Last Thursday morning, I fell out of “like” with my husband, Josh. And if I’m honest, it happens fairly often.
Here’s how it went down: The night before we chose not to clean up the kitchen after dinner. This is rare in the Straub home, but on this night we abandoned it all for a family dance party—leaving behind an overflowing sink of dishes, food on the table, sticky refrigerator, and crumbs on the floor screaming for us to step in them.
I was almost proud of myself. Choosing people over projects, something against my get-‘er-done nature.
Then, Thursday morning came. I was making the kids’ lunches for school. Josh was unloading and re-loading the dishwasher. #teamwork
Then the comments started. Josh’s running commentary about how nasty the table was and how much food mysteriously ends up on the floor under our blessed children’s chairs. The garbage smells. The counters are sticky.
It hit a nerve and my defenses flared: “Stop. I get it. You think I don’t know that?”
Sure, we chose not to clean up the kitchen together, but somehow the diatribe triggered my all-too-familiar lie: I’m failing as a mother and wife, again.
He didn’t mean to hurt me; he wasn’t even directing the comments toward me. Truthfully, Josh pulls more than his man-sized weight around the house. He didn’t deserve my defensiveness, but those truths didn’t matter when it triggered my lie. I was angry at him for making me feel like a failure, and I didn’t like him because of it.
I fell out of like with Josh that morning. And I bet if you were to ask him, he didn’t like me much in that moment either.
One lesson we continue to learn is that like is a feeling, but love is a choice. The intimacy in our relationship isn’t based on some grand vacation we take or date night we have. Intimacy is built on the choices we make each day—and more often than not, how we choose to handle these moments of dislike in the here-and-now.
So how do we grow in intimacy in our marriage, when all of hell and our hellion-like natures are warring against us? We’re practical people who need practical things to hang our hats on, so here are five everyday ways we’ve found help us build intimacy in our marriage.
- Be willing to endure negative feelings.
Josh’s favorite definition of intimacy is from a psychologist named David Burns. “Intimacy is the willingness to endure the negative feelings you get when you get close to another person.”
I know—downer, right? Culture would like us to believe that negative emotion in our marriage is a sign toward a way out. But what if it’s actually the way in?
To clarify, this post is not about abusive or coercive situations. We would never advise enduring negative emotion that comes with being treated in such a way.
Instead, for spouses experiencing the everyday ups and downs of being married—insecurities and all—actually pressing into the negative emotion can make or break our marital intimacy. I was hurt because I felt like Josh was criticizing me for not keeping a clean house. Once he knew he hit a nerve with me, he immediately stopped and asked what was going on underneath my anger.
What if, instead of getting defensive, we press into the negative emotion and give our spouse the benefit of the doubt. Asking, “What could be going on underneath their accusation?”
When we empathize with, and understand that feeling, intimacy grows.
- Tuck each other into bed.
We tuck our kids into bed, why not our spouse? We find going to bed together is one of the best ways to stay connected. You can cuddle, pray together, and debrief the day.
And for the love of all that’s good in our marriages, let’s leave the phones somewhere else.
- Be mindful of disconnection—and act on it.
We know whether or not we feel close with our spouse. We also know those moments when disconnection starts to kick in. Instead of ignoring those feelings of disconnection, act on them.
Sometimes all it takes is one simple gesture. Writing a note. Buying a little treat. Sending a text. Planning a date. Putting the kids down early. Making time to close that subjective gap we feel often doesn’t require a lot, it just requires our intentionality.
- Share with your spouse what God is teaching you.
My default was to pour out my heart and hot tears to a girlfriend and come home to give Josh the brief synopsis. My friends saw the raw me, while Josh got the Cliffs Notes version. I wanted to open up, but it felt unsure and so deeply private. But one tip-toe at a time, I began sharing what God was teaching me.
When we share with one another what God is teaching us individually, it gives insight into our deepest selves. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.
I’m learning to listen with empathy when Josh shares his fears, instead of correcting or fixing or critiquing. It’s opened him up to want to share more with me and I’m getting a private peek into Josh’s relationship with Jesus because he feels more comfortable sharing it with me. Those insights have allowed me to pray for him and encourage him in ways I’ve never been able to before.
- Talk openly about sex.
Sex is often a deeply personal subject for women. Sex holds great power to bring together and to divide. Great sex is a mutual willingness on the part of both spouses to give pleasure, not merely receive it. Because of this, nobody should feel coerced or like they have to give in to sex. On the other hand, neither are we to withhold sex for a long period of time from our spouse (1 Cor. 7:3-5). If the act of marriage is about serving one another, it’s no wonder that that the enemy often twists sex to feel like another chore after we’ve been “serving” our families all day.
So we started to talk about the elephant in the room. The wanting; the avoiding. Giving each other insight into the whys of our default behavior. Our new understanding of one another’s view gave way to a new rhythm and desire to pursue togetherness, instead of allowing it to cause division.
Bringing the elephant into the light has brought freedom, and true intimacy requires us to feel free—to share our raw selves, to be truly known. Because being truly known and truly loved is intimacy to its fullest.
Christi Straub, M.A., M.B.A. is a native Canadian, wife to an American, and momma to two feisty preschoolers. She and her husband Josh are the cofounders of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower marriages and families. Passionate about families in her generation, Christi writes and speaks on helping moms discover their identity and have marriages they’d wish on their children. Her honesty, wittiness, and transparency are contagious. She is also the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st Century. You can watch Dr. Josh + Christi live each week on Facebook Live talking about marriage and parenting in the 21st century. When she and Josh aren’t working together, they’re playing trains or having tea parties. (And trying really hard to put the phones away.)