Humans crave connectedness. We are creatures characterized by a desire for companionship, with a yearning to be known, a longing to be loved. This is a primal need; even in paradise “it [was] not for man good to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Indeed much of our conscious and subconscious decisions are driven by this aching to “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
In paradise, our ancestors were “naked and not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), being fully satisfied in intimacy. But now we no longer live in paradise, making connectedness and companionship so much more complex. Although the desire for intimacy still burns fervently inside of us mankind’s fall has stained our spirits with shame – the knowledge of our imperfection, the nagging voice that there is something wrong with us. The awareness of our flaws deceives us into believing we are unlovable, so like our parents in the Garden (Genesis 3:7-8) we try to “cover our nakedness” with futile fig leaves or hide to avoid closeness with others altogether in the shadows of our loneliness. Thus, shame – this sense of unworthiness – brings a deep fear of rejection and closes one up, making intimacy impossible.
Therefore, to have and maintain intimate relationships one has to firstly believe that you are worthy to be loved and secondly embrace vulnerability, knowing that closeness with others will expose the true you in all your glory and imperfections.
An atmosphere of AWE
So one of the easiest ways of cultivating intimacy is to create a safe relational atmosphere that affirms worth and encouragement. In Creating and Intimate Marriage Jim Burns writes about creating an atmosphere of A.W.E. (Affection, Warmth and Encouragement):
- Affection says “You are loved!” It speaks to the basic need to feel loved through a gentle touch, a hug a kiss and the loving tone in words of endearment affirms the worth of the other and strengthens the relational bond.
- Warmth says “You are valued!” by creating a friendly, welcoming and positive atmosphere within the home or relationship. It is communicated by the attention we listen with, the attitude we respond with, and the air we speak with. It is strengthened through a culture of honour and celebration, creating an environment to which people would want to return.
- Encouragement says “You are doing great!” It refers to a healthy habit of affirmation, praising both the worth and accomplishments of the other, and constantly recognizing the efforts and contributions of the other with giving thanks. Encouragement aims to build the other up.
This Atmosphere of AWE affirms the worth of the other and creates a safe milieu conducive for vulnerability, allowing hearts to gently grow closer together. Even during difficult relationships seasons, creating a positive atmosphere through affection, warms and encouragement will result in increased joy and intimacy – even if just one in the couple keep to it.
Greater capacity for intimacy
Over the next seven weeks we will embark on a journey of intimacy, specifically designed to help you grow in your personal capacity to be intimate within marriage.
- Firstly we will consider our view of intimacy, including spiritual, emotional and physical (sexual) intimacy. While we evaluate our view of intimacy we will also consider the nature of shame at work in our relationships and see how we can recognize and limit this destructive dynamic in our interactions.
- Secondly we will recognize other barriers to intimacy, considering general stress as well as relational tension caused by unresolved conflict leading to anger, unforgivess and bitterness. Other major barriers to intimacy include self-centeredness, laziness, pornography, and physiological issues.
- Thirdly we will consider how to enhance our capacity for intimacy by growing in courage for vulnerability, a stronger sense of worth and identity, as well as embracing the attitude of a servant lover. We will also focus on the importance of consistently securing a safe space (through our actions and communications) within our relationships in which both we and the others can entrust themselves.
- Lastly we will devote time in which we will deal with sexual intimacy, considering the the different ways with which men and women generally approach lovemaking, and how to prioritize physical intimacy in our busy lives and homes.
We all can grow in our capacity to love and feel loved. Come join us on this journey of intimacy!