Marriage and the Family – The Journey to Intimacy

“I cannot get him to talk to me.” “We don’t communicate.” “He just doesn’t understand.” “It doesn’t matter that I tell her I love her.” These are the paw prints of the “little foxes, that spoil the vines.” Something has spoiled the source of marital joy.

Nothing in Christian living works as it should apart from a deepening communion with the Lord (John 15:5). Despite our limitations, this loving relationship brings vibrancy to marriage, the most wonderful of all earthly relationships. Love, the cornerstone of marriage, blossoms by the indwelling Spirit’s power (Gal 5:22). Intimacy is God’s ideal for marriage. It is the fulfillment enjoyed through physical, emotional, and spiritual oneness.

The obvious theme of the Song of Solomon is that pure, intimate, tender, consuming love which spouses share. This “Song of Songs” (1:1) celebrates the kind of love that will eternally define the ultimate relationship between God and man, that of Christ and His Bride (Eph 5:32). Perhaps because this ideal relationship forms the background, the Song of Songs doesn’t present any male failures in the relationship. The failures of his spouse, however, are instructive. Shortcomings in a marriage, however, are never one-sided. Both partners, and the male primarily, must take ownership of the responsibility to develop the marriage relationship. The existence of a relationship and the enjoyment of it are not the same. The development, perpetuation, and enjoyment of this relationship requires successful communication, the vehicle that moves couples toward God’s ideal.

Unlocking the Vehicle’s Doors

Twice in the Song of Songs the progress of the relationship is interrupted. The first occasion is in chapter 3:1-4. “I sought him, but I found him not.” Taking the presence of her beloved for granted, she seems to have been too busy to respond to his needs. He had expressed his expectation, “Let me see thy countenance” (2:14). They imperceptibly drifted apart. Attentiveness is a key to marriage communication. Communication doesn’t just happen. Nurturing love through communication requires effort. “Falling in love” is far short of sharing the kind of love that God intends for a marriage. The deepening, respectful, trusting intimacy of marriage is the aspiration in marriage, never present at its beginning. All that exists at the beginning are the ingredients, the willingness, and the promise to move together to that goal. That movement occurs when we each communicate our expectations and respond to the expectations of each other. This attentiveness honors the needs of our partner. In fact, “Let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil 2:3), means honoring others by accepting the responsibility to meet their needs. Appreciation of Christ Who devoted Himself to meet our needs must lead us to this commitment. Without this commitment, the marriage – or any other – relationship cannot develop meaningfully.

The second failure in communication is in chapter 5:2-7. In verse 3, the response of the spouse to the knocking of her beloved is, “I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on?” She is wrapped up not only in her coat but in herself. Unselfishness is a second key to communication. Looking at the marriage relationship from our own viewpoint limits communication. Talking is not the most important part of marriage – or any – communication; listening is paramount. Obviously, both can’t listen at the same time, but communication occurs when we encourage each other to speak by offering a responsive and understanding ear. Communication is a way to learn our partner’s needs, but this requires an atmosphere in which both are free to help each other by expressing our own needs. Love is a choice to serve, not the currency for purchasing service. In order to serve, we must know the needs of our partner; therefore, we listen. Like nothing else, marriage challenges us to be like Christ, “for even Christ pleased not Himself” (Rom 15:3). Unselfishness does not demand the fulfillment of our own needs. Attentiveness is the matching key; it determines to fulfill our partner’s needs: spiritual, emotional, social, financial, and physical.

Communication often takes place in silence. When accompanied by interlocked hands or eyes, silence can be very expressive. On the other hand, silence can be destructive. Using silence, either to keep the peace or to coerce submission, throws away both these keys of communication. Choosing to protect myself by silence is a self-serving choice. It fails to address the needs of the intimidating partner. A wife may silently submit to her husband’s fits of anger. She will not kindly and wisely confront him, but cowers when his thermostat is about to trigger his nuclear reactor. She is actually endorsing behavior destructive to himself and the marriage. Meanwhile, she builds resentment and limits marital intimacy by not sharing her disappointed expectation of respect. The time to confront this need is not when the situation is heated. Before too long, though, she certainly can find a suitable time to respectfully state that she expects respect and will not be controlled by intimidation.

Talking and communication are not synonymous. If attentiveness and selflessness are not part of the conversation, words are not really communication. And if the hearer doesn’t understand the language used in conversation, that’s not communication either.

Filling the Fuel Tank

Language is like fuel; it enables communication to move toward intimacy. I knew an Italian brother who conversed with his Spanish barber, both speaking their native languages. Spanish and Italian are both Romance languages, sufficiently similar that each got an idea of what the other was saying, but they weren’t “connecting.” When a husband and wife each speak a different romance language, they don’t connect either. Innately, husbands speak the male language and wives speak the female language. Until they both learn to speak the other’s language, communication is limited.

God made males to fulfil a different role than that for which He made the female. In Genesis 1, God gave them a united responsibility (verses 26-28), but in chapter 2, He gave each a distinct role in fulfilling that responsibility (male, verses 15-20a; female, verses 20b-24). Adam cared for the realm outside their home; Eve completed the relationship inside. For that reason, the male expresses his needs in a language of actions, analyzing how to reach goals efficiently, measuring success by the evidences of achievement. The female expresses her needs in a language of emotions, emphasizing how to reach goals comfortably, measuring success by its impact on relationships. The husband thinks in terms of significance, fulfilling his given role in the world outside marriage. The wife thinks in terms of security, fulfilling her given role within the marriage. In the male language, accomplishment means getting from A to B; in the female language, it means enjoying the trip. To the male, planning means finding the shortest distance from A to B; to the female, it means finding a scenic path for the trip. The man says, “I have achieved.” He means “I have the prize (money, status, completed job) to prove I arrived.” A woman says the same and means, “I feel good about the results.” In the male language, success means, “I have led”; in the female language, it means, “I am loved.” Admittedly, through use in a sinful world, both languages have been corrupted from their “original,” but they still bear a resemblance to the language suited to their God-given roles. To fulfill their responsibility and to develop the intended intimacy of marriage, both partners need to become bilingual. And each ought to help the other learn the new language.

Engaging the Transmission

In the Song of Songs, love is communicated in different ways; different expressions communicate affection in the romance language. At least five expressions of love occur. In 1:8, “Thou fairest among women,” and in verses 9-11 and 15, “I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses . . .” (not recommended for use in 2000), supportive words communicate to the spouse that she is loved. Meaningful time expresses love: time together during the day (1:7) and at night (1:13). Tender touching, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (1:2), is an obvious part of the vocabulary. Thoughtful action is evidence of the beloved’s care for his spouse in 1:8 (“Feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents”) and 11 (“We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver”). When he brought her to his banqueting house (2:4), the beloved expressed his love through suitable giving (giving what is not consistent with a partner’s taste or wishes expresses a lack of love).

For different people, one of these expressions of love is more effective than the others. Suppose we all listed these five expressions in order – from most to least effective. There are 120 possible combinations and people to match each combination. Different people have a different romance vocabulary. Because a marriage is “made in heaven” doesn’t mean the couple has the same romance vocabulary. A $100 gift may be the husband’s way of expressing his love (suitable giving). His wife may not really “get the message” because supportive words are worth more to her than suitable giving.

Some might even have difficulty in ordering their personal vocabulary, but through loving listening we can learn our mate’s vocabulary. The complaints (“why can’t we spend more time together?”), wishes (“I hope that someday you will take out the trash without being reminded”), and appreciation (“I really like it when you hold my hand”) are the clues. Learning our partner’s vocabulary gets the relationship “into gear. Learning what effectively communicates our love moves our marriage toward God’s ideal.

To be continued