Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head. ~Celtic saying
Robert Sternberg of Yale University studied romantic love long before it was fashionable among scholars. In his groundbreaking project he discovered love’s essential ingredients: passion, commitment, and intimacy.1 Passion is physical. Commitment is willful. And intimacy is emotional. Intimacy is a feeling that says something along the lines of: “You get me and I get you like nobody on the planet.” It’s the feeling of being deeply in sync with the person you love. It’s a feeling of being best friends.2
Look up intimacy in a dictionary and you’ll see words like close, warm, familiar, affectionate, caring, and understanding. Some researchers say that intimacy emerges when you see less “me” and “you” in the relationship and more “we” and “us.”3 It engenders interdependence, a detailed knowledge of each other, and a deep sense of belonging.4
Intimacy involves two criteria, according to a landmark study.5 First, intimate partners share information. They have secrets. They disclose plans and provide personal details that they don’t share with others. Second, intimate partners not only share information but have a deep understanding of each other. They know each other’s thoughts, habits, and preferences. Mrs. Albert Einstein was once asked if she understood her husband’s theory of relativity. “No,” she said, “but I know how he likes his tea.” That’s part of emotional intimacy.
At a meeting for marriage and family therapists some time ago, we heard a speaker define intimacy this way: “In-to-me-see.” And perhaps that defines the friendship factor of marriage best. Intimacy is seeing into each other’s lives. It’s being aware of each other’s deepest self. It’s having a soul-to-soul connection. It’s attuning our spirits. Dr. Don Harvey, in The Spiritually Intimate Marriage, said it’s being able to share your spiritual self, to find this sharing reciprocated, and to enjoy a sense of union. Spiritual intimacy causes a couple’s spirits to sprout new wings. Deep and abiding spiritual intimacy empowers a couple’s relationship to soar.
What’s Your Intimacy Quotient?
Before we get into the spiritual aspects of intimacy and your relationship, let’s back up for a moment and help you get a general sense of how well you know each other. Each of you can take the following questionnaire separately. The more honest you are with your answers, the more insightful your results will be.
Yes No I know what stresses my partner currently faces.
Yes No I know the names of people who have been irritating my spouse lately.
Yes No I am very familiar with my partner’s religious faith and spiritual quest.
Yes No I can outline my partner’s basic philosophy of life.
Yes No I know the most stressful thing that happened to my partner in childhood.
Yes No I can list my partner’s major aspirations.
Yes No I have a good sense of my partner’s spiritual journey.
Yes No I know what my spouse thinks and feels about God.
Yes No I feel my partner knows me well.
Yes No I feel emotionally connected with my spouse on most days.
No scoring for this one. You can plainly see that the more you answered yes to these statements, the deeper your emotional intimacy with your spouse is likely to be.
Generally, are you happy and content with the level of intimacy you and your spouse share? What would make it deeper for you?
“Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up,” warns the sage of Ecclesiastes 4:10. So true. We need the care that comes from intimacy. Without it, we are sure to be unhappy.
The National Opinion Research Center asked people a simple question: “Looking over the last six months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?” Compared to those who could name no such intimate, those who could immediately name someone were 60 percent more likely to feel “very happy.”6
Six massive investigations, each interviewing thousands of people across several years, have all reached a common conclusion: intimacy not only increases happiness but is essential to sustaining it.7 Those who feel known and understood by family friends, or a close-knit religious community are not only less vulnerable to stress and disease; their wellbeing skyrockets. “Intimate attachments to other human beings,” wrote psychiatrist John Bowlby, “are the hub around which a person’s life revolves.”8 Feeling close to others with whom we can share intimate thoughts and feelings has two effects, observed the seventeenth-century philosopher Francis Bacon: “It redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in half.” No doubt about it —
intimacy and wellbeing are inextricably linked.
Innumerable medical studies have shown the value of emotional intimacy on recovery, healing, and immunity — not to mention a longer life span. Intimacy, however, is not only good for the body but great for the soul.9 A growing body of research reveals that people with a personal faith cope more effectively and suffer less depression than those without such a faith.10 Moreover, believers who incorporate religion into daily living (attending services, reading Scripture, praying), rate higher on two measures of happiness: frequency of positive emotions and overall sense of satisfaction with life.11
Why study spirituality in connection to intimacy? Because intimacy wades into the shallow waters of life until spirituality brings it to the deep end.
When we reveal our soul to another person — or to God — we are getting to the deep core of intimacy.
And stacks upon stacks of research reveal that the more spiritually intimate we feel in our marriage, the happier we are as well.12
Your Spiritual Journey
The more you understand each other’s personal pilgrimages, the deeper your connection. Part of cultivating spiritual intimacy involves merging two individual journeys. We are all beginners when it comes to spiritual development, but each of us has come from different places and traveled different roads to meet where we are today. You may have grown up in a religious home learning Bible verses, going to Sunday school, and studying at a Christian college. Or maybe you never went to church while growing up and are just becoming grounded in your faith. Whatever your story, take a moment to gather your thoughts about your own spiritual quest. Then make a few notes of some of the significant mile markers.
Now share your journey with your spouse. Reflect on what has brought you to where you are today. Use your time of sharing as a springboard to a deeper discussion of how each of you views spiritual matters.
How would you compare your spiritual journey with your spouse’s journey? How are they the same, and how do they differ?
HOW YOU FEEL CLOSEST TO GOD
Whether it’s a simple grace at dinnertime or some soul-searching meditation, couples routinely say that a shared spiritual life helps keep them close and stokes the fires of emotional intimacy.
But here’s a prayer secret most couples don’t know: couples who practice meditative prayer are happier overall and feel closer to God than those who practice other kinds
of prayer, such as petitioning for relief or asking for blessings.14 Meditative prayer occurs when we simply practice being “in the presence” of God. Brother Lawrence, the Parisian lay brother who worked most of his life in the kitchen of a monastery, literally wrote the book on it. “How happy we would be if we could find the treasure of which the Gospel speaks,” he said. “Let us search unceasingly and let us not stop until we have found it.” That treasure? To be in relationship with God, of course. So if you don’t do so already, consider praying it forward in your relationship. Pray for each other. Pray for your family. Give thanks for your blessings. But don’t neglect prayer that simply seeks to have a relationship with God. When you walk together with God, intimacy will find you.
How do the two of you feel about prayer in your marriage? What changes would you like to make, if any, regarding prayer in your relationship?
British theologian and acclaimed author C. S. Lewis described happiness fifty years ago in terms that make even more sense today in our fast-paced society:
A car is made to run on [gasoline], and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.15
Researchers seem to agree. Survey after survey shows that people with strong religious faith — those who are relating to God — are happier than those who are irreligious.16 David Myers, a social psychologist at Michigan’s Hope College, said that faith provides social support, a sense of purpose, and a reason to focus beyond the self, all of which help root people and lead to greater connection and happiness. And often the most concrete expression of our faith is attending church.
According to sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia, married couples who attend church together tend to be happier than couples who rarely or never attend services.17 Wilcox found that married church-going Americans across denominational and racial classifications were more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” than their nonreligious counterparts. “Attending church only seems to help couples when they attend together,” said Wilcox. And he was quick to add that it’s not simply attending church that works some kind of magic. “You’ve got to combine faith and works to enjoy a happy and stable marriage. You need the consistent message, the accountability, and the support a church community can provide to really benefit from religious faith.”18
How do the two of you feel about church? What changes would you like to make, if any, regarding the role church plays in your relationship?
“I never knew how selfish I was until I got married,” said Gary. After six months of marriage, he was telling us how Paula, his wife, was volunteering at a retirement center one night a week. “At first I resented her being away from me. But a couple of months ago she needed a lift, so I went with her.” He came back with Paula again and again, until he discovered that helping the older people at the center had become the highlight of his week. “It feels good to help others, and it brings Paula and me closer together; it’s like we are a team that is making a difference,” he told us.
We have heard dozens of similar reports from couples. There is something uplifting about reaching out as a team. Almost mystically it becomes bonding. Reaching out to others promotes humility, sharing, compassion, and intimacy in a marriage. Doing good for others helps couples transcend themselves and become part of something larger.19
- Robert J. Sternberg, “Triangulating Love,” in The Altruism Reader: Selections from
Writings on Love, Religion, and Science, ed. Thomas Oord (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2007). Also Robert J. Sternberg, “A Triangular Theory of Love,” in Close Relationships, ed. Harry T. Reis and Caryl E. Rusbult (New York: Psychology Press, 2004).
- Daniel J. Hruschka, Friendship: Development, Ecology, and Evolution of a Relationship (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010).
- Christopher R. Agnew et al., “Cognitive Interdependence: Commitment and the Mental Representation of Close Relationships,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74, no. 4 (1998): 939–54.
- J. P Laurenceau et al., “Intimacy as an Interpersonal Process: Current Status and Future Directions,” in Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, ed. Debra J. Mashek and Arthur Aron (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2004), 61–78.
- K. J. Prager and L. J. Roberts, “Deep Intimate Connections: Self and Intimacy in Couple Relationships,” in Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, 43–60.
- Daniel Akst, “America: Land of Loners?,” The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2010, http://www .wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?AID=1631.
- Lisa A. Neff and Benjamin R. Karney, “The Dynamic Structure of Relationship Perceptions: Differential Importance as a Strategy of Relationship Maintenance,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 29, no. 11 (2003): 1433–46.
- John Bowlby, Loss: Sadness and Depression vol. 3 of Attachment and Loss, ed. John Bowlby (New York: Basic Books, 1982).
- Jeffrey Kluger, “The Biology of Belief,” Time, February 12, 2009.
- An increasing amount of scientific research is focusing on the relationship between religion and mental health. Time magazine reported some of the findings. Religious people are less depressed, less anxious, and less suicidal than nonreligious people, and they are better able to cope with such crises as illness and bereavement. Even if you compare
two people who have symptoms of depression, says Michael McCullough, an associate professor of psychology and religious studies at the University of Miami, “the more religious person will be a little less sad.”
- Pamela Paul, “The Power of Uplift,” Time, January 17, 2005.
- Patricia Murphy of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago concluded a study she conducted on improved response to medical treatment by saying: “In our study, the positive response to medication had little to do with the feelings of hope that typically accompanies spiritual belief. It was tied specifically to the belief that a Supreme Being cared.” February 23, 2010, http://www.rush.edu/webapps/MEDREL/servlet /NewsRelease?id=1353. The ultimate feeling of intimacy—that God cares for you— brings with it an inordinate amount of benefits, including a great deal of happiness.
- Benjamin Vima, Prayerfully Yours: Quality Prayer for Quality Life (Bloomington, IN: Trafford Publishing, 2012).
- Margaret M. Poloma and George H. Gallup, Varieties of Prayer: A Survey Report (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991).
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 1952), 50.
- Forty-seven percent of people who report attending religious services several times a month describe themselves as “very happy,” versus 28 percent of those who attend less than once a month. Kenneth I. Pargament and Annette Mahoney, “Spirituality: Discovering and Conserving the Sacred” in C. R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez, eds., Handbook of Positive Psychology, 646–59.
- According to the study, 70 percent of husbands who attend church regularly say they are “very happy” in their marriages, compared to only 59 percent of husbands who do not attend religious services. For women, the figures were similar, with a majority of those who attend church services reporting to be happier than those who do not. Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/church-attendance-key-to-marriage-success -researcher-says-33079/#rlpGtwPGUx1zbE81.99.
- “Church Attendance Beneficial to Marriage, Researchers Says,” CNSnews.com, July 7, 2008, http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/church-attendance-beneficial-marriage -researcher-says.
- D. A. Abbott, M. Berry, and W. H. Meredith, “Religious Belief and Practice: A Potential Asset in Helping Families,” Family Relations (1990): 443–48.
Excerpted with permission from Strengthen Your Marriage by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott, copyright Les & Leslie Parrott.
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Are you happy in your marriage? No matter what the case is, you can strengthen it starting today! Dive in spiritually together! If you’re not in a church, start attending (even virtually). Find a way to give back to your community in service. Come share with us how that has benefitted your marriage. We want to hear! ~ Devotionals Daily