Sarah and Matt had been married for more than 12 years and have three children. Most of their conversations are about work, chores, parenting, bills and other aspects of their lives together. But when they announced to our life group they were separating, everyone was shocked.
Later when I had the chance to speak privately with Sarah, I asked her what had happened to get them to this point.
“I love Matt, but the passion isn’t there anymore. It’s like we’re roommates sharing kids.” While her husband had said, “I thought it was just a phase we were going through.”
Matt and Sarah were passionate in their early years of marriage. However, over the last few years, their time alone together without children became nearly nonexistent. They rarely went out as a couple and their sex life dwindled. In short, neither one of them felt “connected” to the other. Somewhere in their timeline they had begun to drift.
Usually when couples feel disconnected from one another, the root of the problem is intimacy.
There are so many reasons why intimacy declines. It could because of infants and toddlers keeping parents up at all hours or just the ever-increasing busyness of life. It could be because of a jam-packed schedule of activities, sports, and board meetings too.
Why does intimacy matter in any of these stages? It is the thread that ties a couple together. It’s the connection as a couple created by three aspects of intimacy: spiritual, emotional, and physical.
This first—and most foundational—type of intimacy is spiritual intimacy. It is the hub of emotional and physical intimacy. God’s word is nourishment to our souls (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). As couples when we are on the same spiritual diet, we can expect to grow together towards Christ.
If spiritual intimacy is high, emotional and physical will follow; although each will have seasons of greater or lesser intensity.
The adage that a family that prayers together stays together is generally true for spiritual intimacy as well. It’s not just praying in each other’s presence but actually making each other a core part of your personal prayer life.
Emotional intimacy is created when there is trust and communication between you and your spouse. It allows you both to share your innermost selves. Emotional intimacy means you can share your thoughts, your fears, your dreams.
You’re able to share joy and pain. Your spouse is the person who can cry with you and laugh with you. We have a deep connection with our partner because we feel wholly accepted. Men tend to feel most connected with physical intimacy is high while women feel the most connect when emotional intimacy is high.
We can take Adam’s lead in establishing an emotional connection. Instead of getting into bed with Eve when he first met her, he instead recites the world’s first poem (Genesis 2:23)
Physical intimacy is more than what happens between the sheets. It’s holding hands, cuddling on the couch, hugs in passing and even dancing in the kitchen.
Physical intimacy between couples is an act or exchange of feelings including close companionship, romantic love or sexual attraction. It can also be a critical element in strengthening a relationship.
Make sex a priority—at least once a week to keep your marriage healthy.
Set the mood for intimacy before TV, kids or work dulls your passion. A light meal and your favorite music can set the stage for great sex. Build in some time each week when you are off work, parenting duty, caregiving duty, etc.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind: intimacy ebbs and flows in a marriage with the seasons and life stages; however that’s no reason to disconnect. If your marriage is stale or if you’re marriage is struggling like Sarah and Matt, here a few ideas to rekindle that spark.
1. Make Your Spouse Your Priority
Your spouse comes first. Period.
First and foremost: after your relationships with God, your marriage comes first. Your partner comes before the kids, work, or any other priorities or obligations.
When you put your spouse above all else, you are essentially upholding your commitment. If you want your marriage to last your lifetime, give it the attention and effort it deserves.
Your kids will live with you for just two short decades. It sounds harsh but your kids are only with you for 18 years but you vowed to spend the rest of your life with your spouse. The same goes for your career. Your career isn’t who you made your vows to, your spouse is.
To an extent, rekindling intimacy in your marriage is as simple as making the decison to be more intimate. If you want to feel closeness with your spouse, make the decision to be close. If you want your marriage to feel special, make your spouse the special person in your life. If you want your marriage to have great value in your life, value it.
Prioritize your spouse and how important and precious your marriage feels to you will follow suit.
2. Spend Quality Time with Your Lover
Remember what it was like before you met your spouse? How you navigated the world alone? What about the day you met your spouse? How did that feel?
What do you remember about those early days in your relationship? If you don’t feel the same way, often the missing element is TIME TOGETHER.
If you and your spouse are passing ships in the night and roommates in the daylight, you won’t get much out of your interactions and eventually resentment sets in. Choose to spend time together.
Date night is vital to marriage. But if it’s a routine event in which you go out and sit across from each other checking email on your phone or talking about the latest outrageous thing your 11-year-old did to get out of chores, you are not deepening your connection—if anything you’re proving how little you care or respect your spouse.
Think of “connection driven” activities you two used to like doing together and change it up often. Ditch the kids and go for a long walk after dinner. Take a scenic drive to get ice cream. Hang curtains together or take a cooking class. Head downtown and take in the sights.
Go for a run together, go camping or fishing. It doesn’t matter what it is that you two do, so long as you are doing it together. This will help both of you open up and disclose your deepest thoughts and emotions. It can only make your connection stronger.
3. Get Physical
When couples first enter into marriage, they can’t believe the idea that one day they may have to “work” at physical intimacy. During the early phase of marriage couples barely come up for air due to the excitement of falling in love.
One of the many reasons is because physical affection creates a bonding chemistry. Scientists have discovered that oxytocin (a bonding hormone) causes couples to feel euphoric and turned on by physical touch.
It actually works like a drug, giving us immediate rewards that bind us to our lover. As basic as it may sound, the first step to building a thriving sex life is to recognize that intimacy requires effort.
It might be awkward at first. That’s okay. Value your marriage enough to push past it, having faith that God can bring you together. The more effort you put in, the safer emotionally it will feel to be phyiscally intimate, which will in turn make it less awkard and more enjoyable. Keep at it.
Other ways to enhance that physical spark include:
- Hugs, tender touch, holding hands, and cuddling are great ways to affirm your love for each spouse. This includes holding hands in public.
- Activities that you and partner sit close tougher like riding carnival rides tougher. Sitting together when you watch movies. Sitting next to each other at restaurants.
- Cherish the seemingly smaller physical moments such as putting your arm around your spouse or when you kiss or brushing hair out of your partner’s eyes.
What to Do When There Is No Intimacy
As human beings, God hardwired us for intimacy and connection. We all crave intimacy and connection.We’re naturally programmed to desire interaction with others, and there’s no instinct more basic than love.
While there are any number of things that can cause the temperature to drop between you and your spouse, know that God understands. He understands what you’re feeling and your pain because he designed marriage.
Take your loneliness and hurts to God. Pray how to approach your partner in order to talk about the lack of intimacy. Be prepared for what your spouse may say and keep in mind you have some responsibility for the disconnect.
If it’s something you can’t resolve on your own, consider seeing a Biblical counselor who can help you both restore your relationship.
As shared in this article, you can also consider the following:
– Ask yourself and your partner how you both got here.
– Discuss your needs openly with each other.
– Use ‘I’ statements vs ‘You’ and refrain from becoming angry or blaming your partner.
– Don’t blame your spouse for the situation. Ask yourself what was your role in this?
– Pray over your spouse and for your spouse.
– Pursue your spouse.
Couples that desire to return to the closeness they once had can make it happen by dedicating time and energy into their marriage.
Break out of the rut you may be in and do something different. Choose to focus on the good qualities of your spouse, choose to be more affectionate, and choose to pray for your spouse.
Marriage was invented by God to be a reflection of the relationship Christ has with his church and to help us become closer to him. Surely, he wants to grant you and your spouse the kind of intimacy he designed you for. Be faithful in your pursuit of God and your spouse, and see what he can do.
Written by: Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone) with her three kids and husband of 20 years. She writes to bring bold truths to marriage, career, mental health, faith, relationships, celebration and heartache. Heather is an author and a former national award-winning journalist. Her work has also been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today’s Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at heatherriggleman.com or connect with her on Instagram.