Cultivating Real Intimacy between a Man and a Woman
- Paul and Sandy Coughlin Authors, Married But Not Engaged
- 2009 2 Nov
Intimacy is the action fuel that turns new love into deep love. It provides a level of closeness that love's infatuations alone can't deliver.
We often misconceive of intimacy by thinking of it as a single, isolated act, like a memorable conversation in a romantic restaurant or a pleasurable sexual experience in an attractive hotel room. But those are just stages on which intimacy might unfold. Intimacy isn't an event—it's what happens during these events: two people actively pursuing the other person's deepest being. It is speaking the language of the other person's soul.
Intimacy's fruit is produced when intimacy is cultivated. If we don't connect and share who we are with another, it's a counterfeit. And, as many married couples who have obtained it will tell you, intimacy is deeper, more profound, and more life-changing than they could have imagined when they earnestly said "I do."
Of the four paths to intimacy—talking, thinking (jointly), touching, and togetherness—two are particularly attractive to most guys: touch and (believe it or not) togetherness. (The way he defines togetherness revolves primarily around shared activities, many of which are physical in nature.) The other two paths to intimacy—talking and thinking together—represent a more substantial challenge and even greater opportunity.
On average, women derive more satisfaction than men from intimate conversations. Even if you didn't marry a guy who struggles with passivity, being intimate through talking is usually going to be easier for you than for him.
The Strong and the Weak
Here's a general marriage principle: The stronger one in any given area should take into consideration the weaknesses of the other. This is a practical way in which our differences can grow us and strengthen us collectively and build intimacy between us. Regarding conversation, you desire intimacy; a good path to building it, if you are more skilled in this sphere, is taking into account his disadvantages.
Most men are reluctant to reveal themselves in the very sphere where most women are most comfortable with: self-revelation. This can create a tendency for you to rush him along or convey expectations that feel heavy to him. Pushing and pressure both squelch the growth of intimacy, which cannot be coerced.
We had a similar scenario with singing in public. Sandy, who grew up in a musical home, sings well and plays the piano and flute; I can play the stereo, but I can't sing. For years Sandy wanted me to share her desire to sing in small-group gatherings, so she put on some not-so-subtle pressure. This just made me more reluctant and increasingly frustrated.
I finally explained that asking me to sing in public is like my asking people to take out a notepad and write a quick story, then collecting the sheets and reading them out loud. For most non-writers, this would be a mortifying experience. What's a person to do if he's expected to be what he isn't?
When your man does reveal himself through words, really and truly listen, seeking to hear him without judging him. And be realistic. Don't mandate marathon conversations. Intimacy will likely be short at first. You can begin to turn small talk into intimate talk if he feels listened to, respected, cared about, and understood. Most important, he needs to trust you with his real, genuine feelings. The importance of this need cannot be overstated.
Trust and "Fixing"
The word trust is related to the Middle English word troth, which means "truth," "loyalty," "faithfulness," "a person's pledged word."
Christian writer and counselor Dan Allender was dismayed to find out why, after nineteen years of marriage, his wife told him a painful story from childhood that she'd never before shared. She said, "I trust you now in a way I didn't a year ago." When he asked what brought this about, she answered, "I don't know, but I do know you are more open to hurt for me rather than try to fix me." This is a man who counsels people regarding trust.
Wives also tend to desire to fix their husbands. Some theologians teach that this desire wasn't originally there, that it's a result of the Fall. In Genesis 3:16, God, speaking of sin's consequences, says that wives will "desire" or have a "longing" for their husbands, and the word "for" may imply an antagonism. This pivotal text could be rendered, "Your desire shall be against your husband, and he shall rule over you."
Tuned-in couples know there is an inherent power struggle in the marriage relationship. Men often have extreme reactions to power: either passivity or domination. Women often have a desire to gain and maintain control. However, sin's corruption of the intended marital harmony is where God's grace can shine through. He tells us we can restore it through mutual submission and a willing acceptance of love's truth (Ephesians 5:21-33).
The desire to control and to "fix" men is dangerous, and it extends deep into Christian circles. "Fixing" men frequently means taming them, and a tame man usually isn't a good man—he's likely dropped his sword, surrendered his will, and turned from his own nature and identity. Odd how our noted strengths can become our greatest weaknesses! In this case, a woman's ability to love her passive man with words can so quickly turn into a shaming assault.
By contrast, a healthy conversation between husband and wife is open, curious, and sometimes playful. It's neither a must-win debate nor a statistical droning on of information-providing. "In some ways," says Allender, an intimate conversation "is like brainstorming.” Emotions must be present for intimate conversation; you can help him keep his emotions present by treating him well as you communicate.
The Cancer of Contempt
The great killer of trust and emotional revelation is contempt, the belief that the other person is worthless and deserves scorn. Studies at the University of Washington's "love lab" have found that contempt is the best predictor of whether a marriage will make it. The greater contempt's presence, the higher divorce's probability.
Contempt is an effort to make you big and someone else small. It will appear in your tone, eyes, words, body language—contempt can be conveyed in myriad ways, and whenever it shows up, it cripples intimacy. Contempt is so lethal that it can be harmful to proceed with attempts at intimacy before the issue is faced. Contempt must be named and transformed before even conversation has any hope of intimacy.
Furthermore, contempt is the modus operandi of evil; the name Satan means "accuser." Accusations are generally not invitations or explorations; they are intended to humiliate, disempower, and make others vulnerable to manipulation. Contempt's goal is to discredit and steal dignity so the victor can remain in control, unfazed by any differing view or idea.
In learning to connect with your guy, make sure it doesn't seem like a demand. It should feel to him like an open door to enrich your lives together.
Pause to Consider
One final matter: you probably need to evaluate what's going through your head about your guy. Chances are some of your thoughts are inaccurate. For instance, maybe you have said to yourself or to a friend, "It doesn't make sense why he behaves the way he does." Not true. It makes a ton of sense. There are reasons he has learned to live small and behave passively; fear and hiding are not the right responses to struggle or trauma, but they are not inexplicable or pointless, and thinking or suggesting that they are can lead you into contempt and indifference.
He doesn't know what intimacy really is; you must be willing to help him learn. If you have been using an intense and critical demeanor, you will need to alter it into a listening and constructive approach. You'll know that what you are doing is working because you'll sense him leaning into you (not away from you) emotionally.
Though the misconceptions and related obstacles on the paths toward intimacy are real, and though some are more substantial than others, they are not set in stone. A wise woman of goodwill, who uses her innate influence to love and to heal in facilitating emotional closeness, is a source of magnificent power.
Originally posted June 2008.
Taken from Married But Not Engaged by Paul and Sandy Coughlin. Copyright © 2006 by Paul and Sandy Coughlin (Bethany House).
Paul Coughlin is the founder of Coughlin Ministries, which helps people discover the more rugged, protective, substantial and more vibrant side of the Christian faith, enabling people throughout the world to live a more powerful faith and express a more substantial love toward God and others. Visit Paul's website at: http://www.paulcoughlin.net/
Sandy Coughlin is a wife and mother of 3. She loves her family and loves blessing other people's lives by entertaining in her home. Sandy’s husband, Paul, (who used to be the reluctant entertainer) has come on board, and they often offer hospitality together. Visit Sandy's regularly updated blog at: www.reluctantentertainer.com.
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