall-socket sex,” (as Schnarch likes to call it) had by couples that aren’t afraid to unreservedly see and be seen.
One exercise Schnarch suggests for couples struggling with sexual dissonance is “eyes-open” kissing, and he discusses it specifically in terms of part of sexual foreplay. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Instead of squeezing your eyelids shut and focusing on what your lips are doing, you look at your partner. Now, hold on a second. This is not some magic trick. Opening your eyes while kissing your spouse will not instantly fix your relationship. The purpose of the exercise is to provide an opportunity to actually look at your partner and let them look at you. It’s about confronting your insecurities so you can deepen your intimacy. It can be awkward. That’s the point.
What it’s Like at First
“All you’re aware of is eyeballs. Actually, eyes-open kissing makes us acutely aware of ourselves. You have an extreme sense of proximity and exposure to your partner. Often you want to ‘back-off.’” (198) It’s often uncomfortable at first because you’re forced to be self-conscious– you are more aware of what you’re thinking and feeling, and it can take some getting used to. The first few times you try this, it will take some practice to get back in the kissing saddle. “This demonstrates how we have learned to tune out our partner and ourselves in order to function sexually.” (198)
See? More intimidating than it sounds. People are terrified of rejection, even from the person who swore to cherish even the most unlovable bits of them. But eyes-open kissing doesn’t just make the initiator nervous; it also throws their partner off their game. John was just as terrified of what Mary might see in him and she was of what he might see in her.
God wants us to be forthright with one another. “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—…Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.” (Eph 4:15, 25 NIV) Part of eyes-open intimacy is finding the courage to speak the truth to your partner about your fears and desires for the relationship. Being honest may initially drive you apart because it may bring up areas of contention, but as you resolve them, it will bring you closer together.
Why is this worth it?
Now, interrupting physical intimacy and making it awkward seem like backward ways to improve it. But what you’re doing by looking at your partner and letting them look at you is coming out from behind your fortresses of insecurities and accepting yourself and choosing to stop being fearful of rejection. Your self-esteem is no longer wrapped up in whether your spouse thinks you are the world’s greatest lover. Schnarch calls this “heightening differentiation.”
This was exactly what Mary was working on. Her husband was not at all receptive of her interrupting their passion with thinking and analysis because it forced him to think and analyze. And when you’re thinking and analyzing yourself and your marriage, what you come up with can be frightening. But she kept trying because she wanted to increase their intimacy by becoming more intimate. “It takes two to keep your marriage the same; it only takes one to change it… You are likely to hear accusations such as, ‘You’re making a mistake’ or ‘You’ll destroy our relationship’ more than once before the benefits kick in.” (199, 202)
How is This Effective?
Take your time
Eyes-open kissing doesn’t work overnight. Dealing with fears and insecurities you’ve spent years ignoring takes time. This process gets complicated when one of you bristles at the relationship upheaval. People are not comfortable with change. But times of adversity such as these are how God refines couples. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (I Thess. 5:11 NIV) Paul’s final instructions in his letter to the Thessalonians were about mutual edification. The same holds true for married couples. You cannot improve your marriage or yourselves unless you are willing to endure periods of pain and stress. The process of self-improvement is not an easy one; it requires that you excise rotten parts of you that you’re used to holding onto. But the results are worth it.
Christian Counseling for Couples Struggling With intimacy
They’re prepared to talk with both of you about relational or sexual dissonance without snickering like a 12-year-old, and help figure out what may be blocking the connection. Sexual dysfunction is not caused by stagnation or boredom so much as by emotional friction. And all the toys and positions in the world can’t fix that. But a professional Christian marriage counselor can help you to with a combination of therapeutic techniques and biblical principles.
You might also want to check out the third article in this series. It focuses on climaxing while looking into your partner’s eyes.