Invitation to Intimacy
I learned my first major lesson about relationships at an age where I couldn’t even have understood how important it was.
It was the mid-90s and I was working my first grown-up job, as a minister to youth at the church I grew up in. On this day I had a meeting at the district office half an hour north, and I’m running late. As I frantically ran out the door, my wife, from the kitchen, called, “Hon, before you go can you reach something down for me?”
[My wife is 4’10” tall, so reaching things down for her is just something I knew would be part of our marriage.]
“Sorry babe, I’m super late for a meeting” I called back, already halfway out the door.
Within a few second, I was in the car putting on my seat belt, and suddenly realized, “Crap! I HAVE TO PEE!”
I took a few seconds doing the pee-math, trying to figure out if I should run back in the house right now, or if I could hold it until I get to the district office, where I’d still end up late for the meeting, but at least people would know I was in the building.
I decided it couldn’t wait. I ran back in the house, past the kitchen where my wife was standing on a chair trying to reach whatever she needed to reach. I felt a twinge of guilt, but just said, “Had to pee!” as I ran to the bathroom, and a few seconds later zoomed past her again on my way back to the car.
I was snapping my seat belt on, backing up out of the driveway, and finally heading to where I want to go, when it hit me. The marriage lesson of a lifetime. The lesson that changed my life, that I’ve seen change the lives of others as well, and that would eventually make a huge difference in the quality of my marriage. The lesson so many young men (and some women as well) are going to have to learn one way or another, if they want a good marriage.
It hit so hard, almost like an audible voice in my head.
“You do realize this is what she has been trying to tell you for the last seven years, right? When she needs you, you may or may not be available. But you always make room for your own needs. You will always take care of yourself. She gets whatever is left over.”
I replied, offended, to my own thought in my own head.
“I HAD TO PEE, WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”
The silence was deafening. That’s exactly how I had spoken to her so many times when she had tried to say, “I don’t feel like I’m a priority to you.”
I would respond defensively, even angrily.
“For God’s sake, I had to pee!/Work!/Answer the phone!/ Pick up the kids!”
Whatever it was I had to do, I had to do it. I had no choice! And she was unreasonable to feel the way she was feeling. Why was she being so demanding?!
What Couples Counseling Suggests
I do a specific type of relationship counseling called Gottman-informed therapy. This therapy suggests one of the main reasons relationships struggle is because of the trust issue that is created as, day after day, year after year, one or both partners feel like when the chips are down the other person is simply not there for them.
Moreover, it suggests that these trust issues are created in moments precisely like the one I am talking about. Small moments, moments that easily pass us by. Moments where choosing to leave your partner hanging doesn’t destroy the relationship, but it does inflict a tiny cut. It hurts a little.
Reaching down whatever my wife needed wouldn’t have taken any longer than peeing, but I “couldn’t” do that for her, I was running late. And of course I didn’t know how long peeing would take, it could have ended up taking thirty seconds longer than it took, which is probably twice the time it would have taken to help my wife.
I’m not suggesting I did a morally bad thing in not meeting my wife’s need in that moment. Only that if these things only happened when I had to pee, when the crisis was that pressing, there wouldn’t have been an issue to begin with. The problem was that this happened over and over again. This just happened to be the situation where I finally became aware of the problem.
And the problem, from her perspective, was that she simply wasn’t that high of a priority in my life. I was available for her when I “had time.” When I wasn’t “tired.” When I hadn’t had a “long day.” When I hadn’t “already” just done this or that other thing for her. The feeling she got was that when she needed me, I could pretty easily find some reason I “couldn’t” be available to her, and I pretty often did.
Don’t miss my point. I know you may be sitting there right now, reading this, doing exactly what I did when the thought first occurred to me–making excuses.
“What, you’re saying I just have to be her slave then and that’s going to be my life?”
Nope, not saying that.
“So she just gets anything she wants and I’m a terrible person if I can’t wait on her hand and foot?”
Not saying that either.
“So I’m the only one in this relationship who has to make concessions and compromise?”
Definitely not saying that.
Accepting the Invitation to Intimacy
I’m saying your partner wants to sense you love her as much as you love yourself, that her priority in your life is equal with your priority of yourself. That’s what she thought she was getting when she married you. To her, that’s what partnership is. I don’t know your marriage in particular, but there’s a good chance that if that’s what she wants from you, she’s already living that selflessly toward you.
I have told many men, “If you had any idea how sacrificially she was going to love you, and expect you to love her, you might have never married her to begin with.”
And yet this invitation to intimacy is one of the greatest gifts one person can offer to another. Intimacy, true connection, is always found to the exact degree that a person is willing to abandon self and just be lost in the other. There’s no better example of this than sex.
The best sex happens when you are fully in the moment. Self-consciousness or any other kind of attentiveness to self in that moment, diminishes its potential. The best sex comes from self-abandonment, self-surrender. The best way to make sure you don’t enjoy sex is to be asking yourself the entire time, “Am I enjoying this? Is my partner enjoying this? Is this better or worse than last time? How long has it been since last time, anyway?” If you want to enjoy sex, you have to show up for it completely.
A lot of wives feel like their husbands aren’t showing up for them completely, that they’re not really in this with them. And guys, we demonstrate this to them when we consistently choose ourselves and our own interests over them and what they need.