One thing you must know about marital growth is this. There’s a difference between closeness and intimacy.
We’re all designed for relationships. We may be single, married, widowed or divorced. But when it comes to marriage, there’s one thing you must know about marital growth. And that’s the difference between closeness and intimacy.
We all long to be loved in spite of our flaws by another human being. Yet we balk at knowing and being known. It’s risky because our spouse may not accept us. As a result, we keep an emotional distance to hide our vulnerability. Or we’ve been authentic in the past and it wasn’t worth it.
The one thing you must know about marital growth is this. Closeness is comfortable. And intimacy is a risky vulnerability.
Marital Growth can heal our childhood pain
It’s our early experiences that we learn how to protect ourselves from pain. We learn ways to hide our real selves. The ways we hide keep us from being intimate in our marriages. Here’s an example.
I learned to hide my vulnerability when I was “held back” in the second grade. Our family moved in the middle of the school year. I had difficulty reading at grade level. A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder didn’t exist then, and I was diagnosed as an adult. As a child, I believed there was something wrong with me.
“You’re eight and only in the second grade?” kids would say.
“Yes,” I said trying to make light of it. “I was held back.”
“You flunked,” they laughed at me and pointed their fingers. “You flunked,” they said over and over again. I wanted to hide. And I learned to keep my past a secret. Instead, I pretended to be a year younger than I was. It was too painful to admit I “flunked.” As most children do, I chose to hide. I learned to keep a distance from people who would cause me pain.
We all need to grow beyond our childhood pain. A growing and partnered marriage is the way to do it. Otherwise, we fall into stagnation and mediocrity. But we long for energy and vibrancy.
Marital growth needs a healthy dose of “closeness”
An example of being close is cuddling up on the couch with your loved one. As a couple, you’re watching a Netflix movie or an episode of your favorite TV show. You share a bowl of shared buttered popcorn. Physical touch between the two of you adds warm fuzzy feelings. It doesn’t take effort for either of you. It’s easy and comfortable.
To clarify, closeness could be:
- Enjoying time on vacation together. Whether it’s a cruise or a camping trip.
- Having fun during a shared activity.
- Comfortable silence between husband and wife.
- Predictability of routines.
- Finishing the sentences of another.
- Knowing what the other wants on their pizza.
Being close because of shared experiences is a vital feature of marital growth. Yet, every marriage needs to be intimate. And I’m not talking about sex. Here’s what I mean.
Marital growth needs a healthy dose of “intimate”
Most people think of intimacy as sex. But that’s not all it is. In some cases, sex is the opposite of intimacy. It can a facade for real intimacy. Close physical connection through sex can be like super-glue for married couples. But it’s not enough. Authentic knowing of another comes through vulnerable conversations.
Here are examples that can apply to either spouse.
When a wife tells her husband she’s attracted to a male co-worker, she’s being vulnerable. As partners, they could be stronger by breaking the power of secret attraction. But she also bears the risk of rejection, insecurity or judgment. The husband could accuse, misunderstand or resent his wife. Even though she chooses integrity, he may reject her vulnerability.
But when her husband welcomes her internal struggles, they can strengthen their union. They can show up as partners for each other. And it takes two to do it.
Vulnerability plus acceptance equals intimacy. Trustworthiness increases. The marriage grows a stronger bond. They know each other’s weaknesses and have each other’s back. Intimacy invites partnership between the two. They both fertilize their unconditional love for each other. They grow through intimacy.
Intimacy in dating is seeing the other person as worthy of dignity and respect. It’s honoring the other’s differences. It’s resisting the attitude of “what can my girlfriend do for me” to “how can I honor her?” It’s choosing to nurture a friendship before a romance. It’s willingness to grow through relationship.
Intimacy requires two people in the relationship to choose to be real. One may pave the way for the other, but both are willing. Reciprocity is key.
Marital Intimacy is:
- Leaning into giving and receiving love when you’d rather run away.
- The confession of a shameful past to allow the other to forgive.
- Saying a heartfelt, “I’m sorry” without the “but” or “if” words.
- Letting go of bitterness, resentment, or cynicism.
- Willing to risk comfort and choosing to live in truth.
Remember, a growing and partnered marriage needs both comfort and intimacy. Our risk of intimacy and acceptance by our spouse helps us overcome the pain of childhood. When we reciprocate, we can grow our marriages with energy and vibrancy.
Questions to Ponder about Marital Growth
How are your relationships close?
What does the word “intimacy” mean to you?
What do you think of with the word “vulnerability?”