Have you ever met a real-life Jim & Pam Halpert? His jokes always seem to make her laugh, her hand on his arm always seems to make him smile, they have great friendships and thrilling intellectual conversations. In a variety of different ways, they just seem to be so right for each other.
I always wanted that kind of marriage, but never knew how to make it happen. I always kind of assumed it would just happen to me.
Then, I met my fiancé (cue the cheesy swoon).
Building a Marriage Through Deepening Levels of Intimacy
While we were dating, Chris shared some great advice he had received. Building a romantic relationship means we work to deepen in intimacy across all areas of our lives. Our intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy should all deepen at about the same rate. When they’re all in sync, a real freedom and synergy begins to exist between the couple.
I picture a bar graph. All five areas (intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy) increase evenly. If your intimacy is dramatically higher or lower in one area, the relationship loses its balance and problems can arise.
Engagement is the perfect time to focus on growing and balancing these five areas. As you prepare for the ultimate intimacy of marriage, thinking about these five areas can help you build a solid foundation. Of course, this balance is key throughout the entirety of a marriage, too.
We’ve all heard the classic first date questions:
“How many siblings do you have?”
“What do you do for a living?”
“What do you like to do for fun?”
Intellectual intimacy is built when two people grow in understanding of each other. When you first started dating, you probably learned something new about each other in every conversation. By now, you can probably order his coffee and buy him a shirt he’ll love because you know him so well.
As an engaged woman, you can trust your beloved more deeply when you really know him: not just his likes and dislikes, but the way he processes new information, his values and beliefs, and his temperament. By spending time learning and exploring each others’ personality traits now, you can avoid potential miscommunications down the road.
Here are some ways to consider your level of intellectual intimacy:
- Is there anything about my life, habits, or past that I’m intentionally avoiding telling my fiance?
- Are there patterns of behavior in my fiance that I don’t understand?
- Does my fiance love to hear about my dreams for the future?
- Do we regularly have conversations without phones, TV, or music distracting us?
- Does our intellectual intimacy balance with the other areas of intimacy?
There’s a very real stereotype that, when two people start dating, it’s a big deal to meet each other’s parents. Chris is Canadian and I’m American, so when he came to meet my family for the first time, it meant thousands of miles and an expensive plane ticket. Not only that, but he came to visit for (American) Thanksgiving, so within hours of meeting my parents and siblings, Chris also met a couple dozen cousins, aunts, and uncles. As you can imagine, it was a significant leap in social intimacy.
Social intimacy is when a person grows closer to people who are closest to you. This means meeting parents, friends, coworkers, your childhood best friend, and your tennis partner. The more your partner becomes entwined in your other relationships, the more intimate you two will become.
Engagement is a great time to consider:
- Are there key relationships that I haven’t yet invited my fiance into?
- Does my fiance know most (if not all) of the people who we’re inviting to our wedding? If not, can he meet them?
- Are we spending an appropriate amount of time together, considering we’re not yet married?
- Does our social intimacy balance with the other areas of intimacy?
Do you remember the first time you told your fiance you loved him? Most people do. It’s a significant step forward in emotional intimacy. Whether you’re a naturally emotional person or not, you probably recognize that sharing those words of love, and eventually, sharing all your joys, sorrows, frustrations, hopes, and dreams with your future spouse brings you closer together.
While we were dating long-distance, Chris and I talked for hours on FaceTime about anything and everything. When we got engaged, I felt more free than ever to be honest about everything in my life.
Engagement is the time to share your heart even more fully with your future husband. He loves you—enough to ask you to marry him—and your intention in marriage is to share your whole life. That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly stuff in your heart.
It can be difficult to tell where to draw the line for emotional intimacy in engagement, but here are some questions to consider:
- When we’re together, am I comfortable and confident about myself?
- Have I ever been afraid or reluctant to tell him what I’m thinking or feeling? Why?
- Do I share my heart freely with my fiance because I know he cares about me, or because I’m attention-seeking?
- Does our emotional intimacy balance with the other areas of intimacy?
It’s no surprise many couples struggle to moderate physical intimacy during engagement, especially when you’ve already decided to give yourselves totally, faithfully, freely, and fruitfully to each other in a few months.
Engagement is a time to build virtue. It would be easy to be selfish, impulsive, or indulgent, but building a strong marriage is about trust, patience, self-sacrifice, and joy. I’m so grateful that Chris provides strong leadership in this area and challenges me to practice the virtue I strive to live in the other areas of my life. What better opportunity to build holy habits than the physical intimacy of engagement?
During engagement, your physical intimacy can and should grow, but this does not mean license to come “just short” of the intimacy of marriage. Chris described our experience like this: “We’re striving to to show physical intimacy by using actions intended to show affection, not to indulge lust. All the other intimacies in our lives have grown, so of course our affection for each other also grows in appropriate, beautiful, and private ways.”
A couple’s physical relationship should always be an expression of love directed toward the whole human person; it’s never ordered toward self-gratification or lust.
Consider your physical intimacy:
- Do I feel we’ve gone too far in the area of physical intimacy?
- Have we made excuses to ourselves about our level of our physical intimacy?
- Have I been limiting our physical intimacy during engagement because of fear or shame?
- Am I excited about giving myself to my husband on our wedding night?
- Does our physical intimacy balance with the other areas of intimacy?
How do we invite our future spouses into the most intimate relationship of all: our relationship with God?
Before Chris, I couldn’t really imagine what spiritual intimacy looked like for couples. I saw couples praying the Rosary together during college and wondered if that was the extent of shared intimacy with God.
Thanks to Chris, I’ve learned that the source of spiritual intimacy is the personal intimacy we each have with Jesus. Now, we just get to share that Divine intimacy with each other.
For example, if we’re on a walk, Chris will spontaneously thank God for the beauty of nature or ask for the Holy Spirit’s presence in a particular situation we were discussing. These are things he might have done internally before, but now he’s doing them out loud and inviting me to be a part of them.
In engagement, spiritual intimacy means letting your future husband to be a part of your relationship with God. It means setting aside times to speak to God together as a couple (and in marriage, we should strive to find this time together daily). It means receiving the Eucharist together. Together, seek spiritual formation by reading Scripture, discussing your favorite spiritual reading, or studying the Sacrament of Matrimony that you’re preparing to embrace.
To consider your spiritual intimacy, ask:
- Am I seeking intimacy with Jesus Christ daily in prayer?
- Do my fiance and I joyfully go to Church every Sunday?
- How can we start the habit of praying together?
- Have we been learning about the Sacrament of Marriage and discussing it together?
- Am I relying too much on my fiance to keep my prayer life together?
- Does our spiritual intimacy balance with the other areas of intimacy?
A Lifelong Task
If one or two of the areas of intimacy stand out as areas to work on, then be honest with your fiance and make a plan to focus on them. If there was ever a time to build virtue and strengthen areas of weakness, it’s engagement.
As I write this, I have about a month to go until the big day. I know the challenges of married life will come. But because Chris and I intentionally work on our relationship every single day, I’m confident that the intimacy we share with Jesus and each other will be the strong foundation we build our marriage upon.
What’s your best advice for building these levels of intimacy during engagement?How to Build a Marriage During Engagement: Cultivating 5 Levels of Intimacy #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Written by Becca Arend.