True Intimacy vs. Sex
in a Marriage Relationship
Mark B. Kastleman, BCC,BCPC
Intimacy is Our True
and Natural Condition
If you were to ask the average person on the street, “What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word intimacy?” many would respond with the word “sex.” I’ve tested this theory with hundreds of audiences across America and it’s true. If it’s an all-male audience, this response is nearly unanimous. Yet intimacy is so much more than just physical. In fact, two people can come together sexually and not be intimate. Sexual intimacy is just one very small piece of the grand and beautiful intimacy landscape. Of course, pornography use and addiction are at the polar opposite of real intimacy.
The simplest way I know to understand intimacy in its truest form is through hyphenating the word itself: "in-to-me-you-see." True intimacy is manifest in the courageous, vulnerable act of allowing others to see us at our raw and real core, without walls, masks, facades, charades or pretense. In-to-me-you-see with all of my sins, flaws, darkness, weakness and foolishness; and my strengths, innate goodness, beauty, light, righteous desires and amazingness! With true intimacy, what you see is what you get—how liberating!
The fact is, true intimacy is what we crave; it’s what we must have in order to be healthy, happy and fulfilled. Why? Because true intimacy is our natural condition; we long for it and must have it to feel safe, fulfilled and joyful; to be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy. Yet, we fear that which we most need. I want to reveal my true, innermost self to you but I’m scared to death that when you find out who I really am you will reject me! So we seek to fill our natural need for intimacy in ways we perceive to be free from the risks of transparency and vulnerability.
Jesus practiced true intimacy all the days of His ministry, and He yearned for each of us to claim this precious gift. It was a central focus of His intercessory prayer in John, chapter 17. Within three verses (21-23) he pleads for this intimacy three times: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” (KJV)
Out of Fear, the Fallen Brain
Seeks a Counterfeit Intimacy
While our eternal souls are at home with true intimacy, our fallen brains convince us that the risk is too great because it involves uncertainty and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is too high a price to pay for the connection we so desperately need. Perhaps somewhere along the way we risked intimacy and were hurt, rejected, let down or abused, and from then on the brain retreated into a self-protection mode. Yet the longing is still there, so we settle for cheap imitations of intimacy that give the temporary sensation of connection without the perceived risks. These connection substitutes often involve outlets that can quickly become addictive like alcohol, drugs, gambling, gaming, food, pornography and other sexual outlets.
Imagine a man who desperately needs real, intimate connections in his life. He may be completely numbed to this need. He may have been raised in a family environment where he didn’t learn how to be intimate. He may be too afraid to take the risk. Regardless of the reasons, the unmet need expands, creating an intimacy void or hole in the soul.
Then, through an endless array of possible scenarios in our sexualized culture, he is exposed to pornography and other sexual outlets and makes the mistake of indulging. He enters the Sexual Funnel where a tidal wave of powerful neurochemicals are released, giving his brain and body a rush that feels like an intimate connection and temporarily appears to fill the void. This counterfeit can quickly evolve into his go-to place whenever he feels disconnected and empty.
Of course, fantasy can never take the place of true intimacy. Each indulgence leaves him more isolated and empty than before, and his mortal fear of being discovered pushes him deeper into secrecy and farther away from the authentic connection he so desperately needs. He feels hopelessly trapped in a downward spiral that never stops.
What he can't or won't see is that what he's most yearning for is REAL connection--open, honest, vulnerable, intimate connection--and I DON'T mean "sex"! The opposite of addiction is NOT sobriety, it's CONNECTION! And nowhere can he find this level of true intimacy and connection than within his own marriage relationship!
True Intimacy in Marriage
When it comes to "intimacy" we live in a culture that tends to place a great deal of emphasis and attention on "sexual intimacy." This can be especially true in our marriage relationships. And while sexual intimacy can and should be an amazing and beautiful part of our marriage connection, the important point is, it is only a "part" of the intimacy whole.
The great challenge is that true, whole intimacy is perhaps that most difficult connection of all. It takes incredible courage and humility to allow ourselves to have a real connection with our spouse. There is only one way I know of overriding the ego-brain to achieve this true intimacy: relying on and trusting the empowering and enabling grace of Jesus Christ, and surrendering our Ego-Brain-Tendencies in the moment. We must set aside the masks, pretenses and hiding to let our spouse see the raw and real whole of us with all of our flaws, weaknesses, fears, foibles, talents, gifts, uniqueness, caring, compassion—all of us! This ability and skill does NOT develop in an instant! We have formed habits of disconnection over a lifetime and we can only evolve and transform them with time, patience and practice.
Realize that in order to move our marriage on an upward spiral of increasing closeness, understanding, unity, trust, happiness and joy, we need to be open to practicing ALL of the forms of human intimacy and connection. These can be broken down into eight categories. Seeking to embrace all eight helps us practice and perfect the art of true intimacy in our marriages in many small, natural ways that don’t seem so daunting. The following list was developed to help me and my clients be more holistically intimate in our marriages. In each area, we try to immerse ourselves and be fully present in the moment. Many of these can also be used in making real connection with the people that are all around us every day:
Spiritual: Sharing something of your own sacred feelings and spiritual journey with one another.
Emotional: Sharing of personal feelings, accompanied by expectations of understanding, affirmation, and demonstration of caring.
Intellectual: Coming together to share ideas and thoughts, and feeling open and comfortable doing so, even when your opinions differ.
Physical: Engaging in non-sexual physical activities together through exercise, sports, dancing, outdoor pursuits, hobbies, etc.
Social: Sharing social activities together, which may include being with groups like family and friends.
Affectional: Non-sexual contact and interaction that demonstrates and communicates closeness, appreciation and friendship.
Aesthetic: Sharing something beautiful together such as strolling through a botanical garden, an art museum, listening to a live band or watching a lightning storm.
Sexual: In partnership with God, come together to express and enjoy the sacred power that co-creates “life”—the life of a marriage relationship celebrated in a literal “oneness” of body, mind, emotion and spirit.
If you have a desire to heal and improve your marriage relationship and enjoy True Intimacy, we can provide the guidance and support you need. Contact us and let's talk about the possibilities.