A few months ago I shared how I have struggled with a fear of intimacy which has, inevitably, affected my marriage. Growing closer has been a struggle for us – but a struggle with many rewards! In the past almost-five-years, I’ve learned just how much my fear of closeness has kept me from connecting with my husband.
Some people get married with a long list of common interests and passions. My husband and I did not. We definitely chose the harder road when we chose each other, but we were committed to making it work. Going into an intimate relationship when you fear (and even resent) intimacy is not for the faint of heart, and we learned the hard way that connecting, for us, is an intentional act.
We thought we were pretty good at going “deeper”. We’d go on dates and talk about the future, our plans, and our vision for the family. But we’d head back home, into our real life, and all those deep conversations would fade away.
We had nothing we shared on the surface; no shared hobbies, interests, love languages, or even personality types. You might be wondering why we got married (we do too, sometimes!) – we married because we were friends. We helped each other grow, and we had the same vision for our future. Being practical people, we didn’t see these differences as red flags but as opportunities to grow. We just didn’t realize how hard it would be!
Committing to the hard work our marriage has been was definitely worth it. My husband has grown me in ways no one else could. But this has presented a unique challenge because going deeper with him doesn’t come naturally the way it does with my closest girlfriends. Following are five ways we have found to fight the fear of intimacy and connect on a deeper level – even when you are absolute opposites.
Keep the Conversation Going
I recently listened to a podcast episode by The Communication Guys with this title. It’s an excellent episode (highly recommend!) and contains some convicting points about conversation. How many of us stop making effort to converse when the date ends? I know I do! At the end of a long day, I don’t want to have a conversation while cooking dinner. I want quiet!
Keeping conversation doesn’t have to be hard, though. It’s as simple as asking questions. One suggestion in the podcast episode was to spend an entire conversation asking questions – not interjecting opinions, or planning out a response – just asking questions to go deeper into the other person’s experience. It works!
Do a Project Together
I once heard that men are more likely to talk when working on something. Women like to sit and talk, face to face, and don’t need to be doing anything to engage conversationally. Men tend to open up more when they are taking action.
I experimented with this since Josh and I frequently found ourselves running out of things to talk about on our dates. We decided to start doing active dates – playing games, attending events, or doing projects together – and it was much easier to connect when Josh didn’t have the pressure of conversation alone.
Sit Together Undistracted
I will be honest: This is by far the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I don’t like to sit still unless I’m reading, but my husband isn’t one who quickly opens up or talks about deep things. In one of our “state of the marriage” talks, he told me he needed time to relax before he could talk on a deeper level. But by the time he was ready, I was up and gone. Sitting around for an hour waiting for him to be comfortable was not even on my radar.
We agreed to set aside time once a week to just sit and talk. I rearranged our dinner schedule to make that time, also, conversation focused – even though we have little kids. In the spirit of Sally Clarkson’s The Lifegiving Home, I set a formal table each night with candles, a tablecloth, and full table settings (my three year old helps) and we put away phones for dinner. It has made dinner a much better time for everyone, but also a great way for us to connect.
Take the Risk of Vulnerability
Sharing with your spouse, especially when you aren’t sure they even care, is a risk. It’s much easier to run to a girlfriend who you know will respond the way you want. But when we continue to share the burdens of our heart with someone else, we create an even wider emotional divide between us and our spouse.
Vulnerabiity is hard when you fear intimacy because you don’t want to expose yourself to rejection. I am very familiar with this struggle. But I have found that staying in that place of fear is exactly what the Enemy of our souls wants. He wants a divide in our marriages, and he wants fear to keep us from God’s best. The best way to connect with your spouse is to be the one to take the first step, regardless of response.
I’ve discovered that when I communicate that I am about to be vulnerable, that it’s very hard for me, and then share something that’s close to my heart, my husband responds in like. It just took one person to make the first move.
Celebrate What You Have in Common
We talk about “connection” in the dating stage, usually in terms of a “spark” or “chemistry”. When the spark fades over time, how do you maintain connection?
In my opposites-attracted marriage, this has been a constant question. We’ve answered it by celebrating what we DO have in common, even if it isn’t much. What we’ve found – as we’ve focused on what we have, not what we don’t have – is that our history, our kids, and our journey together is the best thing to have in common. We might not share taste in music or movies or shows or hobbies, but we have a legacy together. We have shared memories, inside jokes, and a shared future. As we work at building the little things like hobbies, we can celebrate what is already there.
I understand the fear of being close to your spouse. You aren’t always sure they will respond the way you hope, but our faith in Christ gives us a place to ground that hope. Because of our faith foundation, we can take the risk of vulnerability in our marriages. And of course, we should pray: Pray to connect with our husbands on a deeper level. It can happen. It takes work, it takes doing something hard and being consistent – but there is nothing more worth the effort.
Phylicia Masonheimer is an author, speaker, and founder of Driven Women. She teaches strong-hearted women how to follow Christ’s call in work, home, and the world. She writes about the Bible, productivity, and sexuality on her website, and her book on biblical sex can be found here: Christian Cosmo: The Sex Talk You Never Had. She lives with her husband and daughters in northern Michigan.