The Discomfort of Intimacy

I used to know this girl that had experienced some pretty bad relationships and some sexual abuse in her past. She worked hard to “work through” all of that. She was in therapy for a couple of years, journaled pretty consistently, spent more hours in prayer than could be counted and shed even more tears than that as she worked tirelessly on trying to get to a place of sanity.

She had finally come to the place where she felt as though her past no longer had a hold on her. She could admit that she’d had some bad relationships but was also able to acknowledge that good relationships could exist and she was actually able to have one herself. Not gonna lie, I was pretty proud of her. It wasn’t long after walking into this place of healing that she met and fell in love with the man who is now her husband. The cool part of this story is that if you ask either one of them, they’ll tell you that they have a solid marriage, they’re happy, and they love each other. Sounds like a fairy tale love story doesn’t it?

Not really. Not if you know about the pain that was involved in the first year of marriage. In fact, from her perspective, their first year of marriage was quite often filled with needless arguments, shame from her past, guilt at not being a “good wife,” pretty consistent anger at her husband, and a palpable fear that her marriage was just one more example of a relationship she couldn’t do well. Somewhere in the second to third year of her marriage she began to notice that many of the arguments and hurts in her marriage were a reflection of the pain from the past rather than her marriage or the man she was with. And, with such a realization, she had to decide if it was worth her time and energy to lean on God and her husband or run away. Having gone through counseling for a couple of years prior to marriage, she had a pretty clear idea how uncomfortable it would be to be vulnerable enough to look to and lean on the man who she so often pushed away.

And now it sounds like real life, right? 😉

There’s an example I like to give to couples about intimacy in marriage. It’s a bit of a joke while also a great illustration that goes like this.

How do porcupines make love?
The answer: very carefully.

(Yep, that’s how cool my job is. I get to make jokes about porcupines and sex.)

To elaborate, the idea is that porcupines have to show their soft underbelly to make love. They have to let down their protective quills and make themselves vulnerable. If one of the porcupines lets down the quills and the other doesn’t, someone’s getting hurt.

Now I realize that not everyone has been through painful experiences that the lady I told you about earlier had been through, but most of us can look at our lives and think of a couple of instances of being mistreated or hurt. And, those hurts from the past can make it difficult to connect with our spouse.

Intimacy with your spouse requires the same vulnerability that is necessary with those porcupines. You have to be willing to show that soft underbelly and put down your quills of defensiveness and self-protection. Of course, this works best when both spouses can practice vulnerability.

Isn’t it strange how couples who love one another can find it difficult to be completely open and honest with their needs or their hurts? Fear often dictates our behaviors telling us that it would be safer to say nothing than to look our partner in the eyes and make our simple requests or speak our desires; “Can we start having a regular date night? Let’s make love more often. The kids miss you and want you to spend time with them. I think you’re making a mistake to take that job.”

See, something miraculous happens when we commit ourselves through marriage. Scripture refers to this as “becoming one.” We are no longer two separate selves, but one in body, soul, and spirit. And while this happens in a supernatural sense, there is a role that we must play also. You don’t just “become one” at the altar and live a life of complete peace and unity afterward. God uses the marriage relationship to make you more Christ-like as he allows you to be healed and refined. As iron sharpens iron, you and your spouse sharpen one another. But, even though this is a Scriptural principle, you have a role to play as well.

There are two factors that are incredibly important in having a healthy and happy marriage. (1) Leaning on God and (2) leaning on your spouse. Don’t just practice one and neglect the other. Complete dependence on God will never mean that we don’t also depend on one another. God loves marriage so much that he actually uses the same terminology to talk about his relationship with us by calling the church his bride. Pray about your marriage, but pray also about yourself. Seek the face of God and ask how he would like to refine you. And then, share what you’re learning with your spouse. Consider it both a spiritual exercise to grow in faith and also a practical exercise to bond more closely to your spouse.

I understand what it’s like to be vulnerable with someone and to wonder if my vulnerability would be the death of the relationship, or worse, if the shame and guilt of my sinful nature would completely overwhelm me. In fact, I’m the lady that I wrote about in the beginning of this article. Those first couple of years were tough on both of us, but God is faithful. God is a healer and he loves you greatly.

Are you feeling the discomfort of intimacy in your marriage? Lean in toward God and allow yourself to lean on your spouse.

Praying hope, healing, and peace in your marriage. God bless!

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