I am embarking on a new series that explores the vows we pledge to our partners when we take the plunge into marriage. I don’t use the term ‘plunge’ lightly, because for most people, marriage is not simply something we rush into without due consideration and considerable trepidation. However, I suspect that most of us don’t give it altogether enough thought before we do it; we consider some of what it means and what it encompasses, and although we pledge the words in front of God and our friends and family with the full intention of following them to the letter, when times get tough, and tough, and tougher, we tend to forget what we promised. That’s why so many marriages end in divorce, or worse, why so many stay in marriages where the ‘spark’ has gone out, and there is neither love nor effort in the relationship anymore.
So this series aims to explore what the vows actually mean, and how we can act them out in our marriages even when times are hard. If you aren’t married, don’t assume that this series/post isn’t for you – maybe you haven’t uttered the words, but the same premise exists in any long term relationship, and so the same applies.
Right, so the vows follow thusly…
“I … take you … to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife”
Simple so far. This expresses that the marriage is legally recognised wherever it is taking place. I also think the use of the word ‘take’ is quite important – it denotes choice, and almost implies a transfer of ownership, if you will. Like the Bible’s ‘leave and cleave’, this could also symbolise the fact that each partner is being removed from their previous state of being (single, in the care of their parents, theoretically) into one where they belong to their chosen spouse.
“To have and to hold”
This is the section I’m going to be focusing on in this post. Quite simply, having and holding refers to the physical bits of the marriage; intimacy. Many people consider intimacy to be the physical act of sex, but it is so much more than this. While sex is the ultimate expression of intimacy and the very closest that two people can physically be, in itself it cannot sustain a marriage. In a previous post I explored the difference between males and females when it comes to sex so I won’t go into too much detail, except to reiterate that sex is more physical for men, and more emotional for women. This is key to understanding intimacy within relationships. If one person’s needs are being met, but the other’s are not, something is missing.
Intimacy means holding hands, kissing, hugging, holding one another. Being there physically and extending physical touch, too. The hormone oxytocin is released when we do this – the hormone that creates the ‘in love’ feeling and assists in bonding. Touch means so much. Think about times in your own life when you have been feeling down, or have been with someone else who is feeling down – simply reaching out and touching, in the absence of any words, offers so much comfort. Before they can speak, babies reach out for and grasp their mothers’ fingers, simply in order to connect with them through physical touch. Studies have proven that animals who are deprived of the physical touch of their mothers end up unhappy and withdrawn – how much more do we suffer when deprived of the physical affirmation of love from our spouse?
Sex is so important in a healthy marriage, because it comprises both physical and emotional elements, and it further enforces the bond between partners. But without emotional intimacy and closeness, it can become mechanical; the same as a one night stand, effectively. You need both sex and an emotional connection in order for your relationship to flourish, but it’s important to remember that physical touch or intimacy is not simply a precursor to sex – sometimes it will be, and that’s great, but it shouldn’t be the primary motivation. Closeness, feelings of love and acceptance and being valued… That’s the end goal.
How can I increase intimacy in my relationship?
It’s very simple, really. Sit near to each other, touch, hold hands in public and in private. Flirt! Grab a bum here and there. Give a massage. Caress, cuddle. Kiss, really kiss, for no reason. Hug each other hello, hug goodbye. Just hug. Stare into each others’ eyes, trace the outlines of your partners face, mouth, cheeks… You promised to have and to hold. So hold, tightly.