Our first excuse was that we worked very different hours and couldn’t find the right time. I wanted to spend some time with Cathy in the morning and she is more of an evening person. I was too tired in the evening and she wasn’t breathing when I wanted to spend time with her and God in the morning. Next came a very demanding ministry position, then a child, then more kids, then crisis-mode living and too many plates to spin. We were both tired and distracted and kept making excuses. Pretty soon we had to just admit that in our busyness of life, it was easy to miss being intentional about working on our spiritual intimacy.

Why is it that couples can feel closer on a vacation or a church retreat? There really is a simple answer to that question: We slow down and focus on each other. Somehow we have to figure it out in the midst of our life and make it a priority and part of our everyday routine.

Low-Level Anger

If we are honest about our relationship with our spouse, it is very easy to have at least low-level anger at all times. As I have said before, “You can be angry at your spouse and teenagers 24/ 7/365.” Relationships are bumpy. Without good communication and healthy conflict resolutions we build up resentments and minor irritations that escalate more than they should. Pretty soon we are carrying around a whole lot of baggage called anger, annoyance, fury, as well as other resentments. When these issues are left to boil, it is very difficult to come together spiritually.

The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). That’s good and right advice. However, sometimes it’s easier with the big concerns that are more obvious. We have a tendency to let the little annoyances simmer and build up into what become larger-than-life issues because we don’t deal with them right away.

One couple told me that they have had to learn to pray together even if they are angry. First, they try to deal with the conflict. If they still can’t get resolution, then they take a moment, hold hands, and pray together. The only rule is that they can’t preach at each other in their prayers. Low-level anger can put the spiritual fires out as quickly as anything else.

Lack of Forgiveness

When your spouse has done something against you and you are unable to forgive him or her, you are blocking spiritual intimacy. Forgiveness is a necessary ingredient for a right relationship with both God and your spouse. We live in a society that has taught us to have conditional love, and that kind of love harbors a lack of forgiveness. This may be a major issue for your relationship; if you can’t resolve it, you probably won’t grow spiritually.

Jerry was a youth worker in a church who had what he called an “emotional affair” with a co-worker. He and the co-worker had lost their boundaries and they were definitely violating their values. Finally one night he came clean with his wife. He told her everything and told her he needed help. During the crisis, his wife was wonderful. She was understanding, firm, helpful, and supportive. Jerry got the help he needed, and the co-worker ended up changing jobs. Two marriages were saved, and the potential heartbreak for the children and families of both couples was averted.

However, after one of our Ministry and Marriage conferences, Jerry’s wife came to me and told me about her ongoing struggle. She had been through so much, and she had done a great job. She wanted to talk because she still wasn’t connecting with Jerry spiritually. The more we talked, the more I began to see that she had never forgiven Jerry for abandoning her emotionally. Jerry had asked for forgiveness from both God and his wife, and it looked like he had truly repented of his behavior. Although she wanted to forgive him, she was still harboring a lack of mercy. Her resentment was affecting their relationship, especially their spiritual intimacy.