The truth about intimacy

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HOW would you define intimacy? In a world drowning in social media, reality TV and an endless stream of advice on sexual fulfilment, it’s a good question to ask.

I came across a good answer several years ago which defined intimacy as:
Knowing and being known
Loving and being loved
Serving and being served
Forgiving and being forgiven

It captures the essence of intimacy because it puts it in terms of the other person. There is a clear intent to know the other person deeply, love them unconditionally, serve them sacrificially and to freely forgive them when it is required.

True intimacy in a relationship also fosters other traits.

When a couple bond together in intimacy, when they become “one”, they have courage to face life together. Solomon said that “two are better than one”, going on to describe the peril of falling into a pit on your own. Sharing life with another brings the security of knowing that they are there for you in difficult times – you can both face whatever life throws at you together, courageously!

It also encourages the gift of love that chooses. I am so grateful to my wife, Karen, who held out her heart to me early in our relationship and basically said, “This is who I am – will you love me?”

And I did the same with her. And we both chose to love each other, despite our failings and weaknesses.

Love that chooses is a precious gift indeed. Honesty is also the fruit of true intimacy.

Genesis says that Adam and Eve both stood before each other “naked and not ashamed”.

The nakedness spoken of here is spiritual, mental, psychological and physical nakedness.

What freedom there is when you can stand before another without wearing any masks, to be truly “naked” before them and to feel no shame!

And what happiness we cheat ourselves of when we simply interpret such a statement as referring only to the physical!

Christopher and Rachel McCluskey explain it well when they write:

“…it is important that husbands and wives enjoy intimacy without necessarily needing to be sexual, and because (unfortunately) husbands and wives are often sexual without being intimate…there is a world of difference between simply having sex and truly making love. The world uses these phrases interchangeably and, indeed, the acts themselves are the same. But the spirit of making love is entirely different from simply having sex.”

Not surprisingly, this leads to greater depths of intimacy between the couple who are prepared to take the path of truly knowing each other.

What a wonderful thought lies behind this idea of truly knowing someone!

You may be familiar with the term, “…he knew his wife…” and which is so often viewed from a sexual standpoint.

But the same word is also used to describe a person as “knowing God”. The concept speaks of knowing someone “thoroughly and deeply”.

Intimate couples are those who know each other thoroughly and deeply – they seek to know the other person and they in return, feel thoroughly known.

There are things I know about Karen that no one else has ever known and never will know. And it is the same for me with her.

In our seeking to know and be known by each other we have built security, understanding and deep love.

One of the greatest gifts Karen has ever given to me was the day she said to me, “I feel safe with you!”

Please don’t be under any illusions about what I am saying here. The path to true intimacy is filled with pain, tears, hard times and frustration but I would not exchange it for what so many settle for – a shallow existence with someone they barely know.

Far better to embrace the One who made you for intimacy and the one that you call husband or wife.?

Dance with me!

dance

THE HIT SONG Shut up and dance captures the wonder and excitement of a blossoming romance:

We were victims of the night
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light
Oh we were bound to get together
Bound to get together
She took my arm
I don’t know how it happened
We took the floor and she said
Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the phrase “shut up and dance with me” is not the number one pick for encouraging love and intimacy between a couple, but I disagree!

The boy is attracted to the girl but he is hesitant to get out onto the dance floor with her. Perhaps he can’t dance; he could be afraid of making a fool of himself or that someone else will cut in and dance with his girl.

He has a question – does she really want to be out there with me or is she reluctant?

So she looks him in the eye and says, “Shut up and dance with me!”

It’s not bad advice for when a relationship hits a bump or two, regardless of how long you have been together.

A lack of good inter-personal skills can be one of those bumps. Some people are extremely shy, so sharing deeply with another person can be awkward and embarrassing.

For others, it may be that past experiences with family members or friends have them left them emotionally damaged or wary of intimacy.

The good news is that there are a wealth of tools available today that enable people to develop healthy relational and communication skills – the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality website (emotionallyhealthy.org) has a variety of resources to encourage deeper relationships among people.

Then there is the bump of fear that relationships often encounter. “What if this won’t last?” “What if the other person doesn’t really like me?” “Did I marry the wrong person?”

Unfounded fear severely hampers intimacy between two people and it will cripple a relationship.

If you are struggling with fear and it is holding you back from intimacy, then give voice to it. Speak with a counsellor or trusted friend about your fears and find healing in their objective advice.

Bring your fear into the light and see how quickly it begins to fade!

The bump of insecurity also damages a couple’s intimacy. We all have insecurities but some of us allow them to eat away at us, gnawing at our brains.

“Am I good enough for my husband/wife?”

“Does he/she really love me for who I am?”

“Will they leave me for someone else?”

I have found that the best way of dealing with some of these insecurities is to talk to your husband or wife about them. Make sure that you clearly explain to them that this is your problem, not theirs and then share openly the “what” and “why” of your insecurity.

And if you are the receiver in this conversation then listen with your ears and your heart, ready to speak the words of assurance and comfort that they need.

Every relationship will have its bumps and these need to be addressed, worked through – never ignore them.

But sometimes, as the song above suggests, we can allow the bumps to consume us and we look for reasons as to why this will fail.

Sometimes a husband or wife just needs to look their troubled lover in the eye, speak the words of love and reassurance they long for and simply say, “Shut up and dance with me!”

May you know the utter exhilaration of dancing forever with the one you love deeply!

Marriage is like dancing together

dancing

WATCHING PEOPLE DANCE can be a fascinating exercise at times.

Some are out on the dance floor, busting a move and they look great – but they dance alone.

Others dance with a partner, moving in beautiful symmetry together as they look into each other’s eyes.

Occasionally you see a couple where one partner is fully engaged while the other stares blankly over their shoulder, plainly bored and disinterested.

In case you haven’t noticed, marriage is a lot like dancing!

Great dancing requires great communication and understanding between the couple – and when they get it right, magic happens out there on the floor!

Likewise, a great marriage requires two people who are committed to each other and who are also prepared to grow and change in ways that produce a deeper understanding and care for each other.

When one, or both, partners are disengaged in the relationship, indifference sets in and the very real likelihood that you will end up dancing alone.

When it comes to dancing, I have two left feet while Karen is the dancer in my life. Through her loving encouragement, I have mustered up the courage to get out on the dance floor with her and not make a complete fool of myself!

Yet in the dance of our marriage, neither of us can claim any expertise.

Over the years, we have had to discover and apply many valuable principles that have enabled us to dance well together in our marriage.

One principle has been a commitment to be truly present with each other when we are talking.

It can be very easy to “zone out” or become distracted by something else when your partner is talking to you.

Our simple discipline to help us break that habit is that when are aware it is happening we admit it and apologise for doing so. It is humbling to confess that you were not paying attention, but it is also an effective circuit breaker that produces real change.

The principle of apologising when you are wrong in other areas has also enabled us to dance well together in our marriage.

We keep it pretty simple. We admit our mistake, apologise sincerely for it and ask for forgiveness – there is something humbling in that as well!

Most importantly, with the apology comes a genuine commitment to change our behaviour. People who only apologise but never change are extremely “unsafe” people.

Thinking of the marriage relationship as a dance also reminds me of the great dance of life that God invites us to be a part of.

One of the beautiful images that we have of God is that of the dance of relationship that exists between the Father, Son and the Spirit. They communicate, act and love in complete harmony – it is the great dance of God!

On the night He was to leave His disciples, Jesus prayed that they would all “be one”. His prayer was grounded in the unity that exists between Himself and His Father and Jesus’ desire was that His followers would experience that same unity and oneness; that they might dance in unity and love in their relationship with God and with each other.

Interestingly, the oneness Jesus prays would be between us and God the Father is also the same concept at the heart of oneness in marriage – unity, love and openness.

It was for this oneness – with God, others and our partners – that Jesus died and rose on that first Easter centuries ago.

He invites us all to the great dance of life with Him and each other, not indifferently but as fully engaged participants!?

Clarifying expectations is vital

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I HAVE been reading and thinking about expectations in the context of marriage, and what interests me in the definition supplied by the Oxford Dictionary is the conviction that an expectation is something that is virtually certain, based on what someone believes.

ex¦pect|ation (noun) A strong belief that something will happen or be the case.

Every relationship is influenced by expectations – parents and children, husbands and wives, close friendships – and when expectations are not met tensions begin to surface.

“You didn’t call me on my birthday – don’t I matter to you?”

“Your school report tells me you are not trying – why can’t you apply yourself like Melinda?”

“We have missed the garbage pick up again – why can’t you remember to put the bins out?”

An author I read recently pointed out that “we expect other people to know what we want before we say it” and this is where expectations create problems in relationships.

Karen and I learnt early in our marriage the value of clearly communicating our expectations to each other in loving ways, even in the seemingly insignificant things.

I am a bit OCD when it comes to the way I like to have my shirts hung in the wardrobe – all in the same direction which makes it easier when you take them out – so imagine my surprise when I discovered that the girl I married hung them in there any old way!

I had a choice. I could simply “suck it up” and learn to adapt or I could have a potentially embarrassing conversation with my then young bride and explain to her my preference. (I say embarrassing because I genuinely feared that she would think I was some sort of pedantic, shirt hanging wardrobe loony!)

So I approached her sensitively, explained that it probably seemed silly to her, that I was not angry but would she mind if…? And her response? She had a quiet, understanding laugh about it (we both did), thanked me for telling her and said she didn’t mind hanging them my way at all.

The way we both approached that seemingly insignificant situation has become a foundation for our marriage that we have both endeavoured to build upon for over 34 years. That does not mean that we have always got it right but the commitment to be clear with each other in communicating our expectations in loving and humble ways is stronger than it has ever been.

How do we clarify expectations?

In her marriage enrichment program, The Third Option, Pat Ennis points out expectations in a relationship “are only valid when they have been mutually agreed upon” and to clarify expectations couples need to ask some important questions:
“Did either of us know that we had this expectation?”
“Is it reasonable?”
“Have we told each other about it or have we just assumed the other person should know?”

Such questions are important when considered in the light of the definition that I gave at the top of this page. If I have a “strong belief” that Karen should respond in a certain way and I think it “will happen”, what happens to me emotionally when she doesn’t do as I expected?

I might become angry, hurt, disappointed…or all of these! But if she is unaware of my expectation, if I have not clearly communicated it, then who is at fault? Instead of living in a fog of perpetual disappointment because I think she keeps on letting me down, I must take the time to lovingly and graciously communicate my expectations to her as well as asking myself if they are reasonable and something that we can both agree upon.

Unclear and unreasonable expectations can profoundly damage any relationship so taking the time as a couple to share and agree on each other’s expectations will not only enrich your marriage, it just makes good sense!

Best marriage gifts at Christmas

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DESPITE our best attempts it is difficult not to think about gifts when Christmas comes around each year and this is especially true if you have young children! There are also many voices that compete for our attention at Christmas and among them is the one that cries, “Let’s remember the true meaning of Christmas!” I agree with that sentiment but I want to ask the question – how many of us take that seriously?

I think many of us agree with the suggestion but deep down we know that there are expectations from others that we will be giving out presents and we also have an expectation that we will receive gifts.

Perhaps what is needed is a shift in our thinking about what a gift really is as well as recognizing the many gifts that we already have, so as a couple this Christmas why not think in terms of one of those gifts that you have – the wonderful and enriching gift of intimacy?

Why should a couple think of intimacy as a gift?

Because it is the gift of companionship. As a couple you have both been blessed to not go through life alone. You have been gifted with a friend with whom you can do life with! Solomon described it well when he said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” Loneliness is the only companion many will know at Christmas so be thankful for the friend by your side with whom you not only share Christmas but life as well.

It is also the gift of presence. True intimacy is so much more than merely talking with someone at a deeper level. It is also about giving the other person the gift of yourself. It is so easy to give a person the impression that you are listening to them when in reality you are thinking about being somewhere else or about what you want to say next. But presence in intimacy involves empathy, interest and genuine concern for the other person.

And it is the gift of oneness. Intimacy between a couple brings a sense of completeness; that the one I am married to makes me a stronger person and the sense that together there is no challenge too great for us to face. True oneness provides support for each other in difficult times and the security of knowing that you are deeply loved by another.

And this wonderful gift is closely tied to the true meaning of Christmas! For Christmas is the time when we are reminded of the gift by God of His Son, Jesus, to the world. His Son who would grow to manhood, point people back to His Father and ultimately die for their sin that they – and we- might experience intimacy and relationship with God.

Through Jesus we experience companionship. He walked through the same, difficult world that we do – He is not a stranger to our pain. He experienced rejection, weakness and suffering but never stopped caring for, loving or healing hurting people.

He was present with us. More than that, He was God present with us and proved beyond doubt that God loves us and is concerned for us. How easily He could have remained aloof from our pain but instead, He walked among us and saw firsthand what sin, suffering and injustice had done to the world.

And He offers us oneness. Through His life and death the door is opened up for us to know God personally and deeply and a relationship that is defined by love not fear.

Yes, let us remember “the true meaning of Christmas” but in doing so let us also be prepared to change our focus by being thankful for its presence in our lives and for the gift of knowing God through His Son Jesus.