All right, guys, we’re getting kinda real today. Posts like this are hard because they require a lot of vulnerability, but reading honest posts by brave bloggers helped me get through a season of our marriage where I felt deeply ashamed and alone. I hope you’ll read it with respect, compassion, and kindness (as you always do). Thanks for sharing the real and the hard with me, my friends.
In a lot of ways, I think Jordan and I were well-prepared for marriage (or at least as well-prepared as you can be). We’d talked through a ton of topics ranging from finances and hobbies to relationships, community, and general expectations. We were on the same page about so many things, and we’d had many wonderful couples remind us that getting married would not fill some void in our heart, that we would still wrestle with questions of identity and worth that we’d wrestled with for most of our lives.
But the one thing we quickly found out we weren’t so prepared for? Intimacy.
If you know me, you know I’m a type A, plan and research everything kind of person. So when it came to physical intimacy in our marriage, I read up on just as many books as I could. Many of these books were wise and insightful, and offered great practical and spiritual tips about how to intentionally pursue each other in this area of marriage. These were books recommended by pastors and other couples we knew and loved, and we absolutely gleaned some wisdom from them that we still apply today.
But the more I read, the more I started to feel like in their attempts to emphasize the importance of sexual intimacy in marriage, these authors made me feel it was the ONLY important thing in a marriage. The books would say something along the lines of, “If you want to know how a marriage is doing, look at their sex life!”
I think their intention was to communicate that physical intimacy is important, and a lack of it can be a warning that something is off in another area, but my perfectionist heart heard something a little different. I started to believe a dangerous truth about intimacy in marriage, one that would shape a lot of our hard conversations and arguments in that first year:
I started to believe that the only measure of a marriage that matters is the quality and frequency of sexual intimacy.
Why This Perspective is Dangerous
I entered into our marriage believing that as long as intimacy went well, as long as sex was awesome and perfect and we were having it 137 times per week, we’d know that our marriage was going well and we were okay. And as you can probably imagine, this did not bode well for our hearts in those first few months..
Don’t get me wrong: there were sweet, joyful moments and we loved a lot of things about those first few months of marriage. But underneath it all, I started to feel a desperate desire to make sure intimacy in our marriage measured up to some invisible standard I’d set for myself and for us. I started to believe that unless we could figure out intimacy and make it be “perfect,” we wouldn’t be okay and I wouldn’t be okay. And that fear led us into discouraging, overwhelming cycle of conflict that we knew we’d have to break (you can read more about that conflict cycle here).
And maybe what hurt the most, what isolated me the most, is that I believed we were totally alone in it. I felt like every other couple had it figured out, that we were the only ones who didn’t get married and immediately have a sex life that was nothing but rainbows and joy. I felt a deep sense of shame that if I could somehow be less emotional and could turn my brain and heart off to just enjoy things, everything would be better. I felt like I was the cause of our struggles with intimacy, and the shame was overwhelming.
How We Started To Find Freedom
Like I described in this post a few months back, one of the biggest steps that helped us to break out of this cycle of hard conversations was reaching out to other couples and people who could counsel us and speak truth to us. There were lots of other issues intertwined with intimacy that we needed to work through, questions about communication, connection, and how to serve and love each well and other people well, and we knew that reaching out to share these struggles with people we trusted would help us to grow closer in all areas of intimacy – not just the physical.
First, I met several times with a counselor from church, and finally spilling all of my confused and hurt thoughts about intimacy and marriage with someone who could just listen felt like a huge weight off my shoulders. Next, we met with the pastor who married us, and the real, honest questions he and his wife asked helped both of us to process through some hurt and lies we’d been believing about how we communicate and love each other well. And finally, we started meeting with a marriage counselor for a few months, so we could work even more specifically through the tangled web of disappointment, unmet expectations, and hurt that had started to define our intimacy, both physical and otherwise.
All of these wonderful people started to remind us that physical intimacy is just one part of a healthy, loving marriage (just like my husband had tried to remind me all along), and that real intimacy encompasses much more of our hearts as well. We started to see our marriage as something good, and our struggles with physical intimacy as something we could work through on our journey to know and love each other even better. We tried to start over with intimacy, to set new expectations that made sense for us instead of trying to live up to something we’d seen or read elsewhere.
And most importantly, we started to realize that if we made the quality or frequency of our physical intimacy the measure of our marriage, we would lessen our desire to actually be with each other and continue in the same cycle we’d been in for over a year. Instead we decided to look at the parts of our marriage Jordan had been reminding me of all along.
We reflected on all the sweet time we were able to spend together because we intentionally kept our lives and our schedules slow. We talked about all of of the ways we were loving each other and other people by inviting them into our home to share meals and stories. We remembered all the reasons we love each other, the reasons that led us to be in a long distance relationship for two whole years before I moved to KC.
Our intimacy started to grow out of our desire to love one another, know one another, and be together, instead of a desire to prove something about ourselves or our marriage.
Sharing The Struggles
As we’ve continued to heal and started to share our journey with other couples in various seasons of marriage, we have been absolutely amazed to see how many people have wrestled with similar things. It seems like almost every couple we meet has some element of struggles with intimacy in their story, whether it’s physical issues, emotional struggles, or dealing with the long process of untangling how past experiences with intimacy shape our understanding and experience of intimacy now.
So friends, here’s my challenge. Can we stop being quiet and pretending that everything about sexual intimacy is wonderful and easy and without even the slightest struggle? Can we be honest that sometimes this thing that is supposed to be so “perfect” is actually really confusing and awkward? When people ask how marriage or intimacy is going, can we honestly say “It’s really freaking hard” and let the tears flow?
Every time I hear another woman say that intimacy has been hard it’s a weight off my shoulders. It reminds me that struggles with intimacy are normal, and that even the best, most loving and dynamic marriages will sometimes wrestle with struggles in this area. And if I feel that much relief when I know somebody else struggles, I have a feeling there’s a lot of other women longing for the same thing.
Let’s start loving each other well by being the first one to admit when things are hard, by being the first one in our small groups, our friend groups, and our close relationships to honestly describe the struggles in our marriage, whether with intimacy or otherwise. Let’s be the brave ones who open the floor by bursting into tears or sharing our stories so that other women feel free to do the same. Let’s sacrifice our own pride and supposed images of “perfection” so other women feel free to be anything but fine.
Sexual intimacy in marriage can be incredibly sweet and joyful, but it can also be confusing and challenging. When we can be honest with each other and our spouses about the good and the hard, we will start to see intimacy that encompasses so much more than just the physical, intimacy that allows us to hold the deep fears, desires, needs, and longings of our hearts with no fear of rejection or shame. And that, my friends, is real intimacy.
If you or someone you know is wrestling with issues in physical intimacy, I hope you’ll share this post with them. If we want to have real conversations about this aspect of marriage, WE have to be the brave ones who share our hearts and open the door for real, vulnerable conversations. Let’s value our spouses, our marriages, and our friendships enough to start those conversations.