Keeping regular physical proximity and having common activities provide a sense of intimacy for dating couples. They simply enjoy “falling in love”. Mutual liking and longing, stimulated by personal attractions, make them feel close to each other.
People feel close with those they are attracted to. However, mature and sustained intimacy is more than a sentiment. It encompasses physical, emotional, social, moral and spiritual aspects of a fond personal relationship. Poor skills in developing intimacy can lead people to get flesh too close too quickly. Early corporal intimacy tends to create a dependency on physical closeness for maintaining the relationship. Likewise, too much reliance on external activities for mutual bonding can backfire, for it hinders holistic and integrated intimacy.
Profound intimacy indicates deep and mutual knowledge and acceptance of each other. It requires a process of developing communion that enables people to confidently disclose and share their needs, feelings, thoughts and values. In a marriage, such intimacy is expressed and strengthened by sexual union, an act of mutual giving and accepting, and fulfilling. It is further developed and enhanced by mutual commitment and responsibility.
Without real intimacy, the euphoria of courtship and “just married” will soon fade. All those behaviors that were once expressions of intimacy are no longer welcomed. Phone calls become a nuisance, touch can be annoying, and the spouse’s peculiar habits, once deemed cute are now irritating. When that happens, people sometimes turn to work, leisure, drinks, excessive internet or infidelity to substitute for the intimacy they long for.
The key to a happy marriage is to sustain a holistic intimacy and responsible relationship. Marital intimacy is a “decision” you must make, and it involves actions. Spouses must take time and effort, and acquire wisdom to grow it. Such intimacy grows with improved quality of mutual self-disclosure, when spouses can sincerely communicate their inner selves by sharing their thoughts, needs, feelings and values.
Spouses need quality time to share their minds. At times such sharing of knowledge stimulates each other’s intellect. Other times, facts and information are meant only to prompt spouses to get behind the thoughts, to understand each other’s needs and feelings. Within the loving environment of a marriage, spouses are not afraid to tackle contentious topics as long as they understand that there must not be a winner. When spouses argue to prove one right and the other wrong, the relationship suffers.
It takes courage to tell your spouse you disagree, but make clear that you express it out of love and care. Express yourself, and do not judge your spouse. For example, do not say, “Your idea is stupid,” or “You are totally illogical.” Rather say, “I suggest an alternative…” Or say, “Let us look from another perspective…” Mutual respect is crucial to the communion of minds.
When communicating a differing thought, make it clear to each other that it is the issue and not the person that you disagree with. Let both stand on the same side to confront the issue, rather than standing opposite and confront each other. Ask for clarification before you state your disagreement. Begin by acknowledging what has already been said; agree with what is acceptable, and enquire for more details to better understand each other. Discussing differing views is aimed for common good. Take it as an opportunity to deepen mutual understanding, and enhance relationship.
An important aspect of your communication is to recognise, acknowledge, respect and accept each other’s feelings. When you listen, be attentive to each other’s needs and feelings. Spontaneous verbal communication of feelings is hardly attainable, but unspoken feelings are usually detectable, so watch for the nonverbal cues of your spouse’s tone, gesture and facial expression. Feelings do not lie, and they readily reveal a person’s true self. When emotions of anger, fear, anxiety and disappointment are shown; or feelings of joy, happiness, excitement and contentment are discovered, the inner world of that person is known.
When your spouse expresses negative emotions, such as frustration and anger, they may be obscured by the words spoken. So listen beyond the words articulated, and get in touch with the feelings. If you have a thinking and analyzing character trait, learn not to treat a complaint as a problem to solve. Avoid the temptation to interrupt the verbal outpouring and be too quick to offer your solutions. Since you care, you should just shut up, listen and empathise with your spouse’s feelings, and discern the needs behind those feelings. Only when you are in touch with each other’s feelings and needs that you attain emotional intimacy.
When spouses share common values on important matters of life, they enjoy moral intimacy. Spouses who desire a life-long marriage are to share the values of fidelity, commitment and responsibility. When both are pro-family and pro-life, they would achieve greater balance in their allocation of time for work and family. They could choose to have more children even if that means lesser disposable income for material comfort. Likewise, their common values on parenting keep them in harmony bringing up their children.
Common values, however, can be a deal breaker. If one spouse values a simple lifestyle and the other is outright materialistic; if one treasures faith and the other dislikes religion; if one gives freely to the poor; if one desires children and the other thinks having children is burdensome, conflict is inevitable.
Values are deeply rooted, and only a conversion experience will alter them. Hopefully, spouses are able to share their life goals and values, which will certainly enhance their intimacy.
Prayer binds spouses in intimate union when they are able to communicate their inner needs and private thoughts to the Lord. Couple prayer helps them to acknowledge their personal weaknesses and inadequacy, and allow their marriage to be guided and strengthened by God. Spouses’ united prayer establishes a common trust in God, and disposes them to synchronise their lives with God’s will.
Spouses can pray together using formulated devotion, such as the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplets. However, fixed prayers also have the danger of being mechanical and careless, and prayer is turned into mere lip-service. It helps to use alternative forms of prayer. Besides those mentioned, there can be Bible Sharing, Spontaneous Prayers, Stations of the Cross, etc. What is worth doing is worth doing well.
When a couple allows the Trinitarian God to be the source, the model and the sustainer of their love, they grow in communion. A man must learn to love his spouse as Christ loves the church, and a woman is to reciprocate that love, and they can become life giving to each other and enjoy spiritual intimacy!
Fr Henry Siew
The Family Lifeline: www.familylife.sg