I met my husband while I was in university. We became best friends quite quickly and were soon spending all our time together, telling each other everything. It was wonderful.

About a year and a half into that friendship I realized that I actually liked him “that way.” And soon after we started dating. Again, I told him everything. We could sit for hours and just talk–about important stuff, about not so important stuff, about anything.

When we got married I believed that’s what intimacy was–that ability to talk about anything, and still feel as if the other person heard you. But somehow over the course of the first few years of our marriage we lost that. When you’re friends, it’s easy to feel intimacy because you don’t have expectations on the person in the same way, and so it’s harder for them to let you down. It’s easier to feel, “we’re total soul mates.”

But in marriage, expectations come to play. Maybe you have different ideas of who will do the dishes, or of how hard both of you will work outside the home, or of how much you’ll make love.

And these things take a long time sorting out when we get married. Quite often couples never do entirely sort them out.

When we’d have a particularly bad time in our marriage, I often would think back to those dating days, and wish that I could get back to “real intimacy.” If only we could just talk for hours again, we’d feel close.

I now realize that I was wrong.

Talking and sharing your heart is a wonderful PART of intimacy, but it is only a part. And in marriage, it isn’t enough.

In marriage, intimacy involves making love. I think sometimes we women pigeonhole sex into being something that he “needs” biologically, and so we sort of look down on sex, like it’s a baser thing, while talking is a higher thing. But perhaps that comes from a misunderstanding about sex.

We tend to think that sex is all about the physical–it’s about getting release, and doing so in as pleasurable a way as possible. So sex is only about pleasure.

But it’s so much more than that! The way that God made it requires deeper and deeper levels of intimacy to make it wonderful. We’re naked together, which is intimate. In order to relax and really let go and feel good, we have to become vulnerable. We have to tell him what we like, and we have to literally and figuratively let him in. Literally because that’s how sex works, and figuratively because for women, sex is mostly in our heads. We can’t get aroused unless we DECIDE that we’re going to enjoy it. For us it’s largely a mental experience. And that means that we need to make the decision to embrace him–that we’re not just going to “lie there,” but we’re actually going to have a good time.

Making love, the way that God designed, truly is intimate.

And when we don’t make love, or when we only make love rarely, intimacy in our marriage is hindered. We feel more distant. We feel like there’s something wrong. We long to talk, but somehow it never quite brings that heart connection that we want. And when we feel distant, we often start snapping at him, because we don’t want to feel guilty about it. So we tend to frame him as the one in the wrong. It’s a vicious circle.

Intimacy, when you’re married, isn’t only about talking and feeling like best friends. It’s about sharing something with your spouse that you don’t share with anybody else. It’s letting him in. It’s laughing together. And it’s also feeling that deep hunger for each other. Somewhat ironically, when we feel that way, we’re often more drawn to pray together, because we’ve already become vulnerable with each other. We’ve let down all the pretenses. That’s also why when we pray together first, it often makes sex even more intense.

When we’re married, intimacy encompasses all of that–your body, your heart, your mind. And it’s a truly beautiful thing.

Maybe you don’t have that. Perhaps sex has always been difficult for you because you’re an abuse survivor, or because you did things before you’re married that you’re not proud of. Maybe he’s the one with no libido, and you feel really alone. Maybe sex has just fallen off your radar screen because you’re so busy and so tired and everyone’s hanging off of you all day already. And maybe you just feel really distant from your husband.

I’m not saying that getting your sex life right will fix all of these problems. I know that some things are far more deep seated. But I also know that when we are connecting physically, it makes it so much easier to tackle some of the other problems in our marriage–communication, finances, parenting techniques, whatever.

Often we women think that we need to get those things sorted out first before we can have a great sex life. Those are the things holding us back. Or we figure we need to create this super close friendship again first. That’s natural, because in general, women need to feel loved to want to make love. But can I make a suggestion? Understand that it works the other way for him: men need to make love to feel loved. And if you concentrate on loving him that way, and becoming more vulnerable, and more selfless, it’s quite likely that he’ll also feel closer to you in other areas of your marriage, too.

I don’t know where you are in your marriage today; maybe you’re angry, or resentful, or just lonely. Maybe you just feel blah. But try to focus on doing what you can to feel more intimate in every way–including in the bedroom. And if you do prioritize the bedroom, you just may find that a lot of these other problems are much more easily solved.

When I started doing that in my marriage, I suddenly got my best friend back again. And now, whenever we start to feel distant, I often find that before we really talk about why, we need to make love. It increases the goodwill between us so that we can tackle these problems.

So don’t think that your marriage would be better if only he’d become your best friend again. Instead, focus on how to be his lover, and you just may find you have your best friend, too.

Post first published at To Love, Honor and Vacuum. Used with permission.

Sheila Wray Gregoire is a marriage blogger, speaker, writer, and mom. The author of seven books, including The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex, she loves encouraging women to strive for the kind of real intimacy in marriage that God designed. When she's not blogging at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Publication date: May 22, 2013