"What do you think the word "intimacy" means?" asked the marriage retreat leader. After we all took a miserable stab at defining the word, she responded with, "In-to-me-see. Intimacy is seeing into each other's life. It's knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses. It's being aware of each others fears, hopes, and dreams."
Many of us define intimacy in marriage as sex and while that is certainly a valuable part of the marriage relationship, a healthy marriage has to have emotional intimacy to go the distance.
What exactly is emotional intimacy? Emotional intimacy occurs when there is enough trust and communication between you and your spouse that it allows you both to share your innermost selves. Deep emotional intimacy is when we feel wholly accepted, respected, and admired in the eyes of our mate even when they know our innermost struggles and failures. Emotional intimacy fosters compassion and support, providing a firm foundation for a marriage to last a lifetime.
Too many marriages today try to exist without emotional intimacy. Over time a marriage lacking intimacy will become empty, lifeless, and the husband and wife will find distance in their relationship. Emotional intimacy is the glue that holds relationships together, yet it is challenging for many of us to experience.
Why is it hard to develop emotional intimacy? First, there's the fear of rejection. (If I share the essence of who I really am, you might criticize or reject the real me.) Second, there's unfamiliarity with our own feelings, needs, or wants. (If I'm not sure what I feel or need, how can I share it with you?) Third, there's a lack of vocabulary to communicate our feelings accurately or to verbalize exactly what we want or need. (If I don't know the words to describe what I'm feeling or needing, then it's easier to just keep my thoughts to myself.) Fourth, we expect our spouse to just know. (You can read my mind, can't you?)
The question we need to ask is, "Do we have to live this way all of our lives?" And the answer to that is "Absolutely not!" Even after 23 years of marriage, my husband and I are discovering that emotional intimacy is a place where we need to grow and deepen our relationship. We're taking these steps to strengthen our relationship:
- Pay attention to your own emotions. Many of us have two words to describe our emotions: happy or angry. But there are dozens of emotions that fall in between those words. Become familiar with emotions by reading up on the subject and paying attention to what really goes on inside of you. You might even want to keep a journal of your thoughts and emotions throughout the day.
- Become familiar with your "inner self." What are the messages that run in your mind throughout the day? Where do you feel you don't measure up so you fear being vulnerable? How has your pace of life been a false place of safety for you to keep an emotional distance from others because there just isn't time?
- Evaluate your past. Take a walk back to your childhood and consider the emotional connectedness of the family you grew up in. Was it ok to express feelings in your home? Did your family really know one another or were they simply operating as roommates living under one roof?
- Determine to be a "safe" person for your spouse to share his/her emotions, thoughts, and feelings with. If you are characterized by criticism or trying to fix your spouse, you will close the door on inviting him/her to share.
- Increase the time you spend together as a couple. Intimacy can't be created without spending time talking not just about the events of the day, but also how you feel about the events of the day.
- Deal with conflict swiftly. Don't resort to the silent treatment or snide remarks. Learn to "fight fair" by getting the issue out on the table and dealing with it with respect. This will grow trust and deepen intimacy.
- Get help. You may find that a marriage counselor is helpful in launching you and your spouse into new emotional territory. If you struggle with emotional intimacy more than your spouse, a few private counseling sessions might help you learn some things about yourself and move from where you are to where you want to be.
December 20, 2010
Jill Savage is a wife, mother, author, and speaker. As the founder and CEO of Hearts at Home (www.hearts-at-home.org), Jill has co-authored two books and authored five including Real Moms, Real Jesus, and My Hearts at Home. For more marriage encouragement, join Jill and her husband Mark online at www.jillsavage for their weekly blog post known as "Marriage Mondays".