A resource with specific ideas for growing in intimacy, especially for when sex is not an option
Whether you are trying to avoid or achieve pregnancy, there will be times when you are not having sex. This will often be challenging, as the desire to unite fully with our spouse is a very good thing.
Maybe you’re struggling with infertility or secondary fertility. On this other end of the spectrum, sex can become repetitive and habitual. For some, the emotional pain has eclipsed any sense of enjoyment in this unitive act.
Sometimes we are just bored and/or not feeling connected with our other half.
It is easy to, even unintentionally, separate our “sex lives” into its own little lonely category. But sexual intimacy is not a distinct aspect of marriage. It is an extension of our whole relationship and an expression of our union and depth of intimacy- spiritually, emotionally, communicatively, physically (outside the context of sex), etc. The more intimate we are in all of these other areas, the more fulfilling and unitive our sexual relationship will be; the more fulfilling our periods of abstinence will be.
Sex within marriage is important, but there is so much more to marriage! If we think of sexual contact as contact with the whole person– body, mind, and spirit, we may not be having as much “contact” as we think. Sexual contact with and without genital contact is good for a fully committed marriage relationship. There will be times when every couple avoids genital contact, but we never have to avoid sexual contact. Specific attention given each month (each day!) to focusing on the whole person of our spouse is vital to living out Christ’s plan for NFP/Fertility Awareness and authentic married love.
If you’re not married, many of these tools can still be used to grow closer in your relationship and to help you to discern if this is the person and time that God has called you to marry.
Read the handout “The Many Experiences of Intimacy” below to expand your understanding of intimacy.
Following that resource, there are multiple suggestions on how you can grow in intimacy with your spouse outside of the bedroom. Much of this content was created either directly by or inspired by our marriage prep mentor program, written by Lloyd and Jan Tate and has been incredibly valuable in our own marriage. Each time you complete one of these activities, carve out special quality time and make a mini-date out of it, if possible.
This does not have to be used verbatim. Use this as inspiration to create your own ideas/dates or edit the ones below to grow closer in unique areas of intimacy. You don’t have to leave home or spend money most of the time. Get creative!
- Servant and Spouse; Sweetness for the Feetness
Intimacy: Physical- Affirming vs. arousal touch, Servanthood, Spiritual
-Prepare by reading John 13: 1-16 (Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles) together
-Afterwards, one at a time, wash your spouse’s feet (damp cloth)
-Massage your spouse’s feet
-The importance of beginning with Scripture is to focus your mind on a servant attitude towards your spouse and choosing to love for who they are and not for what they give you. Make the foot massage a gift to your spouse and focus on what is best for them, not on what can happen next sexually.
2. The Notebook
Intimacy: Emotional, Communication, Spiritual
-Find, create, or buy a cheap notebook you can both agree on and is able to be opened up to only see one side at a time (like spiral binding).
-Write the following words vertically on the left of both sides (the back side of the first page and the left side of the front of the next page): “Spiritual,” “Physical,” Emotional,” “Communication,” and pick one more word from the list of intimacy words found in the first resource from this document. One side is hers and the other is his to fill out. How can he/she show love for me spiritually? physically?…
-Then, when both are finished, the notebook can be opened up to view both pages, side by side.
-From then on, one person can begin: write a sentiment to the other, close the book and place it on the other’s pillow (or somewhere easy to find). When that person is ready to read it and/or to write a sentiment back, it’s to then be placed on the other person’s pillow. This can go on for years or even the entire marriage- your own personal love book. You can NOT ask for the love book back. You must wait until the other person chooses to write back.
3. Love Language Test
Intimacy: Emotional, Communication
-Even if you have done this before, you can do it again!
-Love is communicated and received in multiple different ways: Physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and gift-giving. Although we all like to receive love in all of these ways, there are 1 or 2 that we prefer over the others. These make us “feel” the most loved. Many spouses give and receive love in different ways from one another. This test will help you to understand the dominant ways you and your spouse receive love. When we understand how our spouse receives love best, we can aim to show him or her love in those ways, essentially “filling their love tank.” When our love tanks are full, we tend to have fewer conflicts.
-Re-take this test throughout your marriage! Your love languages can change, especially after having children and going through different seasons of life. For more info, read “The 5 Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman.
To take this test: For each number, there are 2 scenarios that are both pleasing. Choose the one you prefer and circle the X which corresponds to it. After you have finished, add up all the X’s circled for A, B, C, D, and E. The letter that belongs with your highest 2 numbers are your top 2 love languages. See the key to determine what each letter means.
4. Emotional Needs Christmas List
-Take some quality time to pray and consider your answers for this next challenge. Make a wish list of 5-10 concrete things your spouse can do to fill your love tank. Your spouse’s list may surprise you!
-Post your spouse’s list in a special place, viewed often.
-Try to meet one of these needs in some way regularly. Get creative!
– This Christmas list is also a great resource to access after a fight or when you are feeling like the two of you are in a period of disillusionment (See suggestion #21 for an explanation). “To love” often means initiating an act of the will to do something you don’t feel like doing, for the good of your spouse. The good feelings typically follow acts of love.
5. Couple’s Weekly Examen
Intimacy: Communication, Spiritual
-Each week, set aside a specific time to sit together and prayerfully consider the following questions:
- How did we encounter Christ in our life this week?
- What gifts from the Lord were we particularly aware of this week? How did we share those gifts with others?
Conclude this part with a prayer of gratitude and praise.
- Did we serve one another unselfishly this week?
- What steps did we take to nurture the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of our relationship?
- Did anything happen this week that is still unsettled between us? Can we talk about it now and seek reconciliation?
- Is there any change we’d like to make in the week ahead to live out our Sacrament more faithfully?
Conclude this part with a time of contrition and recommitment. Ask for the special graces needed in prayers of petition together.
6. Conflict Resolution (used with permission by Lloyd and Jan Tate)
Intimacy: Conflict Resolution, Communication, Emotional
-Conflict resolution is a difficult thing for most of us. Begin with a prayer and listen to your spouse’s answers with a kind and open heart when discussing this handout.
7. Ground Rules for Resolving Conflict (used with permission by Lloyd and Jan Tate)
Intimacy: Conflict Resolution, Communication, Emotional
-Begin with a prayer and read each option. Make choices together! Remember to think of the good of your spouse first.
8. Warm Hugs!
-It turns out hugs can improve health, reduce stress, increase happiness, reduce anxiety, and more?! According to a family therapist noted in this article, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
-Yea, I think “survival” is a little extreme, but it can’t hurt to make like Olaf and give more hugs. Read the article together and challenge yourselves to hug at least 10 times/day! My husband and I are shooting for 14 and haven’t made it yet, but it has been fun trying.
9. Sweet Morning Treat
Intimacy: Communication, Emotional
-Create or buy notecards and keep a stash in a special place.
-Write a note: short and sweet or deep and encouraging, it’s up to you! What is something you love about your spouse? How can you make him or her laugh? What can you thank them for today? What does God want them to know today? You can even just sign your name with a heart. Leave it in a place that your spouse will find first thing in the morning. Try to make it a surprise for them.
-Repeat this often and for no particular reason at all or to encourage your spouse when entering a rough day.
*This one is my favorite to do.
10. One Fine Day Challenge
Intimacy: Emotional, Healing
-Pick a day and resolve to say nothing negative at all to your spouse. Don’t tell your spouse when you start.
11. Mission: Thanksgiving
Intimacy: Spiritual, Gratitude
-Make a list of 100 things you are grateful for. That’s right, I said 100. Take a whole day or weekend to complete this mission, if you want. Stopping at 100 is not mandatory.
12. 2 Cooks in the Kitchen
Intimacy: Communication, Recreational
-Find a recipe you both agree on: baking or cooking. The spouse who does not usually do the cooking completes the recipe but cannot look at it. The other spouse must give good support and direction. Have fun with it!
-Do it again in the future and switch roles.
13. Eye of the Beholder
Intimacy: Creativity, Recreational, Aesthetic
-Grab a camera. You can use your phone.
-Go out in nature and take pictures. Get creative. Try to make even the simplest and ugliest things look beautiful.
-Pick a picture or 2, print it out and frame or keep in a book. Repeat another day. Grow your collection.
14. Chalk Art
Intimacy: Recreational, Community
-Get some chalk and write an uplifting or positive message together in your driveway for each other, neighbors, and/or anyone who walks or drives by.
15. Mission: Fasting
-Fast one day from something you enjoy: TV, snacking, sweets, phone, social media, negativity
-Do this for your spouse for a special intention or just for him or her to grow in holiness
16. Hunny I’m Home
Intimacy: Emotional, Service
-Bring a smile to your hunny’s face by surprising him or her with their favorite treat or meal after the day is over or when he or she comes back from work, “just because.”
-It doesn’t have to be edible. Maybe there is some small gift that they would appreciate and bring a smile to their face.
17. Love & Lyrics
Intimacy: Emotional, Musical
-Find the lyrics to a special song, your spouse’s favorite, or one that expresses how you feel about him or her and hand write the lyrics in letter form.
-You can also choose to write your own song for your spouse
18. Trivia Challenge
Intimacy: Intellectual, Recreational, Service
-Find a trivia game. We use “Trivia Crack,” a free app that can be downloaded on your phone.
-Play the game against your spouse. Loser washes the dishes (or choose your own act of service). Be kind regardless of the outcome!
19. Service Project
Intimacy: Service, Spiritual
-Pick any type of service project to do together.
-Suggestion: Buy some materials and/or food & water in bulk and make paper bags to deliver to homeless or anyone in need. If you live in a city where homeless people gather in a certain area, you don’t even have to get out of your car. You can hand bags out at stop signs and/or stop lights. Be safe!
-Add a personalized touch to each bag. It can be a card from you or something drawn from children. You can also add holy cards. Let them know they are seen, valued, and loved.
-Donate blood together
20. Prayer Card Personal
-Cut out paper in the shape of a prayer card.
-Write your own unique prayer specifically for each other.
21. Mission: Affirming vs. Arousal Touch
Intimacy: Physical, Communication, Emotional
-Pick a day or two to complete this challenge all day long.
-With each physical touch to your spouse, tell them if it is intended to be affirming (confirming love and acknowledgment of your spouse for who they are) or arousing (intended to initiate or develop towards sex).
-It can’t be both! There is an important distinction to be made here. Different types of touch have different intentions. Affirming touch is good to cultivate as just another way to show love to your spouse. It is good to know that we can touch each other without thinking about where it will lead next sexually, married or not.
-Verbally declaring your intentions will help the couple to grow in unity, making sure they intend to communicate what they are actually communicating.
22. Three Phases of a Relationship (used with permission by Lloyd and Jan Tate)
Intimacy: Emotional, Spiritual, Conflict Resolution
-Fix or go get dessert together and read/discuss this handout.
23. 10 Statement Autobiography (used with permission by Lloyd and Jan Tate)
Intimacy: Emotional, Spiritual
-This last handout is a true vehicle for growing into a deeper relationship with your spouse. Make a date night and complete this activity when you are ready to “go there.”