Developing Intimacy in Marriage

Many people know that something is missing from their lives but usually can’t quite put their fingers on what it is they’re lacking. That’s why so many people feel lonely, or empty, or unfulfilled although they appear to have every reason to feel just the opposite.

What is this elusive prize?


Humans are born with an irresistible need for it. With the exception of those He gifted for singleness (1 Corinthians 7:7), God intended from the beginning that we develop intimacy with another person to the point that the two will become ONE (Genesis 2). One in flesh (sexual intimacy), one in Him (spiritual intimacy), and one in heart (emotional intimacy).

Sadly, our work with thousands and thousands of marriages clearly reveals that most couples don’t have that wonderful oneness. Millions of couples have sexual congress, but few experience sexual intimacy. A growing number of spouses share faith, but few share it to the point that they feel true intimacy with God and each other. Couples live in the same house, but not many share true emotional intimacy. Witnessing the sparseness of it among married people – even Christians – led me to place a warning in my book Becoming One:

If your life seems empty or unfulfilled, it may well be because you don’t feel the intimacy with your spouse God designed you to have. If you experience feelings of loneliness or occasionally find yourself longing for a relationship very different from the one you now have, it’s almost a sure thing that intimacy hasn’t reached its intended level.

Why is that important to know?

Because at Beam Research Center we continually encounter people who lose their marriages because they despaired of finding within it what they so badly needed. Their misguided longing for intimacy masquerades in many costumes. Some think they crave more sex. Others more fame. Others a chemical high to replace the dullness or pain of their lives. People looking for intimacy so often are so confused about what it really is that they are after that they find themselves capable of making nearly any kind of destructive decision – paramours, posturing, parties. They exchange what they are experiencing for what they think they want to experience, only to discover that they are just as unfulfilled as before.

What’s the answer?

It’s as simple as falling in love.

In previous articles, I began sharing my “Falling in Love” Model that explains how people fall in love, fall out of love, and how they can fall in love with each other again. The first thing that draws us to another is the allure of his or her physical attractiveness. But not every person we find attractive reciprocally finds us attractive. And not every person we find attractive is a person with whom we would want intimacy once we came to know him or her. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have learned that a person’s outward appearance may not accurately represent the personality within. Sometimes a “beautiful” person can be downright ugly, and someone that is unattractive by the world’s standards can be quite beautiful.

So what is the next step after attraction in developing love? Is it intimacy? Of course it is. But let’s call it acceptance, because the best way to understand it is to understand intimacy.

But first, let’s acknowledge the dilemma.

Would it surprise you to know that in national surveys, men and women have different ideas about what intimacy is? Men tend to define it as some form of action, such as sexual union or physically doing something for the female. (“What do you mean we need more intimacy? I just built you a gazebo!”) Women tend to view intimacy as sharing an emotional bond, warmth, closeness, and vulnerability. As one woman explained to me, “Say it slower and you have the definition. Into-me-see.”

In terms of falling in love or rebuilding love, both genders have it right. No, not equally right. Women have the better grasp of it. We males have to learn that we must begin with the woman’s definition of intimacy if we ever want to experience intimacy as we view it. But men do have it right that if a couple genuinely develops warmth and closeness, it will lead to actions, sexual and otherwise. While it is possible to start with the actions and hope for the feelings to come later, that path is fraught with multiple perils. The better course is to develop the emotional oneness that is intimacy, and then allow the actions to naturally follow.

How can we guys do that?

Well, it takes understanding on the part of both husband and wife. The first thing that must happen is that we have to quit teaching each other to lie. Next, we need to understand the sequence most people follow as they learn to make themselves vulnerable to the other. Understanding that sequence can change the way you communicate to each other in marvelous fashion. Finally, we must learn how to give (and get) acceptance, even when we hear our spouses say things we don’t like.

In the next few articles I intend to explain all this and more, as we look at how any two people can develop emotional intimacy that leads to sexual and spiritual intimacy. If your marriage is in so much trouble that you cannot wait weeks for the answers, click here for information on our marriage-saving seminar.

As you read these articles, feel free to read more at While I cannot guarantee personal answers to all questions, I will answer pertinent questions in future columns. Let’s not settle for anything less than genuine intimacy; intimacy with God and intimacy with the marriage partner he has given us.

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Joe Beam is a best-selling Christian author and internationally respected marriage expert.   Joe Beam founded Beam Research Center , an organization that provides marriage help to hurting couples.     Reproduced with permission.

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