My wife Cathy and I have been married for 45 years. I truly am a fortunate person. Yet, we describe our marriage as “high-maintenance.” This means we have to constantly work at keeping our marriage healthy. Marriage doesn’t come easy for us. Perhaps you can relate.
Creating intimacy in marriage takes work. It’s easy to blame your spouse for a lack of intimacy. Since he or she is at least as imperfect as you, they are probably an easy target. But, if we really want to develop and maintain intimacy in our marriages, we have to lay aside the “blame” game and focus instead on what you can do to work on the intimacy in your relationship.
Understand that you set the mood, tone, and atmosphere in your marriage.
After reading this sentence some people may disagree with me, because they would blame their spouse or the needs of their children for most of the negativity in their marriage. In most cases, it does take two people, but we are often quick to blame and not willing to work at setting the necessary atmosphere and attitude to create a more intimate marriage. Without sounding like a dreamer, you can change the atmosphere of your marriage almost immediately with A.W.E. (Affection, Warmth, and Encouragement). This is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned for my own marriage.
Far too many times we don’t intentionally set the thermostat of our relationship to a more positive setting. Instead, we let the temperature fluctuate according to what the other person does or doesn’t do. We react to the stresses of life, and the atmosphere can quickly turn negative.
Certainly conflict, anger, and frustration happen in the best of marriages. But, an intimate marriage, one filled with A.W.E. is a decision not to live a life based on circumstances or reactions to your spouse. It is a decision to proactively live a life filled with self-control in which you choose to set an atmosphere that leads your relationship to a healthier spot.
Most people don’t take the time to really examine their inner lives. Many people feel dead on the inside and their relationships are stale, but they continue to function outwardly as if nothing is wrong. Below the surface, though, these ignored problems fester and break out in all sorts of negative ways. Grief that is ignored, for instance, often turns into depression and hopelessness. Hurt that is ignored becomes defensiveness toward our spouse, and the suppressed anger can easily turn into bitterness. These are the tumors of the heart that can adversely affect our marriages.
So, start down the road to a healthier marriage by taking the time to examine your own life. The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy was this: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right, and God will save you and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16 NLT).
There’s never a better time than today to recommit to some basic marriage principles that can strengthen your bonds and inject a fresh wave of intimacy into your relationship.
A — Affection
The basic need of all people is to love and be loved. Your marriage needs affection to thrive. You can create an atmosphere of intimacy and closeness through affection. Couples who hold hands, kiss passionately are couples who have a much better chance for a healthy relationship. Back rubs work; saying “I love you” in a hundred different ways works; showing tenderness and honoring your spouse works wonders for your relationship. Choose intentionally to focus on bringing affection to your relationship and you will almost certainly see immediate results when you do.
W — Warmth
We all have emotional bank accounts. To have a healthier marriage, we need to make more deposits to our spouse’s emotional bank account than withdrawals. We make withdrawals from our spouses account, for example, by nagging, negativity, shaming, rudeness, a critical spirit, never saying you’re sorry, telling your spouse that they are never good enough, and heaping guilt on them. By contrast, making deposits our spouses emotional bank account is all about those times when we offer them warmth: saying we’re sorry and meaning it, making and keeping our promises, showing kindness and thoughtfulness, putting their needs ahead of our needs, tenderness, hugs, tone of voice, and having fun together. Keeping a relationship full of warmth takes a lot of work, self-control, and focus, but keeping the emotional thermostat in your marriage turned up pays off in big ways.
E — Encouragement
The key to showing encouragement involves being available to your spouse. Your presence in your spouse’s life makes all the difference. It sometimes speaks louder than words. Your availability, both physically and emotionally, says to your spouse that he or she is in a safe relationship. Don’t expect to have a thriving marriage if there is too much hostility and lack of attention paid to your spouse. It just doesn’t work that way.
Find ways to affirm and encourage your spouse. Some people receive encouragement through words, some through presence, some through gifts, some through kind actions. The key to encouraging your spouse in the best way possible is to literally make a study of them to figure out what works for them.
Remember that there is one person who can make a difference in your marriage atmosphere; one person who can get your started down the road to a stronger, healthier marriage, and that person is…you.