I suspect the newlyweds were surprised by my zeal. “So… what did you learn?! How can we (my wife and I) grow in intimacy?!”
They had been to an intimacy conference – I assumed it focused on marriage – and I couldn’t resist asking a few questions. I was probably a little too enthusiastic because they had only been married four months. They weren’t accustomed to being accosted with personal questions, and the fact that I hardly knew them probably didn’t help, but who can resist the opportunity to get a little intimacy advice?
Well, being put on the spot, they didn’t have much to say, but I was in a groove so I turned to my wife, “How would you say we do intimacy in our marriage?” She, at least, had heard plenty of my more personal and sometimes off-the-wall questions.
“We spend time together.”
As I thought about her answer, she was right. Intimacy – whatever it is (I’ll rename it unity) – is forged in time together. But there is a problem. I know some couples that experience less unity when they spend more time together. And what about all those retirees whose spouses are always pushing them out of the house? So time alone isn’t the answer.
My wife Sherri and I talked about it some more, while the newlyweds politely excused themselves, pleased that we weren’t talking about sex yet but not taking any chances that they would be around if that happened. Meanwhile, Sherri and I decided that a significant feature of our growth in unity was both time together and enjoying each other. We like to spend time together. I like her. I want to be with her.
Questions: How can we enjoy our spouse? How can we enjoy our spouse more? How can we grow in liking our spouse?
Some of us enjoy our spouses, some of us don’t enjoy our spouses, and the rest don’t even think in these categories of enjoying and liking. I propose that we are right to think in these categories because God himself does, and, if enjoying our spouses, and other people, is on God’s heart, then he will give us grace to grow in it.
There is a lot to say on this. I’ll just offer a few thoughts. First, we should identify what we are after. What does it mean to enjoy someone? Enjoyment, I think, is very personal in that it is our response to something in another person. We are noticing fine and praiseworthy qualities, and we are savoring them. To enjoy is very close to words such as to admire or to respect. For example, with my wife I enjoy her humor, her obvious pleasure in her growing family, her steady pursuit of Jesus, her indefatigable approach to tasks, her ability to make simple things beautiful, her hint of sassiness and so on. For her birthday one year I wrote out a list of things that I liked or enjoyed about her. I stayed away from the you-make-me-feel-so-good kind of things such as “I think you’re a fox” or “you are such a good partner for me.” Enjoyment doesn’t think in terms of the personal benefit we receive from the other person. It just admires what it sees and invites others to do the same. With my list I aimed for around twenty-five items and reached seventy-seven without breaking a sweat.
The whole process was down-right enjoyable, and it trained me to see even more in her that was a delight. I even decided to send the list to her parents because they also enjoy her, and I thought they might enjoy knowing that their son-in-law enjoys their daughter. And yes, I examined my motives and didn’t notice anything too blatantly self-serving.
You could say that I had it easy. I already enjoyed my wife. But what if I didn’t? The assignment certainly would have been more challenging, but tell me if this is your experience too: the more I know someone, the more I enjoy him or her. As a counselor I get to hear some ugly things every now and then, and sin certainly makes all of us a bit unlikable from the get-go, but we are all created by God and if you look closely enough you will find something of the Father in the other person. Occasionally I find exceptions but my vision can be cleared by a healthy dose of my repentance from self-righteousness. In other words, if I don’t enjoy the other person, the problem is usually mine.
Now to more important matters. A discussion of real enjoyment naturally takes us to our enjoyment of God. How long is my list about the triune God? What do I enjoy about him? This is different than asking, for what am I thankful? That list can be long, but it is referenced to what God has done for me. I want to focus especially on the greatness of God that leaves us all amazed. Like a group of people on Hawaii’s North Shore watching twenty-foot waves, we want to savor the Lord’s beauty, majesty and power. And we want to enjoy him in such a way that we can’t help but worship.
Ed Welch is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF.