My Facebook feed recently had a meme that said, “Physical intimacy isn’t and can never be an effective substitute for emotional intimacy.”
A woman made the comment, “Men just don’t get this!”
I understand that physical and emotional intimacy are not two separate things that are diametrically opposed to each other. I know that physical intimacy can be a pathway to emotional intimacy. I saw the meme as flawed because it assumes something I don’t think is true.
At the same time, however, the meme resonated deeply with me. I completely understood the feeling behind that meme. It is a feeling I still have sometimes.
His Need Matters
From a man’s point of view, the meme might be written, “Conversation isn’t and can never be an effective substitute for emotional intimacy.” And another man could easily comment, “Women just don’t get this!”
My recent post Your Husband’s Emotional Need seems to have touched this very nerve. I’ve heard from many husbands that the post articulated what they were desperate for their wives to understand.
For many men, the need for emotional intimacy with a wife is best fulfilled through sex. (Read this guest post by Mrs. Stud for some insight on this.) This is certainly the case with my husband.
Even now, however, I find that if emotional intimacy outside the bedroom has been lacking, I struggle to experience emotional intimacy in the bedroom. I have to battle feelings of resentment and being used. Fortunately, I now can win the battle against those feelings and come away feeling emotionally connected.
Your Need Matters, Too!
Our marriage is better for me being able to connect with my husband in the way that meets his need for emotional connection—but this does not mean that we connect his way all the time.
Our marriage is also better for my husband being able to connect with me in a way that meets my need for emotional connection.
I would love for Big Guy to intuitively understand what I need from him emotionally; the reality is that he just doesn’t. This is not a flaw on his part. He is just not tuned in to emotion in the way that I am.
He is a good-willed husband, but for many years, he didn’t understand that my need for emotional connection was met differently than his was. He didn’t get it—just as I didn’t get that his need for emotional connection was best met through sex.
If your husband is generally a decent guy but he doesn’t connect with you emotionally how you need him to, it might be that he doesn’t get it any more than Big Guy did. And even if he does get it, he may have no idea how to do what seems so obvious to you.
1 Peter 3:7 tell husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. Why not make it easier for our guys be better husbands for us?
I’d like to suggest some things you can do to help your husband in his effort to connect with you.
1. Know what you need.
How do you expect your husband to know what you need to connect with him if you yourself don’t know? What helps you feel like your husband loves and cares for you? I feel emotionally connected to Big Guy when he expresses appreciation for something I’ve done around the house or specifically for him. I feel connected when I have time with him with no electronics or other distraction. I feel connected when he tells me things he loves about me. These are all things that show me that he truly sees me and appreciates who I am.
What is on your list? What helps you experience emotional intimacy with your husband?
2. Meet his need for emotional connection.
A man who feels content, fulfilled, and close to his wife is better able to value and respond to her need for emotional connection. A man who feels emotionally rejected by his wife, on the other hand, might struggle to set aside his own hurt in order to do this. Make it easier for your husband to do what you need him to do.
No one should have to earn emotional connection in their marriage. If he feels like he has to do everything you need first in order for you to connect with him in the way that he needs, that isn’t really intimacy, is it? It is more of an economic exchange. Is that really what you want in your marriage?
You shouldn’t feel like you have to have sex in order to get what it is you need from him, either. I admit that for the first couple years after I began to work on sexual intimacy, I felt like this frequently. You may need to extend him some grace for a while, knowing that he may need to heal from feelings of rejection. Meet his need for connection whether or not he does a good job at meeting your need.
3. Communicate your needs.
Tell your husband what you need from him. Be clear and specific. Many guys will say they are clueless when it comes to hints and vague references. With this in mind, I told my husband very clearly, “Every day I need fifteen minutes of conversation with you with no electronics around. I need you to tell me at least one feeling you’ve had during the day. When I share what my day has been like, I need you to acknowledge what I feel and not give me a solution.” He now knows what he is striving for.
Over time, he has gotten so used to doing what I’ve asked that these things have become automatic rather than forced for him—just like responding to him sexually has become automatic for me.
4. Let him know how he’s doing.
Practice positive reinforcement. A lot. You might say things like, “When you listened to me talk about my problem and didn’t try to fix it, I felt like you were really hearing me. Thank you so much.” Or, “When you told me how you felt when your co-worker was rude to you, I felt like you were letting me in. That helped me feel closer.” Let your husband know what he is doing well.
Also let him know when things aren’t working so well, being loving and respectful in your words and tone. I have had to sit down with Big Guy a time or two and say, “I’ve been feeling disconnected from you lately. Although we talk every day, you’ve shared a feeling with me only once in the past month. I feel like you’re shutting me out and like you don’t care. I know you care, but I don’t feel as close to you.”
Make It Mutual
When both husband and wife are making an effort toward each other’s need for emotional intimacy, the effort itself can strength the marriage, even if the effort isn’t always successful.
Eventually, the knowledge that we are helping our spouses feel loved can become emotionally connecting to us as well. Part of what has made sex help me feel emotionally connected to my husband is that I know that he is feeling the full force of my love and I start to feel gooey inside. Our sex becomes mutually fulfilling emotionally, regardless of how it goes physically.
Connect with your husband in a way that he needs, and make it easier for him to connect with you in a way that you need.
The meme I saw was flawed. Even though it spoke a truth to me, it didn’t go far enough. Here is a larger truth:
There is no substitute for emotional connection between a husband and wife. You just may need that connection to happen in different ways.
You and your husband, both seeking to connect in the way the other needs, build one-flesh intimacy together.
For more on emotionally connecting with each other, read what Brad and Kate recently wrote at One-Flesh Marriage:
Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net