8 Steps to Intimacy

In this lesson, Mike reviews the true meaning, value and method of creating as well as maintaining the core element of every successful marriage, intimacy.
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This chapter draws mainly from "The Song of Solomon" and an interesting treatment of this Old Testament poetry by John Trent in his small book entitled "Eight Steps to Intimacy." Before we get into Solomon's life and times, however, a question about marriage and what it takes to succeed at it.

What keeps a marriage going and enables us to be in love for life is not a house, children, sex or money. What keeps a marriage alive and makes the relationship worth the effort is the intimacy experienced and shared by the couple. The word intimacy means to be close or familiar. In marriage, intimacy means to be close or familiar physically, emotionally and spiritually with our partner at a level that we do not have with any other human being. It is the essence of what we describe as falling or being in love. Intimacy encompasses the exhilarating feeling that comes when you discover how wonderful it is to be so close to another person. You want that feeling all of the time, so you marry. You marry in order to preserve the intimacy.

However, once you marry you become occupied establishing a home, driving the kids to daycare, getting ahead in your career, and staying so busy with life that you often forget and neglect to take care of the intimacy that brought you together in the first place. What happens in many cases is that the house gets paid off, the kids grow up and you get the promotion at work, but your marriage dries up because the intimacy that started it all is now gone.

Unfortunately, simply getting married does not preserve intimacy, it only acknowledges that you have it and provides a safe framework to pursue and build it. The work in marriage and the thing you need to build is not the house, the pension plan or a guaranteed college fund for the kids. The real work in marriage is keeping and building the level of intimacy you share with your partner so that the rest of life (good or bad) is worth while.

Developing Intimacy

Intimacy is not automatic. It does not just happen simply because you share the same house or apartment. It does not come with a marriage ceremony. Intimacy is a learned thing and cannot be contained or maintained without effort and practice. Total intimacy requires us to develop our relationship in three main areas.

1. Intellectual / Emotional Intimacy

Martial intimacy requires that the heads and hearts be close. We need to know what the other person thinks and feels, and they need to know what we think and feel in order to create and maintain intimacy. We build this intellectual and emotional intimacy by practicing open and honest communication with one another.

I mentioned this in a previous chapter. In order to build intellectual and emotional intimacy you need to say truthfully and kindly what is really on your mind and heart, not just what you think the other person wants to hear. You must also learn to listen patiently and be sure to understand what you have been told before you speak. All of this requires time, effort and humility (the ability to say I am sorry, or to say I forgive you).

2. Physical Intimacy

Just because we know how to have sex does not mean we have intimacy. Just because we have physical desire for our partner does not mean that our desire creates or maintains intimacy. Physical intimacy is not the same thing as sex, they are separate things but both necessary to perfect the other. Suffice to say that men and women see and experience physical intimacy in different ways and this is what causes many problems in marriage. For example, women need emotional intimacy in order to be free to enjoy sex. Men, on the other hand, need sex in order to experience emotional intimacy. This basic difference between men and women is one of the reasons why there is often conflict in a marriage over the issue of sex. Physical intimacy needs to be cultivated, and sexual activity is not the only method to cultivate that physical intimacy.

One thing to note, however, is that without emotional and intellectual intimacy, there cannot be satisfying physical and sexual intimacy.

A third and often neglected area that also needs cultivating for there to be complete intimacy within the couple is...

3. Spiritual Intimacy

To be completely one, familiar and close, there needs to be a shared spiritual life. Religious faith is important to a marriage because without spiritual intimacy and interaction, it is hard to succeed in a relationship specifically designed and directed by God. Leaving God out of a marriage is like trying to play hockey without a rule book, referees or coaches. You can play, but you do not play well and there will be plenty of fights. Bringing God and His Word into our marriages gives our relationship a spiritual dimension, without which we can never feel complete, no matter how well we get along or how good the sex is.

Therefore, in order to create intimacy we need to cultivate it at the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual levels.

Eight Steps to Developing Intimacy

Among the books Solomon wrote, the Song of Solomon is the most beautiful in its praise and description of the love that exists between a man and a woman. The Song of Solomon is poetry and filled with imagery that can be looked at from various perspectives: a relationship between God and His people (Old Testament), a relationship between God and His church (New Testament), or a simple, intimate relationship between a man and a woman in love. For our purposes we will follow the third of these interpretive models.

Background information to help the reader understand the book:

  • Written in poetic form so there is a lot of symbolism and imagery of nature.
  • The book shifts suddenly from speaker to speaker which makes it difficult to follow at times.
  • It has a variety of characters and speakers: a young bride (the Shulamite), the King himself (Solomon), and a chorus of palace ladies called the Daughters of Jerusalem.
  • Many scholars think that the bride was Abishag (I Kings 1:3-4) the beautiful maiden chosen to care for David in his old age and then taken by Solomon as his wife after David died.

In the study of this poetry we can trace the eight steps the led to this couple's amazing sense of intimacy:

Step #1 - Strong Physical Attraction

"May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.
- Song of Solomon 1:2

She is excited by the thought of his repeated kisses. In this, God reveals that strong physical attraction is a basic ingredient in the intimate bonding of people together in marriage. You can stay married without sex, but it is difficult to remain intimate without sex.

It is important to maintain and cultivate your sex life because it contributes directly to your sense of intimacy with your spouse. We will explore this subject more deeply in a chapter to come.

Step #2 - A Purified Character

"Your oils have a pleasing fragrance, Your name is like purified oil; Therefore the maidens love you.
- Song of Solomon 1:3

How do you get the "spark" back into a relationship after it has gone? At times we lose that special desire because of things like illness, age or separation for a reason over which we have no control. During these times we need to ask God to help us maintain our relationship despite the circumstances that challenge our intimate contact. There are other instances, however, when the loss of that special spark is due to character issues.

In this poem, God shows that the woman's passion for her beloved was based on his character, not just his looks. What is on the inside of a person often plays an important role in how we react to them on the outside. The Shulamite woman in the poem compares her man's character to purified oil. The idea being that his character was purified by God and his spiritual qualities of piety and meekness along with the social qualities of consideration and honesty were very pleasing to her.

It is hard to be intimate (spark) with someone who lacks character, who is addicted to something, who uses bad language, who cheats, is unkind, etc. Nothing is more attractive or builds intimacy like a godly character.

Step #3 - The Respect of Others

We see intimacy as something shared by two people. In verse two, however, the woman declares that her appreciation of him is heightened because others see in her man what she does (all the maidens agree with her concerning his character).

It is hard to fall in love and be intimate with an illusion, a front or an act. In marriage, our love and appreciation grow along with our desire for intimacy when the value of our partner is recognized by others in our family, community, etc. When what we see and love is confirmed as real and legitimate by others, it gives us confidence to pursue a deeper level of intimacy. One reason why adultery rarely leads to intimacy is that everyone is against it and few confirm the relationship. This is the reason that the approval of our partner by our parents is so important to us, even today.

Step #4 - Biblical Balance

"Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers."
- Song of Solomon 1:4

The woman encourages her husband to take the lead. A struggle for power in the home is a true intimacy killer. Men often confuse spiritual leadership with control. Women reject the idea (of male spiritual leadership) because they have never experienced it or have experienced perverted forms of it (abuse).

The Bible, however, requires men to lead (not control or dominate) through service. They do this by anticipating and providing for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the home. When men fail at this it is usually because they think that providing the bulk of physical needs (if they are the primary or sole wage earner) entitles them to control everything. Control, however, kills intimacy because it suffocates it. Intimacy requires freedom (e.g. to think, share, express and explore) to flourish, and control is the antithesis of freedom in a relationship. Intimacy has no way of growing between two people when one partner seeks to control the other. In extreme cases the desire to control easily leads to abuse.

Women, on the other hand, must realize that submission is not natural, it is a gift that is offered and made possible by faith in God who gives the strength to accomplish it (i.e. my wife offers me her submission as a precious gift). The mistake that women make is that they confuse leadership with control also, and they fight it, ridicule it or try to usurp it (throw it off).

You cannot be intimate with someone you resent or someone you are fighting with for control. Husbands are to lead their wives as Christ led the church (ready to sacrifice himself for her well-being), and wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ (as an act of faith to God) Ephesians 5:22-33. This biblical formula for marriage leads to mutual respect, devotion and an intimacy pleasing and blessed by God.

Step #5 - Security in the Relationship

5"I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon. 6 "Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me. My mother's sons were angry with me; They made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.
- Song of Solomon 1:5-6

Are you more secure in you relationship this year than you were before? Intimacy needs security to bloom. In verses 5-6, the woman feels insecure about the way she looks compared to the women at the royal court (she's a working girl with a suntan versus the white skin of the rich girls at the palace). Throughout the poem, however, we see how she grows in assurance concerning her beloved's love for her. For example, in 2:1 ("I am the rose of Sharon, The lily of the valleys.") she feels better about herself using a term given to her by Solomon. In 2:16 ("My beloved is mine, and I am his; He pastures his flock among the lilies"), she expresses the idea of possessiveness and assurance. Finally, in 7:10 ("I am my beloved's, And his desire is for me") after they are married, she is secure in the fact that she is the only one he loves. The more your partner is secure, the more they open up; the more they open up and invest themselves, the greater the intimacy.

Step #6 - Give Praise

Someone will say, "How do I make my partner feel secure?" Answer: By the constant giving of praise. Solomon praises her over forty times in this book, seven times on their wedding night alone! Praise builds esteem, esteem builds security, and security enables a person to let the barriers down and be more intimate.

Step #7 - Continual Focus

In those days of no A/C or easy access to bathing, perfume was used abundantly. The point here is that like perfume that continually gives off a pleasant smell, the thought of her beloved was continually before her. It is not the big things that kill intimacy, it is the daily neglect of each other in little ways that destroys our closeness. Your marriage partner is the only person that you are committed to for life (no other associations are like this), so you must care for that person in ways that reflect and support your lifetime commitment.

The attention invested in this relationship should be constant. After all, you invest in retirement a little at a time in order to enjoy a benefit later on. In the same way, you should invest or focus your attention on your partner each day so you can always enjoy the benefits of intimacy throughout the life of your marriage. Jesus said, "Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also" (Matthew 6:21). If your spouse is your treasure, then your heart will be focused on them each day, and in doing so you will continue to reap the rewards of intimacy long after the honeymoon is over.

Step #8 - Spiritual Oneness

Total intimacy requires spiritual intimacy. In 1:17 the bride says to her husband, ("The beams of our house are cedars, our rafters, cypress."). In this passage she refers to each of their respective lives as houses built with the same materials. Cedar and cypress were the expensive woods used to build the temple at that time. Their house was their life together, it was built with the best materials which, in their case, were spiritual things like faith, worship and service to God.

You can have a good marriage without faith, many do. You can have a good marriage if only one partner is a Christian, many do. But only two equally committed believers can share the total intimacy (mind, body, spirit) that God intended marriage to have. Sometimes the only thing that will heal the hurts of the mind and body are the prayers of a believing heart.

The best way to create or recreate intimacy in a marriage is to begin with spiritual intimacy. When we can find each other in prayer and worship; when we can share our faith and knowledge of the Bible; when we can serve the Lord in some way together, we are establishing the building blocks of intimacy at every level. For a married couple, spiritual closeness leads to emotional and physical closeness because this is God's will for married people.

and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'.
- Matthew 19:5

From the very beginning it was God's will that men and women would find complete intimacy in marriage.

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