22nd March, 2013
Imagine this case: Emmanuel was usually jovial and positively creating a warm and conducive atmosphere for people around him, but last week, he came late to a meeting and didn’t have much to say. “I’ll never understand women,” he told me after the meeting. “My wife thinks we need more intimacy. She says we aren’t as close as we used to be. I don’t know what she’s talking about. I thought we had a good marriage.
“Almost every one who knew us wanted to have the kind of relationship we shared, but here was the love of my life asking for more. On one hand, I was angry and almost felt caged, but somewhere in my heart, I found a place to understand she sincerely wanted more of the good times we shared (who wouldn’t).”
The above aptly describes the situation in most marital relationships. There is something about our psychological, spiritual and physical makeup that cries out for intimacy with another, because marriage was designed to be the most intimate of all human relationships in which we share life intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
Below is a quick intimacy test. Weigh your relationship in the light of the following:
•Intellectual intimacy: It is not my intention to make anyone feel academically inadequate, neither am I introducing a relationship based on highly intellectual ideas. The important thing is realising that your thoughts and disposition shared make the other person know you better. They may be thoughts about food, finances, health, crime, work or politics. They reveal something of what’s going on in your mind throughout the day. Your thoughts do not necessary need to be alike, but create room for sharing.
Those who know much about relationships can tell you that a good sign of a happy union is communication.
•Social intimacy: This has to do with spending time around the events of life. Some of these events we experience together; others happen while we’re apart and are shared through open communication. When we do things together, we not only develop a sense of team work, we also enhance our sense of intimacy.
•Emotional intimacy: Feelings are our spontaneous and emotional responses to what we encounter through the five senses. I see the fire truck racing down the road and I feel troubled. You touch my hand and I feel loved. When we share emotions, we build emotional intimacy.
•Spiritual intimacy: Often the least excavated of all the foundations of marital intimacy, yet this has a significant impact on the others. It doesn’t require agreement of belief on every detail, instead, we seek to tell each other what’s going on in our inner selves. It is discussing our thoughts about spiritual realities, while the purpose isn’t agreement, but understanding.
•Physical intimacy: Since men and women are different (long live the differences!), we often come at sexual intimacy in different ways. The husband’s emphasis is often on the physical aspects—the seeing, touching and climax are the focus of his attention, while the wife comes to sexual intimacy with more interest in the relationship. To feel loved, appreciated and treated tenderly brings her great joy.
Sexual intimacy requires understanding and responding to these differences.
Intimacy is all encompassing. It is about being emotionally close to your partner, about being able to let your guard down and let him or her know how you really feel. Intimacy is also about being able to accept and share in your partner’s feelings, being there when he/she wants to let his/her defences down.
We all have an ‘inner world’ of feelings and experiences, the world of our day dreams, hopes, fears, hurts and memories, the world of our ‘inner-most’ thoughts and to be able to share our ‘inner-world’ with a partner we love, to be able to share our partner’s experiences, is one of the most rewarding aspects of a relationship.
Intimacy often doesn’t need words, but being able to put feelings and experiences into words makes it more likely to occur.
Intimacy involves being able to share the whole range of feelings and experiences we have as human beings—pains and sadness as well as happiness and love.
Most of us, however, find it easier to share some types of feelings than others. For example, are you and your partner able to let each other know how you feel about each other? Saying ‘I love you’ is important, assuming your partner knows about your love because of the way you behave is usually not enough.
How do you feel when you are sad, a little depressed, in need of some comforting and reassurance? Are you able to let yourself be dependent and receive some nurturing? Is this balanced in your relationship or is one partner the ‘strong one’ who never needs to show any vulnerability? If so, is this really how you want things to be in your relationship?
How do you feel about yourself when you’ve taken a bit of a knock and are feeling small and ‘put down,’ or when you’ve achieved something that makes you feel good about yourself? How do you feel about sex, what you like and don’t like in your love-making and about how your sexual relationship could be made more enjoyable for you? Do you really know what your partner thinks and feels, or do you have to guess and ‘mind-read’? Are you able to be open with your partner or do you feel that your partner would not be able to accept some of your feelings?
Intimacy is a journey of discovery in a relationship. Many couples start out their relationship sensing they have achieved a new dimension of intimacy which they have not experienced before. They are in love, it is exciting and they cannot imagine a greater degree of intimacy.
Yet, as the years pass and couples go through some of the highs and lows in their relationship, they discover a series of deeper levels in their intimacy and each discovery makes the relationship more rewarding and fulfilling.
An essential ingredient of intimacy is allowing your spouse to be himself/herself without striving to conform to your ideals. According to Gary Chapman in his Five signs of a loving family, It is advisable that you try to grow closer together, not to eliminate the “otherness,” but to enjoy it. Men and women are different and we must not, even with good intentions, seek to destroy those differences. What keeps us from experiencing intimacy? All of us are egocentric; the world revolves around us, yet, when we focus on self, we lose intimacy.
The opposite of self-centeredness, then, is love. Love concentrates on the well-being of the spouse. We take time to listen to the thoughts, feelings and desires of our spouse. We seek to understand and respond with empathy. We choose to do things with each other, even things that may not be our favorite activities, simply because we want to be with each other.
In the context of such intimacy, we become supportive and caring of each other, which builds a stronger, more contented marriage.