“If fear is the great enemy of intimacy, love is its true friend.” – Henri Nouwen
“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” – Bible
Jennifer was crying as she spoke with a marriage counselor. “I just don't understand it,” she said. “Before marriage, I felt so close to Rob. We shared everything. He was so kind and tender and understanding. He wrote me poems and gave me flowers, but now all of that is gone. I just don't know him anymore. He is not the man I married. We can't even talk without getting into an argument. We seem so far apart. I know he must be as miserable as I am. I know he is not happy.”
The above scenario comes from a book by Dr. Gary Chapman entitled “Five Signs of a Loving Family.” Dr. Chapman suggests that one of the key signs of a loving couple is their ability to be intimate.
Although we often think of intimacy in its physical context, successful physical intimacy usually follows only when emotional intimacy is healthy and active. Jennifer is indicating that their emotional intimacy is dead at this time.
Intimacy is generally defined as the feeling of being in a close personal association and belonging together. When Adam and Eve were first created they were naked (intimate) in every sense of the word. There were no barriers between them. However, when they chose to disobey God, they recognized they were naked and tried to hide. Intimacy was hindered.
The development of emotional intimacy between husband and wife is a process, not an event. And the key to this process of increasing emotional intimacy is communication.
Communication in general, and particularly in the process of emotional intimacy, involves two elements: sending and receiving. In the process of sending we are telling someone else about our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We also must receive similar information from our spouse.
The challenge in building emotional intimacy is learning to communicate at a deeper level. Most couples will continue to talk on a logistical level long after the emotional intimacy is gone. “What time shall I pick up the children?” “I'm going to walk the dog.”
Dr. Chapman describes some hindrances to emotional intimacy. Recognizing these barriers may help us in understanding and overcoming them.
One reason we do not discuss our feelings is that we are not in touch with them. Perhaps we have been trained to deny our emotions, that certain emotions are unacceptable. Boys are often given the idea that they shouldn't cry. “Big boys don't cry.” They grow up with the idea that men don't express their emotions and are not even aware of how deeply hidden and how strong they are.
Others may think that denying certain emotions will make them go away. We may be depressed but unwilling to admit it. Or we may fear that putting words to our concern will make it even worse. The answer here is to simply communicate our feelings about our feelings
Perhaps deep emotional pain has been experienced in our earlier life and we have suppressed our feelings. The remaining scars may be affecting current relationships, and healing and release of those hidden emotions may take significant time and outside help.
It may be that we are reluctant to express our emotions because we fear our spouse's response. They may laugh at us, or get angry at us, or even worse condemn or reject us. In order to overcome these fears we must acknowledge them and ask our spouse for an opportunity to address them, clearly expressing why we feel reluctant and asking for their understanding and patience.
As the marriage progresses we may be reluctant to discuss our emotions with our spouse either because we have not done it in the past or we don't want to burden them with our concerns. However, the sharing of our inner self is the foundation for marital emotional intimacy. Unconditional love means we trust our spouse with our deepest cares and concerns.
The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director, FAMCO, 803-640-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.aikenfamco.com.