Intimacy Defined (It Isn’t Love)

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Love can live without intimacy, but that love won’t grow and deepen without the strength and glue that come from intimacy. We see this in people who have start-and-stop or repeated love interests. Their relationships start off fast, fueled by a natural inertia, Romance Stage I. But as that fuel source consumes itself, gradually and eventually the relationship behaves like a sputtering, empty-tanked rocket. Momentum and inertia bring it to where it can no longer stay on course or move forward. Not having reached the cosmic space of intimacy, it tilts, one side to another, before it succumbs to gravity and begins its plunge back to earth.

Be around love long enough and you’ll know this very well: You can love someone without liking him. There’s something about him that holds you, possesses you; your heart is drawn to him, and while other parts of you are repelled, love has a way of short-circuiting your resistance. No wonder we sometimes refer to being “in love” as being under a spell. Loving someone without really knowing him doesn’t incorporate and engage all of who you are.

Intimacy brings in your knowing him — from his greatest strengths to his most feared weaknesses. It’s also having your good, bad, and ugly being known by him — and him doing far more than merely tolerating you. It’s the two of you loving and embracing each other, in an all-encompassing way, not only in spite of your weaknesses but because of them too.

Intimacy is the action fuel that turns new love into deep love. It provides a level of closeness that love’s infatuations alone can’t deliver. Unlike some forms of love, intimacy is not an involuntary result of fleeting feelings, circumstantial emotions. Because intimacy is the work of both time and will, it is far more compelling and more meaningful than a fling of any intensity or variety. This is why W. H. Auden wrote, “Any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance.”

With romance alone, people enter in, and they exit out. With marriage there is no easy or ready-made exit door from the arena into which two people voluntarily pledge, through remarkable promises, to join and devote their lives. Here two foreign souls interact, interrelate, and are expected to work things out through the turbulent waters of conflict and resolution, elements of intimacy that create unmatched closeness between two people. Sometimes this room is a love lair. Sometimes it feels like a cage fight. Romantic connections live off body heat, then die. They don’t have what it takes to change a person to the core for the better.

We often misconceive of intimacy by thinking of it as a single, isolated act, like a memorable conversation in a romantic restaurant or a pleasurable sexual experience in an attractive hotel room. But those are just stages on which intimacy might unfold. Intimacy isn’t an event — it’s what happens during these events. For example, many married couples have honeymoons, but not all honeymoons are intimate.

Intimacy includes and involves all our capacities. In the end, the ultimacy of intimacy is two souls risking vulnerability and weaving a life together that couldn’t be made without the congealing of wills. It mandates both humility and creativity. Becoming and staying engaged requires that you step outside of yourself and consider him just as supremely important and valuable as you are. Even if his passivity drives you to chocolate.

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And it doesn’t just happen. Intimacy’s fruit is produced when intimacy is cultivated. If we don’t connect and share who we are with another, it’s a counterfeit. And, as many married couples who have obtained it will tell you, intimacy is deeper, more profound, and more life-changing than they could have imagined when they earnestly said “I do.”

Intimacy is not for the proud and the timid; the reward goes to the humble and the brave. For Christian Nice Guy marriages, it’s about being honest with how you feel and being receptive to the feelings of others. It’s embracing some discomfort and moving forward with love and grace anyway. It’s about doing the right thing when the wrong thing takes so much less work.

Intimacy is a virtual declaration of war against how we’re expected to be, to live, which is, give to get. Intimacy gives without assurance of getting. But that doesn’t mean it’s a foolish or self-abusive giving. Remember: intimacy is about loving him as you love yourself. The more you love the way Jesus loves — which includes yourself, him, and God — the better example you’ll be of living out the greatest commandment.

As with love, with humor, and with grace, there’s something innately mysterious about intimacy. You can only explain it so far, and you certainly can’t explain it in a single sentence. Eventually you abandon yourself to it and let it take you; this requires risk, faith, courage, humility, and an abiding respect for truth. If you like to hide, if appearing truthful is more important than being truthful, or if you hold on to life too tightly, with too much control, intimacy will pass you by.

Nevertheless, intimacy is not pure mystery either. We help it form and disintegrate, and we have many opportunities to create it. That’s the great thing about the future, generally and specifically: It comes one day at a time. When we commit to and work at intimacy, we get better at it with time as well.

Excerpted from Married But Not Engaged by Paul & Sandy Coughlin

Copyright © 2006, Published by Bethany House Publishers Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

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