By Jennifer Slattery, Crosswalk.com
If you’re marriage feels cold and distant, take heart! We serve a God of restoration and healing known for breathing life into those things once deemed dead. I experienced this first-hand. About 17 years ago, after countless arguments and the distrust they bred, my husband and I determined to end it all. He made an appointment with a local divorce lawyer, then together, we sat in the man’s office and listened as he discussed things like child support and visitation.
We returned home numb and defeated, wondering how we’d landed in that place. Neither of us wanted a divorce, but we hadn’t a clue how to undo the mess we’d created.
That night, heart heavy with sorrow and unrest, I surrendered it all—my hurts, fears, and marriage to God, and from that evening on, He started a miraculous transformation project that turned our marriage from one based on distrust and selfishness to one characterized by love, trust, and an intimacy previously unimagined.
He can do the same for you.
Here are 10 ways to increase the intimacy in your marriage.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/jacoblund
1. Assume the best.
You’re probably familiar with the concept of “reading between the lines.” I think the more accurate phrasing is “misreading between the lines.” We’ve all been hurt or offended by our own false conclusions and perceptions. Unfortunately, we might not realize this until after a heated argument, and thus, potentially, once resentment has grown. Then there are all the instances when our perceptions remain unchecked and therefore our hurt unabated.
In every conversation and interaction, there’s reality—the words spoken and actions done. Then there’s our perception and interpretation of them. Between the two lies a massive, potentially destructive chasm. For example, when one’s husband arrives late to dinner without calling, we may assume he doesn’t care about us. But his actions could stem from numerous things, such as a dead phone battery, a flighty personality he needs to develop adaptations for (and we all have personality weaknesses), or some other reason entirely. When a situation arises, by assuming the best rather than the worst, we can protect our relationship and lay the groundwork for increased intimacy.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/digitalskillet
2. Bring fun into your marriage.
As children, most of us prioritized playtime. Throughout our developing life, actually, our strongest relationships were often marked by recreation. I suspect most of us could say the same regarding our initial interactions with our spouse. Laughter can facilitate healing and bond our hearts to one another while simultaneously bringing out the best parts of our personality.
Many of us fell in love while engaging in fun, and perhaps even adventurous, activities. But over time, the busyness of life can cause our relationships to shift so that they soon resemble a business interaction rather than the intimate union God intends. Deliberately bringing fun back into our marriage can remind us of why we fell in love and help reverse isolating trends.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Ivanko_Brnjakovic
3. Foster an environment for shared feelings.
It’s said that intimacy is the progressive unveiling of oneself with diminished fear. This necessitates a safe environment where one feels acceptance and unconditional love. Most of us recognize, in close relationships, individuals can share the deepest, most vulnerable parts of themselves.
We probably long for this type of interaction with our spouse but we may not know how to reach this place. What’s more, we may not recognize behaviors that are actually hindering open and transparent communication. We might even fixate on our spouse’s behavior, which we have zero control over, thus completely overlooking and failing to take responsibility for our own.
With every interaction and word we speak, we build or tear down trust and thus the intimacy that grows from this. May we choose wisely!
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/demaerre
4. Listen to understand.
Active listening, where we remain engaged and focused on the words spoken not what we want to say next, takes time, determination, and practice. So many arguments and misunderstandings could be avoided if we took the time to truly hear what our spouse is saying and why—the feelings, fears, and desires behind them.
For example, I can have a rather shallow conversation with my husband regarding his golf game where I “hear” his score and blunders. But if I truly want to understand him, to catch a glimpse of his heart, I’m going to be alert to facial expressions and body language. This is especially true during tense conversations. I can focus on the issue, or I can seek to understand why that issue bothers him in an effort not only to resolve the conflict but to grow closer through it. Our marriage grows when I recognize that every dialogue provides an opportunity to better understand his passions, insecurities, and desires. To know him in a deeper way, like no one else can.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/pecaphoto77
5. Deal with unresolved issues.
When we were first married, my husband made an expensive purchase without talking with me, and I grew upset. During our arguments, I focused on the issue—the unbudgeted money spent, when in reality, my hurt stemmed from feeling disregarded. We hadn’t learned to discuss our finances, and there were many times I felt they weren’t “ours” at all. Though this was never his intent, because we never got to the root of my feelings, we continued fighting over the same types of situations.
As we learned to communicate with one another on a deeper level, however, we were able to move past “symptoms” such as frustration over purchases to the root of our disagreements. This allowed us to deal with them once and for all. This helps prevent us from harboring resentment or bringing past frustrations into future arguments. As a result, our disagreements decreased dramatically and our trust and intimacy grew.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock
6. Intentionally remember the good, special, and momentous.
When was the last time you and your spouse looked over your wedding album? How often do you reminisce about your honeymoon? How often do you talk about those moments when he made you laugh or she touched your heart? How often do you remember—and talk about—all the special times you shared?
Research indicates we often remember the bad more than the good. This tendency works against our relationship and, over time, can cause us to become distant, distrustful, and defensive. To counter this, we need to cultivate times where we, together, recall those moments that deepened our bond. This can be especially powerful during an argument or relationally difficult time. The next time you and your spouse are fighting, throw in a positive, “Do you remember when…” and then take a moment to reminisce. Doing so will help create a sense of safety that will in turn help you discuss your current issue in a healthy, grace-filled manner.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Rawpixel
7. Share feelings without attacking.
Constructive criticism can be difficult to hear, and when on the receiving end, many of us can grow defensive. This tendency elevates when we feel attacked. When this happens, we may feel better in the moment, having “vented” but we’ll solve nothing. More than likely, our emotional outburst will only make things worse. Our presentation will dominate, shifting the focus off the issue and onto our behavior during the argument.
If we want to be heard and to see authentic resolution, we’ll need to learn to share discuss our hurts in a loving way. Saying, “When you come home late without calling, I feel devalued” will gain a much better response than, “You never call. You’re so selfish!”
We’ll be better able to communicate in a healthy and effective manner if we choose to believe our spouse doesn’t intentionally try to hurt us. If we speak in love and our spouse still becomes defensive, we may need to say, “This isn’t how I want to communicate, nor do I think it’s good for our marriage, and I really want us to grow closer. Let’s talk later.” (In an argument, it’s important to reaffirm your commitment to the marriage.)
Photo courtesy: Unsplash.com
Negative and hurtful communication patterns take time to break. We first need to realize a problem exists. Early in my marriage, most of our issues ended with one or both of us yelling at the other, saying things we didn’t mean, then stomping off, more hurt than before.
But then we attended marriage conferences and learned how to handle conflict in a healthy manner. It was hard, however, to apply that knowledge.
Initially, we fell into old patterns, only realizing after the argument where we’d messed up. So we’d talk about this and ways we could handle discussions differently the next time. After months of what felt like a never-ending cycle of fighting followed by discussions, we learned to recognize destructive behavior during an argument. This allowed one of us to call a time out so that we could approach the discussion later, once we’d had time to prayerfully process.
This eventually progressed until now, some 12 to 15 years later, we can address the most difficult conflicts calmly, as a team.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Adkasai
9. Intentionally meet your spouse's unique needs.
Though husbands and wives give and receive love differently, we both long for—and need—emotional intimacy. Women often achieve this through conversation, which may involve a large number of words. Husbands might find long, feeling-oriented conversations challenging. When he recognizes his wife likely equates listening with love, however, he’s likely more apt to engage. He understands this is a legitimate emotional need for his wife, and he longs to be the one to fill it.
Similarly, many men equate sex with emotional intimacy. Just as a wife feels loved when her husband listens to her, so a husband feels loved when his wife prioritizes bedroom time. She understands no one besides her can—or should—fill her husband’s sexual needs. By doing her best to ensure she has time and energy for her husband in the bedroom, she lets him know he and their relationship is a priority. She recognizes her husband feels as hurt and devalued when she pushes him away physically as she does when he ignores her or discounts her feelings.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/GeorgeRudy
10. Pray—together and separately.
When our marriage was really struggling, I noticed my heart growing hardened toward my husband. I started to think poorly of him, to assume the worst, and to focus on his weaknesses more than his strengths. I knew if I didn’t make a drastic change, our marriage would fail, so I asked for God’s help. I prayed that He’d soften my heart toward my husband, my husband’s heart for me, and that He’d protect our marriage.
We also began to pray together, for one another and our relationship. This reminded me of what we were truly fighting for—one another—and that we weren’t alone. God wanted us to thrive, to experience unparalleled intimacy, even more than we did. And He alone had the power to unite, heal, and restore.
We tend to pray for what we value or long for most. In this way, prayer reveals our hearts, but it also changes them. As we come to Christ, He shifts our thinking, empowers us to live selflessly, gives us wisdom for our situation, and begins to flood us with His love for our husband or wife.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer, editor, and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of six contemporary novels and maintains a devotional blog found at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team partner with churches to facilitate events designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to stay up to date with her future appearances, projects, and releases. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/AntonioGuillem