The Call to Intimacy in Marriage
Most long-term relationships are difficult. It’s just a fact of life. Work is difficult, no matter how rewarding, as is raising children and grandchildren. These are some of the great projects of life and they are not easy. But too often, we regard marriage differently, partly because our culture regards love as something that is supposed to be natural and easy. The 1960’s the book and movie Love Story caught significant heat for using the words, ‘Love is never having to say you’re sorry.’ On the contrary, an intimate marriage is one of personal aware of personal wrongs and full of ready forgiveness. We might say ‘Love is frequently having to say you’re sorry.’ Whether we like it or not, marriage is difficult. But so is every worthwhile endeavor.
A Reward for Abstinence?
In the Christian world, marriage, intimacy and sexuality are often viewed as rewards for abstinence, ushering us, post marriage ceremony, into a place of safety and belonging. There is some truth in what Sheldon Van Auken once called the ‘shining barrier’ of marriage. But for too many men, marriage can often result in our turning away to other concerns once we are married. We mistakenly view marriage as an accomplishment, rather than an ongoing a adventure with deeper rewards to follow. Sexually speaking, we often view marriage as the answer to unavailable sex, which can also result in trouble. Without question, the #1 myth Christian men have to overcome is that marriage will cure our lust/porn problem.
Our tendency as men after marriage is to move onto other fields to conquer, leaving our wives frustrated and lonely, wondering why they got into this in the first place. Gradually, something edges into the relationship that neither one imagined in the glory days gone by. It’s the word ‘settling.’ In the world of ‘settling,’ the dream of intimacy gradually, slowly dies, often with both marrieds, either consciously or unconsciously asking themselves or each other, ‘What happened?’ In my experience, this is a trial that most marriages will face. How the couple answers it will tell the story.
But this is nothing new. It has been this way from the beginning. Adam quickly progresses from the delight of ‘this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ to, after the fall, wearing fig leaves and animal skins to hide his nakedness from Eve and his shame from God and the world. Too late. She’s already seen it. He “moves on” to tilling the ground but even there he finds “thorns and thistles.” This is shame which results in hiding. Lust addiction is often born in this place, rooted in the teen years or before. The fact that marriage didn’t “fix it” brings even more shame. Lust addiction often develops unnoticed or denied until ‘the other’ brings it forth.
We have been hiding ever since. One of the rude awakenings of marriage has two sides. Not only have I married a fallen person. I am fallen myself. This painful realization can lead to criticism and distancing on the one hand and isolation and detachment on the other. But it doesn’t have to!
There is great hope in the intimacy project. Why?
1. The desire to be known for who we are is built into our DNA. Curt Thompson writes that we are born with our arms outstretched saying ‘Please connect with me.’ We know there is something valuable inside us that is distinct from our behavior, good or bad, something worthy of love and acceptance. This drive for authentic connection is real and needs to be heeded for us to be whole. David Wilcox writes, even though ‘there is evil cast around us, it’s love that wrote the play; despite it being true that at times we are surrounded by darkness, it is even more true that love can show the way.’ Thompson writes, “Beauty is coming to find you, calling to you in your grieving, traumatized, disintegrated life in order to transform the crucifixion of your soul into the beauty of resurrection.” (The Soul of Desire p.90)
Intimacy: A Call to Discipleship
2. It is very clear. In order to accept the call to intimacy, we must embrace the pattern of the cross and resurrection, just like all areas of discipleship. To be truly intimate, we must die to the independent self, the isolated, sometimes addicted self that went his or her own way long ago. But what does this mean? It means I must bring my broken self out into the light and deal with it responsibly as best I can at any given moment. It needs to be part of the ongoing conversation rather than locked in a vault. Sex addicts often struggle to believe we can be loved apart from our behavior. But most of our spouses don’t expect perfection, just honesty. If we can be honest, we can recover. This is why an ongoing process of coming out into the light, as difficult as it can sometimes be, is essential. Jesus said ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone; but if it does it bears much fruit.’ John 12:24. Did you catch that? If we refuse to die to independence in marriage we will “remain alone.” Applied to intimacy in marriage, unless I can be honest (within the guidelines of my recovery program to not intentionally hurt others) then intimacy will elude us both. This call to transparency and honesty is the stark but hopeful death process of the independent self that intimacy requires. Pretending we can be independent and intimate never works. Yet, when the independent self begins to die, the promise to “bear much fruit” is the reward.
Eyes on the Prize
3. The intimacy project in marriage requires that we keep our eyes on the great reward of being known, not only by God but also by “the woman thou gavest me.” Unless there is disintegration and alienation in marriage, it is likely she is our greatest asset in our journey toward intimacy. At best, she takes our hand as we journey toward the intimacy of the “marriage supper of the lamb.” At best, she never wants to settle. At best she knows the transparency for both of us is ultimately worth it. If we seek rest, belonging, freedom and all that accompanies intimacy, this is the only road provided. It is never finished this side of heaven, yet one that offers great rewards. The key is to begin. A helpful therapist or spiritual adviser might come in handy if we need guidance.
John Donne wrote these words in his poem Batter My Heart
“Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”
As we open ourselves to God and allow him to possess us, we are then freed to allow the ones closest to us to engage in “into-me see.” This is the path of freedom, joy and purpose.
In the Lust-Bearer,