The real deal on marriage

by Rodney & Selma Wilson

In January of 1993, I (Selma) knew Mom was dying of breast cancer, but Dad refused to accept it. I'm a Daddy's girl, and to see him gripped by denial was heart wrenching. He was trying so hard to be the provider and protector that he had always been. But he could not protect Mom from death.

I'll never forget the night Dad finally broke. He came in from working the fields of his farm, sat down in "his" chair, and wept. I knelt beside him, held his hand, and cried, too. Then Dad said something I'll always remember: "I have gone through everything with your Mom, but she's going someplace I can't go yet, and I want to go with her."

That's the example of emotional intimacy I witnessed in my parents' marriage. I really think Mom wouldn't let go until she knew Dad was ready to let her go. Two short weeks later, after 46 years of marriage, she left his arms, dying peacefully in her sleep. We took great comfort in knowing that the second she left my Dad's warm and protective embrace, Jesus wrapped His arms around her.

The Necessity of Emotional Intimacy

That year was one of the most difficult journeys of my life, but along the way God gave me many gifts - one was Rodney. We had been married 16 years, and our commitment had never been more tested. During the year prior to Mom's death, I gave my all emotionally, physically, and spiritually to my parents. I traveled often from our home in Nashville to their farm in East Tennessee. It broke my heart every time I would leave Rodney and my two beautiful girls, ages 9 and 7, standing on our front porch, waving goodbye to me.

Rodney was my anchor during that difficult time. You see, in giving so much to Mom and Dad, I had little left to give him. I would return home empty, exhausted, totally depleted. But rather than demanding I give to him, Rodney gave to me. He would lovingly wrap his arms around me - emotionally, physically, and spiritually renewing my strength. When I was too exhausted to pray, the Holy Spirit and my partner on the journey of life would intercede for me. Rodney stood in the gap and gave me the freedom to feel and express every emotion churning inside me: anger, fear, guilt, and exhaustion. Never once did he say, "You shouldn't feel that way." Instead, he listened, and he allowed me the solace of silence.

Rodney has seen me open and vulnerable. He has witnessed both my good days and my bad - and he has loved me unconditionally through all of them. Although that year was one of the most painful of my entire life, it built our marriage more than any other. You see, just as Genesis 2:25 describes, I stood before Rodney emotionally naked - and I felt no shame.

Not long ago, I shared with Rodney my fear of getting breast cancer. And just like my faithful Dad, Rodney gave me assurance that he would be there with me every step of the way, whatever happened. It was a sobering conversation for both of us. Yet there was depth. There was closeness. There was reality. There was emotional connection. We didn't wear masks. We didn't pretend. And that took our marriage to a new level of intimacy.

Wired by the Creator

To be connected emotionally is to take the risk of removing your masks and allowing your partner for life to see the real you. No concealing. No competition. Quite the contrary: You share your lives as partners - teammates cooperating, encouraging, and helping each other along this journey. You offer each other the treasures of peace, comfort, and freedom to be yourself.

Don't you long for that? Don't you yearn to be connected to your spouse, for him or her to know you deeply - the real you - in every area of your life? God wired you to have that yearning. And He wove into your very DNA creativity, wisdom, love - and an incredible range of emotions to enable you and your mate to intimately experience life together.

God feels the deepest of emotions and wants you to feel them, too. God wants a deeply spiritual relationship with you. But He also wants to be intimate with you emotionally. Such intimacy with God requires being real, making yourself vulnerable.

God also wants you to be real with your mate. He created marriage as a safe haven for a man and woman to be vulnerable. However, God can't do much if you wear masks and play the game of surface relationships. But oh, the extraordinary things He can do when He has your hearts - your real, unmasked hearts!

Emotional intimacy fuses you and your mate together. You know your mate like no one else does. There's a certain extraordinary mystique about that. You are in an exclusive two-member club - just as God planned from the beginning.

Safeguarding Your Emotional Connection

Giving yourselves to each other emotionally is not just a good idea, it's your responsibility. God wired you for emotional bonding, and the need is powerful. When deprived of this type of intimacy, the enemy can tempt you. He may try sending someone into your path who gives you the emotional attention that you crave from your mate. Then, in your mind, "the other man" or "the other woman" can quickly become everything you feel your mate is not. That's a dangerous scenario.

Emotional bonding with someone else can easily slip into a physical relationship. Numerous couples have sat before me (Rodney) seeking help from an affair begun by a lack of emotional connection within the marriage.

That's why it's vital to erect emotional guardrails around your marriage. What's in our hearts and minds will make a difference in our marriage relationship. Let's look at two critical guardrails to put in your marriage.

1. Guard your heart.

You should only think of one man or woman as your emotional home, and that person is your mate. Connect fully with the wisdom, power, and protection provided in Philippians 4:7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

This protection and peace comes when you let your love for your spouse flow out of your love for God. By seeking after Him, the by-product of peace will come. And it is that by-product of peace that will guard your heart, keeping it focused only on your mate.

2. Don't share deeply with someone of the opposite sex.

Guard your emotions and share them only with God, your spouse, a Christian counselor, or a close friend of the same sex. Emotions are the subtlest of attractions. Physical attractiveness is easy to spot - and thus guard against. But a warm, caring, sensitive personality can draw you in so subtly, so smoothly, and so quickly that if guardrails are not securely in place, you'll find yourself much closer to the cliff of emotional bonding than it's safe or wise to be.

If you're thinking, "That would never happen to me! I would never have an affair!" think again. Never overestimate yourself, and never underestimate the enemy. Boundaries must be established when relating to the opposite sex, or you can easily and quickly find yourself going over the edge emotionally.

Extraordinary Intimacy

For you to enjoy abundant emotional intimacy with your spouse, these guardrails must be in place at all times. We are to be alert constantly. With God's boundaries in place you are free to enjoy a level of emotional intimacy that results in an extraordinary marriage!

This article is adapted from Extraordinary Marriage: God's Plan for Your Journey by Rodney and Selma Wilson. Used by permission of LifeWay Press.

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