Real Intimacy

Up front let me admit this is a bit of a rant. The topic has been brewing in my mind for awhile, and some recent comments pushed it to the top of the list. But please look beyond the rant factor here; this is a common issue in marriages and I suspect we all do it to some extent. And we all suffer for doing it, to whatever extent we do it.

Real Intimacy

My friend Debi Walters of The Romantic Vineyard is fond of saying intimacy means “into me, see”. I agree with her; intimacy, real intimacy, is about knowing and being known as fully as is humanly possible. Of course, that’s a scary thing. What is my spouse doesn’t like something about me? What if I can’t handle something about them?

Ironically some of the same folks who say they want greater marriage intimacy also admit there are things they will never share, and/or things they don’t want their spouse to ever share. When a couple refuses to share or hear certain things, their ability to have real intimacy is seriously crippled. 

Either a couple can and does share everything, or they don’t. If they do, they have a great start on intimacy. If they don’t, they will never have true intimacy. I suppose if neither of them wants real intimacy you could say it’s none of my business, but I still think such a couple is cheating themselves and falling short of what God intended, and it still makes me sad.

Real intimacy is scary. Real intimacy shows us our own faults, fears, and shortcomings, and even worse it shows those things to our spouse. It also shows us all the ugly stuff in our spouse and challenges our willingness to show love, forgiveness, compassion, and empathy. Still, when I read the Bible I see God calling us to intimacy. Intimacy with Him and intimacy with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we can’t be intimate with our spouse, who we have seen, how can we be intimate with God, who we haven’t seen?

On a related note: I know plenty of men who keep a number of secrets from their wife because they have learned there are some things she doesn’t want to know. But they don’t know where the line is, and they figure better safe than sorry.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and my wife just confessed her long-standing affair with chocolate to me. Working on grace…

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32 Comments on “Real Intimacy

  1. I can mostly certainly be fully intimate with God without being able to be fully intimate with other human beings. I’d even contend that having the lack of intimacy in my marriage has drawn me closer to God. I have to go to Him more because I cannot go to my husband as much as I ought to be able.

    • Hey Libl, Totally agreed! We can always feel safe with God, whereas we cannot say the same about other people. It’s not the same as 1 John 4:20 – we surely cannot LOVE God unless we also love others, but we can most certainly TRUST God even if we don’t trust others. I just finished another great book by John Gottman about the Science of Trust, in which he claims it is the foundation of a relationship. It is extremely difficult to experience intimacy if there is no trust.

      • @Libl & T – Trust is certainly a major issue, and a lack of trust does limit intimacy a great deal.
        You say “fully intimate with God” – do any of us really reach that? Don’t we all hide and hold back in ways? And do any of us fully trust God? We say we do, but then our actions show we don’t. It’s all part of the human struggle.
        I’m glad your marriage troubles turn you to the Lord – sadly this is not the case for everyone.
        Is it unfair to change the word love with the word intimacy in 1 John 4:20? Maybe. Maybe not.
        Finally, a lack of trust is not always due to the other person. I’ve dealt with plenty of men and women who don’t trust their spouse because of their own fears and brokenness. I’m not putting that on either of you, but “I can’t trust my spouse” is not always about or primarily about the spouse.
        Paul Byerly recently posted…Why We’re Donation SupportedMy Profile

        • “Is it unfair to change the word love with the word intimacy in 1 John 4:20? Maybe. Maybe not.”

          I don’t know if it’s unfair, but it’s unbiblical.

          1) We should not take it upon ourselves to alter the scriptures. I think I understand the thought behind your sentiment, but I disagree with your use of Scripture in this way.

          2) God calls us to love everyone, but in many instances we are called to avoid associating with certain people. There are times when intimacy is Biblically inappropriate. That cannot be said of love.

          • @T – When I said “Unfair” I was talking about the intent of the original Greek. It’s not the word I thought it was, which makes intimacy a stretch.

            That said, when we have real intimacy with God, our heart and motivation come in line with His. Intimacy with God will drive us to all manner of scary and uncomfortable things in our relationships with others, especially those we are closest to.
            Paul Byerly recently posted…Pain Relief vs A Real FixMy Profile

            • And it has, but that doesn’t mean it has been received. It is hard to have intimacy with someone telling you not to talk about that stuff.

            • Hey Paul, I had a thought. Intimacy takes two. I can totally get behind your point that being -unwilling- to share intimacy with one’s spouse will hinder one’s intimacy with God. But I see Libl’s perspective as well, that the lack of intimacy in a marriage doesn’t mean you can’t be intimate with God. In her case, hubby didn’t want to hear it. In my case, hubby didn’t believe me; he was committed to his version of me.

  2. You may very well be right. But what if the people aren’t mature enough, or strong enough, to handle it all?
    My husband and I are much closer and know a LOT more about each other now than we did when we were first married.
    My husband is extremely introverted, does not like thinking about and especially not dealing with, emotions. He has only recently, like in the past year, begun communicating with me on such a deep and emotional level. I’m not sure he’s ready to talk so much and/or if I’m ready to hear so much.
    So I guess I’m wondering if you think this should be an overnight process, or a life long process.

    • @B – I think it’s a lifelong process, actually.
      It’s also a terrifying process! It means pushing ourself and taking risks. It means putting ourselves where we can be hurt. It means testing the water and then taking a risk. If it goes well, do more. If not pull back for a bit and try again.
      Once both spouses start moving it gets a lot easier and safer, but it’s still scary and risky at times.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Why We’re Donation SupportedMy Profile

  3. Paul. Obviously this wouldn’t apply to gifts and parties where I want to surprise my wife, but I have one possible case where sharing everything isn’t the best.

    I’m in ministry too. My wife and I can have men we both know and the man tells me in confidence he struggles with pornography. As one in ministry, I think I am obligated to keep this a secret and I don’t expect my wife to tell me about women she gives intimate counsel to as well. Would this be a valid exception to you?
    Nick Peters recently posted…Christian Hysteria And The Real BattleMy Profile

    • Hi Nick, I know this question was for Paul and he will answer for himself, but I wanted to agree with you. Don’t you think intimacy is really about sharing your own inner reality about your own self, and not about sharing the secrets or realities of others?

      At least, sharing about yourself is one HALF of intimacy. The other half is being willing to listen to, to really hear, and seek to understand, and acknowledge, validate, empathize with, etc. whatever your partner shares with you, even if you don’t agree with it.

      • @T “Don’t you think intimacy is really about sharing your own inner reality about your own self, and not about sharing the secrets or realities of others?”

        Very well put.

        Of course, our interactions with others are a big part of that. Or more specifically how those interactions make us feel, what they stir up in us.
        Paul Byerly recently posted…Pain Relief vs A Real FixMy Profile

    • @Nick Peters – It is a valid exception. Likewise for some military or other government jobs.

      That said, if I enter into serious ministry with a man, I usually tell him I reserve the right to share what he says with my wife, assuring him it won’t go any further. This is not always the case, but often it is. This is particularly true if Lori is working with his wife. Doing this has allowed us to help some couple in ways that would not have happened otherwise. But will similar to your situation, it’s not the same.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Why We’re Donation SupportedMy Profile

  4. It’s an interesting question, and my feeling is that intimacy might well be filtered through context.

    For me, last night was dreadful; between bouts of hellish pain there were eerie periods of dozing, with nightmares straight out of Hieronymus Bosch. The new day’s duties that came with the rising sun were welcome, even though I’m exhausted.

    But I didn’t tell my wife. She doesn’t need this; she needs the Black Knight who laughs it off and is good to go, whatever happens. She needs me to be OK with life, because she sees what’s happening to me and it scares her.

    While under other circumstances it might be nice to be able to share the terror and despair that are attendant to the pain of terminal illness, this life is happening now, and we function best when I’m standing in the flames and laughing because my cojones are made of asbestos.

    To say there’s not a part of me that wants to curl up in a ball and cry and be held would be…well, I was about to say that it would be untrue. But that’s not right; I’ve lived the myth for long enough that I’ve BECOME that iron caricature. I don’t need the emotions; they weaken my resolve. Inside me there is not some scared little boy; inside me is simply another katana-wielding samurai.

    But that may be a very bad thing, because everyone dies, and everyone needs that soupcon of human care.

    Nah. I’m good to go.
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Your Dying Spouse 378 – A Caregiver’s Listening Heart {#write31days}My Profile

    • Andrew, you fascinate me. I believe your grit was far more commonplace among people in times past and we have fallen away from that. I believe it was taught as typical manhood, and indeed, women had their own version of it. We pretend with this trend of being a bad@$$, and over extending ourselves with crazy workouts, diets, schedules, and attitudes. But to witness true grit is something entirely different.

      I, too, resent my feminine sissiness and soft skin. I feel it keeps me huddled in the trenches rather than getting out there and doing my job. But, I fear losing that part of me, too. What an experiment that would be, though.

  5. One of the reasons I found Al-Anon so healing is that it was a place where keeping secrets was not necessary. There was no pressure to share and there was no judging when I did share. Key to the group’s ability to provide this safe place was our distance from one another; we were not involved in the daily lives of other group members. Yet they knew me more deeply than my family and friends. We supported and prayed for one another, but we were not directly affected by others’ lives. The same was true with my therapist. She knows details about my life that no one else knows. Sometimes, safety and intimacy come with boundaries.

    • “Sometimes, safety and intimacy come with boundaries.”

      @standing tall – It’s comments like this that make me wish there was a “like” button! Love it!!!!!

    • @StandingTall – All very true. Hopefully, in time, people are able to establish the same kind of thing with those closest to them. Unfortunately, this is often not possible or even wise due to the brokenness of others making them unsafe.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Pain Relief vs A Real FixMy Profile

  6. I think I can give an example of why this doesn’t work for everyone. I feel sadness (perhaps selfishly) about my wedding. I was steamrolled by my MIL.
    Worse than that, I was an ugly bride. No one guided me at all. I didn’t know I should have pretty underthings, or something for that evening. I did not have my makeup done, nor a professional hairstyle. I did get a dress from a discount store. I was young and I had never been to a wedding before my own. For whatever reason, none of the women in my life told me anything at all, so I did the best I could with what little I had.

    When my friends started getting married, I was shocked. They tried on many dresses until the found the right one. They went to salons and had trials and were made up beautifully on their wedding day. Their husbands were thrilled to see them walking down the aisle. I was so sad (selfishly) to learn about their special photos, trousseaus, and gowns.

    I’m just over 40, and my time is gone. I will never have a special day or that beautiful bride moment. It makes me sad and I feel a little jipped. I’m selfishly sad that I will never have that experience. I’m sad that my husband was denied the moment of seeing your bride and she looks amazing. I’m sad that his wedding night did not come wrapped in beautiful lace. It honestly tears me up inside.

    But – intimacy – I cannot share these feelings with my husband. It makes him very angry. I used to think he thought I just wasn’t worth anything and I had no right to feel sad. I don’t think that’s it anymore, but he still hates if I ever bring anything about our wedding up. He does not want to talk about it. I know I should just suck it up and move on but sometimes I just wish I could share my feelings with someone without them getting angry or annoyed.

    My point is, I just shared an intimate feeling with you all, who I do not even know. But I cannot share it with the man who claims to love me because he doesn’t want to hear it. He thinks I shouldn’t have those feelings. So I feel like I cannot be my true self with him. And that’s just one, easy example.

    • Hey B! I can empathize with being able to be more open with others then with my guy. And feeling as though he doesn’t want to hear, or care to hear. In my “saner” moments, I can step back and realize that some of this is partly because there isn’t anything he can do to fix the situation, any reassurance will probably go unheard, and really he has no idea how to even handle a quarter of what I tell him, so his response to things is not very connecting! Like I said, in my “saner” moments. Most of the time though I battle not being hurt by his “lack of concern”.
      One of the things I am realizing is this. As much I as I want “real intimacy”, I can honestly say, that there are areas that I don’t want to know. I can openly admit that I am not in a place that I am mature enough or secure enough to handle some things. To many unresolved hurts, intentional and not. So as much as there is a disconnect on us having “real intimacy”, right now its probably healthier this way.
      A really good example of this would be recently we were talking on a totally unrelated topic, when out of the blue he says “You know, I’ve realized that all the sexual relationships I had as teen/young man before us, and all the porn – I mean babe, there would be stacks of the stuff (insert hand gestures to emphasize), has really damaged our relationship. I didn’t think that before, but I’m realizing now the affect on both of us.” and then he goes on talking about whatever we were talking about before like nothing had happened. I can’t even tell you what we were talking about, because my mind became paralyzed. Part of this is due to the fact that there are deep, unresolved hurts from these previous activities, and then struggles in our marriage, some even recent, that paralyze me from processing, and so I just slowly shut down.
      I can’t help but wonder if perhaps on some level, his brain doesn’t perhaps process some of what I say the same way. Not necessarily because of hurts, but the inability to process things, so the shutting down. Which eventually just leads to not wanting to hear in the first place. Which part of me gets.
      I think there are some things, guys just weren’t designed to fill. Instead, that’s why God gives us close girlfriends, mothers, sisters, females, to share these hurts with. Who better to empathize, reassure and help use work through then someone who can understand our hurts, pains and needs!? And really there are things guys will never get. It’s not how they were designed. Just like there are concerns guys have, that we don’t understand, it’s not how we were designed.

      *oh and my wedding night – lets just say, (I mentioned his colorful background. Mine began with him. ), it was not the stuff of “fairytales” either, but it also has never been a complaint from him. Other periods yes, but not that night.

    • My wedding wasn’t at all as I wanted it to be. In my younger years, I envied my female family members who had their dream princess weddings and fancy honeymoons. Mostly, I envied them getting doted on. It felt like they had more value than me because everyone made a fuss over them, they got what they wanted, and no one complained about how much it cost or having to take time away to attend the wedding. Most of them never even came to my bridal shower.

      Now, it is just a little soreness in the deep recesses of my mind. I don’t dwell on it. In fact, if I were to do it over, I probably would just elope and save what little money I did spend on the day for a small honeymoon.

      For men, sharing such things probably had two issues: 1. He somehow failed you. 2. There’s nothing to be done about it now, so why dwell on it?

      I can’t talk about my miscarriages with my husband. He gets upset.

      • Thank you, Libl. I’m so sorry to hear about your miscarriages. I hope you have a friend or sister to talk to about it. If you’re anything like me, sometimes talking about it is so necessary.

        I think you might be into something with the “somehow he failed you” thing. I don’t think he failed me, I mean, he had no control over his mother, or my mother, or my sister, or any of that. It might’ve been nice if someone had stepped in to help me, but the past is in the past. And I’m allowed to be disappointed, he needs to understand that. It’s actually okay.

        I SO agree about eloping! Oh I wish we had just run off and gotten married. I wasn’t Cole treated as special by anyone anyway, so I think eloping would have been way more fun. I would’ve rather had no wedding at all than to have had all the nastiness and drama AND had to pay for it all myself – which I did – because hey, the bride pays, right? Even if the mother in law gets to override every decision. Even if the ugly dress is all she can afford. I wish there had been someone to stick up for me. At the ripe old age of 19 I was so clueless.

        If we got married today, things would be SO different!

  7. For me, intimacy doesn’t mean I tell my husband everything I think, feel, or have thought or felt. Feelings and thoughts come and go, wax and wane. They don’t all need to be expressed. My husband feels that rehashing old hurts only exacerbates negative feelings and he’s right. He’s very much a “let it go” kind of man. He truly seems to forgive and forget and I deeply respect this quality in him.

    In my marriage, being intimate doesn’t mean that we talk earnestly face to face about deep feelings. He’s a guy and that female type of conversation makes him extremely uncomfortable. Over the years I have come to know and understand my husband through our day to day living. We’ve been married 34 years and I am still discovering things about him, about his past, his childhood, his hopes, dreams, fears, and joys. It’s exciting and deeply satisfying to really get to KNOW my husband.

    Intimacy doesn’t just happen; it grows over time.

    Let me add here that the more frequent sex is in our relationship, the closer we feel to each other, which deepens our friendship and trust in one another.

    I married my husband when I was 17 and I didn’t know about all the wedding preparation stuff that is so fashionable now either. I picked out my dress and shoes in a small local boutique. I did my own makeup and hair for the ceremony. Truth be told I just wanted HIM. I would have married him wearing anything anywhere anytime. He was my prize, not the wedding itself. I’ve seen those wedding shows on TV where sadly it appears the bride is so caught up in the event itself that she probably wouldn’t even notice if the groom wasn’t there. ;)

    • @W – A lot of truth and good stuff in your comment. I would argue men need intimacy in a way we have been taught is unmanly, and that hurts us. But a wife can do little to change that, he has to want it and pursue it.

      On the wedding, I agree with you. I’m all for making it special for the lady, but it’s gotten out of balance, IMHO. Then there are the couples who pay for their own wedding and go deep into debt to do it – that’s a really bad idea!
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Why Women CheatMy Profile

  8. My wife was an only child and her parents never argued past initial statements of conflict. After that, they retreated to different rooms and pouted for several hours. My parents argued at length, sometimes for hours, and, while it could get heated, it was incredibly logic-based and nuanced at times. When we got married, the first thing I discovered was that not everyone actually argues their way to a solution. Not everyone is capable of appeals to reason. Some people see arguments as dangerous and lash out with threats. That is my wife. And while she has no problem attacking me verbally, she views any counter-response as illegitimate. She calls it “getting defensive.” I respond, “I get defensive when you get offensive.” Round and round it goes with no resolution in sight.

    Real intimacy cannot take place when there is such a chasm between our styles of conflict resolution. I have, unfortunately, learned to bury my feelings when it relates to problems in our relationship. I express only the feelings that don’t represent a threat to her comfort zone.

  9. Yeah, this intimacy thing is hard. For 2 reasons listed below 1) talking about your life when your life consists of long term stressful situations that no-one can help with gets old. Ditto for year(s) long stints of major depression. No-one wants to hear that I spent most of my day crying and trying to convince myself that carrying out my suicide plan is not a good idea. That tends to alarm people. I don’t even want to hear that. Yet that is my day more often than I’d like to admit. It’s annoying and depressing and talking about it doesn’t help. Just hug me.

    2) I’m not comfortable with my feelings. So talking to God or anyone else about it is… Unpleasant.

    3) my father is distant and emotionally stunted. This obviously has had a rather large impact on my image of God. Timothy Keller book prayer has helped, but it’s very hard to experience faith in the emotional realm (being presbyteruan probably doesn’t help). I don’t know if I can honestly say I’ve ever experienced God.

  10. I’ve long said that real intimacy is being able to answer honestly the question, “Do these pants make me look fat.”

    I don’t mean that you can be mean. I just mean that you value and trust your spouse so much that if he says “yes!” you don’t banish him to the doghouse.

    • @Tony – The problem with the “fat” question is we men answer the question that was spoken, which is not the real question that was being asked.

      I have a friend who several times answered that with “Do you want the truth, or do you want to be reassured because I can do either.” His wife has stopped asking the question.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Home Shouldn’t Be A Safe Place for SinMy Profile

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