Friday, January 3, 2014

Rebuilding Intimacy

In discussing marriage, I listed several levels of marital bonding: social, emotional, legal, spiritual, and physical. I pointed out that the sexual union consummates, or fulfills, the other levels by converting them into a marital reality, demonstrated biologically, biblically, socially. Meanwhile, consummating a marriage via sex without the other levels of marriage in place devalues the bond it creates and abuses it by treating it as not intimate.

Except for the legal bond, which is more about protection, benefits, and responsibilities under a specific legal system, these levels of marriage represent levels of intimacy between two people. This illustrates not only why infidelity destroys these marital bonds of intimacy, but also the focus of rebuilding that intimacy.

First, we need to define intimacy, so we know what we're talking about. Intimacy has different levels. We usually think of these in categories of acquaintances, generic friendships, friendships, close friendships, and best friendships. Properly speaking, spouse should fall as the most intimate after best friends.

Intimacy is based upon how much you share of yourself and how many people to whom you share that reality.

Sure, you may find exceptions, but that is going to apply in most situations and people. The more you let someone into your life and the fewer who abide there, the more intimate it becomes. Here is a simple example that most who've experienced infidelity will readily get.

During an affair, usually only the unfaithful spouse and the affair partner know the affair is going on. Only those two share that secret. No one else is privy to that part of their life. This creates a deep intimacy in that area between the two.

Then the hurt spouse finds out. Maybe one of the participants told their best friend about it. The cat is out of the bag, and now more people see this intimate part of your life. There is still a high level of intimacy, but now that  more people know about it, it becomes less intimate than it was before.

Then you tell or they find out, your family/extended family about it. Now it becomes a "family secret." While still retaining a level of intimacy, it has been greatly watered down. A whole group has had a peek into this area of your life.

Then you do something like what Lenita and I have done: write a book about what happened and put it out for anyone in the world to pick up and read. More commonly for celebrities like Tiger Wood, the news reporters find out about it and it is broadcast all over the world. Now some dude in India may know all about your affair, who you don't even know exists. That makes the information about the affair the least intimate. Everyone can know about it.

Now lets apply this to the four levels of intimacy in marriage: emotional, social, spiritual, and physical. You may notice a correlation between these four and the article on the four loves in our book: philio, storge, agape, and eros respectively, roughly so.

Emotional Intimacy

This type of intimacy is characterized by the closeness of best friends. You get to know your spouse or potential spouses' dreams, goals, struggles, history, family, accomplishments and failures. The more of their life they share, and the fewer people with whom they share it with, the stronger that emotional bond.

There is an important part of your life that you share with such a best friend that is a huge measure of your emotional intimacy with a person: your time.

Both time spent together and time spent thinking about them and their welfare. You have a limited amount of time, especially discretionary time. Who you decide to spend that time with most says a lot about how emotionally intimate you are with that person. It designates who are the most intimate relationships in your life.

This is an intimacy that naturally runs high at the beginning of a relationship, but as it becomes familiar, and new shiny things attract our interest, we stop spending as much time together. The time we do spend together, tends to be on necessary mundane things that demand our attention. Over the years, what started out as a burning desire to spend most of your discretionary time with a person, dwindles to when you're required to, because you are interested in spending that time in other areas.

That person gets the message that they are not as important to you. You are not that emotionally intimate to share your life, your time, together with them. This happens all too often in marriages. It happened in mine.

When an affair hits, it should be obvious why this further destroys this intimacy. Yes, to many an affair is at least encouraged by a lack of emotional intimacy. This doesn't justify it or blame the other spouse for having one, but it is easy to understand why someone starved of emotional intimacy in their marriage would be attracted to anyone offering a buffet of attention and interest and wanting to spend their time with them.

But it is a death spiral for the marriage. Whereas before, that emotional intimacy was waiting in the wings to be taken, now it is no longer available because it has been given to another without the hurt spouse's knowledge or consent. Intimacy that properly belongs to the one you are united to in marriage has been given to another. As long as that continues, that is emotional intimacy the hurt spouse cannot have.

Likewise, to rebuild emotional intimacy post-affair involves reversing that process. Going no contact with the affair partner cuts off what is feeding the emotional intimacy with him: your time given to him. Going no contact also means cutting off time spent thinking about him.

But you don't cut that off by simply stopping, but by reinvesting that time in your spouse. By purposefully spend time thinking about your love and desire to be with your spouse, and planning to spend your free time with them, no matter what other "priorities" you have on your plate.

That is why a book like His Needs, Her Needs is so critical for rebuilding. You don't just let the emotional intimacy of the affair partner die off, you replace it by reviving your marriage, by making each other important again. By restoring the emotional intimacy with your spouse where it belongs, and not given to another.

Social Intimacy

Social intimacy corresponds with a sense of comfortableness being around each other. It provides a sense of stability and support to one another. It overlaps with emotional intimacy in that social activities are shared and time spent doing them together and being with each other are sought and longed for above any other relationship.

This doesn't mean other relationships, like the kids, are not attended to and important, but that the marital relationship maintains a priority position above any other relationship, even one's children. For the well-being of the children rests in the quality of the marital relationship.

Social intimacy can include several areas. Living together. Financial unity. Inlaw relations. Child rearing. Social activities. How well these and related areas of your life are integrated between two people indicates the degree of social intimacy you have.

Some of these, like living together, may appear easy. You either are or aren't living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed. But are you really living in the same house, or just existing in the same house? Maybe you have an integrated checking account where both of your monies reside, but are you jointly making decisions on how it is spent? The kids might be disciplined, but are you both involved and communicating about how discipline is handled?

Being socially intimate is for both of you to be involved in the decision-making processes, refusing to cut your spouse out of the picture to get your own way. Being the head of the household does not equate to being a dictator. That is the opposite of intimacy. That is cutting your spouse out of your life.

Gaining social intimacy means not expecting to get your way all the time. It does mean acknowledging each other's expectations and being wiling to compromise in order to obtain an "operating procedure" you can both agree to and adopt in any area of your social lives.

If you are having trouble in your marriage with these issues, seek marriage counseling. In addition or if counseling is not a viable option, I'd suggest you both read: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Don't settle for allowing the lack of social intimacy to continue, because it can come back to bite you in the end.

Spiritual Intimacy

If you are one that does not hold to any religious beliefs, you may think this section doesn't apply to you. Yes, if you have religious beliefs, it is best they be compatible, and that you can worship as a family. Living your life religiously divided would be a lack of intimacy. That would apply equally if an atheist and a Muslim were married as it would a Catholic and a Jew (I've met a couple like that before).

But spiritual intimacy is more than religious intimacy. This intimacy involves two things: humility and sacrifice.

Humility in that pride shuts the other person out of our inner person. Pride is wearing a mask. Pride is the fence we build around who we are for fear they won't like what they see. Humility breaks down that wall and says, "Here I am, warts and all. What you see is what you get." Humility exposes the man behind the curtain, trying to act macho to hide how weak and small he feels.

Spiritual intimacy involves seeing each other as you truly are. No secrets. No pretense. No masks or walls. Just who you are in all your vulnerability.

But the other leg this intimacy stands on is sacrifice. Being humble opens yourself up to the other person. Sacrificing your own agenda for their needs gives of yourself to each other. Letting each other into your lives and sacrificing for each other fosters a spiritual intimacy that exist at the core of your being.

How does that type of intimacy grown? By submission to one another in love and obedience. "But I don't want to be seen as inferior, as some type of slave." That's not what we are talking about here. We're talking about mutual obedience to each other in humility, doing what is beneficial for each other. I spell this out in my article on using humility to gain self-esteem.

Failure to do this, however, will mean a lack of spiritual intimacy, no matter how often you attend church together.

Physical Intimacy

Most would understand this to speak of being sexual with each other. Certainly it involves this. As I've said in other places, by the time many people get married, sexual activity is no longer that intimate. Or not as intimate as it should be. Remember our definition of intimacy at the start? The more people you share your body with, the less intimate it becomes.

But this intimacy goes beyond general sexual experiences. It focuses onto the one sexual act that forms the basis for marriage as I discussed in my July articles on this topic: sexual intercourse. This is the most intimate of sexual acts in that it joins two people into a union with the potential to create life together. It is this specific sexual act that turns the other types of union into a marital union. Without it, you're left with an intimate friendship, but not a marriage.

This also explains why an affair that results in adultery, whether mentally or physically, create such a cancerous illness in a marriage. For the unfaithful spouse is divorcing his spouse and marrying his affair partner in having sexual intercourse with them. Likewise, if he is having sex with his spouse too, he is continually divorcing and remarrying each of them over and over again. Doing so with no intent to foster the other types of intimacy devalues the marital bond and commitment that sexual intercourse inherently contains. When it is used merely for recreation and entertainment, the marital bond it creates is cheapened.

Yet, it goes beyond this. Yes, in the proper context, sexual intercourse is an intimate act. The most intimate physical activity we can do with someone. Any involvement of sexual activity, for most of us, isn't something we invite just anyone to join with us in. So unless we run around naked and participate in sexual activities with anyone who will have us, the number of people we are involved with is a limited number, and so has some level of intimacy, even if not the ideal of one.

Doing the act, in and of itself, doesn't necessarily foster full physical intimacy. For the physical intimacy to be complete means the previous intimacies above are firing on all cylinders, and a commitment to make each other the most important person in each other's lives is manifest. Then the intimacy inherent in sexual intercourse and other sexual activities are fulfilled and meaningful, making physical intimacy complete.

It should be coupled with emotional intimacy, keeping that romantic spark alive. Social intimacy lives out the reality of the physical intimacy. Spiritual intimacy keeps love as the motivation, and its purpose a giving of yourself rather than merely taking. Only then does physical intimacy rise above bodily intimacy and become a complete marital intimacy.

The quality of one's sexual intimacy should be worked on as well. Few of us take classes on this topic, but there are some good books. A book I've read and recommend is Sheet Music. Sometimes problems in the bedroom need a counselor to untie issues you are too close to see or deal with.

We should also note that physical intimacy is much broader a category than sexual intimacy. While a hug or even kiss is not nearly as intimate as sexual activities, it is a selective act. Rubbing a shoulder, scratching a back, massaging a foot can all be very intimate to a person and make any sexual intimacy that much richer. It should be considered a problem if the only physical intimacy that happens is during sex. That indicates a lack of intimacy physically.

As you can see, building intimacy in a marriage takes a holistic approach. It isn't as simple as tweaking a thing or two, or going out to eat together more often. It requires a complete evaluation of the dynamics in the marital relationship and a willingness to modify and/or adopt some core values that foster this intimacy rather than fight against it. I hope the above will give you a decent start on doing just that.

No comments:

Post a Comment