25 September, 2022

Authentic Marriage: The Relationship Between Intimacy and Conflict

by | 1 March, 2022

Our definition of marital authenticity is “the pursuit of marriage as it existed before the fall while also acknowledging that we, as individuals, are flawed and fallen.” We live in a culture that models and promotes inauthentic relationships. The inability to be authentic causes many marriage issues and creates anemic intimacy in our unions. As a result, issues fester and eventually explode.

We believe deep relationship comes from learning to navigate conflict and tension. Compliments matter as much as conflict, but in this article we will focus on the correlation between intimacy and conflict.

When a couple leaves intimacy and withdraws from one another, according to our studies at the Family Dynamics Institute, the pathway to withdrawal was conflict. If you desire to get back to intimacy, you must go back through the tunnel of conflict.

Here’s one way to look at it. In the movie The Matrix: Reloaded, after Seraph fought Neo, the latter asked, “Didn’t you know I was the One?” Seraph replied, “I knew, but you never truly know someone until you fight them.”

No, we’re not encouraging you to fight each other, but we are encouraging you to fight for intimacy in your marriage, because your spouse is the one God has designed for you. We learn more about our spouses and ourselves through communication, and this often includes conflict, which is best practiced carefully and consistently.

HIS AUTHENTICITY STORY

I (Rudy) once watched a video of a Christian leader talking about marriage. While I can’t remember the particulars, I do remember how I felt after he said, “If anyone says they have a perfect marriage, they are lying.” Umm, what? Did he just say that? After feeling stunned initially, something incredible happened—I felt a sense of freedom. Being authentic or practicing authenticity sets us free.

I felt new energy—what with all my imperfections—to move forward and love Osharye, with all her “perfect” imperfections. And ever since, day by day, she continues to prove she is perfect for me. I stopped pursuing a perfect marriage, and I stopped pursuing perfect manhood. Instead, I began to pursue an authenticity that would intentionally reveal my imperfections, so Osharye could have the opportunity to love who I am, as opposed to the person I hoped to become. Our path to authenticity has been a journey toward embracing conflict.

HER AUTHENTICITY STORY

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I (Osharye) heard this so many times during my childhood; my Daddy would repeat it every chance he got. (Considering I was the baby girl of seven siblings, you can imagine how many opportunities he had to repeat it.) I’m the type of person who looks forward to authenticity in my marriage; I assume it’s because authenticity is what I desire from others.

I remember the very first time I asked Rudy to tell me how he was really feeling. I told him it would make our relationship better. I could see his inner turmoil. It was as if tiny Rudys were on each shoulder, and both were trying to convince him not to do it. Can you hear them? “No! Don’t do it! This path leads to the abyss!” Yet he was honest with me, and as a result, we entered the realm of radical truth together. Don’t get me wrong, it was like diving into the abyss. Yet, we found that paradise exists because of this honesty and authenticity.

HOLDING OUR PEACE

Couples often engage in the practice of peacekeeping, that is, “holding our peace.” In a Christian marriage, however, it is a form of intimacy theft . . . it robs our relationships of connection. It’s a form of inauthenticity that some believers wrongly consider to be a Christian value. That’s somewhat understandable; after all, who wants to spend hours working through conflict? If I keep this to myself, we can get on with the day. But failing to discuss an upsetting issue or behavior leads only to a false and temporary “peace.” And that temporary peace often can lead us toward emotional withdrawal from the person with whom we are committed to being intimate.

Fear is a primary reason we fail to be authentic with our spouse. We fear we cannot truly understand our spouse or be understood by them. John and Stasi Eldredge have written, “Deep in the wellspring of our hearts, there is a desire—for intimacy, beauty, and adventure. And no matter what anyone might say, we look for it all the days of our lives.” If this is true, we must figure out how to bridge the distance from anemic marriage to authentic marriage. Friends, we have found that conflict is the bridge to intimacy.

SAY IT OUT LOUD

Authentic marriage requires that we step out of our comfort zones. It requires valuing the marriage enough to embrace discomfort. Commit to speaking what you notice. Let your speech be seasoned with salt, but yes, say it out loud. If you’re feeling defensive, say, “I’m becoming defensive.” If you are struggling with words, say, “I fear I won’t be able to say this in a way that communicates my authentic feelings.” Instead of hiding in a posture of defensiveness, find the courage to humbly share what you are feeling.

Admitting your true experience or your lack of skill is authentic, while faking capableness or behaving in a callous manner eventually leads to shame or worse—seared emotions. Besides, saying out loud that you feel defensive is one of the least defensive things you can say. You’re probably thinking, If I show up authentically as myself, it will take two full-on epic Marvel movie productions before we get to a solution. And that solution might end up wiping out half the population! Well, at first it may require some extended communication, but more times than not we’ve seen such communication extend into lasting marital intimacy.

Finally, remember that marital authenticity is “the pursuit of marriage as it existed before the fall while also acknowledging that we, as individuals, are flawed and fallen.” Our ultimate image of intimacy is Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:21-33), but there is another image of intimacy found in a man and a woman who lived before the fall.

Genesis 2:24-25 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (English Standard Version). Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve fully knew each other and were fully known by one another. They were completely unashamed with one another. That’s what authentic marriage looks like and what marriage can be when two people are committed to being authentic with one another.

So, friends, fight for intimacy in your marriage because your spouse is the one God has designed for you.

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