You think you’ve been married for five, ten, twenty or even fifty years—but have you? Many couples never experience true oneness—they just stumble along trying to stay together on a flimsy foundation that I call “artificial intimacy.”
This helps to explain why couples who are convinced they have found “the one” end up divorcing each other just a few years (or sometimes a couple decades) into their marriage. There was a time when they couldn’t imagine being apart for five hours; now they can’t bear the thought of being together for five minutes; what happened?
In many cases, the relationship existed only on what I call “artificial intimacy.” True intimacy—that sense of “oneness” that we all seek—has to be pursued and built rather than simply discovered and felt. Artificial intimacy is sustained by the common events of life, but usually comes to a huge crash as soon as the couple enters the empty nest years if true intimacy hasn’t replaced it.
In the Beginning
Artificial intimacy begins with the onset of infatuation, a “grab your brains with a vengeance” neurochemical reaction that makes us virtually blind to our partner’s faults but is notoriously short lived, with a shelf life of about 12 to 18 months.
In addition to infatuation, early relationship “compatibility” is also enhanced artificially via sexual chemistry. When infatuation and sexual chemistry are strong, compatibility or incompatibility barely even register. You both feel crazy about each other, you can barely keep your hands to yourself—how could you not be compatible? You don’t even really have to do anything to sustain your desire for each other; just being alive makes you feel compatible. And so, on this basis, and often on this basis alone, the couple decides to get married.
When Spring Turns to Summer
When a couple begins to move toward marriage and set a date for the wedding, even though the initial artificial intimacy may be on the decline, planning the ceremony gives them something in common and keeps them going. They plan it, talk about it, and divide up tasks to make it happen. This is “intimacy” of a sort, but it’s a superficial intimacy, the intimacy of co-workers, not life-mates.
Once the couple gets back from the honeymoon, they will start setting up a house, move into a new apartment or neighborhood, and try to join two lives. That also joins them in a common task and gives them something to talk about. What color should we paint the bedroom? Do you think we’ll be here long enough to bother with planting trees outside? Where’s our new favorite hangout?
As life moves on, just when things could get boring again, the couple is likely to start raising kids. That’s a big thing to have in common and requires a lot of communication. You go to childbirth classes, you build a nursery, you raise the kids, and then you have to communicate to get the kids to the right places. You share your kids’ failures and successes. Eventually those kids repay you for your faithful service by growing up and leaving the two of you alone together.
That’s when you find out how much intimacy you really have….
So where does your marriage stand? Are you at risk? This important topic on marriage relationships is going to be covered in two parts- don’t miss part 2 in June, where we’ll dive in to what to do if you find yourself in this situation.
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com