Whether I work with pre-marital couples or couples that have been together for thirty years, I often see one constant challenge when it comes to relationship struggles: communication. I once thought that communication was important so that couples could discuss budgets, dreams, parenting, and sex. Yet, the more I provide counseling and coaching, the more I begin to realize that there is a deeper purpose to communication; a purpose that lends itself to better budgets, realized dreams, shared parenting, and healthy sex lives. The purpose of communication is intimacy.
Song of Songs 4:16 provides a powerful picture of sexual intimacy:
Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread everywhere.
Let my beloved come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.
Three times in this passage, through the use of the verbs, “come” (twice) and “blow,” the bride indicates that she feels safe and attached enough to her groom to invite him into her most intimate of spaces. Such an invitation only occurred in Song of Songs after the couple had spent time displaying mutual commitment which led to the establishment of trust. A feeling of trust helped the bride know that it was safe enough to be very physically vulnerable and intimate with her groom.
Intimate communication develops in much the same way.
If couples are going to communicate in healthy ways, they must first work to show one another a Biblically covenanted type of commitment. Such commitment can only be developed over time.
Spending time together as a couple helps build trust. Time is the currency that is used by couples to display to each other that they are truly committed. The more a significant other sees that their engaged partner or spouse is committed to getting to know and invest in them, the more likely they are to trust their engaged partner or spouse.
Trust allows a person to feel safe in a relationship. Just like the bride in Song of Songs felt safe enough to invite her groom into sexual intimacy, an engaged or married significant other who feels safe will invite their future husband, future wife, husband, or wife into emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy occurs when two people feel safe enough to share vulnerable communication with each other.
To summarize, commitment produces trust. Trust testifies to an environment of relational safety. A safe environment encourages vulnerable communication. And, vulnerable communication produces emotional intimacy.
If you are struggling to communicate in your pre-marital or marital relationship, I encourage you to ask:
-At what point of the communication process are we struggling?
-Are we displaying enough commitment to one another?
-Do we trust and feel safe with each other?
-Are we carving out time to communicate?
One More Challenge
A spouse or significant other that grew up in an unsafe home will most likely have a difficult time recognizing and therefore sharing within a safe relational environment. If you find yourself wanting to be more emotionally intimate with your spouse, but feel as if he or she is constantly putting up walls, please know that he or she is probably practicing the same connection style they developed as a child or adolescent. That means your spouse probably needs help learning how to recognize a relationally safe environment and how to communicate within such an environment. How should you engage such a spouse/significant other?
Your role as a partner or spouse is to help your spouse or partner see that he or she might need help by communicating YOUR desires to connect and attach more. Don’t say, “You need help!” Say, “I really wish we could be more emotionally vulnerable with each other. What do you think is keeping this from happening?”
Be patient. If your spouse/significant other did come from a home that was unsafe, it will take some time for them to understand and communicate within a safe environment. Love them with the same patience and grace with which God loves us.
Pray. Pray that the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead can resurrect or develop the ability to communicate intimately within your marriage or soon-to-be marriage.
Keep working on yourself. How can you continue to show your spouse that you are committed to providing a safe environment for them to vulnerably communicate?
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.