You and I are created as unique, whole, integrated human beings. You can’t separate the physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual parts of you from each other any more than you can distinguish the flour, sugar, eggs, and salt in a loaf of bread.
The same goes for intimacy between husband and wife.
There are four main facets of connection between you and your spouse, and all are necessary for the closeness to be at its best.
Many couples struggle to get on the same page when it comes to intimacy. You may be tempted to think it’s primarily about how often each of you desires physical sex. It’s true that many couples differ here but the real issue may be related to one of the other facets of intimacy.
Sex, and everything else between you, can be affected by any of these factors.
How are you and your spouse doing on these four facets of intimacy?
The Physical Factor
Yes, the physical aspects of sex do make a difference. If you’re a man and it’s physically difficult for you to become or remain sexually aroused, or you’re a woman and sex is physically painful, you’ll naturally shy away from intimate situations. Your brain is understandably trying to protect you from something uncomfortable, from pain, embarrassment, or feelings of failure.
My husband’s chronic illness means that there are times he just doesn’t have the physical energy to engage sexually. And as an OB-Gyn I’ve seen many women who now experience intercourse as physically painful.
If these physical aspects are a problem for you, the good news is that you can almost always do something about them. A medical evaluation may find problems that medication can improve. Being sensitive to the physical issues your spouse may be struggling with will improve the connection between you. And exploring how you can best both please your spouse physically and help their sexual response if needed can dramatically improve the physical aspects of your intimacy together.
The Mental Factor
Statistically this factor may affect women more frequently than men, but either can struggle here. Past sexual trauma or previous destructive relationships can put up walls – sometimes unconscious – that take dedicated and intentional effort to bring down. Conflict in marriage that’s outwardly completely unrelated to sex can prevent couples from enjoying intimacy.
Have you ever felt like jumping your spouse while watching a romantic movie, or sitting together in a beautiful and secluded natural setting? That just one example of the mental factor at work.
You can do a lot about the mental factor in intimacy. Most important, consciously choose to take a mental step toward your spouse instead of moving away. Women, especially, may be surprised by how much your body may respond if you first take this mental step in the direction of your spouse. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “I just can’t get interested.” Whether male or female, you can choose to move closer and become engaged. Do it for the sake of your relationship together regardless of your initial feelings.
The Relationship Factor
Intimacy doesn’t begin in the bedroom. It begins much earlier in the relationship – and much earlier in the day. It’s been said that the true organ of intimacy is the ear. (Isn’t that how many affairs begin?) Intimacy in relationships is built on trust. Without trust, intimacy is “just sex,” and that’s not true intimacy. Trust takes time to develop and can be lost quickly. But when you are trustworthy, intimacy only becomes better as time passes.
The couples who report increasingly satisfying intimacy over time do so because they keep growing their relationship with investments such as communication, forgiveness, trust, and friendship.
So what can you do? Do whatever it takes to demonstrate trustworthiness. Give your spouse the time and grace to see that you are worth trusting. Make your heart a truly safe place for your spouse to be real. Communication – both transparent sharing and attentive listening – is one of the most powerful bonding activities any couple can engage in. Do things together; take turns choosing what to do together if you don’t easily agree. Taking the time to invest in your relationship will pay off with much deeper intimacy.
The Spiritual Factor
Spiritual intimacy opens the deepest parts of you to each other. It’s hard to criticize, dislike, or have ill will toward someone when you share a degree of spiritual vulnerability together. And there’s nothing more satisfying than exploring and fulfilling the mission God has not just for you as an individual, but also for you as a couple.
Have you struggled to pray out loud and regularly with your spouse? That’s because doing so is one of the most “naked” and intimate things husband and wife can do together.
And yes, you can get better here also. Stretch yourselves to pray together out loud. Pray for your spouse alone and in their hearing. Put God first as both husband and as wife, but also respect the way God works in your spouse’s life. Talk together about what you see God doing in your lives, and in your future. Share with your spouse what you hear from God, and honor what your spouse hears from God as well. Treasure every bit that you understand about God’s purpose for your union as a couple.
Don’t fall for the trap of thinking that intimacy is only a physical thing. Take care of the physical aspects, but pay just as much attention to the mental, relationship, and spiritual factors. And as you do, the bond between you will grow stronger and the intimacy – both physical and otherwise – will become sweeter and more satisfying.
How have these four facets of intimacy affected your relationship with your spouse? Are there other aspects you also feel are important?
Brief Bio: This is a guest post by Dr Carol Peters-Tanksley, an author, speaker, OB-Gyn physician, and ordained Christian minister. Dr Carol invites you to get her latest book Dr Carol’s Guide to Women’s Health, and to connect with her on her website.