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Spring 1990 · Vol. 19 No. 1 · pp. 115–18 

Recommended Reading

Intimacy in Marriage

Erika Voth

Augsburger, David. Sustaining Love: Healing and Growth in the Passages of Marriage. California: Regal Books, 1988. 216 pages. $19.45.

Helpful view of developmental stages in marriage. Describes four stages, each different with respect to goals, communication, feelings, differences, conflict, intimacy, roles and meaning. Marriages begin with a dream followed by disillusionment, discovery and depth. Helpful in stressing a theme of allowing freedom for spouses to develop their identity and autonomy and to allow for differences in marriage without the pressure for sameness. This growth model is helpful for couples wishing to identify in which stage they find themselves and what help is needed to move on in their relationship.

Buhrmester, Duane and Furman, Wyndol. “The Development of Companionship and Intimacy.” Child Development, 58 (1987): 1101-1113.

A research study helpful in studying the differences between preadolescent boys and girls in the development of intimacy. The sexual differences which are sometimes problematic in marriages have their source in a much earlier developmental stage of childhood.

Mason, Mike. The Mystery of Marriage. Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1985. 185 pages.

A book to challenge and stretch one’s view of marriage. The author’s spiritual view of marriage is not a simple set of rules but a rich meditation of marriage in relation to Christ, the Lord of marriage who holds the key to a satisfactory intimate relationship. {116}

Napier, Augustus Y. The Fragile Bond. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1988. 402 pages. $18.95.

An interesting book. Author draws extensively on his own marriage and examples from his counseling experience. Shows the many ways hidden childhood experiences—often forgotten—continue to intrude in the development of intimacy in marriage. Good reading for couples wanting to discover the way their experiences in their family of origin are re-enacted in subtle ways in their marriage.

Sternberg, Robert J. and Barnes, Michael L., (eds.). The Psychology of Love. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988. 376 pages. $21.55.

An attempt to deal with the meaning of love in marriage. Most helpful is the chapter describing the three components of love: passion, intimacy and decision/commitment depicted in the form of a triangle. The triangle may be skewed depending on how well balanced the three components are. Although spiritual dimensions of love are omitted, the model is very helpful in working with couples in premarital counseling as well as later stages of marriage.

Waring, Edward M., M.D. Enhancing Marital Intimacy Through Facilitating Cognitive Self Disclosure. New York: Brunner/Mazel, Inc., 1988. 212 pages.

A helpful review of studies. Identifies eight facets of intimacy: conflict resolution, affection, cohesion, sexuality, identity, compatibility, autonomy and expressiveness as a way to resolving impasses preventing intimacy. Advocates “cognitive self-disclosure,” the expression of thoughts, beliefs, emotions. As spouses are helped to understand each other’s beliefs and values which were internalized at an early age and which have become the source of conflicts in marriage, intimacy can develop. Helpful for marriage counselors and lay ministers involved in helping couples.


1. Differences in early socialization affect intimacy in {117} marriage. People feel intimate when what is important to one’s self is engaged. For husbands, doing something with the wife gives them a feeling of closeness, whereas for wives, intimacy means talking about their experiences, their feelings and particularly about their marriage. This difference is noticeable in pre-adolescence. Girls form close friends with the same sex and talk about their feelings and share their “secrets,” whereas boys feel affirmed by engaging in activities with the same sex.

Often in courtship men seem to be more willing to talk in ways that build women’s sense of intimacy but after the wedding spend less time and are less willing to talk to their spouse. The degree to which both husbands and wives are able to disclose their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes are major factors in developing closeness.

2. Establishing satisfactory boundaries in marriage allows intimacy to develop. A wife who is dissatisfied with her marriage may become over-involved with her daughter when she feels her husband does not meet her needs. The husband may become over-involved in work or sports activities. As a result, the daughter, having learned that intimacy means closeness to a child and distance from the spouse, may repeat the same pattern in her marriage. A different example is of the spouse who has not fully left home. The emotional attachment or inability to be an “adult” in the family of origin precludes the couple from focusing on their relationship. They avoid intimacy by pouring their energy into solving problems with their family. To “leave and to cleave” and yet continue to have a healthy relationship with the family or origin is a challenge and task every individual must undertake.

3. A person’s level of self-confidence and self-esteem plays an important role in determining satisfactory intimacy. An individual with lower self-esteem is more dependent on others, and may soar with praise or be shattered with criticism. The expectations of a spouse with a delicate self image may not be realistic. However, when those expectations or conditions for love are not met, the marriage degenerates into irreconcilable differences and open strife.

4. The degree to which a relationship is balanced with commitment to the marriage, development of friendship, and sexual intimacy is a further criterion for a healthy marriage. These three characteristics may vary in intensity and balance over the life of a marriage, but the most satisfactory times are {118} those when a healthy balance is attained.

5. The spouses’ level of spiritual maturity often determines the extent to which each partner will be willing to grow and be taught. Individuals who are willing to grow spiritually are more prepared to pray that God will show them how to change instead of seeing their spouse as the source of their difficulties.

When intimacy in marriage is not achieved, often one spouse will actively pursue the other to meet expectations, while the other spouse will withdraw. Unmet expectations often lead to hurt and anger and eventually to bitterness. Spouses may finally reach an “island of invulnerability” and wrap themselves in a shell determined not to be hurt anymore. A separation may take place or the two resign themselves to live out the marriage unhappily.

Good pre-marital counseling and early interventions, particularly in the first year of marriage, are important. Patterns for marriage are most often established in the early phase and at this stage the relationship is most amenable to change.

Erika Voth, M.A., is a Psychologist and Director of New Hope Counseling Group, North Vancouver, British Columbia.

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