Jul 8, 2013

Intimacy in Marriage part 4: Romance vs Commitment

I have a confession to make: I am a hopeFUL romantic. {Okay, not much of a confession, I realize I confessed that in various ways throughout this entire series}.  As a little girl, I played with Barbies and each time my Barbie and Ken would play out this long involved drama of romance and love before getting married and having babies {at 9 years old, I assumed that getting married meant that you would have a baby next, didn't even realize it was a choice}.

I chose the term hopeful rather than hopeless because I really believed in romantic love from a very young age.  It was so much the "Holy Grail" of my life that I wouldn't even write "I <3 Ryan" on my binder or notebook as an elementary or middle school girl because I knew I didn't love anyone, not like that, and I didn't want to cheapen it by writing it when I didn't mean it. {I was a slightly odd little girl}. I have literally read hundreds of romance novels, from classic to Christian to smutty to feed my obsession with romance. I own and regularly watch my favorite romantic comedies, like When Harry met Sally and Never Been Kissed.

My favorite novel and movie is {from my point of view} the ultimate panacea for my hunger for romance: Pride and Prejudice.   It is the perfect romantic story.  When they first meet, they don't like each other.  But then he does, but she doesn't.  And then she does, but he doesn't know.  And then THEY do, when all hope was lost.  {Sigh, Mr. Darcy}.

I read the book annually and still feel giddy when Mr. Darcy comes looking for Elizabeth after the unpleasantness with his Aunt and they have the conversation. 

As a married woman, there is something about being pursued, won and/or rescued that appeals to me at a foundational level, but it isn't true intimacy. True intimacy comes after that.  Sometimes, we assume that intimacy is natural.  That it comes automatically from merely being around another person.  Just because you love someone and maybe even live with them, sharing a bed and a life, doesn't mean you have intimacy with them. It's not something that "just happens". True intimacy is intentional, and is about making a rational choice to be committed to another person. 

 Earlier this year I wrote the first two posts in a three post series {that I will finish soon, I promise} called "The Slow Fade", which talked about how infidelity happens in marriage. I believe that this insatiable desire for romance is one cause of the shift in our culture away from marriage and long-term commitment to the glorification or {at minimum} the acceptance of affairs as a part of every marriage.   
23 Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;
    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
    keep your foot from evil. Proverbs 4:23-27 (NLT)
Focusing on romance is one way we deal with our fear of intimacy, we attempt to replace intimacy with romance {which seems easier, and so much more fun!}.  Even in Christian circles the suggestion to "date" your spouse to keep the "romance alive" could be problematic.  I am not suggesting that we should have marriages void of romance, romance is good, but if you stop there, you are missing the boat. 

Verse 23 above talks about "Guarding your heart" which is an intentional act.  In fact, the entire passage has a number of very specific and intentional ways to guard your heart.  Verses 25-27 talk about a focused attention on keeping your eyes and mind intentionally trained on the journey before you.

Intimacy is intentional, and can be achieved through romance with your spouse, but what happens when those romantic feelings fade or you are in a "dry spell" because of life circumstances?  Part of intimacy is rational, intentional, focused attention.  It's where the vows for better and worse come into play.  It is the very rational commitment that you made to your spouse on your wedding day when you set out on this journey of marriage. 

This is the friendship aspect of your marriage.  For some married couples, it comes naturally.  If you are part of a couple where you say "my husband, my wife, is my best friend", and really mean it, then you are doing well, because that friendship love or philia in Greek, will carry you when the eros {romantic} love has ebbed.

For some married couples, there is a struggle at these "for worse" moments, because one or both of them is dependent on "romantic" feelings to carry their marriage.  I will confess, this is where I found myself at the beginning of the year.  So what do you do to turn it around?

You date.  {But, AJ, you said that dating could be problematic}.

I did.  I am talking about spending intentional time getting to know your spouse on a philia level.  Don't limit dating to holding hands in the movies or candle-lit dinners.  Save your money.  Carve out time where you can spend an hour a day talking.  Not just about the everyday stressors that distract your normal conversations away from intimacy, but about the deeper, more intimate issues that divide and distract your hearts away from intimacy with each other.

It can be intense, it can be exhausting, it can be ridiculous, but it is worth it.  Cultivate your friendship with your spouse.  Read a book together, discuss your dreams, talk about who are, and who you want to become. This can be hard work.  Some couples may need to have a couple of appointments with a marriage therapist to deal with some of those "big boulder" issues that stop you on your path to a healthy marriage.

This level of intimacy in your marriage will refresh your love with your spouse in a way that a dozen "romantic" dates never can, because it's reinforcing your marriage.  I don't know where you are in your marriage, if you are struggling and yearning for intimacy with your spouse, or if you are content and happy with your "best friend".   It's never too late (or too early) to reinforce your marriage to keep you from the devastating effects of a landslide of infidelity or the bitter root of resentment which destroys the foundation from below.  

What about YOU?  What are some ways that you cultivate your friendship with your spouse?

This is part of my 6 part Understanding Intimacy in Marriage Series, to read more click on the Understanding Intimacy button below or in the sidebar under Series.  

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