There are a lot of answers to questions I don’t want to find out: How long can my car run without an oil change? Would anyone notice if I walked out of the house wearing a crop-top?
And if you were to ask me, “Can a marriage survive without intimacy?” I’d tell you I wouldn’t want to find out. But then I’d ask, “Is that really what you mean?”
Because there’s a big difference between surviving and thriving. I can survive wearing a crop-top out in public, but I sure as heck wouldn’t thrive (at least how I picture myself thriving).
Do you want a surviving marriage or a thriving marriage?
Show me a thriving marriage, and I can’t help but show you a marriage chock full of intimacy.
People sometimes mean different things when they say intimacy. Some refer to emotional intimacy, that affectionate, emotional connection with your spouse.
Others take intimacy to mean, well, sex.
And both would be right. If you do some research, you will find that these are two sides of the same coin and that emotional connection and sexual connection are inextricably linked. The quality of one has an effect on the quality of the other.
Here’s what I mean: Jack thinks there’s a lack of physical intimacy in his marriage to Jill; sex has become mundane and much less frequent. Jill’s not too bothered by this, but believes that there’s a lack of emotional intimacy; they just don’t communicate and connect on a deep level. Jack doesn’t know much about that; he’s just hoping tonight might finally be the night.
What Jack and Jill might want to know is that neither physical nor emotional intimacy just happens. You have to work at both with intention and gusto.
And when Jack and Jill take the time to connect on an emotional level, their sex life can experience an uptick. Conversely, putting some more effort into their sexual relationship can easily deepen the level and bolster the volume of their emotional connection.
I like to think of it like this: building up intimacy in your marriage is like pedaling a bicycle. One pedal is emotional intimacy and the other is physical intimacy. Pushing one pedal forward brings the other around ready to be pushed. Repeat the cycle (see what I did there?) and you quickly gain momentum and acceleration.
And there are two things I know about pedaling a bicycle: it takes work, but the more you gain momentum, the easier it becomes to push the pedals. The same goes for emotional and physical intimacy in your marriage.
So how do you push those pedals to build intimacy in your marriage so that it will thrive?
- Make small connections throughout the day. Key times are when you wake in the morning, before you leave for the day, when you come back together at the end of the day, and before you go to bed. Connect by bringing a cup of coffee in the morning, a goodbye hug, a hello kiss, asking, “How was your day?” Leaving love notes, or watching a funny show before bed. You choose your rhythm and kind of connection. Small things count big with intimacy.
- Carve out time to spend with your spouse. Shoot for one date-time a week, even if it’s at home with microwaved pizza watching a RomCom. Establish some basic rules: no cell phones, no talking family business, no kids in the same room (or floor, or house). Just be with each other.
- Plan sex. Have a Sex Schedule. Yes, you read that right. Plan the nights you’re going to have sex. This has worked wonders in my marriage. Scheduled sex helps my wife (who needs to warm up to the idea of sex sometimes) to anticipate it ahead of time. And it helps me (who needs no warming up whatsoever) to avoid wondering when the next time will be and to initiate with the confidence that I won’t be met with rejection. (A couple of caveats to scheduled sex: our rules are that either of us can call an audible and ask for a raincheck for any reason. And, unscheduled, spontaneous sex is certainly never off the table!)
- Dedicate to communicate daily. Talk, talk, talk. Try to go beyond casual conversation and go deeper with personal insights, feelings, dreams, and needs. Much of our communication is like a small business meeting: Did you pay the water bill? Are you driving Little Man to practice? Google “Questions that build intimacy” and have some pillow talk. Listen twice as much as you speak. Learn more about active listening here.
Can a marriage survive without intimacy? The truth is, yes it can, BUT it doesn’t have to. Even if you find yourself in a hard place right now where your marriage feels empty and neglected, you can commit yourself to do something different. Push one pedal and then the other. I repeat: it takes work and some time. Sometimes, one spouse in the relationship has to do the bulk of the pedaling before the other catches on. But it’s worth it. Plenty of couples have been where you are, changed up the dance, and would wholeheartedly tell you it’s worth the energy and effort to have a happy, healthy, intimate, thriving marriage.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***