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Originally published on June 10, 2016

When a husband or a wife says, “I want us to be intimate,” their expectation may be substantially different, whether it was the man or woman who spoke. I have never met a married person who didn’t want more intimacy in marriage. God designed a husband and wife to become one (Genesis 2:24), but intimacy can seem so elusive. Here are three keys to unlock the intimacy enigma:

1. Emotional Intimacy

The primary tool to develop emotional intimacy is communication. Communication is necessary for understanding. We know that husbands are to dwell with their wives with understanding (1Peter 3:7), but we need to communicate to understand. Consider the spouse who says, “If they really loved me, they would know how I feel without me having to tell them.” They are blaming their spouse for their lack of communication, and they are making their spouse be a mind reader. I need to share my feelings as well as facts, and I need to listen better. “…Be swift to hear and slow to speak” (James 1:19). My wife may simply want to be heard. So I try to ask before offering a solution or suggestion to see what she is looking for from me. Part of communication is asking simple probing questions. For example, “What was the best part of your day? What was the most difficult? How did that make you feel?”

Compassion is necessary for connection. Feeling what your spouse is feeling creates intimacy. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Sometimes it is difficult for us to weep with someone who is weeping. We may feel overwhelmed by their emotions or uncomfortable with our inability to bring comfort. We may even resent that someone continues to be sad when we feel they should have gotten over it by now. A person who connects with their spouse during the difficult times and good times demonstrates compassion, empathy and emotional intimacy.

Conflict is an excellent opportunity to develop emotional intimacy. Remember to respect the rules for handling conflict (i.e. “fight right”). “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). Focus on the issue at hand, and avoid words like “always & never” and bringing up the past. Express feelings rather than fault, “I’m frustrated” not “You’re so frustrating.” Give your spouse time to process, but seek to resolve conflict speedily. “Be angry, and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).

2. Spiritual Intimacy

Couples that regularly go to church together, read their Bibles and pray report 91% satisfaction in marriage and divorce rate of less than 10% (Lifeway Research). Seek Christ together. Remember, spiritual intimacy with our spouse results from time together pursuing God. But unless we want to have a relationship with God as an individual, we cannot truly seek God together. Worship together by regularly attending weekend worship services. Read the Bible together, or create time to share what you’ve read independently. Praying together or alone is a spiritual discipline and can be challenging. Prayer helps to establish hunger for God, humility and honesty. Here are some practical suggestions about your prayer time as a couple: Set aside time for prayer. Agree on a start time and end time. Start off with a brief period. Take turns, and keep the prayers short. Go back and forth after about a minute. Keep the prayers personal. Pray for your marriage, your spouse, your kids and whatever else moves you personally. Also, take time to thank God for your spouse and children.

Emotional intimacy and spiritual intimacy create the foundation for physical intimacy.

3. Physical Intimacy

Sex in the marriage relationship; “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1Corinthians 7:3-5).

Physical intimacy helps to satisfy desires and helps to discourage adultery. Sexual intimacy is a right as well as a responsibility in a marriage. In considering sexual relations, we need to keep in mind the big picture of seeking to develop intimacy. In an ideal world, both partners would have the same level of sexual desire, would find each other totally satisfying in every way and would be comfortable with their partner’s sexual fantasies. The reality is that, often times, the expectations of the partners differ. Sexual intimacy is not imposing your will upon your partner at the expense of their feelings. In light of these differences, what should a couple do?

Elevate: Place your spouse’s needs before your own. Sexual intimacy flows from God’s love. God’s love is pure and never exploits. Avoid exploiting your spouse. In seeking to experience physical intimacy, place your spouse’s needs before your own.

Navigate: Sexual intimacy can be a complicated process. Be patient in the process of navigating overlapping emotional issues. Allow God the time to get you to the desired destination as He works in both you and your spouse.

Communicate: Communicate your desires to one another. Seek to learn from your spouse some of the emotional issues connected with their sexual desires. Avoid passing judgment. Sometimes certain desires in sexual relations flow from emotional issues outside of the marriage context. Perhaps one of you was sexually molested as a young person. This will certainly impact your feelings about sexual relations in the context of marriage. Other issues may arise from a desire for control. Still, other issues can arise from a sense of rejection and a desire to be wanted. And other issues relate to hormonal or other physical aspects. By communicating about these issues, we can better learn how to minister to needs in regard to physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy.

Consummate: Passion, romance and desire are an ideal for marriage. The verb tense of “consummate” is defined as making a marriage complete by having sexual intercourse. God doesn’t view sexual desire between a husband and a wife as dirty or profane. Song of Solomon is full of passion. When God saw Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden there was purity of sexual intimacy. They were not ashamed, and God did not tell them to put clothes on. Everything was very good (Genesis 1:31). Enjoy sexual intimacy as part of intimacy with your spouse. God intends marriage to be an intimate relationship. Intimacy between a husband and wife contemplates an emotional, a spiritual and a physical bond that typifies God’s desire that the two shall become one flesh.

What are some other keys that you have discovered to unlock intimacy in marriage?

Bruce Zachary was raised in a Jewish home and has been a follower of Jesus for more than 30 years. Bruce was an attorney for 25 years and has been an ordained pastor since 1995. In 1996, he planted Calvary Nexus, a Calvary Chapel church in Camarillo, California, where he continues serving as teaching and leader development pastor. Bruce has authored 18 books and directed a global church planting initiative in the Calvary Chapel movement. In addition, Bruce continues to serve in a leadership role within the Calvary Global Network as a member of the CGN Executive Team and core initiative Cultivate team.