Third,there must be no deception or hiding in the sexual encounter. Total openness is essential. There must be no hiding of one’s true sexual feelings and desires for the sake of personal advantage. An individual who does not
feel attractive may continually bait the partner into affirming him or her in this area. Another kind of game playing is alternately showing signs of sexual interest and disinterest in one’s partner. The need to be pursued or the desire to be in control of the relationship often motivates this behavior. Yet another form of game playing is sexual teasing. One partner teases about desiring sex and then resists or is very passive when the other responds with sexual advances. These games end up having a negative impact on the relationship.
Fourth, marital sexuality should include an element of playfulness and spontaneity. A sexual relationship benefits from a sense of uninhibited engagement and non-self-conscious interaction. One of the benefits of playfulness is that it prevents couples from making a production out of sex. Controlling the sexual encounter in such a way that it becomes contrived and serious makes it impossible to respond to each other freely. A spirit of fun, however, keeps the sexual encounter spontaneous and relaxed. A healthy view of oneself and one’s body and feelings of comfort with one’s partner are vital ingredients of freedom in a sexual encounter. Accordingly, the level of fun in a relationship is often a good measure of the degree of intimacy.
Fifth, it is essential not to become spectators in the sexual encounter. When partners assume a spectator role during coitus, they tend to lose sight of each other. This is a particular problem in a technologically oriented society that emphasizes the importance of using the right methods. This attitude reduces sex to little more than an exercise in techniques. When this happens, sex is like the once-popular paint-by-number kits. The detailed instructions of a sex manual virtually dictate a couple’s lovemaking. Just picture a scene in which the wife turns to her husband during lovemaking and says, “Turn back a page, Henry! We must have missed a step because I’m not feeling anything.” The whole experience is inauthentic because there is no creative and spontaneous interaction between the spouses. In a very real sense, the personhood of each spouse is lost in the effort to make love by the book. An effort to be technically correct has replaced naturalness between lovers. In authentic sexuality, by contrast, the spouses allow natural feelings, inclinations, and actions to occur without a conscious evaluation of the performance. Both husband and wife are spontaneously engaged in the sexual encounter. Both partners are giving and receiving as they encounter each other in the moment.
Sixth, the greater the sensory pleasure in a relationship exclusive of coitus, the greater the sexual adequacy. This principle refers to the pleasure derived from foreplay. Touch communicates tenderness, affection, desire, warmth,
comfort, and excitement. When a couple takes time to touch in ways that invite and increase responsiveness, they find more mutual satisfaction.
Seventh, the more secure the partners feel in their commitment to each other, the more complete their sexual response. Research shows that women and men are most able to invest themselves sexually when they feel secure about the relationship. Inversely, when trust is in question, spouses are less able to achieve an adequate sexual response. Men as well as women desire a sexual involvement that makes them feel warm and secure. Here again we see that trust helps bring about sexual responsiveness and authenticity.
Our discussion of marital sexuality calls to mind our theology of relationships: unconditional love and trust is the foundation of healthy sexuality; acceptance and ability to extend forgiveness in sexual matters is an expression of grace; empowering each other as sexual persons brings mutual regard; and person-centered sexual expression leads to deeper levels of knowing and being known. These four principles will move the couple ever closer to God’s ideal of authentic sexuality.
Communication The Heart of Family Life
This section deals with the important dimension of communication. Communication is the heart of family life in that family members interact through verbal and nonverbal exchanges to express their thoughts, wishes, and core emotions. Through their honest expressions of thoughts and emotions, family members come to know one another in very personal ways. When family members communicate and express themselves in their own unique ways, family relationships grow and deepen.
Without the ability to communicate effectively, the family unit quickly becomes a mere collection of individuals whose thoughts, feelings, and desires are nobody’s but their own. With an increased ability to communicate, however, the family can become a vibrant system whose members learn to engage in meaningful interaction. In this sense, communication is truly the heart of family life, where members have both the freedom and the skills to deepen their relationships.
Chapter 13 begins with a discussion of why the expression of love is so important to family intimacy. We follow with a section on why expressing love among family members is essential in deepening levels of knowing and being known. We then conclude with the important topic of conflict in family life. Conflict is indeed a normal part of family life, yet there are destructive and constructive ways to work through problems. We describe the five major styles people tend to use when they engage in conflict to help family members recognize the pros and cons of their unique styles. Effective
families learn to respect one another’s styles but at the same time adjust their ways of dealing with conflict for the good of the relationships. This creative effort is the difference between a satisfactory resolution that connects family members and an unsatisfactory one that distances them.
Intimate Communication Expressing Love and Anger
Intimacy, and specifically intimacy via communication, sets the stage for this chapter. Being able to share thoughts and feelings is crucial to effective family living. By expressing emotions and sharing needs, family members develop an emotional attachment and create opportunities for mutuality and interdependence. The expression of emotions—anger, hurt, love, joy, sadness, or affection—is essentially how family members become more intimately acquainted. Expressing and resolving conflict fosters deeper intimacy.
Building intimacy in family relationships is one of the most important, yet one of the most challenging, tasks to do well. A recent approach to understanding the role of emotions in communication is emotional intelligence (EQ). Bar-On (2000) describes how EQ is made up of emotional, social, and personal qualities that allow individuals to identify their emotional experiences and those of others. Further, EQ influences how effectively individuals communicate with one another. Higher levels of EQ allow individuals to manage their emotions while effectively communicating with others. A recent study finds that improvements in EQ levels increased family communication and family satisfaction (Platsidou and Tsirogiannidou 2016).
For a person to share honestly about what is going on internally places one in a vulnerable position. Therefore, the family must be a safe place for members to share. If it is unsafe, members will feel personally threatened and guard others from knowing their true feelings or expressing their real needs. This is especially true of dealing with anger. Anger is a potentially scary emotion, and an unsafe environment will only discourage family
members from expressing themselves. And anger expressed in unsafe ways increases feelings of being threatened, and individuals will become more guarded and careful in responding. When the fear of being ridiculed or rejected is more than members can risk, they will undoubtedly protect themselves by keeping their feelings and thoughts to themselves. This creates a distrustful atmosphere in which no one knows what the others are thinking and feeling. Many misunderstandings result from this state of affairs, which stymies family members’ interactions. As members keep their distance and remain self-contained, the capacity for significant bonding becomes increasingly remote.
We believe that intimacy is desirable in marriage and family relationships not only as a refuge from the impersonality of society but also as a reflection of the biblical ideal. Genesis 2 describes a pre-fall condition in which intimacy—knowing and being known—brings a deep sense of relationship joy and mutuality. The trinitarian concepts of relationship unity and particularity provide a model for family members to make room in their hearts and lives for each unique family member and their emotions, needs, desires, and thoughts. Dialogue, mutual regard, interest, and engagement lead to increased understanding and interdependent unity. These values are especially important for anger and conflict resolution.
The Effects of Expressing Love You may ask why it is so important to express to other family members the affection you feel. It assures them that they are lovable and encourages relationship bonding. Humans need to hear and to receive overt expressions of love from the time they are born until the day they die.
Studies of infant development suggest that babies who do not receive expressions of love will be less able to receive or express love to others during their lifetimes. Children who lack sufficient affection (physical touch and nurture), even though they may receive adequate physical care, suffer greatly. Marasmus, a disease in which the body simply wastes away, is prevalent among war victims and orphans. The child fails to develop socially, psychologically, and physically, and death is a frequent outcome. What is important for our purposes is to recognize how essential it is for children to be held, cuddled, caressed, kissed, and hugged as well as to have their physical needs met.
It is well established that children develop self-image based on their perceptions of how others view them. Children are able to love themselves if their parents have expressed love to them both verbally and physically. No one ever outgrows the need for affection and love. As we mature from infancy to adulthood, we have an increased need for verbal affirmation and physical expressions of love.
It is emotionally rewarding for all people to engage with others at a personal and emotional level. Doing so indicates the desire for interaction and interdependency. Psychologically speaking, keeping emotions to yourself actually puts you at risk of losing touch with yourself and others, inhibiting the potential for developing a close, emotional connection with those you love.
Naming and expressing our emotions helps us to communicate directly with those we are in relationship with. This is important because nonverbal communication is ambiguous at best. Using words aids in developing a mutual understanding between relational partners that then interprets nonverbal cues in communication. Additionally, direct communication of emotions helps teach children to name and understand their subjective experience. As they increase in their ability to name their feelings, they are better able to empathize with others. Practicing the expression of emotions increases EQ, which increases intimacy in relationships.
Expressing love is important for all relationships. Just as mutual commitment (covenant) is the basis of secure bonding, communication is the basis for intimacy. Communication is a two-way street. Some family members make valiant efforts to engage but find themselves in a dead end if the other member is unwilling to respond or reciprocate. Some people explain away the problem of expressing themselves with dismissive statements such as “He is just like that” or “She is shy” or “It’s in the genes, so I can’t expect much.” While personality and even shy genes may be part of inexpressiveness, the fact remains that lack of emotional sharing develops into patterns of stifled communication. The possibility of intimacy is crushed, and the relationship stagnates emotionally.
Nonverbal Expressions of Love Expressions of love can be communicated nonverbally as well as verbally
(Chapman 2009; Turner and West 2002). A person can show affection through a hug, a pat on the back, a wink, or some other symbolic gesture. The
fact is that we do communicate through our facial expressions, posture, and general body movements. Researchers note that people indicate open- or closed-mindedness through body language. A person who assumes an open and relaxed body posture is likely to be open-minded about the ideas the family is discussing. A family member who sits stiffly upright, tense, with legs crossed and arms folded, is likely to be closed-minded and defensive.
Body language, however, can be misread. The receiver of the message may wonder, “What does that gleam in her eye really mean?” Physical expressions can be misinterpreted as well. A parent may question, “Is my daughter hugging me so tightly because she loves me or because she wants me to delay her bedtime hour?” Symbolic expressions may conjure up suspicion: “Why did he send me these flowers today? Did he just have his secretary order them, or has he really gone out of his way to pick them out?” or “I wonder what’s behind all this special attention I’m getting from her tonight.” The point here is to take the crucial next step of clarifying the intended meaning so the nonverbal message is crystal clear.
Authentic communication occurs when verbal and nonverbal communication messages are congruent and clear, aiding the development of self-worth and satisfaction for all family members.
Obstacles to Expressing Love Fear is perhaps the number one reason family members fail to express
their love to one another. When we express ourselves freely, we become vulnerable to the other’s response. It is not just our feelings that we reveal, but our feelings for the other person. When we communicate love, we place ourselves in an exposed position. It is as if we are emotionally naked, having stripped off our protective armor as we bare our feelings of love. When we let another person know of our love, we may fear he or she won’t accept it or reciprocate it. It is a source of dread to be ignored, discounted, or, worst of all, rejected. Past experiences of rejection make it difficult to freely expose ourselves in the present. Acts of love are usually expressed naturally when people spend quality time together. Cultivating intimacy within which love can be expressed comfortably takes much time and intentional effort. Making family time a priority is especially an issue in our increasingly technological society.
Sometimes social and cultural expectations inhibit people from expressing emotions. Norms regarding appropriateness of expression are part of the
socialization process. Inborn tendencies (for example, shyness) are reinforced by cultural and gender norms. These expectations become part of the child’s self-image and a self-fulfilling prophecy.