Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sexual Intimacy According to the Bible

The wedding vows are complete - you may now ki...

Image via Wikipedia

The Song of Songs is representative of health sexuality in marriage.  I will in the next posts share with some of the Bible teaches on sexual intimacy.  I have been reading an commentary by Mark E Washburn called "To Find and Enjoy the Love of Your Life."  In this book he helps to bring to light the symbolism as well as the cultural idiosyncrasies of the book.  I would recommend it. 

Song of Songs 4:1-5:1 represents a couples first night together.  In this we see a natural progression of the consummation of marriage vows.  Most of the verses focus on what the husband is saying to his new bride.  The interesting thing about this text is that it is graphic without being pornographic.  It is a beautiful expression of God Plan for sexual intimacy. 

How beautiful you are, my darling. How very beautiful! Behind your veil, your eyes are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead.
Song of Songs 4:1 (HCSB)

On this wedding night the bride maintains her modesty.  Behind the veil her husband takes time to notice her eyes.  There is something about connecting with the eyes.  There is an old English proverb "Eyes are windows to the soul."  Making that eye to eye contact communicates a level of intimacy and trust in the relationship. 

A Casual glimpse of your mate, husband, and failure to look into her eyes is a failure to appreciate what God wants you to see in her heart before and after marriage.
-To Find and Enjoy the Love of your Life

The husband goes on to notice the beauty of her hair.  Verbalizing how beautiful your wife is a part of intimacy. 

Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn sheep coming up from washing, each one having a twin, and not one missing. Your lips are like a scarlet cord, and your mouth is lovely. Behind your veil, your brow is like a slice of pomegranate.
Song of Songs 4:2-3 (HCSB)

He moves on to her face.  Her teeth, lips, and mouth get his attention.  It seems that she is smiling after his initial complements.  He is drawn to her lips.  We might say your lips are kissable.  Pomegranate has a double meaning it seems.  First his wife has done her best to make her self up.  She has a very deep red make up on her face.  Pomegranate also is a symbol of sexuality.  It was revered as an aphrodisiac in ancient times.  So he is saying that her face is making him excited sexually. 

Side note:  Pomegranates have been found in recent studies to increase male and female libido as well as help with erectile dysfunction.  Those ancients knew what they were talking about.

Your neck is like the tower of David, constructed in layers. A thousand bucklers are hung on it- all of them shields of warriors.
Song of Songs 4:4 (HCSB)

Without understanding the context this verse would seem very odd indeed.  First he is not praising her long neck, which is what I though at first.  It appears that she must have a very fancy necklace on.   The reference to the  "tower of David" and "shields of warriors" is important.  The tower of David had shields of warriors hung on it symbolizing the commitment to protect and defend.  I believe that the husband was not only appreciating the fine jewelry, but also making a statement of protecting and defending their love together. 

Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies.
Song of Songs 4:5 (HCSB)

The husband moving down is admiring her breasts.  This is the first time that he has seen them.  In his previous description of her beauty her breasts are left out.  Gazelles are beautiful, sleek, and graceful creatures.  Twins are rare as gazelles usually give birth to only one.  The husband is saying that her breast are a rare beauty.  In Song of songs 5:3 we learn that the husband's lips are compared to lilies, and so it would appear here that he does more than notice the beauty of his wife's breasts, but he also kisses them. 

Before the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will make my way to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.
Song of Songs 4:6 (HCSB)

I want to point out how slow this husband is moving toward the act of sex (until the early morning he will make love to her).  It is important to note that sexual intimacy has a slow moving flow.  We can have sexual intimacy on the quick but it is not nearly as satisfying as if we move slowly with our spouse.  Appreciate the mutual attraction for one another.  Allow love's passion to draw you in don't force raw desire. 

He continues to talk about her breasts.  He is smelling the perfume that she has been keeping between her breasts for this occasion (Songs 1:13).  This is a moment of intense passion. 

You are absolutely beautiful, my darling, with no imperfection in you.
Song of Songs 4:7 (HCSB)

The husband has noted 7 things about his wife that express her beauty.  Seven is the number of perfection.  He is expressing her perfect beauty.  It also is a number that represents God.  It could be that he is praising God for giving him a beautiful wife. 

Try it out.  See if you, husband, can name seven beautiful features that you see in your wife.  Obviously some of her features others will notice as well as yourself.  Then there will be some features that you may regard as beautiful others may not see or appreciate.
-To Find and Enjoy the Love of Your Life

You have captured my heart, my sister, my bride. You have captured my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful your love is, my sister, my bride. Your love is much better than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any balsam.
Song of Songs 4:9-10 (HCSB)

The husband is head over heals in love with her.  There is an unfortunate belief in male culture that some how it is unmanly to allow a woman to capture your heart.  There are expression of "whipped man" comes to mind.  It seems that it is more important to maintain a sense of respectable independence than to please the woman he loves.  To be sure such a man has not allowed his wife to capture his heart.  True sexual intimacy will be hard to come by if this does not occur.  He goes on to say that the love of his wife is better than any earthly pleasure.  He is devoted to her love.  Side note:  The expression "my sister" might weird us out in our modern culture.  However it is an expression of a deep close protective relationship.  Not that he sees her as his biological sister. 

Your lips drip sweetness like the honeycomb, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
Song of Songs 4:11 (HCSB)

Things are moving along.  After sharing more about his love for her he begins to passionately kiss her on the lips.  This is no mere peck.  This is sweetness, honey and milk deep passionate kissing (note the tongue is involved here).  He continues to be intoxicated by the smell of her.

My sister, my bride, you are a locked garden- a locked garden and a sealed spring.
Song of Songs 4:12 (HCSB)

The passion of the moment draws them ever closer to the moment of marital bliss.  Notice that she is locked up.  This is an expression of virginity.  This is their wedding night after all.  He goes on to describe her garden in Songs 4:13-15.  There is the pomegranates again. Except now it is not a mere slice, but tree containing "a paradise of Pomegranates."  Needless to say the husband is quite overcome with sexual desire toward his wife. 

Fountains and Springs are occasionally used in the Bible to express sexual intimacy between a husband and wife.  This is a shared fountain and spring.  It is to be exclusive.  Proverbs 5:15-20 admonishes that sexuality be expressed exclusively between a husband and wife using this imagery. 

Awaken, north wind- come, south wind. Blow on my garden, and spread the fragrance of its spices. Let my love come to his garden and eat its choicest fruits.
Song of Songs 4:16 (HCSB)

And with that the husband is invited to enjoy his wife.  Note a couple of things.  The act of sex after a long period of foreplay is initiated by the invitation of the wife.  The husband has not forced himself upon her.  What is more is the wife says "his garden."  We would do well to recognize that sexual intimacy is carried in the basket of mutual respect and mutual belongingness.  That is to say one does not ever do anything that is violation of the other (they are invited) and each recognizes that his/her body is not their own (1 Cor 7:3-4). 

I have come to my garden-my sister, my bride. I gather my myrrh with my spices. I eat my honeycomb with my honey. I drink my wine with my milk.

Eat, friends! Drink, be intoxicated with love!
Song of Songs 5:1 (HCSB)

The husband and wife enjoy their sexuality with each other.  Sexual intimacy has been achieved.  Notice that the husband expresses is deep satisfaction with what has just happened.   It has been fulfilling experience for him (and for her I suspect). 

This last phrase is seen by commentators as the voice of God.  He is expressing His blessing on the sexual intimacy that has just occurred.  May you be intoxicated with love for your spouse.  If you are not married then may you remain as a locked Garden or a sealed fountain until you can share that special intimacy with your spouse some day.  God bless you all.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

In the Midst of Dark Times

Image by Kurt W. via Flickr

There are times in life that one comes to the edge of what they can know, feel, believe, and understand.  It is a bit like standing on the edge of an abyss.  There is not much peace in that place.  Doubts creep in.  You begin to question everything.  At times you question why you are here.  That is relatively mild compared to the more difficult questioning of your beliefs, your sanity, whether you have been deluded to believe that God exists.  If you have not been in this place then consider yourself lucky.  It is a lonely place.  A painful place.  It is a dark place. 

I presume that Paul was there on at least one occasion.  I base that on his remark:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.
1 Corinthians 15:19 (HCSB)

Most people who have not traveled to the Abyss will quote Pascal's Wager or some version of it.  The gist of Pascal's Wager is that God cannot be found based on reason only by faith .  Therefore it makes sense to believe as if he existed for one has nothing to lose (if God does not exist) and everything to gain (if God does exist).  Pascal's wager stand's in direct contrast with Paul on this point.  The fact is if we trust in Christ for this life only then we should be more pitied than anyone.  Those that would espouse such an argument trade faith for wishful thinking which leads unbelievers to mock Christianity. 

Coming to the edge of the Abyss forces us to the point of questioning and eventual rejecting of things we are unable to reason (knowledge of good and evil becomes our God) or we reach out and find a loving Shepherd longing to love us and guide us (by faith affirming Christ as our Lord).  In one sense the Abyss separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32, Matthew 13:49).  A goat (one looking like, but lacking authentic Christian faith) will travel to Abyss and upon seeing his dilemma throw his religion into the abyss and walk away believing (faith in reason not in God) he has done something enlightening.  A sheep (on having authentic Christian faith) will come to the Abyss experience the pain, fear, doubt in all its fullness.  Then quietly wait in that place for his Shepherd to come find him and lead him out of that place. 

The 23rd Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name's sake. Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff-they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.
Psalms 23:1-6 (HCSB)

These words are foolish to the world.  They are useless to goats.  But to sheep these words are balm to the soul.  These words are comfort in times of pain.  These words are light in the midst of darkness.  These words are assurance in the feeling of loneliness. 

"The Lord is my shepherd."  We choose him when we come to him in faith.  He does reveal Himself to us, but we have a choice to accept or reject Him as our shepherd. 

"There is nothing I lack."  This seems a strange statement when one is standing next to the abyss.  In fact this whole series of pictures is strange next to the Abyss.  There are images of  "green pastures," "quiet waters," "renewed life," "right paths" and standing next to the Abyss you might say, "Perhaps The Good Shepherd has forgotten me.  I seem to have taken a wrong turn somewhere and do not see green pastures, quiet waters, renewed life, nor right paths.  In fact I lack very much.  God where are in the midst of this dark time?"  I believe that David (The one writing the Psalm) is reflecting back on in the past what God has done in his life in Psalm 23:1-3.  Looking back beyond the darkness of his present situation he recalls God's faithful provision of green pastures, quiet waters, renewed life, and right paths.  And now at this moment that reflection is something that can reaffirm your faith. 

"Even when I go through the darkest valley..."  Some translation say, "Valley of death."  When one travels to the deep abyss one can scarcely imagine walking through it.  It is terrifying enough to stand at the edge and look into it.  Yet even when we are near this abyss or traveling through it we can be assured of this:  the Shepherd is with us and desires to comfort us.  With the shepherd nearby we have nothing to fear.  David is describing his current situation in Psalm 23:4.  Looking at the darkness we see only pain and suffering.  Looking at our Savior we have nothing to fear even in the midst of grave danger.  With our eyes fixed on the Shepherd we have nothing to fear of doubts and suffering.  We have nothing to fear at the end of our reasonableness.  We have nothing to fear of our sanity.  We had nothing to fear for our Shepherd is in this place.  He guides us.  If we get to far to the right or the left with a gentle tap from His rod He will get us back on track as we travel this dark time in our lives.  What a comfort His rod and staff are when we have reached the end of ourselves and what we can do on our own.  Traveling to and through the Abyss can be a gut wrenching experience of this there is no doubt.  However, we will have the guidance and presence of God even when all we see is the darkness. 

"You prepare..."  In Psalm 23:5 David again shifts his focus from the present moment (in the dark valley) to the future.  Even our enemies cannot overcome what the Lord has prepared for us.  There is leanness right now in this valley, but then will be a banquet table, anointing oil, and plenty to quench our thirst.  There is abundance in our future when we walk through this with our Lord.  He has prepared it for you.  The image of anointing with oil is a symbol of God's selection of you.  God has chosen you.  He has anointed you for His purpose.  You are especially His!  Some day His anointing, blessing, provision will overflow to you.  His provision waits on the other side for you!

God's "goodness and faithful love" will "pursue" you the days of your life.  Walking to the abyss, walking through the abyss, God's unfailing goodness and love pursue you.  That is quite a statement.  That is boldness that is beyond being reasonable.   The world and the goats will say, "Show me the proof and then perhaps I will walk through that valley with you, but you are foolish to think that such a place reveals God's goodness or love.  Quite the contrary if God was loving and good the valley would not exist."  That is what they will say.  They will not understand.  They cannot understand walking through the valley because they do not have the Shepherd. 

"I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live."  Notice the trip to the abyss did not destroy the faith, but made it stronger (Psalm 23:6).  Note the resolve that this trip produced.  I will dwell...as long as I live.  These are powerful words from a person who has been to and through the Abyss.  There is no room to pretend that God exists and if he does then He will reward you and if he does not then you have lived a good life.  This is utter foolishness. Either you do or you do not choose to dwell in the House of the Lord.  There is not phantom faith.  It either is true faith or it is not faith at all.  The wondrous thing is that once we have made the resolution to trust the Shepherd our weakness will be His strength and He will take care of us no matter how dark it might be. 

Blessings to you!

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Relaxation

Libby's Guide to Total Relaxation
Image by HewGriff via Flickr
One of the most beneficial gifts that you can give yourself in a stress filled world is the ability to relax.  You might be saying to yourself, but I do relax.  Let me say that relaxation is not an event it is a skill.  Anyone can relax under the right circumstances, but to relax when the pressure is on well that is something else.  There are many ways to learn relaxation. The key to relaxation is regular and consistent practice

Progressive Muscle relaxation

This technique involves the systematic tensing and relax of all the muscle groups of your body.  By using this exercise you learn the difference between tension and relaxation and achieve a state of relaxation in the process.  Here are some links to help you out:
Written Instructions
Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia 

Written Instruction For Kids
Koeppen, A.S. (1974). Relaxation training for children. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 9, 14-21.
Male Voice
Georgia Southern University
Female Voice MP3
Carleton College
My Voice Recording MP3

Breathing Exercises

We do not often pay attention to our breathing until there is something that is restricting it.  Then we become immediately aware of how important breathing is.  One thing that happens with this lack of awareness of our breathing is that we can develop bad breathing habits.  For example fast and shallow breathing tends to increase feelings of anxiety.  While slow deep breathing increases feelings of calm.  The relaxation through breathing's goal is to make you more aware of this and relax through slow rhythmic breathing.  Here are some links to help you out:
Written Instructions 
Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia
Female Voice MP3
Male Voice MP3
UC Santa Cruz

Counting Exercises

Counting can be a great way to get your mind off of a stressful situations and occupy it with something that helps you to relax.  There are many counting methods.  My preferred method is to count up to 20 slowly 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20.  And then count backwards to 1 slowly 20,19,18,17,16,15,14,13,12,11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.  Repeat this pattern for 3-5 minutes.  If you notice that your mind wanders that is OK.  Every person that I have tried this with reports mind wander.  When you become aware that your mind is wandering gently bring it back to the counting exercise.  Other counting Ideas are counting your breaths, counting your steps, count the clock ticking, counting backwards from 100, counting down for relaxation starting with 10 waiting until you feel a deeper relaxation before going to the next number. 

Imagery

Sunset at Lahaina, Maui
Image by Mastery of Maps via Flickr
The use of imagery is an effective way to relax.  It is like a mental vacation where you travel to a very relaxing place using your mind.  When I use this technique I like to go two West Maui at sunset.  Here are some links to help you with this exercise:
Beach

River
University of Illinois
Forest Stream
Kansas State University
Beach
Forest
Georgia Southern University

Meditation

Mindfulness
I have written a number of posts on Christian Mindfulness which I encourage you to read.  Mindfulness is slowing down to become aware of the world around you.  The phrase "Take time to stop and smell the roses" is an example of mindfulness meditation.  Here are some links:
Christian Mindfulness
Awareness of Surroundings
Mindful Looking
Mindful Listening

Scripture Meditation
I believe that the Bible has words of life.  That is to say that the Bible is life giving and life sustaining.  Developing a habit of regular meditation on the Bible is good for Spiritual Health as well as for Physical health.  Focused meditation on the Bible's instruction for your need will develop a state of peace and relaxation.  Links:
How to meditate on the Bible
Online Bible Topic Index

Relaxation is a skill that will take much practice to become good at it!  I would recommend that you spend 1-2 times a day practicing one or more of these methods for about three weeks.  After that you can practice 3-5 times a week or when you are feeling particularly stressed, anxious, upset, angry, or irritable. 
If you have any questions about this please feel free to write them in the comment section below. 


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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sexual Intimacy (True and False Contrasted)

Let Us Rise Early and Go to The Vineyards........

Image by -RejiK via Flickr

In understanding sexual intimacy one has to recognize that there is a difference between the act of sex and sexual intimacy.  In fact you can have sex without sexual intimacy and you can have sexual intimacy without sex.  I think many will be puzzled with the last half of that statement.  Yes it is possible to have sexual intimacy without the act of sex.  I believe it would be helpful to define what is sexual intimacy. 

Adam was intimate with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, "I have had a male child with the Lord's help."
Genesis 4:1 (HCSB)

At first glance the use of the word intimate would appear to be a euphemism for sex.  However I think there is a deeper spiritual significance here.  The Hebrew Word is "Knowledge of."  Notice the action.  Adam did not "have sex with" Eve.  He "knew" her.  There is no objectification in this picture.  Eve is a person that is known and intimately known at that.  She is not an object of sexual gratification or a means to producing offspring.  Interesting the act of intimacy can be for good or for evil. 

The Lord God said, "Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever."
Genesis 3:22 (HCSB)

When you are intimate with someone you are in a very close relationship with that person.  You are aware of him/her.  Your eyes are open to him/her.  You are connected.  You become a part of that person. 

And the man said: This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called "woman," for she was taken from man. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.
Genesis 2:23-24 (HCSB)

And she/he becomes a part of you.   When this is applied to the marriage relationship sexual intimacy is the act of becoming knowledgeable about the other's sexuality, connecting with her/him in a sexual way, continuing in intimacy until you are "one with" him/her.  Not to be crass, but sex is just about "getting it." 

The more I think about it the more I become convinced that false sexual intimacy is rooted in aggression and true sexual intimacy is rooted in love and tenderness.  Notice the coarseness of false intimacy.  It about using another for personal gratification.  In one sense enslaving the other for your personal satisfaction. True intimacy on the other hand is about knowing your partner so well that sex is not about getting pleasure (though it is pleasurable no doubt), but rather giving it.  There is a gentleness and tenderness that exists in true intimacy. 

Imagine if you will your sexuality is an expression of what road you are on.  On the one road is false intimacy and the other is intimacy as God has designed.  The false intimacy road is attractive in that it promises easy pleasure, easy gratification, everyone is doing it, it is glamorous, and it feels so good.  True intimacy is a road of commitment, fidelity, hard work, satisfaction, opportunity to love another, compassion, and mutual gratification. 

One thing though for all it puts forward to be false intimacy is a lie!!!!!  It may do some of the things that it promises, but in the end it robs the soul. 

Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words are smoother than oil, in the end she's as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword.
Proverbs 5:3-4 (HCSB)

True intimacy on the other hand is a promise.  It delivers on what it says and gives life to the soul.

You have captured my heart, my sister, my bride. You have captured my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful your love is, my sister, my bride. Your love is much better than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any balsam. Your lips drip sweetness like the honeycomb, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
Song of Songs 4:9-11 (HCSB)

Which path are you on in your marriage.  Is it more important for you to give or get pleasure from sex?  That one question can be very revealing as to what road you are on.  Don't get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying sex.  However sex at the expense of knowing and giving pleasure to your spouse has nothing to do with intimacy.  My prayer is that you find the road of true sexual intimacy and your marriage will flourish as a result. 

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Sexual Trauma

Titian's image of the rape.

Image via Wikipedia

Sexual Trauma is a barrier to sexual intimacy.  Trauma comes in many forms.  The most extreme is sexual abuse, but it can come in milder forms.  For example someone with increased sensitivity catching your spouse looking at porn can be a trauma.  Another might be finding out your spouse is having an affair.  Childhood sexual abuse is a sexual trauma.  Sexual trauma is when an event that threatens your well being and the associated feelings become connected to sexual behavior.  Often the associated feelings are subconscious.  They will pop up without understanding or explanation.   Sexual trauma can be from within the marriage or from some other event from the past.  To be clear unwanted sexual behavior of an aggressive nature is abuse whether the couple is unmarried or married.  Forced sexual contact is rape regardless of marital status. 

One of the difficult aspects of trauma is that the memory and associated feelings are often locked into the brain and do not go away.  There can be some relief through various therapies, but it only takes a moment to bring up those feelings from the past.   Imagine if you will a super camera that records everything, sight, sound, smell (very strong in trauma), thought, feeling, sensation.  Now that super camera has an automatic alarm attached to it that is loud enough to wake the soundest of sleepers.  That is what it is like to experience sexual trauma and cues that remind of the past trauma.

Once trauma is encoded into the brain it pretty much becomes a permanent part of that persons life story.  Interesting there are some therapy techniques that help people retell their story so that they can better cope in the present.  This may make coping more effective, yet even in this scenario the trauma is still a part of the life story.   

One of the most unhelpful things you can do if your spouse is struggling with sexual trauma is to tell them to either "get over it" or "stop punishing me."  "Get over it" is irritating and down right disrespectful.  It communicates you are not a safe person to deal with genuine feelings and blames the victim.  Remember your spouse is the victim.  "Stop punishing me" is playing the victim.  You are not the victim in sexual trauma (at least in this hypothetical scenario) your spouse is.  You cannot help your spouse leave the role of victim by playing one yourself. 

Let me just say if you are in a relationship in which trauma is regularly occurring or is severe in nature you need to find a safe place.  Reconciling with a person should be done with the greatest of caution and only after the person has demonstrated a change in heart and change in behavior.  Placing yourself in a dangerous situation is foolishness don't do it!!!!!!

To help a spouse who is a victim of sexual trauma you have to recognize your role in it. 

If you are the person that instigated the trauma you have to make a full admission to your role and take steps to break the behavior that traumatized your spouse in the first place.  You have to take responsibility for these behaviors without blaming your spouse.  Sexual Trauma is often rooted in anger.  You have to be willing to take a look at how you handle anger, frustration, and irritability.  You might need to seek out help of another as you learn to deal effectively with anger.  If you do not then your spouse will not feel safe to allow for sexual intimacy. 

You might be thinking, "But I did not cause this."  It is important to recognize that people who have been traumatized can and often are retraumatized by the behavior of others.  You may not have initiated the trauma, but as the spouse of a victim of sexual abuse you have an obligation to takes steps to not retraumatize them.   You have to be willing to break from those behaviors regardless of how your spouse should feel or not feel safe.  Stated another way:  You cannot help your spouse develop coping skills for past trauma by constantly pulling the scab of the wound.  

If you are the victim of sexual trauma and you desire to have true sexual intimacy with your spouse then you have to take a path of learning to trust another with your body and vulnerably again.  It is not an easy path, but it can be done.  If your spouse is the cause of the sexual trauma and is repentant then you are needing to take the path of going FORTH (see previous post).  You also may want to seek additional help of a counselor, pastor, and/or trusted friend. 

It is sad that in order to accomplish ideal sexual intimacy that we have to address the ugliness of sexual sin whether the guilty party or the victim or the spouse of the victim.  However, we have to take a stand to protect others from trauma and become safe people else we risk becoming part of the problem.  Without repentance (a change of heart and direction) then true sexual intimacy cannot occur. 

One of the most beautiful things that can happen in marriage is that the relationship can be a source of great healing and hope.  If both spouses commit to loving each other in the manner in which you hold the other's needs higher than your own and you enlist the healing power that exists in the grace of God then genuine healing can be the result.  Together you can build sexual intimacy and overcome the past sexual trauma through a safe, compassionate, loving, caring marriage.  If it is lost then it can be restored if both spouses seek it.  If it is present then your marriage is a place of great worth. 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Two Barriers to Sexual Intimacy

There are many areas that I believe that need to be addressed in the context of healthy sexual intimacy.  The first two have to do with sexual brokenness and false intimacy which I will cover in this post.  These two form a barrier to intimacy. 

There are so many people that struggle with sexual brokenness.  I would define sexual brokenness as a state of sexual sin with an intense self-hatred.  You can have sexual brokenness with just about any object live or inanimate.  Some can even have sexual brokenness in sexual behavior with his/her spouse.  The most common sexual brokenness looking lustfully at someone other than your spouse.  It seems that pornography is one of the most common forms of this type of brokenness. There are many other forms of brokenness which I do not have a desire to list out here, but I think that a good definition is some type of sexual arousal/gratification outside the marriage that leads to self-hatred. 

Most that struggle with sexual brokenness feel trapped.  For many it has been a life long struggle.  In case you don't believe there is a serious problem with this then I suggest that you take a look at the statistics from Safe Families.  They have compiled a list of statistics that should open your eyes to the sexual brokenness epidemic.  There are some that refer to sexual brokenness as addiction and others whom argue that addiction is not possible with a natural biological function.  Those that believe it is not an addiction describe these behaviors as obsessive-compulsive or just sinful.  Whether sexual brokenness is rooted in addiction, obsession, or just plain ol' sin people that struggle with it will often experience a feeling of loss of control. 

Sexual brokenness in a marriage is a barrier to sexual intimacy and radical action must be taken for full intimacy to occur.  There are many resources available to help you if you are stuck in this.  Here are some suggested things to review:  Focus on the Family, Pure Intimacy, Setting Captives Free, Every Man's Battle, X3Church (For the younger edgy crowd), and filtering software: Safe Eyes, Covenant Eyes, Bsecure (my recommendation), As well as recommend these post from my Blog: Battle of two natures and Setting your mind on the Spirit.

False intimacy is similar to sexual brokenness in that it is a barrier to sexual intimacy.  In false intimacy your sexuality is bonded with something other than your spouse as fellow companion.  Pornography is a struggle for some with sexual brokenness, but can also be a problem for those who do not.  The false intimacy of porn (whether the soft type that passes for prime time TV or the hard-core found on the internet) is sexual gratification without commitment.  I remember some crass comments when I used to work construction from married men saying, "I can window shop."  This is a false intimacy of the eyes.  It also is a type of gratification without commitment.  Affairs are based on false intimacy.  You can have adultery in affairs, but true sexual intimacy is not possible.  Affairs always are rooted in deception, broken promises, and infidelity.  There can never be true intimacy in such a situation.  Any perceived intimacy in the midst of adultery is false.  There can be false intimacy within the marital relationship as well.  The behavioral repertoire of a couple replaces a true sense of connection.  Emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy are often diminished or absent in these cases. The behavior surrounding sex can take precedence over the relationship as well in this way sex becomes a form of false intimacy. 

One of the things that drives brokenness and false intimacy is sexual bonding in my estimation.  The brain is a powerful sexual organ.  When people are involved in sexual situations (arousal, or the act itself)  the brain is releasing powerful substances which if came in pill form would either be outlawed or considered a controlled substance.  Some of the Neuro-Chemicals associated with sex are:

epinephrine (adrenaline), testosterone (Male hormone), endorphins (feeling of well being and absence of pain), oxytocin (important substance in feelings of love and bonding), dopamine (reward seeking), serotonin (good mood), phenylethylamine (Endogenous amphetamine) and others

In the process of arousal the sexual image becomes an object of desire.  This occurs whether the image is real, inanimate, or imagined.  With repetition the image becomes more and more imbedded in the brain.  In some ways the image becomes a personal sexual ideal (a sexual idol).  The behaviors associated with this idol become fixed and in many cases automatic (like riding a bike or driving a car).  I will sometimes use the analogy of a well worn rut that when ever the wheels fall into they take you to the same place again.  From a spiritual stand point you begin to worship the idol.  From a neuro-chemical stand point the powerful reward chemicals in your brain released by this activity reinforce the behavior making it more likely that you will engage in this behavior in the future (kind of like a hit from drugs).  The bonding chemicals make you feel connected to the object and/or behavior associated with the object.  It is this bonding that I believe forms the biological basis for false intimacy (and sexual brokenness). 

To combat false intimacy one must first acknowledge it is false.  This is difficult because you have acknowledge something that contradicts what you feel.  Overcoming biology is one of the most difficult things that we can do in life.  The Bible refers to this as "dying to self" and putting to death the deeds of the flesh."  You acknowledge that it is false and determine to starve that sexual idol and refuse to worship it any longer.  Nothing short of a full break will do.  There also must be a reconnection to genuine intimacy.  Making a break without reengaging true intimacy will leave you vulnerable to falling back into false intimacy.  From a spiritual stand point you must turn to God and trust in him.  Turning to your spouse without turning to God puts you at risk of making your spouse an idol and worshiping your spouse as a sexual object and not treating them as a true person. 

You must be on guard against sexual brokenness and false intimacy if you are to have hope of developing true sexual intimacy with your spouse.  There needs to be an acknowledgement of the problem and a clean break from it (repentance).  If you need help along the way talk with a pastor, Christian therapist, or trusted friend.  Seek accountability and more importantly seek the Lord. 

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Your Needs

If you are married then God has given you an extraordinary opportunity to store up treasure in heaven. 

Don't collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don't break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (HCSB)

Do you treasure your spouse?  If marriage is a spiritual union between man and woman then how much more can be gained in heaven than to invest in the marriage relationship.  It is like a savings account in the sky.  I sincerely believe that one of the treasures that we build in heaven is the time that we invest in other's lives.  That makes your spouse a built in heavenly treasure chest.  Kinda cool if you think about it. 

"If you want to be perfect," Jesus said to him, "go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me." When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.
Matthew 19:21-22 (HCSB)

Jesus is plainly telling this fellow that treasure is stored in heaven by meeting the needs of other people (the poor in this case)!

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won't grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:33-34 (HCSB)

Same message here and he adds that our heart is directed to what we treasure in this life!

Her husband also praises her: "Many women are capable, but you surpass them all!"
Proverbs 31:28-29 (HCSB)

TREASURE: A thing of highly-estimated value
Orville Nave, "TREASURE," in Nave's Topical Bible: A Digest of The Holy Sciptures, (New York: Topical Bible Publishing Co., 1896), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "TREASURE".

We treasure our spouses by praising them and building them up.  When we esteem them in public and with family!  We express the great value they are to us and what we find valuable in them. 

Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful fawn- let her breasts always satisfy you; be lost in her love forever. Why, my son, would you be infatuated with a forbidden woman or embrace the breast of a stranger?
Proverbs 5:18-20 (HCSB)

We treasure our spouses when we are loyal to them without turning to others for emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual false intimacy.  We also treasure our spouses when we meet our spouse's genuine and legitimate need for emotional, physical, spiritual and sexual intimacy.

In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children.
Titus 2:3-4 (HCSB)

Husbands, love your wives and don't be bitter toward them.
Colossians 3:19 (HCSB)

We meet our spouse's needs when we love them in the way that God asks us to and in the example that he provides.  This is a sacrificial self-giving love. 

Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:7 (HCSB)

To sum up...the wife is to respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:33 (HCSB)

We meet our spouse's needs when we understand, honor, and respect them. 

We honor our wives when we proclaim their beauty.  Not vain beauty of the world (which is really a false image dare I say an idol), but the true beauty that exists as being a woman of God that is valued and precious in your sight. 

Wives you honor your husbands when you celebrate his accomplishments, willingness to go to work for you and family (no matter how small or great the income may be), and the fact that he would lay down his life for you. 

When we work to meet the needs of our spouse we are making an investment in this life and in the next.  We invest in this life because our marriage is blessed by the effort.  We invest in the next because we store treasure in heaven.  May God richly bless your treasure seeking, but more than that may God richly bless the treasure chest that is your marriage. 

Not sure what to do?  Consider the Love Dare as a start!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Spiritual Intimacy II

Hold Hands

Image by B Tal via Flickr

Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:7 (HCSB)

This passage gives insight into the spiritual nature of marriage.  I have already written about my understanding of weaker nature in a previous post.  I believe that there is scarcely a more important spiritual discipline than prayer.  This passage from the Bible place marriage in highest esteem among spiritual disciplines.  Follow my logic if you will.  This passages suggests that effective prayer is subordinate to understanding and honoring your spouse (wife in this case).  That is a profound statement in my estimation.  Earnest prayer can be hindered by broken marriage relationship. 

Spiritual significance of understanding your spouse

Understanding is one of the greatest gifts that you can give another human being.  This should especially be true in marriages.  The gift of understanding touches a deep emotional level that releases feelings of good will.  Understanding in a marriage can go much deeper than the emotional level.  There is a connection that occurs in which the other person becomes so connected that they often understand the other person without ever having to express it with words.  I would distinguish this from "jumping to conclusions" which typically put the other in a negative light.  It is more concluding how the spouse feels in a compassionate, empathetic, and caring way.  I notice at times when I come home sometimes the day has worn on my wife.  At that moment I can move to a deeper spiritual understanding by being her helpmate (that is fulfill  my spiritual role as her husband) or I can think, "better avoid her she having a bad day."  Understanding in this way is more than a mere thought of "I get it."  It is an understanding that moves to action in the best interest of the other.  When you can do that then you are cultivating spiritual intimacy in your marriage. 

Spiritual significance of honoring your spouse

Both men and women are commanded to honor their spouse.  Men are commanded to honor their wives by appreciating their great value. Women are commanded to honor by respecting their husband.  When a husband and wife act mutually in this manner then they are spiritually intimate.  It is a great blessing when husband treat their wives with the high value that God sees in them and women treat their husbands with the respect they long for.  This type of action is bonding in a deeply spiritual way. 

That is not to say it is always easy to act in this way.  However, if your goal is spiritual intimacy then there is nothing greater than understanding and honoring your spouse.  

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Spiritual Intimacy

Intimacy

Image by ToniVC via Flickr

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.
Genesis 2:24-25 (HCSB)

Genesis 2:24-25 expresses the spiritual ideal for marriage. 

Leaving the family of origin

It is important to understand the meaning of this leaving.  Some would take this to mean that we must cut off our family of origin.  I have met with couples who take this stance.  They do this to there detriment at times in light of:

Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12 (HCSB)

Some would say that this command is only for children.  However Jesus plainly tells an adult that he is to honor his mother and father in Matthew 19:16-19.  So as you can see either we have a contradiction or the intent of Genesis 2:24 is not to communicate the idea of cutting off.  The idea captured by the word leave is that we are leaving something behind.  It is releasing some object.  Often those objects are a barrier that keeps us from being all that God wants us to be.  In this case holding on to intimacy with your family of origin will get in the way of full intimacy with your spouse.  Take a look at what Adam has just said in this passage:

And the man said: This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called "woman," for she was taken from man.
Genesis 2:23 (HCSB)

Adam could not find a suitable helper from all of God's Creation.  First it should be recognized that man had a need.  We are incomplete in one sense without our helpmate. "This one" There is only one and not more than one, but "this one" is from me and with me.  There is hardly a more intimate bond that can be expressed than in the marriage relationship.  However not leaving the intimacy of your family of origin is detrimental to intimacy with your spouse. 

Not wanting to be misunderstood, let me plainly say that we need to honor our parents.  This would include listening to them, caring for them, seeking their wisdom, cherishing them, loving them, and respecting them.  This passage has no effect on this part of the relationship with our parents.  However, one must make a spiritual break from his or her parents if they are to experience oneness with his or her spouse. 

Bonding

Bonding is the intimacy that occurs in a relationship that draw two together into one relationship.  Ideally the highest bond is our relationship with God.  Next in order would be our relationship with our spouse.  We bond to our spouse by approaching and holding.  This bond in consummated in the act of sexual intercourse (more on sexual intimacy in a future post).  Often in our free culture with regard to sexual morality we have weakened the bond by reducing the spiritual nature of sexuality into a mere act of gratification and procreation.  Bonding is a process that occurs as the couple meets, get's to know each other, develop trust, become physical, then sexually involved as well as Spiritually intimate.  Ideally the last part occurs in the safety and security of marriage bonds.  When people trade the bonding process for sex (the act not intimacy) then then tend to bond with whatever object is used for sexual gratification (more on this in the Sexual intimacy post). 

Becoming One

It is a great mystery of how two individuals can become one.  It is a spiritual connection that ties them together at the depth of the soul.  This oneness is expressed in all manner of actions and yet the actions themselves do not make a couple one.  For example oneness is expressed in devotion to one another.  However devotion is not a way to achieve oneness.  There is an expression that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.  In this case becoming one is greater than the acts that express that oneness.  Magnetic attraction is a useful illustration:

This is two magnets aligned to repel each other.  Note how the magnetic fields do not connect and radiate away from each other. 
This one the magnets are still aligned to repel, but are forced together.  It makes a nice flower shape, but still the fields radiate away from each other.
In this one the magnets are separated but aligned to attract each other.  You can see that even though there are two different fields they still are connected.   
In this picture the magnets are aligned to attract and are connected.  Notice there is one single new magnetic field that is created.   
What is more is that it looks like the magnetic field of a single magnet.



"The two shall become one"

Images use with permission Hoadley, Rick.  "Magnet Man".  http://www.coolmagnetman.com  1998-2010

These illustrate spiritual intimacy in this way. If a couple is not aligned spiritually no amount of forcing them together (even with religious doctrine) is going to make them one.  What is more the spirituality of the other is likely going to repel the other away from them.  For example this happens often when a spouse looks at the other and says he/she is not acting according to God's word while not examining whether they are loving or honoring their spouse in the way that God desires them to.   On the other hand, If a couple is aligned spiritually then separation will result in an attraction that pulls the couple back together.  What is more when they come together they become one.   The attraction or repulsion is evidenced by the effect on the two individuals, but the spiritual field is invisible to the naked eye. 

They Were Naked

Spiritual intimacy involves vulnerability at its deepest level.  Believe it or not being comfortable with each other while naked is a good measure of spiritual intimacy in my estimation.  If there is a lack of comfort then it indicates that the spouse has some insecurity that has not been overcome by spiritual intimacy.  That is not to say that you go around naked all the time.  But in those intimate moments there is a deep love and devotion toward each other that transcends nakedness.  There also is a purity spiritually speaking as well.  Note it was not until after sin entered the world that the first couple realized they were naked and they rushed to cover up at that point (see Genesis 3:7).  When sin enters a relationship spiritual intimacy breaks down. 

Feeling No Shame

Negative feelings are destructive to Spiritual Intimacy none more destructive than shame.  Shame seeks a way out, run away, cover up, escape, fight back, blame, close off, avoid, push away, and ultimately cut off.  Being able to come together and experience no shame is a spiritual event in the life of a couple.  It is a feeling of all is right in the world as long as we are together.  Without shame marriage is a place to honor, celebrate, admire, exult, prize your spouse.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Intimacy Lost

Image by Tapperboy Via FlickrThere are times when a relationship is broken.  It is not that intimacy is lacking, but rather that it has been significantly altered by some painful event.  This is not the same as those that have been hurt by false intimacy (see here for that subject), but that have had intimacy and had it taken by a painful event and/or desire to get it back.  Sometimes one, the other, or both spouses are to blame.  Other times it is some event that happens outside the marriage that is such a significant trauma that intimacy is lost within the marriage.  These are painful times.  Heartache, fear, distrust, disgust, aversion, coldness, loneliness, grief, and other painful emotions are at the forefront during these times of life.  Marriage because of the potential for intimacy  can be the source of great destruction or great healing during these times depending on how the trauma is handled.  It is unlikely that one can be neutral during these times because to do nothing actually make the relationship destructive (albeit in a more passive way).  Perhaps you are at that place now: an affair, traumatic violence,  serious violation of trust, emotional trauma, significant loss in life, really anything that is a traumatic or a loss in life will fit the bill. 

A list of things that I believe are helpful during these times is to understand when it time to go "FORTH" are Forgiveness, Openness, Respect, Trust, and Healing.  These five concepts are interrelated, but is they also are different.  It is important if you are to restore intimacy to understand the similarity and differences between these five relationship concepts. 

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the quality of releasing the other person from condemnation for his or her offence.  Condemnation is the act of declaring guilty and holding a person accountable to the fullest extent possible.  Condemnation has no room for grace or circumstances.  To release condemnation is to forgive.  What that means individually is that a person releases his or her personal right (real or perceived) to demand retribution.  Individual forgiveness is different than pardon.  Pardon is given by society or some society representative.  For example a person might forgive a person that assaulted them, but that does not mean they are pardoned for the crime.  Forgiveness also is unique from openness, respect, trust and healing.  A person can forgive and not have the other four.  This is important because recognizing forgiveness as different will avoid you falling into the trap of believing that you have not forgiven or believing that your spouse has not forgiven because they do not trust. 

Openness

One of the casualties in traumatic events is often openness.  It is based somewhat in trust.  However it is different from trust.  Openness is both a measure of the level of trust in a relationship and the mechanism for rebuilding trust in a relationship.   Openness is being accountable, vulnerable, sincere, forthright, and clear.  It is avoiding secretiveness.   It also has a quality of gentle honesty.  I distinguish that from brutal honesty.  Brutal honesty is not openness, but rather is an attack usually meant to punish the other person for bringing the subject up.  Gentle honesty is being transparent while being fully aware of how what your are saying may affect the person that you are talking with.  It is focused more on how you say things over what you are say.  At times there is a tension that exists in that what you have to say may be unpleasant.  Gentle honesty does not hide the unpleasant, but thinks long and hard about timing, manner, and intent of sharing unpleasant information. 

Respect

Respect is another casualty of traumatic events.  This is especially true when the root cause of the trauma lies within the behavior of the other spouse (having an affair for example).  You might wonder about how to respect someone who has done something dishonorable.  I would agree that this is a difficult thing.  However if your goal is to restore emotional intimacy then disrespect will not bring that about and will in fact have the opposite effect on the relationship.  Disrespect is fuel to defensiveness and distrust.  There are times when respect (or disrespect) is learned from previous relationships and displayed in the marriage relationship.  For example if you grow up in a family that does not respect the feelings of others then you will have a greater likelihood that you will have a lack of respect for your spouses feelings and not even be aware that you are doing that.  The substance of respect is positive regard (treating with kindness), courteousness, sensitivity to feelings of the other, endure, give benefit of doubt, value opinion of, and giving of esteem when something good is done. 

Trust

I have said in a previous post that trust is vital element in emotional intimacy.  Not wanting to repeat myself here let me just contrast trust and forgiveness.  Trust is the ability to be vulnerable and entrust your life and emotions with a person that you love.  Forgiveness is a release from the right to retaliate.  They certainly do overlap, but they are different and are on different schedules.  Most of the time when spouses say "You don't forgive me" it is not true.  The fact he or she is willing to show up in counseling is evidence of forgiveness in my estimation.  Unforgiving people do not seek out reconciliation or a way to make the relationship better.  What would be more accurate to say is, "I desire for you to trust me."  In this way the responsibility is shared.  The person who has broken the trust has the obligation to demonstrate trustworthiness and the person who has been offended has to reach a point where they can be vulnerable again.  This is not the same a forgiveness and will take time as the couple grows in trustworthiness and vulnerability.

Healing

I like to use a serious break in the leg as an analogy for healing.  The recovery from a serious complicated break can be relatively short to a extensive.  It depends on many factors (type of break, whether surgery is needed, bone health, activity level before and after the break, etc).  Even when a break is healed there may be times that in cold weather or if you step just in a certain way that you will have a painful reminder of the break.  Stated another way there is never a complete healing 100%.  Recovery is lifelong to a certain extent. 
In the same way psychological trauma is never 100% healed.  I raise this issue because I want to contrast it with the issue of forgiveness.  A person will experience painful emotions for a long time after a trauma or serious loss.  However, painful emotions is in no way indicative of a lack of forgiveness.  The painful emotions are there because you are human and are still in a process of healing and recovery.  There should never be guilt over painful emotions either in the form of guilt trip (by the other) or by self reproach (why can I just get over it).  Healing takes time and will often be the last to occur in this list of five things (sometimes life long). 
That being said emotional intimacy can be forged in the process of healing.  If the person that is supporting recovery of the other becomes an agent of healing then they form of bond with that person that is extremely strong, even when the person is at fault for the trauma in the first place.  The key to healing painful emotions is to avoid the guilt trap.  Guilt turns painful emotions into suffering.  You have to accept the feelings of pain whether you are the person experiencing them or if you are the person wanting to support.  Together healing will bring the emotional intimacy that you long for.  The difficulty is that it takes time and progress is measured by months if not years depending on the type of trauma.  End the end it is worth it if you are willing and your spouse is the person that is willing to take the journey with you. 

If this describes your relationship I pray that you will seek and receive the healing you are looking for.  If you are the support person then I pray that you will be come the agent of healing for your spouse for better or for worse.  God bless you.  If this does not describe you consider supporting another couple that is going through a hard time as a support toward healing and reconciliation. 
 

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Physical Intimacy (Non Sexual)

The Proposal (1872)

Image via Wikipedia

For most men that title is a contradiction.  For most women that title makes perfect sense.  I want to address this type of intimacy, but I am guessing that it is more directed at men than at women. 

Togetherness

For physical intimacy to occur then it is obvious that two people need to be in close proximity together.  Let's face it there is many things that compete for our attention, time, and presence.  And our spouses tend to get pushed down the list when the pressure is on.  I am not suggesting that is right I am just making the observation of what tends to happen in life.  For physical intimacy to occur then you must be committed to being together (that is close enough to touch).  It seems almost silly that I would need to point this out but it is true if you are not close enough to touch then you are not going to have physical intimacy. 

Security

Security is to physical intimacy as trust is to emotional intimacy.  There has to be a sense of safety that is in all forms of intimacy.  Now at times this feeling of security is weakened either by past experiences with a spouse and/or past experiences in other intimate relationships.  It is a good idea to get these things out in the open to talk about.  If you do not think that you can do this or that your spouse will have understanding then may I recommend counseling.   A lack of physical intimacy will have lasting impact on your marriage and lead to feelings of distance and detachment.  So ignoring insecurities does not lead to improved intimacy in my opinion.  One thing more, if physical abuse or sexual abuse is occurring it needs to be addressed before the feeling of insecurity can be addressed.  Stated another way, physical safety trumps physical intimacy!  If you are in an abusive relationship Focus Ministries offers some information and support.  Just click on the link to go to their web site. 

Touch

Physical intimacy is a feeling of closeness that occurs with a touch that is desired, warm, and affectionate.  Notice the touch is desired.  There may be times that you touch your spouse, but if the touch is not desired then it is not physical intimacy.  A woman desires to be physically close with her husband without the expectation of sexual advances.  That is not to say that women do not want to be sexual, but rather they have an need for physical closeness that is not purely sexual.  Men who do not learn this and act accordingly risk making physical touch aversive to their wives leading to less and not more intimacy.  The quality of warmth in touch is descriptive of the motivation behind the touch.  It ought to be rooted in love with the intent of meeting the spouse's need for physical intimacy.  For women generally a warm touch is a gentle touch.  For men a warm touch is one that expresses loyalty and devotion.  Affection in touch is a physical expression of the care concern and compassion that you have for your spouse.  For example:  "I have a sore neck." is code for "please rub my neck."  and a gentle touch speaks more care and concern than a million words could ever say. 

I am speaking in generalities in this post.  The types of wanted touch are very individualistic.  If you don't have a clear idea of what kind of touch your spouse appreciates then I would suggest striking up a conversation. I met this one couple that had been married for a long time.  The husband though he was doing good holding her hand on the couch every night before bed.  To his surprise he discovered that his wife had a much different perspective.  She felt he was more in tune with the TV and sitting on the couch with him was better than no touch which is what would happen if she did not sit with him.   But it was not physical intimacy for her. 

Ideas for Physical Intimacy

Hugs
Back Rubs
Holding hands
Snuggling
walks (not speed walking)
Foot massage
Body massage
Gentle touch to the face
Arm around shoulder
Hand on thigh or knee (Remember Non-sexual)
Spooning (keep it non-sexual)
fingers through hair
Kissing
Gentle touch on the shoulder
body caress (non-sexual and make sure it is wanted)
Sitting close enough that bodies touch
Arm around waist
Playful (Wanted) tickling
Scratching those hard to reach places

If you have other ideas then please feel free to add to the list with a post in the comment section. 

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Emotional Intimacy II

Gift from the Warmth

Image by Eden in China via Flickr

Understanding is to good communication as tenderness is to emotional intimacy.  Recall that in understanding each person willingly suspends his/her automatic judgment that the other is wrong.  They stick to listening until they get it and understand the other person's point of view.  Tenderness is the emotional expression of understanding in my opinion.  Tenderness creates and emotional atmosphere of safety, care, and concern.  This is contrasted with harshness or guardedness which leads to shutting down of emotional intimacy. 

 

 

 

This music video is about tenderness . 

We often speak a hash word before we have even stopped to think about what we are saying.  then in pride we hold fast to our position and just like the song says, "All tenderness is gone!" 

Obviously the main way is to avoid harshness and guardedness all together. That requires you to slow down your reactions.  I think that most times it is based in a feeling of defensiveness.  You have to begin to notice when you are feeling defensive and put the breaks on your mouth.  It is quite something to do as the whole process of receiving a message that is perceived as threatening to triggering feeling defensive to a harsh word is literally milliseconds.   If you are not good at this right away there is hope.  I have seen people learn to do this and become more emotionally intimate with their spouses.  First it takes willingness to change this bad habit; then it takes awareness that you are feeling defensive; then it takes extraordinary will power to shut your mouth and listen!!!!  It can be done with practice. 

The Horse is Out of the Barn

This is very simple!  Apologize immediately when you first become aware that harshness and guardedness has crept into the conversation.   Don't wait for the right moment, don't try to figure out who is at fault, just apologize.  Even if you are only a little at fault.  You cannot, You cannot, You cannot have emotional intimacy without tenderness, and apologizing is one of the most tender things you can do when conflict has come up.  If you feel that you are right in what you are saying then say something like, "This is not a good time to discuss this subject, but I want to apologize for the way that I reacted to you, it was wrong.  Maybe we can talk later when I have had a chance to think it through." 

WALK IN GRACE AND BUILD UP

Tenderness is cultivated by sensitive, loving, and caring words and actions.  If they do not come naturally to you then here is a list to give you an idea. 

Warmth
Affection
Loving
Kindness

Interested
Nearness
Gentle
Regard
Affection
Charity
Empathy
Attachment
Nurture
Delight
Benevolence
Understanding
Indulgence
Leniency
Devotion
Unselfishness
Patience

So now the encouragement for emotional intimacy is tenderness accomplished when you "Walk in grace and build up" your spouse.  May God's Grace grant you the will, wisdom, and strength to accomplish this in your marriage. 

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Emotional Intimacy

Intimacy

Image by _Teb via Flickr

Emotional intimacy is a difficult thing.  It requires a high level of mutual respect and trust.  When that trust is broken the pain is deep.  If the emotional intimacy is genuine then the grief over hurting another is deeply felt.  On the positive side true emotional intimacy can be a place of great fulfillment.  The level of sharing, commitment, self-sacrifice, and connection with your spouse increases in direct relationship to the level of emotional intimacy that you have in your relationship. 

Emotional intimacy is the ability to share life's hopes, dreams, fears, feelings, thoughts, and connection with your spouse.  It is being able to lay bare what is on your mind without shame or fear of retaliation.  It is a peace that comes when all is well in the relationship. 

Emotional intimacy is hard to build, but easy to tear down.  Trust is at the foundation of emotional intimacy.  Without trust there cannot be true emotional intimacy.  Building trust occurs when a person acts in a trustworthy manner.  If a person does not act trustworthy then the other person becomes skeptical and trust is hard to come by then. 

Want to build emotional intimacy with your spouse?  Start with building a sense of trustworthiness.  It is important to understand that trustworthiness is as much in the eye of the beholder as it is in the actions that you take.  Stated another way a person may act in a trustworthy manner, but that does not automatically result in a sense of trustworthiness.  It take a person to trust in return.  I know the statement is circular, but it fits with what I am trying to say. 

Words that denote trustworthiness

Honest
Reliable
Fair
Steadfastness
Loyal
Faithful
Integrity
Fidelity
Firmness
Devoted
Loving
Dependable
Endurance
Honor
Unfailingness
Keeps private matters private
Perseverance
Principled

Does this list describe your actions in your marriage?  Does your spouse recognize these qualities in you? 

Begin to think over this list.  Make it a priority to grown in trustworthiness with your spouse.  If you do then you can grow in emotional intimacy.  Some might feel threatened by this task as to admit a need to grow would automatically indicate that there have been areas that we have been lacking.  However, I believe that we can all grow in this area whether your relationship is on shaky ground or if it is rock solid.  Trustworthiness and the resulting emotional intimacy is both restorative as it is protective.  It restores that which has been lost (with much hard work) and it protects that which has been gained (hard fought for).  

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