In some ways, a marriage is like NASA’s proposed mission to Mars. And that’s not just because men and women are from different planets, as the old saying goes.
You may have read stories in the news about groups of volunteers living together in tiny mock ups of spaceships for months at a time so that scientists could study how people get along when they’re stuck together in close proximity for so long. If we ever do send a space mission to Mars, the crew will be picked very carefully to make sure they get along with each other under stress and in a small spaceship with no privacy.
Yet when we get married, there’s usually no training or preparation at all! Nevertheless, there you are with your spouse, stuck together for a long time, having to learn to get along without driving each other crazy.
So marriage can be a shock to some people. Most people do learn to adapt, but not everyone has an easy time.
One reason some marriages go through difficulties is that the spouses have not worked together to foster true intimacy.
What is Intimacy?
For starters, many couples aren’t sure what intimacy really is. Too many people confuse intimacy with physical intimacy, i.e. sex. As long as they are having sex, they feel they are intimate, and therefore everything’s going well.
But sex is not necessarily intimacy. It doesn’t automatically create an intimate bond between two partners, although it does play a role.
Don’t get me wrong – sex can be an important part of an intimate relationship. But sex is an ingredient of intimacy, not the whole thing. And sex can sometimes be a barrier to actual intimacy.
The essential ingredients of intimacy are communication and sharing. That means learning to be honest with your spouse about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.
This means having regular conversations – serious conversations about yourself and your relationship, not just about who’s getting groceries and taking out the trash. Too often, marriages drown in the swamp of this kind of housekeeping talk. There’s always something that needs to be done, whether cleaning out the rain gutters or vacuuming or picking the kids up from school. And working that stuff out can take up all the time you have available to talk to your spouse.
How Can You Remind Yourself to Have These Serious Conversations With Each Other?
It’s important to carve out some time from your busy schedule every week to talk. Even a few minutes – five or ten will do – while driving or eating breakfast if you’re busy, or while taking a walk together. If you can’t even find these few minutes to spend together talking, then it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. Your marriage is important. Find a few minutes to talk together every week.
Once you’ve found a time where you can talk privately and seriously, then it’s time to learn how to talk. Seriously doesn’t mean you’re grim, or that you don’t laugh or enjoy talking, or that you only discuss serious subjects. It means you value these conversations, that you take them seriously.
How to Communicate Effectively?
A good way to communicate with your spouse is to take turns talking. You can either use a timer, like a three-minute egg timer hourglass, or the built-in timer in your phone. Each spouse takes three or four minutes and just talks. The other spouse does not interrupt, but just listens. Then you trade roles. Repeat as many times as necessary, though even one turn each is fine.
What to Talk About When It’s Your Turn?
Don’t talk directly to your partner. Talk as though you were speaking out the internal monologue going on inside your mind. What’s on your mind? Just let those thoughts out while your partner listens. This isn’t so much a dialogue – it isn’t two people having a conversation with each other. It is more like two monologues. Talk about what is going on in your life, about your recent successes and failures at work or elsewhere. What’s frustrating you? What’s making you happy? Talk about your emotions – how do you feel? Are you happy, sad, irritated, embarrassed, shy, guilty, furious, irked, smug, confident, suspicious, chagrined, jealous, hysterical, surprised?
Remember to Listen
When it’s your turn to listen, then listen carefully. Don’t listen the way you do during a heated discussion or debate with your spouse – don’t listen and simultaneously think up what you’re going to say in reply. No, just listen. Let your spouse’s words flow into your ears and into your brain. How is your partner feeling these days? What’s going on in their life? What are they dreaming about, or frustrated by, or happy about?
Building this kind of regular conversation into your marriage is the foundation of true intimacy. Don’t hide yourself or your feelings from your spouse – express them in a safe and supportive way, through talking. The ideal of intimacy is to know your spouse nearly as well as you know yourself.
This sort of honest, open communication with each other can build a strong foundation for other expressions of intimacy, including better sex. Sex is better when there’s a true emotional connection between people, and so building that kind of connection can help develop a more passionate and satisfying sexual life.
Once you’ve made this kind of communication a regular part of your marriage, it will become a habit, a reflex, and you won’t need to consciously practice it quite so hard. You’ll find that you are better able to communicate intimately and honestly with your spouse no matter what subject you’re discussing, or where you’re talking about it.
An investment in good communication is well worth it for the payoff in intimacy.
More of these exercises can be found in my Mend the Marriage program, a comprehensive guide to help you and your spouse not only really enjoy the good times, but weather the storm together, as well as keep the promise you made to each other, which is what a happy and intimate marriage is all about.