When a Marriage Loses Its Intimacy

Intimacy in marriage is often thought of in terms of sexual relations between a husband and wife. While this may be true, I believe that intimacy is much deeper than this. Sexual relations are the result of a deep intimacy of the spirit, heart and soul that the two share.

Intimacy is a history that is created over time. It really knows the other person; it is one of the deepest levels of relationship that two people can experience on earth. That knowing is evident when one understands the other’s thoughts and mannerisms.  A husband and wife closely connected can be in a room, understand each other’s likes, dislikes, comforts, discomforts, needs, wants, and the like without a word spoken or a need requested. This type of connection grows over time; this is why when a separation plays a role, it is so painful.

Abandonment. Adultery. Divorce. Illness. Death.

All of these create a severing within that intimacy. It is so unbearable; it is like an amputation of the flesh. The hearts of the two rip apart and create an open wound that seems unrepairable at the time of parting.

In abandonment, adultery, and divorce – a trust is broken.

A trust that at one point the two thought would be forever. They both had opened their hearts completely to each other. An unveiling of strengths, faults, secrets, dreams and hopes were shared openly. They looked to each other for encouragement and support that would further who they were together. To repair this brokenness is hard. In some cases, it can be repaired, but in many, it breaks forever.

In illness, the relationship turns to dependent care.  

When illness comes to this union, there is still trust. The intimacy is still strong, maybe even stronger as the time and attention required is heightened.  A refocus surfaces: What is really important? The relationship between the two can be reinforced and empowered by a stronger closeness. Yet, there is a separation that occurs. In this divide, there is a pain to embrace. Let me explain.

A few years back my husband was on his death bed with acute pancreatitis. Even though the doctors were fighting for his life, they were also preparing me for his imminent death. While in ICU, my husband needed care in between the times the nurses cared for him. I would assume the role of the nurse and would help him with the most private and personal needs.

On his end, there was a bearing of total trust in my care. But on my part, there was a severing, a parting, and a separation from the strength that I had grown accustomed to in our marriage. He was weak. He was vulnerable. He was not able to comfort me. He was dependent. This was not something I knew from him. To see him so ill was very painful. To realize that this could all end in death was scary. But yet I don’t want to neglect the pain that also occurred in me: Not having his strong arms around me and he reassuring me, “babe, you will be okay, I’m going to take care of you” was selfishly heart wrenching.  On that day, my strong horse of a husband was a weak fragile foal.

In death, the pain of severance leaves the one left behind empty.

I cannot claim to know this as my husband did miraculously survive and heal from his illness. The comfort of his strong arms and the words of great reassurance have been restored to me. However, I have seen those who have lost their spouse; some way too early and others after a long well-lived life together. The knowledge of never having their spouse’s consolation, support, physical presence and visible connection has to be the most painful of all these that I have described – especially when this relationship was so intimate and strong.

You are probably wondering why I am writing this blog. You see I have been praying for three women and their spouse over this last year:

One who is going through a current separation and most likely divorce; another whose husband passed away after a battle with cancer; and another whose husband survived a miraculous healing after facing that very viable reality of possible death. I cannot quite describe in words the pain I feel in my heart for each one.

All three women in these relationships are and have experienced great anguish. For a separation of sorts has been their experience. While different in each case and more severe in some, their pain equally is still as heart-rending.

I was reading Matthew 3 the other day and came across the latter part of verse 11. It says, “He Himself (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The “and fire” stood out to me. Every spiritual growth spurt we experience in our walk with the Lord requires the move the Holy Spirit in our life. It also requires the refinement of fire – the testings of life – the sufferings of trials.

I have often thought that I would like to skip that second part. Can I get an amen? 

On the other hand, I know full well that these trials burn away the chaff of our previous simplified faith and renew a stronger more intimate trust in our Lord; they also remove any dependence on things we may have developed that are not of Him.

Yet these two are not the only things that happen.

There is one more that I think is probably the most important. It’s the one thing that actually kept me going when I was waiting on my husband’s healing. It’s the one thing that would have even given me great courage to carry on if indeed I had lost him in that season.

Some of you may not know who Elizabeth Elliott is. She was the wife of Jim Elliott; in 1956, her husband was one of four missionaries in Ecuador, who was killed maliciously by a dangerous and uncivilized Indian tribe known then as the Aucas. She lost her husband to brutality. She lost her faithful God-fearing husband while serving the Lord. She lost her companion in life and in ministry. Yet, her perspective on this situation is what gives us hope in our time of separation and sorrow.

She had the same perspective as Paul in Philippians 1:12, “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel.” Elizabeth walked through the door to this lost tribe – the door that the death of her husband opened. She went to them, shared the gospel and she lived among them. This tribe found salvation in Jesus. And now a group of once lost people know Jesus and are living and sharing His good news to others. She honored her husband’s mission; in many ways, I think this kept her husband’s companionship alive in her life.

While my husband, Dan, suffered in the hospital, I had ample opportunities to share the gospel with others who were suffering, who were lost, and even those who needed to come back to Jesus. All of his sufferings proved the truth of Paul’s words, “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel.”

I have seen a renewed faith in, dependence on the Lord in my friend who is suffering separation and possible divorce. This will end with her spreading the good news of our Lord; for the Lord will use all of her suffering to bring others who are hurting to Him.

I’m a believer!

I have seen an even greater opportunity for others to know the saving grace of our Lord through the death of this one woman’s husband; even in his death his message of the gospel still speaks to all; she continues to honor her husband’s desire; she still shares the love of Jesus with others regardless of her pain.

I’m amazed!

I have seen an increased faith of my friend whose husband was miraculously healed. She relentlessly thanked God for her husband’s healing even when her husband seemed too sick to heal. She shared the word of God boldly so that whoever was reading and hearing would know the power of our great God!

I’m overwhelmed!

These three women are amazing to me! They have learned and grown in faith; they have found value in the baptism of fire. While a physical separation of intimacy has occurred in each one’s life, some forever, others for a time, God has used and still uses it all to increase faith and open doors for others to the good news of Jesus, our Lord, and Savior.

Suffering used well is a sufferer’s useful tool.

Thank you, ladies, for changing me and for using your pain to further faith in others.



2 thoughts on “When a Marriage Loses Its Intimacy

  1. I love when you said: “When illness comes to this union, there is still trust. The intimacy is still strong, maybe even stronger as the time and attention required is heightened.”

    I find that to be extremely true. When I was diagnosed with Lupus and had to be hospitalized for an extensive amount of time my partner was there every step of the way. Never wavering. Never neglecting to let me know how much I was loved. I am grateful.

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