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Emotional Intimacy: Can Men Learn It?

For Part 4 in this series on marital intimacy, I’m writing again about emotional intimacy. Often when we think of intimacy our mind immediately goes to sex or physical intimacy. I shared in Part 1 of this series that intimacy involves much more than physical intimacy. The physical/sexual side of intimacy is part of it, but you also must consider emotional, spiritual, and relational intimacy.

In addition, whenever we think of “emotions,” we might think of either children or women. We often mistakenly think children are mastered by their emotions. We also incorrectly believe women have them and men don’t! Women do, but men can have “all the feels” as well.

In reality, we all experience the full gamut of emotions. In their book Are My Kids on Track: The 12 Emotional, Social and Spiritual Milestones Your Child Needs to Reach, authors Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan address emotions in boys and girls. They write,

“It’s important to first dispel the myth that girls have more emotions than boys. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Females can certainly express emotions differently. Many studies identify women as having higher levels of emotional intelligence and a stronger ability to read the emotions of others. Studies also reveal differences in how females respond to emotion, but there is no research to support females have more emotions than males…. they don’t have more feelings; they simply tend to have a more developed emotional vocabulary, an advanced ability to express emotion, and a stronger ability to read the emotions of others.”

Men – let’s face reality

As much as I may not want to admit it, women are more advanced than men when it comes to emotions (and MANY other areas!). At the same time, I’m not trying to turn men into women. Rather, I want us to experience emotional intimacy in the way God intends and we all desire.

In marriage, God gives us the ability to be emotionally intimate. I addressed this in Part 3 where I talked about how God desires for us to be naked without shame, whether clothed or unclothed. He says the man and women were together, naked, and experienced no shame (Genesis 2:25). Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, however, every couple experiences a compromised form of intimacy. We hide, blame, and focus more on ourself than our spouse.

When we experience emotional intimacy with our spouse, we can be known by them, know them, and not expect them to run away or reject us. While we’re known by our closest friends and family, no one should know us as deeply as our spouse.

Yet as any married person knows, we miss out on what it means to be real with our spouse. We give half truths or completely deceive. We hide addictions, share what we want to share, and pray they’d never find out the whole truth. In a world filled with fake, we perpetuate the problem in our homes and marriages. We all know fake is worthless.

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While we will never on this earth experience the full expression of intimacy with our spouse, we are not destined to be stuck in broken patterns but have the opportunity to grow closer in emotional intimacy. Rather, what would it look like for us to experience emotional intimacy with our spouse? What if instead of hiding and blaming we could share our past hurts, present struggles, and future hopes and dreams with our spouse? What if you could be naked without shame with your spouse instead of pretending and hiding?

Emotional intimacy is impaired in marriage, but what was once lost can now be restored. We can still experience a glimpse of intimacy on earth.

4 ways you can begin to restore emotional intimacy:

1. Confess and forsake your sin (Proverbs 28:13). Is there any unconfessed sin? Is there anything you’re holding back from your spouse? A fear of rejection prevents us from experiencing oneness and intimacy.

2. Look for signs of growth in your spouse. Instead of focusing on their faults and where they fall short, what if you took notice of areas where they’re becoming more like Christ? 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love keeps no record of wrongs. What if you kept a “record of rights” and encouraged your spouse?

3. Ask your spouse what they think you can do to grow in intimacy. Does your spouse feel the freedom to share openly with you or do they fear your response? Here are a few scriptures you could look up to help you communicate more effectively. See James 1:19, Proverbs 18:2, and Proverbs 15:1.

4. If you’re stuck, here are four resources I recommend:

  • In my book Ready or Knot?, I have a full chapter about emotional intimacy.
  • Kristen and I spoke about emotional intimacy last year at re|engage. Our talk is less than 25 minutes long and would be a great addition to what I share in this post.
  • My friends Dave and Ashley Willis wrote a great book called The Naked Marriage: Undressing the truth about sex, intimacy and lifelong love. They take a deep dive into intimacy throughout the whole book. I just finished this book and highly recommend it (full review coming soon).
  • I just listened to this Family Life Today podcast interview with Catherine Parks, called Getting Real in Marriage. There’s a lot of related wisdom in this 30-minute podcast episode.

Here’s my last thought. We all put walls up and rarely let others in. We don’t want others to see what’s going on. It’s exhausting to be fake and to hide. Instead, we need to tear these walls down. It’s worth fighting for. Let’s fight for emotional intimacy in in marriage.

In Part 5 of this series I’ll address relational intimacy and then close the series with a post about sexual intimacy.

Your Turn:

What can you do to grow in emotional intimacy with your spouse?