By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
Part 1 of 3
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 and “A Celebration of Sex” by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau
Intimacy is that close physical and emotional connection experienced with the person you love. Individuals are looking for a partner they can share their hopes, dreams and private moments with. Men and women may date many different people in order to find that intensely intimate, “perfect connection,” with another person. At the beginning of every relationship is a period of intense physical and emotional connection. During this time each couple learns about and is fascinated by everything their partner does. This intense feeling is temporary; and fades with continued understanding of and exposure to the other person. While starting a new relationship is a beautiful time in the life of a new couple, it is only the beginning. Your relationship and your sex life will not always be the intense, wild passion you experience at the beginning of your relationship. Intimate connections are meant to grow and deepen with time.
1. You’re Afraid of Intimacy
It’s okay to feel uncomfortable or intimidated by intimacy. It feels embarrassing and awkward to voice your innermost desires and feelings to your partner. However, if you allow those feelings to get between you and your partner, your relationship, (particularly the sex part), will never get any better.
“Normal sexual styles typically don’t include intimacy-promoting behaviors, since we often don’t want to do the most intimate things. That’s why a couple’s sexual style is typically designed to keep intimacy to tolerable levels.” (Schnarch 187) It’s like when you’re talking to someone you are attracted to, and there’s that split second when something about the eye contact shifts and you feel like they’re seeing into your soul. The emotional penetration of intimacy can be intensely uncomfortable. This is why many spouses keep their eyes closed during sex.
2. You Hide Behind a Wall of Insecurity
People are afraid of intimacy because they’re afraid of rejection. “We are afraid we wouldn’t be loved if we were truly known. We tune out our partner, (or ourselves), to tolerate getting close enough to touch.” (Schnarch 188) Being intimate with another person puts you in a vulnerable position. This vulnerability can be unnerving. It feels likes your partner has a certain amount of power over you. People are taught to be strong, independent and confident. Allowing yourself to enter this vulnerable, or intimate, space with your partner can be difficult.
To build a truly intimate relationship with your partner you need to build a trusting relationship. You need to know that no matter what your differences are the person you are with loves and accepts you unconditionally. Under these conditions, there is no need to feel insecure or afraid of intimacy. You are free to explore and enjoy each other in a loving and accepting environment.
One example Schnarch gave was of a husband who would try to manually pleasure his wife before she was ready. (Schnarch 194) This husband was focusing on the sexual act and not paying attention to the intimate needs of his wife. Simply going through the motions of sex can leave both partners lacking the feeling of closeness that can be felt in an intimate relationship. To increase intimacy the husband should have discussed his wife’s preferences with her and the wife should have honestly told him what she likes. By not communicating with each other in the bedroom, the couple in Schnarch’s example will not experience God’s gift of true intimacy between couples.
3. You’d Rather not Really “see” Your Partner
Schnarch refers to the average couple as “sexual ostriches.” “They’d rather make love to the fantasy in their head, than the partner in their bed, only to complain five years hence, ‘You’re not the person I thought you were!’” (Schnarch 188) People don’t always deal with the realities of their relationship. Like sex, relationships are not like what you see on the screen; or read about in a book. It is difficult to sustain the bliss of your honeymoon. You can get on each other’s nerves and shut each other out of your innermost thoughts. It is important to admit when marriage problems arise and deal with them.
You can’t pretend your partner away. It’s not fair to them, or your relationship. Schnarch said he did a radio show once about a topic we’ll discuss in a follow-up article, open-eyes kissing. The interviewer asked, “Why on earth would you want to see who you’re kissing?” Because you love them and like looking at their face, maybe? If you’d rather live with the spouse inside your head than the one in your bed, you need to step back and seriously contemplate the condition of your marriage. (Schnarch 187)
These three barriers constrain couples from experiencing intimacy the way God intended. Spouses are to love their spouse the way God loves them, “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying, ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you.’” (Jer. 31:3 NKJV) God loves us so much he even bothers to remember how many hairs we have on our head. You can’t model this degree of passion if you insist on keeping parts of you hidden from your partner. “Commitment is intrusive and makes life-changing demands, but without the total surrender of deep commitment there can be no true intimacy.” (Rosenau 179)
If you and your spouse struggle to connect emotionally and/or physically, consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor in Seattle. Counselors are prepared to talk with both of you about relational, or sexual dissonance, and help to 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. Find trustworthy Christian counselors in Seattle that will help you with therapeutic techniques and biblical principles.
Holding hands– Flickr user Made Underground
Piggy back ride– FreeDigitalPhotos.com Imagery Majestic