Intimacy and sex are not the same thing.
That comes as a surprise to a lot of newlyweds. Most younger couples enter marriage thinking sex will be the easy part of their relationship … and feel caught off guard when it becomes one of the most complex. They don’t know going in that struggles related to sex are one of the top reasons for marital conflict.
That’s because newlyweds tend to assume they both want the same thing out of their sexual relationship. So when problems develop, it can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration, and the couple may even blame one another for their issues.
What they often fail to recognize is that men and women each seek connection in very different ways. Women usually feel comfortable with sex when it flows out of the emotional connection she experiences with her husband. For men, it’s generally the opposite – emotional connection is rooted in the sexual relationship.
That apparent disconnect actually shows God’s great wisdom in our design as husband and wife. If we were all wired the same, something vital for a well-balanced relationship would get neglected. Healthy marriages require us to be selfless and to put our spouse’s needs in the forefront.
When we don’t, all sorts of unhealthy – and unhelpful – behaviors can come into play. Many men, for example, retreat from their wives through pornography. It’s an escape from the vulnerability that emotional intimacy requires. Pornography provides men with a sexual outlet but with no expectations that they be selfless or expose their emotions to their wives. It feels safer … but it withers a man’s soul.
Women often get caught up in the lie that physical beauty is the bedrock of a successful relationship. But look at marriages in Hollywood. In terms of outer beauty, these are some of the most glamorous and beautiful people in the world. They have personal trainers and people who make their food and design their clothes. They even have professionals who do their hair and makeup or who perform plastic surgery in some cases. And, yet, Hollywood marriages are notorious for crumbling fast.
Just last week entertainment news outlets reported that famous actress Amber Heard had filed for divorce from her husband of fifteen months, Johnny Depp, who at one time was awarded the title of “Sexiest Man Alive.”
It just goes to show that outer beauty is not the sort of foundation upon which we can build intimacy or a fulfilling sexual relationship that will last a lifetime.
These surface issues do, however, point to the deeper problem. Our society talks about sexuality ad nauseum on television, on the radio, in music, and in the movies. And yet when it comes to a husband and wife actually communicating their desires and their frustrations about sex and intimacy, many are tongue-tied and don’t even have a vocabulary for dealing with the subject.
My friend Dr. Juli Slattery tells me of a time she gave an assignment to a couple she was counseling. It was pretty simple: ask each other basic questions about their physical intimacy and see what you learn about one another.
A week later, they hadn’t done anything and said, “We just can’t talk about this. We don’t know how to.”
Sadly, that’s true for many of us. We can talk about our finances, our jobs, and our kids, but a lot of Christians avoid discussing sex. I think it’s important to address. Not learning how to have open dialogue about this can create a lot of difficulty for young married couples. They’re trying to find their way, often with very little understanding of the dynamics that impact their sexual relationship.
What needs to happen is men and women learning how to capture one another’s hearts. But it’s difficult to do that if they never learn to communicate with one another about sex and intimacy.
Well, on tomorrow’s broadcast we’re going to open up the dialogue with Dr. Slattery. She is a psychologist, author, and a speaker who founded a ministry called Authentic Intimacy. She also wrote one of the chapters in the Focus on the Family book, Ready to Wed, which is for premarried and newly married couples.
She’ll help newlyweds navigate through the challenges of sexual intimacy, their conversations about it, and she’ll bring a godly perspective into it.