the closeness of your relationship with your spouse -- emotionally,
spiritually, intellectually, sexually, and in many other ways. Intimacy is not
an end goal but rather a journey that lasts throughout your marriage. Marriage
and family researchers Schaefer and Olson (1981) describe attaining intimacy as
"a process that occurs over time and is never completed or fully
accomplished" (p. 50). As you both grow and develop, each of you changes.
If you neglect intimacy in your marriage, you will grow apart. The time to work
on intimacy is now.
Intimacy in Marriage
that marriage offers many benefits. According to Olson and Olson (2000),
"Married people tend to be healthier, live longer, have more wealth and
economic assets, and have more satisfying sexual relationships than single or
cohabiting individuals. In addition, children generally do better emotionally
and academically when they are raised in two-parent families" (p. 3).
benefits are widely supported by research. Several recent studies, for example,
found heart benefits that are particularly dramatic for men. At Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, researchers assessing the marital intimacy of
10,000 married couples asked the husbands: "Does your wife show you her
love?" The husbands who answered yes reported having significantly less
chest pain within the next five years than the men who answered no (Ornish,
1998). In another study of 119 men and 40 women, Yale scientists found that
husbands who reported feeling loved and supported by their wives had less
artery-blockage than those who did not (Ornish).
health is also better for couples with healthy intimacy. Researchers Firestone
and Catlett (1999) say, "In our opinion, love is the one force that is
capable of easing [depression]" (p. 13).
detailed discussion of marital benefits, see Making the Case for Marriage on
have different meanings for men and a women, however Stahmann, Young, and
Grover (2004) note that "all human beings have the basic need to be
intimate and close with another person" (p 13). Women are often portrayed
as having the desire for emotional intimacy while men are portrayed as only
having a desire for sexual intimacy. However, intimacy can take many forms,
including the following:
is the closeness created through sharing feelings. Because girls are encouraged
to recognize and express their emotions from an early age, women generally
understand emotions better than men. Unfortunately, society tends to discourage
men from feeling or showing emotion. Men who didn't learn how to be emotionally
intimate while growing up can learn as adults. If they do, their marriages will
be stronger and healthier.
first step to emotional awareness is to pay attention to your feelings,
identify them, and think of possible reasons for them. Work on noticing the
differences between strong emotions such as terror and fury and the differences
between more subtle emotions such as anxiety, insecurity, and irritation.
intimacy can occur once people know what they are feeling, convey those
feelings to each other, and express concern and understanding of their feelings
to each other.
or intellectual intimacy involves a mutual understanding about
all the important issues in your marriage. Setting goals together is one
way to further intellectual intimacy. For example, you might set goals to
improve your intimacy, to save a certain amount of money, or to go for
daily walks together.
involves sharing religious beliefs and observing religious practices
together, such as praying and attending church. As you share spiritual
experiences, you will become united in your attitudes and goals. Wheat
(1980) suggests that couples become active in a church where they can
learn, grow, and serve God along with others. (If you and your spouse
struggle with differing religious beliefs, see the article on this
is enjoying activities together, like running, golfing, or reading. Things
as simple as popping popcorn and watching a movie or preparing a meal
together can be good ways to build recreational intimacy.
or monetary intimacy comes with discussing and sharing your finances. If
you have separate accounts and separate incomes, you probably lack
financial intimacy in your relationship (Schaefer & Olson, 1981;
Stanley, Trathen, McCain, & Bryan, 1998; Wheat, 1980).
is one of the most important dimensions of healthy marital intimacy.
Healthy sexual intimacy includes sexual frequency that both partners are
satisfied with, sexual activities both partners enjoy, and an open
dialogue about sex. Olson and Olson (2000) say, "A major strength for
happily married couples is the quality of the sexual relationship"
(p. 126). They found in their research that the most common sexual concern
is differing levels of interest in sex. Happier couples tend to agree in
their definition of sexual satisfaction and have fewer worries about their
sex lives than unhappy couples. More than half of all married couples,
they note, have trouble discussing sexual issues.
with healthy intimacy have several factors in common, including the following:
a sense of security for both spouses. You can show it by having no desire
to injure your spouse in any way. Though you might unintentionally cause
hurt, you won't hurt one another on purpose.
gentle expressions of caring. Through touch you can express your love to
your partner. This affectionate contact "is absolutely essential in
building the emotion of love" (Wheat, 1980, p. 184).
unconditional approval in a relationship. No one is perfect, but
acceptance means not holding weaknesses against one other. If you find
yourself frequently pointing out your spouse's faults, work on focusing
instead on the qualities you fell in love with.
is the ability to discuss anything with your spouse. It includes sincere
expression of thoughts and feelings as well as careful listening. Signs of
poor communication include feeling reluctant to tell your spouse about the
events of your day or being unwilling to listen when your spouse is
explaining how he or she feels.
- Caring is genuine
concern for your spouse's well-being. If you do things you know hurt your
spouse, you cannot have healthy intimacy. You can develop a more caring
heart and mind by learning to think of your spouse's feelings before your
own. Always ask yourself before acting or speaking, "If I do this or
say this, will I hurt my spouse?"
the remedy for mistakes that spouses inevitably make. Recognizing
mistakes, taking responsibility for them, expressing remorse for any hurt
caused, and making a commitment to change the hurtful behavior are all
essential to mending the relationship after a mistake. For spouses who
have created a chasm of hurts that separate them, offering a sincere and
humble apology is the first step in building a bridge over that chasm.
Even if you believe that your partner made the mistake, you can begin the
healing by finding something you did that calls for an apology.
- Forgiveness is the process
of letting go of anger, desire for revenge, and obsessive thinking about
times your spouse has hurt you. It includes giving your spouse permission
to have weaknesses, make mistakes, and change. Seeing the goodness and
strengths of your spouse along with the weaknesses can open up emotional
space for good will to build toward your spouse. Forgiveness does not
automatically create trust or reconciliation, nor does it mean you approve
of bad behavior. But it is an important early step toward rebuilding a
are the limits you place on a relationship. The limits can be created
individually or as a couple. These limits include saying "no"
when your spouse asks you to do something that goes against your values or
is more than you can handle. Setting firm, clear boundaries for yourself
and respecting the boundaries of your partner create feelings of safety
and trust. If your relationship is in trouble, one or both of you might
decide to write a "Bill of Rights" that clearly defines the conditions
necessary for staying in the relationship. For example, one woman told her
husband that she would stay in the marriage only if there was (1) mutual
respect, (2) no drinking/drugs, (3) no hitting or emotional abuse, (4) no
name-calling, and (5) no cheating/affairs.
Be Too Much Togetherness?
think of intimacy, we might think we can't get too much of a good thing. But
sometimes spouses forget the need for separate time and may spend too much time
together. If a spouse feels guilty about spending any free time alone or with
friends, he or she might begin to feel constrained in the relationship. Usually
this feeling doesn't mean love has diminished, only that a healthy sense of
self has gotten lost.
intimacy needs can be met through a spouse or significant other, but no one
person can meet all of our needs. A husband, for example, might find his wife a
wonderful confidante for his insecurities and dreams but not a good companion
for sports events. For a night at the hockey rink, he'll need to go with a
brother or friends. A wife may need a regular night out with friends so she can
do things that don't interest her husband, like shopping or scrap-booking.
intimacy includes pursuing some of your own interests independent of your
spouse and encouraging your spouse to do the same. These pursuits should not
get in the way of building intimacy or involve inappropriate relationships with
members of the opposite sex. Spending reasonable time on personal interests
helps each partner be happier and a more interesting and well-rounded
a moment that you and your spouse are standing with the palms of your hands
together and leaning against each other with all of your weight. Together, you
look like an upside-down "V." If one of you becomes tired and stops
leaning, the other topples over. Similarly, a spouse who depends completely on
the other person runs the risk of exhausting the partner and causing him or her
to back away. Without the other spouse's support, the dependent spouse would
crumble to the ground. Now imagine that you and your spouse are standing up
straight and holding hands. You lean in a little, but only enough that you
support a portion of one another's weight. If one or the other or you moves, you
won't fall. You're responsible for most of your own weight, but you're still
connected to your spouse and lean in for extra support from time to time.
analogy shows, over-dependence in marriage can lead spouses to become tired and
resentful of carrying the burden for the other's happiness. Over-dependence
creates feelings of powerlessness and weakness because your happiness is in
someone else's hands. Complete independence is also unhealthy because it causes
spouses to feel unneeded and lonely. Interdependence is a balance
between over-dependence and independence. In an interdependent marriage,
spouses feel needed without being overburdened. They feel a sense of freedom
and power, understanding that their happiness is in their control and not in the
hands of another person.
an important part of a vibrant, loving marriage. Intimacy can be experienced at
many levels, including physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, financial and
recreational. Intimacy is nurtured through mutual trust, tenderness,
acceptance, open communication, caring, apologies, forgiveness and respecting
boundaries. Couples can work together to increase their intimacy in each area
as they build their marriage through the years.
by Derek Willis Hagey, Research Assistant, and Amber L. Brewer, Graduate
Research Assistant, edited by Rachel V. Jamieson, Graduate Research Assistant,
Robert F. Stahmann and Stephen F. Duncan, professors in the School of Family
Life, Brigham Young University.
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