The Art of Intimacy

When you hear the word intimacy, what comes to mind? We would be kidding ourselves if we did not admit that the word does carry some sexual overtones. There is a reason why department stores often designate women’s undergarments as “intimate apparel.” When we think of a man and woman engaging in “intimate activity,” we may imagine that they are planning an evening without the children and behind locked doors.

It’s true that the word intimacy is an appropriate term to describe the sorts of things that might take place in a couple’s bedroom, but when we think of intimacy strictly in sexual terms, we are missing out on another very important aspect of this concept.

The word intimacy is derived from a Latin term that means “innermost.” Those things that are intimate to a person are the things that we most deeply conceal. They are things that we do not share with casual acquaintances. They are secret things that are hidden behind private barriers. They are parts of ourselves that we do not feel comfortable sharing with people who have not yet earned our trust.

When we understand this concept correctly, it makes sense that we would apply this term to a sexual relationship. Afer all, our naked bodies are the most private parts of our physical selves. When we go in public, we keep our bodies clothed not only to show respect to others but also to protect ourselves from experiencing feelings of shame and humiliation. We would feel uncomfortable if people looked at our naked bodies with scorn, coarse jesting, or disdain. We keep ourselves covered to avoid the hurt that we expect when we uncover our “private parts.”

But we also have private parts of ourselves that are not physical. There are feelings, thoughts, and experiences that we are afraid to reveal to others. It is uncomfortable to uncover those parts of ourselves because we might be ridiculed, shamed, condemned, or humiliated when we allow people to see us without the emotional clothing that we wear every day. We are terrified of showing others the hidden parts of ourselves–even our spouses!

Achieving sexual intimacy can be very difficult for couples, even among partners who have been with each other for decades. One important step to growth in this area is to understand that physical and emotional intimacy are connected. It is impossible to achieve fulfilling physical intimacy without also developing emotional intimacy. Likewise, it is unlikely that partners will truly achieve deep emotional connection when they are unable, or unwilling, to uncover and appreciate each other’s bodies.

The key to intimacy is trust. When we uncover ourselves to another person, we must be able to trust that the person will not hurt us. Just as nobody wants to be ridiculed when they uncover their bodies, neither do they want to feel judgment and condemnation when they share their deepest, most hidden thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

In many cases, men seem to be more comfortable exposing their bodies to their wives, but women are more comfortable exposing their emotions to their husbands. Men may feel frustrated that they have difficulty convincing their wives to take off their physical clothes, but women have similar frustrations persuading their husbands to take off the suit of armor that is protecting their hidden, and often broken, hearts.

Practicing the art of intimacy requires that both men and women take steps toward uncovering the parts of themselves that bring the risk of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. When we share our innermost parts with the people we love the most, it is crucial that our partners respond with trust and respect. Honoring and appreciating each other’s bodies is an important step in practicing intimacy, but sharing our hidden, hurting places is equally important.

This is not an easy task, and it requires a willingness to experience vulnerability on the part of both people in a relationship. A couple should not expect immediate satisfaction the first time they work up the confidence to expose themselves, either physically or emotionally. There will be some pain in the process, and each person may feel that the other person is not as careful, patient, or trustworthy as we hoped they would have been. You will need to practice patience, learn how to communicate honestly, and build trust over time.

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[If you are a married couple who would like to learn how to develop physical and emotional intimacy in your marriage, click here to set up an appointment with a Christian counselor].

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