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Emotional Health•Marriage • 6 minutes to read
There are no perfect marriages, but there are healthy and unhealthy marriages. Mistakes are made in both, but a healthy marriage keeps on growing.
Intimacy in any relationship requires the ability to be a connected person and the intentionality to connect deeply with another.
To build a satisfying and intimate relationship, both sexual and nonsexual, we have to build in healthy patterns using tools, practices, and purpose. Then we need to keep practicing, evaluating or “taking the temperature” of the relationship, and making adjustments along the way.
This works out pretty well when we have two people who are willing to work at it; but even with the best intentions, a variety of things can come in and try to rob our intimacy.
Here are 3 robbers that can steal intimacy from our marriage:
1. POOR COMMUNICATION
Learning how to communicate well is one of the most essential tools in marriage and yet sometimes it’s the hardest thing to practice.
As blood gives life to the body, so communication gives life to marriage.James Dobson
We may desire to be “slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) and to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), but it doesn’t mean we will always do this well.
Many times our communication style is learned from what was modeled for us; positive and negative. We may have brought this into our marriage or we began it early in our marriage, and we may have been communicating this way for a long time. Sometimes we don’t even notice the pattern anymore because it’s become such a natural part of our communication. We just know we do or don’t quite feel on the same page as our partner.
That’s why we want to be intentional and regularly “take the temperature” of our marriage. We want to do more of what is working and less of what isn’t. We can practice, even doing things that are sometimes uncomfortable, to develop healthy patterns and create an enjoyable relationship.
Healthy communication involves listening and speaking—sometimes called active listening and assertiveness.
Active listening is listening without interrupting. Not selective listening or preparing a rebuttal, but often repeating back to them what you heard, with validation (which doesn’t always mean agreeing) and understanding.
Active listening is about respecting our partner’s thoughts and feelings, not necessarily agreeing with them. How they think and how they feel MATTERS! Expressing this to them lets them know we have heard what they said and care about how they feel.
Assertiveness is the ability to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires. Taking responsibility by using “I” statements: I want, I feel, I think, I need. Avoiding blame and using “you” statements: you always, you never, you should.
What would it be like to ask your spouse what they think about how you contribute to the marriage? It’s easy to continue the same frustrating communication patterns or move farther apart to avoid the other person. Many couples exist this way for years.
In our marriage, in the evening, my husband and I have a habit of saying one thing that we enjoy about our relationship and one thing that is a challenge or disappointment.
Sometimes we are just busy and distracted, and it is easier to go on auto pilot and not continue to put the work into our relationship. This practice helps us to stay connected and not be robbed of our intimacy.
2. UNRESOLVED CONFLICT
Sometimes unresolved conflict stems from poor communication. Learning and practicing good communication skills will in itself help to resolve some of the conflict.
What is your perception of conflict? Do you think of it as negative?
Healthy conflict can actually bring a couple closer and can build intimacy in a marriage. Conflict can be a doorway into intimacy because we get to know and understand our partner’s thoughts and feelings.
Depending on our previous experience with conflict, we may think it’s better to avoid it. If we grew up in a family or have been in relationships where conflict always ended poorly, we may be afraid to address our concerns or share honestly. The best way to change this is to create new, opposite experiences that are positive.
Conflict is inevitable. If we don’t have any conflict in our marriage, it might mean someone isn’t being heard. It’s okay to have differences from our spouse. In a marriage, if both of us were the same, one of us would be unnecessary.
If we have unresolved conflict, it creates an underlying tension that stays unresolved and affects other areas of our marriage.
It’s okay to set your own rules or boundaries. My husband and I actually have a number of them in our marriage: spoken and unspoken. One strategy that has really helped us navigate conflict through the years is setting a time and place.
This allows us not to try to resolve a conflict while we are heated and emotional or shut down. We can wait until we’ve had enough time to calm our emotions and are able to talk more logically about our thoughts and feelings. This helps with those unhealthy patterns we may have, where we might get upset and run out of the room, preparing a rebuttal or defense while the other person is talking, yelling, getting defensive, shutting down emotionally, or not being able to listen because we are very upset.
Sometimes couples will take the Scripture from Ephesians 4:26 quite literally, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” They may think they have to work out every conflict before bed. Sometimes staying up all night isn’t the best answer. And since this can be unrealistic, we may just ignore the message completely and miss the point.
The heart of this Scripture is really about not continuing to live with unresolved conflict.
3. CHANGE STARTS WITH YOU
Sometimes it hurts to think that we might be part of the problem. It’s often so much easier to see the flaws in our spouse.
The truth is: You can only change yourself.
It is so healthy to stop and look at where you might be contributing to the problems in your marriage—with the help of your spouse, a small group, trusted friend, or counselor.
Usually when we are the problem, it is our own selfishness or immaturity that gets in the way.
Change is hard. We get stuck in behavioral ruts or poor habits. Sometimes we are not paying attention. We are used to what we are used to. The patterns we set now reflect what we are creating for the future. This goes for the pattern of continuing to grow.
All of us set patterns of unhealthy communication, conflict resolution, etc.; but we can also set patterns of being mindful, intentional, asking for help, and taking steps toward something that isn’t working and getting unstuck.
Change also might include being more healthy in boundary-setting. Sometimes we are in a very toxic relationship, that isn’t growing, and an outside source is essential to be able to help us with an unbiased perspective and to set realistic expectations and appropriate boundaries, so we don’t stay stuck indefinitely in our unhealthy patterns.
You may require outside help. Don’t be afraid to seek it.
The best gift you give to your intimacy in marriage is to always keep growing yourself.
Be alert to potential intimacy robbers and intentional in incorporating new tools and practices in your marriage. Commitment to growth, personally and as a couple, will put you on the road to intimacy.