A marriage can’t be sustained with romance alone. But added to security, meaningful communication, and meaningful touch, it can be a tremendous source of energy and growth.
Wise husbands and wives will take time to practice small acts of touching: holding hands in a walk through the mall, stopping to rub your mate’s shoulders for a moment, taking the time to gently hold your spouse at the door on your way out. These small but important acts can work like “super bloom” to a plant and green out a relationship.The most successful relationships are those in which each person feels safe sharing his or her feelings and needs. This is where our personalities and parenting histories strongly affect us, because many of us are fearful or uncomfortable about sharing such intimacies. Life is more predictable — more secure and stable — when you know that both of you are working toward a loving, lasting relationship. This is the foundation for true intimacy. Many men don’t realize it, but more than 80 percent of a woman’s need for meaningful touch is nonsexual. Sex does not begin in the bedroom. It actually starts in the everyday acts of truthfulness, consistency, kindness, touching, and talking that build a growing desire in a woman.
Genuine love doesn’t necessarily spring from feelings. Its basis is primarily a concern for the welfare of another. Although the feelings of affection will follow, genuine love is initially an action directed toward fulfilling another person’s needs. Persistent love — like the dripping of water on a rock — can wear away a person’s resistance. It’s nearly impossible to stay angry with or emotionally distant from someone who unconditionally loves and values you.
So many men and women treat each other as objects to be used. They may not verbalize it, but they maintain an inward conviction that their mate should do things that have never been discussed. This is like steadily pouring acid on intimacy. From time to time, my wife and I get together on a date, for breakfast out or just a retreat from home. During that time, we list our personal goals and commit ourselves to helping each other fulfill those desires. I feel so satisfied knowing that my wife is committed enough to sacrifice for my goals and that I have the same commitment toward her.
One way intimacy is blocked is when lives are filled with unhealthy behavior — poor health choices or sexual addictions that affect our daily conduct. To change those habits and addictions, we should first recognize our mistakes and admit when we’re at fault. Second, we must keep an attitude of wanting to improve. Third, we should share our feelings and needs with our mate and seek his or her understanding and support. Keeping your written relationship menu posted in a prominent household location provides a continual reminder of which values and rules you’re working toward. It generally takes about 30 days to start a new habit. So if you’re regularly working on attaining your goals, it will only take a month before you notice significant changes in your relationship.
4 ways of building intimacy
1. Stop waiting for things to get better — make a decision to work on them.
2. Acquire and practice new attitudes and skills that lead to fulfilling relationships.
3. Commit to changing your own behaviors first, without expecting your partner to change his or hers.
4. Support each other in your efforts so that neither of you feels alone or inferior.
So where did I go wrong? How could I wind up in such despair? My derailment occurred because I was looking for happiness, not joy. There is a major difference between happiness and joy. Happiness in life is transitory, dependent on circumstances. Joy continues regardless of trials. That’s especially true in marriage. When a couple discovers joy, they are free to enjoy marriage the way it was designed by God. And they are able to endure all that life throws at them.
Even though I was involved in a highly respected ministry, I failed because I didn’t know the source of joy. What’s more, my marriage struggled as a result. I believe I violated five principles. These are five things every individual (not just married people) needs in life, but we tend to look for them in all the wrong places. But when we have these five things, we are able daily to experience indescribable joy.
First, I Needed an Energy Source to Recharge My Spiritual and Emotional Batteries
I was looking to Bill and to my job for my energy. Everything that gave my life meaning and significance came from my friend and my work. When I was with him, I was high. When I was on the road planning an event, my life felt important. On those occasions when I was not getting what I needed from work, I would look to Norma to make up the difference. But she was busy with three kids, so my expectations often weren’t met. I didn’t realize that neither my job nor any person would provide the lasting fulfillment I needed. That had to come from another source.
Second, I Needed Someone to Whom I Could Pour Out My Heart and Talk to About Anything at Any Time
You might naturally think my wife would be that person, and Norma tried to help. But I knew she had expressed concerns about my being involved in this work, so I didn’t feel free to completely open up to her. And the problem with having only one really close friend like Bill was that when that friendship changed, I had no one else to turn to. What I didn’t know was that I did have this type of friend. He was waiting for me to open up to him, but it took me a long time to realize it.
Third, I Needed to Understand My Emotions, For They Were Warning Lights Telling Me I Was in Trouble
I didn’t know it at the time, but there were numerous indications that I was in trouble. My anger at Bill and the ministry was a big one. Fear of the future was another. Loneliness should have been a clue that I was expecting too much from Bill. Depression was a major warning sign that life wasn’t cooperating with my expectations. But I didn’t understand my emotions, and so I suffered far more than necessary.
Fourth, I Needed to Know That There Is Meaning in the Trials We Endure
The Bible makes a promise — though it is one we don’t really want to claim — that we all will endure trials. Trials are an inevitable part of life. But I was totally unprepared for this trauma. Norma couldn’t help me either, because my trial had caused a crisis in her life. There was no way then that Norma and I could come together and gain understanding of the situation. Now I can look back and tell you that this crisis was one of the best things that happened to Norma and me. I would never want to go through it again, but I truly wouldn’t trade what I learned either. The message of this book, the joy that Norma and I discovered, is a direct outcome of my crisis.
Fifth, I Needed to Have a Shared Mission with My Wife That Was Beyond Us, One That We Could Strive for Together
You no doubt noticed that Norma wasn’t a part of my work with Bill. So often we segment our lives, and work stays distinct from family. But by leaving Norma out of this part of my life, I lost something of great value. Fortunately, today Norma and I have combined our talents — and we are a team. You may see me in front of a crowd at a conference, but believe me, without her supportive work, there is no conference. The joy we get out of working as a team is incredible, even though it’s not always smooth sailing.
Excerpted from Joy That Lasts by Gary Smalley. Used by permission of the Smalley Relationship Center.