I make a lot about emotional intimacy in marriage in the book, enGendered, calling it the key to a successful marriage. That is because passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, the quintessential marriage passage in the New Testament, describe marriage in those terms (his wife is as close as the husband’s own body, he washes her by word, he who loves his wife loves himself, the two become one flesh, etc.). So I name emotional intimacy as key to a healthy marriage. Claire Smith however, in her thoughtful review of the book, to which I have been responding, questions whether intimacy should be highlighted in that way, rather than self-sacrifice.
But look. What you call “key” all depends upon where along the chain of causality you wish to spend time. That Paul also speaks of the self-sacrifice underlying a couple’s emotional intimacy, of both members in their gendered way, it is certainly clear, and the goal of my book is to inspire and exhort readers to that self-sacrifice. But sacrificial giving requires motivation, as Paul well knows, which is why he wisely spends time describing the married couple’s familiarity and closeness. The intimacy is so inviting.
Just as important, we should note that self-sacrifice by itself does not develop the level of intimacy that God desires for our closest relationships. Members of a couple need to sacrifice, again not in plain vanilla, but each in their gendered way. Otherwise there would be nothing superior about intergendered relationships (man-woman) over monogendered ones (man-man, or woman-woman). Gay relationships can be conducted with great self-sacrifice. But it is God’s gift of gender difference, guiding and shaping our sacrificing for one another, that fosters a high level of intimacy, Trinitarian intimacy.
Furthermore, knowing the purpose of the asymmetries Paul cites are extremely helpful in carrying them out. This is why, for example, I am comfortable using the words “submission” and “promotion” interchangeably in the book, another point of discomfort for Dr. Smith. If a wife cannot keep in mind that she is receiving her husband’s authority in order to promote him, she may easily tire of the task or feel it unfair. She needs a vision for God’s beautiful plan.
For all these reasons, it is wise to dwell on intimacy, as Ephesians 5 does, as key to intergendered marriage.
Do you want intimacy in your close relationship?