Chapter 4: The Growth Of Intimacy

The Intimate Marriage
by Howard J. and Charlotte H. Clinebell

Chapter 4: The Growth Of Intimacy

How beautiful, how grand and liberating this experience is, when couples learn so to help each other. It is impossible to over-emphasize the immense need men have to be really listened to, to be taken seriously, to be understood. . . . No one can develop freely in this world and find full life without feeling understood by at least one person.

Paul Tournier, To Understand Each Other(1)

Inherent in every problem is a possibility. The very barriers which seem at times insurmountable also provide the potential for the growing edge of intimacy. A relationship in which there is growing intimacy rarely just happens. Rather, it is the continuing achievement that results from the self-investment of two persons who are determined to work at deepening the relationship -- at turning the problems into possibilities. The art of intimacy, or relating in depth, like other artistic skills, must be cultivated through disciplined practice. Skill comes more easily for some than for others. Most of us have to work at intimacy throughout our marriages if it is to flower. Although the results of such efforts may be discouraging at times, these efforts are also the sources of new joy. The joint efforts necessary to deepen a marriage can be, in themselves, pleasurable forms of sharing.

A couple should ask themselves periodically, "What are we creating together in our marriage and family?" If they want marriage to give them more satisfactions, the place to start is for each to put more into the relationship. Two basic principles of mental health are involved here: (1) we reap what we sow, and (2) everything has its cost. These principles are abundantly true in marriage. Mutual investment pays rich dividends. Or, to use the other figure, sowing the seeds of intimacy by continuing to work toward greater mutual need-satisfaction gradually produces the harvest of a richer, more joyful relationship. Some of the sweetest satisfactions available to human beings come through this process. In working together for more intimacy, a couple is moving toward strengthening and lengthening the precious moments in their marriage.

Intimacy grows as personality needs are met in a marriage. In healthy marriages, "positive complementarity"(2) is strongly evident. This term refers to the couple's mutual enhancement of identity through meeting each other's needs. It can be done only in a relationship of love. By love, we mean sensitivity and responsiveness to each other's needs and wants.(3) Nurturing each other by mutually satisfying heart-hungers is the essence of a loving and growing marriage.

Intimacy is nurtured as a couple develops complementary ways of living. The central problem in achieving intimacy is described by Levy and Monroe in The Happy Family as "combining the distinct and often antagonistic needs of two individuals into a workable, satisfying union."(4) There are, of course, many successful patterns of meeting the needs of the other in marriage. The challenge that confronts each couple is to discover that unique pattern which produces maximum mutual satisfaction and minimum frustration for them. In a growing marriage there is substantial agreement (not entirely on a conscious level) on the main features of this pattern -- features which have been discovered through trial and error.

Mutual nurturance starts with the exchange principle. Relationships obviously must be two-way exchanges. Erikson, in discussing the Golden Rule, suggests that the reciprocity of both prudence and sympathy should be replaced with the principle of mutuality which he defines as "a relationship in which partners depend on each other for the development of their respective strengths."(5) Ross Snyder calls this the ability to "evoke the other into fuller personhood."(6) Erikson states:

Seen in the light of human development, this means that the doer is activated in whatever strength is appropriate to his age, stage and condition, even as he activates in the other the strength appropriate to his age, stage and condition. Understood this way, the Rule should say that it is best to do to another what will strengthen you even as it will strengthen him -- that is, what will develop his best potential even as it develops your own.(7)

Persons who approach their marriages in terms of "What can I get?" instead of "What can I give and receive?" end up getting little or nothing from the relationship. Moving beyond the exchange principle of the marketplace in a growing marriage is reflected in what Ross Snyder calls "creative fidelity." This could be described as the ability to maintain commitment to a marriage during those dry periods when one's needs are not being adequately met. Snyder puts it this way: "Creative fidelity means to bear with their plateaus, regressions, imperfectness in such a way that these are transformed into new possibilities. Creative fidelity is to be for and with them, come hell or high water."(8)

Creative fidelity is vital in a marriage because it frees the partners from complete dependence on the adequacy of the giving quality of a particular period of relating. If a couple gets caught in a

negative cycle, as all couples do occasionally, they will be able to interrupt it if one or both has sufficient feelings of self-worth to be able to give love and nurturance even though he is not receiving it at that moment. An inner sense of worth is derived from previous experiences of having been loved, fed, and esteemed.(Psychologist Abraham Maslow points out that persons who have this inner sense of worth are able to have "being love" for others (unselfish love of a person’s very being), as contrasted to "deficiency love" (self seeking love based on getting one’s deficiencies met). When both parties have limited inner resources of self-esteem to draw on in such crises, cycles of mutual retaliation often develop and whirl on with increasing momentum.

Relatively healthy marriages have the capacity to interrupt the negative cycles of mutual need-deprivation before the walls become insurmountable. The cycles are interrupted when the couple begins small experiences of mutual-feeding. If the pattern of giving and receiving satisfaction is maintained, a self-reinforcing cycle of mutual satisfaction will replace the negative cycles. Learning how to interrupt negative cycles sooner is a vital skill for enhancing intimacy.

There are several ways in which the degree of mutual need-satisfaction in a marriage can be measured. First, the partner's feelings about the marriage provide a rough index of the extent of need-satisfaction. Warm, positive feelings -- happiness, acceptance, safety, joy, liking the other -- are indicators that the person's basic needs as he feels them are being adequately met. Second, what the relationship does to the persons' feelings about themselves is significant. Does the relationship leave them with feelings of increased strength and value, or of weakness and self-rejection? (All human relationships can be judged by this one criterion.) A third measuring device is the extent to which the marital partners turn in upon themselves (in day-dreaming, self-comforting through overeating, etc.) or look outside the marriage for the satisfactions they should get within it. Infidelity (emotional and/or sexual) is almost always a symptom of a severe hunger in the relationship. So is the common phenomenon of spouses finding much greater pleasure emotionally in the company of other persons of their gender, than in their relationship with their spouses.


Since troubled marriages are essentially hungry marriages, and since the road to fulfillment and intimacy is mutual need-satisfaction, it is crucial for married people to learn about their basic needs. Research at the Marriage Council of Philadelphia shows that the problems about which clients complained (with the exception of stresses such as poverty or illness) fall "within the broad category of lack of consideration . . . for the other's feelings, needs, values or goals, or acts in disregard of them."(9)

Dorothy W. Baruch describes the basic emotional foods that everyone needs and craves:

We need love in good measure, and we need to give it. We need to feel that we are wanted and belong. We need to feel that we are capable of adequate achievement so that we can manage to meet life's demands. We need recognition for what we achieve. We need to know that the pleasure which our senses and our body can bring us is permissible and good and that our enjoyment does not make us "bad." We need to feel accepted and understood. And finally we need to feel worth while and essentially worthy in being uniquely the self that we are.(10)

These may be summarized as the need for security, the need to give or to be needed, the need for self-esteem, the need for pleasure, the need for limits, for freedom, and for faith. All of these are ingredients in the deepest need, the need for love. Marital partners can do much to provide for each other the food which will satisfy these hungers of the heart.

Security is the inner feeling of stability and safety that comes to a person in a relationship in which he feels a sense of identity, acceptance, belonging, and being wanted. How can one help one's spouse to experience this kind of security? There are many facets to such an experience. To exercise "creative fidelity" by letting one's spouse know that one is in the marriage ‘for better or for worse" and to refuse, in moments of angry desperation, to succumb to the temptation to use threats of leaving or separation to manipulate the other -- these are ways of helping to satisfy this need. A stable marriage is the best answer available in our society to the hunger for continuity in the midst of the flux of relationships.

Another way of enhancing one's partner's sense of security is to accept him with his weaknesses and imperfections. Gibson Winter writes: "Acceptance in marriage is the power to love someone and receive him in the very moment that we realize how far he falls short of our hopes."(11) Acceptance includes not treading on one's partner's areas of vulnerability. There are touchy spots in everyone's psyche. Living with a person in marriage allows one to discover what these are -- the points at which the partner is easily threatened and made anxious. This knowledge gives one a responsibility to respect these areas and to resist the temptation to "stick the needle in where it hurts most" in moments of anger.

Accepting a mate's defenses and vulnerabilities is closely related to respecting his differences. Some persons need much greater distance from the other, in order to feel safe, than do their partners. Jean observed that her husband of ten years, Mark, "needs more time alone than I do. He's that way and his wanting to be alone isn't necessarily an attack on me, as I thought it was early in our marriage." Jean had come to recognize that Mark couldn't feel comfortable with as much intimacy as she could. Because she had learned to accept his need for distance, she no longer added blame -- of herself or him -- to the frustration of her need for greater closeness.

The need for security, then, can be satisfied by the mutual efforts of husband and wife to stand by each other in all circumstances, even times of conflict, of weaknesses, and of differences.

In helping to satisfy the partner's need for security, husband and wife can both help to satisfy their own need to be needed, to have something to give in the relationship. Giving love to others is a fundamental human need. Marriage is an ideal place to satisfy this need to be needed and to invest one's life in others. It is a breakthrough moment in one's life when he discovers that giving spiritual food away does not lessen one's supply in a relationship of mutuality. Everyone has within him a deep inner hunger to make his life count with at least one other person. "If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness, and your gloom be as noonday" (Isaiah 58:10).

When one's mate is hungry for affection or afflicted by disappointment, grief, or pain, a wonderful opportunity to give oneself to another is at one's fingertips. In a good, growing marriage, the response is a spontaneous reaching out to the need. The opportunity for mutual dependency in marriage gives each partner the chance to be needed. The parenting role as described in Chapter 3, when used in a healthy, non-manipulative way, is an example of this. The wife who can sympathize and soothe when her husband comes home from work shattered and angry, and the husband who can listen without being threatened or critical when his wife has had a bad day with the children, are satisfying their own need to be needed as well as the other's need to be temporarily dependent.

The self-esteem of each partner can be enhanced by the other. The awareness that one is valued, recognized, and affirmed by others can be steadily strengthened by one's spouse. The following is good advice to married couples at every age and stage: Whatever else you neglect, don't neglect your mate's self-esteem. A robust sense of one's own worth is an essential part of a firm sense of identity; as such, it is a necessary foundation for depth relationships. It is very easy to give or receive an "ego bruise" in a marriage relationship by a rejecting word, lack of thoughtfulness (as in forgetting a birthday or an anniversary), or the attack of "putting the other down." The consequence of such a bruise is predictable -- retaliation, a striking at the esteem of the other. The negative cycles described earlier start in this way. Positive cycles of mutual strengthening of each other's esteem contribute to the fun of being married. One husband described how his wife frequently starts a cycle of mutual caring and affirming: "Barbara makes me feel good about myself with a pat high on the ego."

Walt brought a yellow rose, Patricia's favorite flower, and put it in a vase on her dresser where she would find it on her return from the grocery store. She responded in a loving way which affirmed him as a man and a lover. His gift message of affectionate affirmation, communicated through an act of thoughtfulness, triggered an ongoing cycle of mutual giving. As young couples "in love" know intuitively (but married couples often forget), appreciation is the language of love because it is the food for nurturing self-esteem. Being appreciated by one's mate helps one survive in a world that often eats away at feelings of significance and worth. It also helps us to be the kind of persons we would like to be. Complimenting one's wife on how shapely she's looking makes it at least slightly easier for her to resist that second hot fudge sundae.

One form of self-esteem strengthening is particularly crucial in marriage -- affirming one's partner's sense of sexual attractiveness and strength in the case of a male, or sexual attractiveness and soft loveliness in the case of a female. No compliment is sweeter to the heart or cherished longer than one which appreciates the masculinity or femininity of one's partner. Conversely, no hurt is deeper, no attack remembered more painfully, than one directed at one's sexual adequacy. The art of giving silent compliments, as well as verbal ones, is a valuable marital art. An illustration of this is bringing one's wife a gift which says powerfully without words, "I'm glad you're a woman and I'm a man; I luxuriate in the fact that you're very much of a woman!"

If one's need for being esteemed by others was well met in childhood, a person brings to marriage a solid inner-core feeling of self-worth. This is reaffirmed and supported against the buffeting of the world in a good marriage. Those who come to marriage with low self-esteem are easily hurt and rejected. Their sense of inner depletion makes it very difficult for them to give. They need particular support from their spouses in order to maintain that minimal sense of adequacy which every person must have to be happy and cope with life. In all marriages, what one does to strengthen his partner's self-esteem will increase his or her ability to give in the relationship. A cartoon showing a man consulting a psychiatrist had this caption: "Doctor, my wife has developed an inferiority complex. I want to know how to keep her that way." If he could get what he asked for, he would not like it, since those with low self-esteem are difficult to live with. This is because the ability to esteem others depends on the ability to esteem oneself.

 The basic need for individual freedom in marriage has been discussed in Chapter 2. Partners who can allow each other the inner freedom to grow toward the realization of God-given potential, who can allow each "to drink from his own individual cup"(12) do much to meet each other's need. In some marriages there is a conflict between the desires of the partners for dependence and protection, on the one hand, and for independence and freedom, on the other. Some acceptable balance between these two sets of needs is essential. To be able to lean at times but then to be free to launch out on one's own -- this is the alternating rhythm of a good marriage. A newly married couple in a church-sponsored growth group agreed with the husband's description of their problem in this area: "We struggle with being ourselves but not our single selves. Both of us agree that the other should be able to do his own 'thing' and that our marriage will be better because of it. But we sometimes do our thing in ways that collide with the other person's thing. When we feel this happening, we try to stop, take a careful look at things, and decide what has to change."

Every person has a need for the pleasures of the mind and the body; these include sexual, intellectual, aesthetic, interpersonal, and spiritual satisfactions, as well as adventure derived from new experiences. Sexual play and ecstasy can infuse the total relationship with "oomph" and lift. Marriage is the most dependable way of gaining ongoing sexual satisfaction in our culture. In addition to sex, a couple should find other forms of play which bring them both personal revitalization. Otto Pollak has pointed to the human need for regular times of regression in appropriate company and circumstances.(13) Encouraging such healthy regression (a vacation from the burden of adult responsibility) is a vital function of marriage. It occurs in the ecstatic pleasure of sex and in the relaxation of the inner "Parent" during periods of "letting down one's hair" in various forms of play.

Each of us needs a sense of living within a dependable structure -- the laws of nature, the principles of the psychological and spiritual life, the requirements of responsive and responsible relationships. This need for limits is satisfied in a good marriage in several ways. These include the dependable rituals and routines which develop within such a relationship, the essential process of adjusting one's needs to the needs of the other, and the way in which a marital partner can hold up reality to help the other face it and satisfy his needs within it. Particularly in a young marriage, one of the major helps each can give the other is to prevent inappropriate regression -- unconstructive excursions back to childish gratification. For example, in the relationship between Doug and Marilyn, when he had a sudden urge to buy a color TV which both knew they couldn't afford, Marilyn gently and without attacking his self-esteem as a providing male, reminded him of the realities of their financial condition. Teenagers and young adults who marry are often still mastering the art of distinguishing appropriate and inappropriate gratification of their impulses.

Marital partners can be of help to each other in this process. For a person who grew up in a rigid home and has internalized over- control of impulses, a spouse can help him loosen up and learn to enjoy letting his "Child" side play.

The concept of relationship -- the "we" of marriage -- as it influences the awareness of a couple, has a limiting function that can be constructive. The individual no longer thinks of his needs in isolation; rather, it is "my needs in relationship to your needs. "The recognition dawns that love and limits are not necessarily contradictory elements in marriage. Instead, what David Roberts called "wise love,"(14) always includes dependable limits. In a good marriage, self-discipline is integral to growing love. Mutual responsibility -- each person holding up his end of the relationship -- is essential to the growth of intimacy. To live with a firm but not oppressive sense of responsibility provides a sense of self- mastery which enhances self-esteem. It also prevents the appropriate guilt feelings which accompany irresponsible relating.

Every person has a fundamental need for a satisfying philosophy of life, a hierarchy of personal values, and a faith which gives meaning to life. One of the challenges and joys of a good marriage is the opportunity to work together at discovering the particular forms of belief and practice that will meet the spiritual needs of both partners and their children. The nature of these spiritual needs and ways of satisfying them in marriage will be explored in Chapter 9.

Love is the experience of knowing that another person cares -- deeply, warmly, acceptingly and dependably; this is the most indispensable need of any human being to which all the other heart-hungers are tributaries. To have a steady source of warmth and affection helps to offset the chill of depersonalizing experiences in the outside world. Such love -- given and received in a marriage -- feeds self-esteem. A husband said, "Knowing that she loves me through all our ups and downs makes me feel ten feet tall." Love helps one define his identity more sharply as he experiences himself vividly in both passionate and quiet caring. It reinforces feelings of inner security by making the marriage a harbor where one is safe from many of the storms and threats of everyday life. Love is the force which welds a relationship at its points of meeting. The ancient insight of St. Paul has been confirmed and reconfirmed in the social sciences, counseling relationships, and successful marriages -- "the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13).

The kind of love which is the glory and wonder of a marriage -- growing love -- represents an integration of all the facets of intimacy which the couple has cultivated in their relationship. The integration of sexual, emotional, and spiritual intimacy, for example, makes each of these facets of intimacy richer and more soul-satisfying. Tenderness and passion, comfort and confrontation, dependence and autonomy -- all are woven into the multicolored fabric of the emerging "we-ness" of marriage.

The maturation of a love relationship takes time -- something that many couples find in short supply. Will and Jenny handle the usual middle-class dilemma of over-scheduling by planning so that they have time alone together, however brief, nearly every day. This is not easy, but it pays dividends. An occasional weekend at a cabin in the mountains, away from the children,

also helps to keep their love fresh and growing. A frequent "night on the town" -- a night when each dresses up for the other and they enjoy a "date" -- helps to keep romance alive in their marriage. The dailyness of married life often eats away at romance. Couples like Will and Jenny, who are willing to continue their courtship of each other, discover the amazing secret (amazing to youth, at least) -- that there is "a romance for the maturing which has a depth and breadth not possible for youth."(15) By continuing to invest themselves in the creativity of building a life and a family together, they keep their marriage from becoming a "tired friendship."

These, then, are the vitamins, minerals, and essential food elements of human personality. They are the needs of both husband and wife. Learning how to say Yes to one's partner's needs is the essence of the art of being intimately married. Each person has a unique blend of these needs -- with certain needs that are more insistent and others that are less pressing. A part of the journey toward maturity which is a growing marriage is the mutual discovery of each partner's individual pattern of needs, and how best to meet each other's special hungers.


If the need-satisfaction path to greater intimacy is to be a useful one to a couple, it is important for them to recognize that some needs cannot and should not be satisfied, even in the best marriage. Relationships which thrive do so because the two parties have learned to find the middle ground between what each wants from the relationship. The ability of each to sacrifice a part of his cherished fantasies and to bear the frustration of this sacrifice in the interests of the larger good -- the marriage -- is essential to marital happiness.

It is also important to realize that there are some neurotic elements in the desires of everyone and that these desires often cannot be met in any relationship. There are two reasons for this. First, neurotic "needs" or desires are exaggerations of normal desires, often to such an extent that no human being could possibly meet them. They register with the partner as unfair demands, which they are. There is a kind of craving, demanding quality to such desires -- akin to the insatiability of addictions. Usually the craving is for constant approval, reassurance, and appreciation. Frequently, such demandingness produces a vicious cycle.

Jane has a deep chronic sense of inadequacy which causes her to demand excessive protection and approval from Bob, her husband. His resentment of her demands causes him to become withholding of emotional support, which intensifies her frantic grasping for approval. The more she grasps and demands, the more he withdraws, producing a spiral of increasing mutual starvation.

Persons like Jane and Bob often make little headway toward intimacy without professional marriage counseling or personal psychotherapy. In less extreme situations, a couple may face together the points at which their requests of each other are excessive and unrealistic. Some couples can learn to face the need to let go of excessive demands -- demands which deprive them of the normal give-and-take in their marriage. They can come to accept the truth that in adult life it is unrealistic to expect any relationship to be all-giving and all-nurturing. We have to settle for less. By surrendering excessive demands we become free to enjoy the genuine satisfactions which are present in the marriage. To illustrate, a person who relinquishes his insistence that his marriage supply far more intimacy than is possible in that relationship, can then enjoy and value the closeness that is actually there.

The other reason that the neurotic element in our desires cannot be met in marriage is that there is inevitably a conflict within the person between contradictory desires. For example, a wife often wants a masculine, dominant man upon whom she can lean, but who will not interfere with her own domineering behavior. As one wife in her twenties, who had learned to recognize her ambivalent feelings, said, "I want Mac to be strong so I can lean on him while I dominate him." The husbandly counterpart is the man who wants to maintain his self-image of masculine independence and strength, while at the same time receiving total mothering from his wife. The essence of neurotic needs is wanting to eat one's cake and have it too. But the realities of relationships are such as to make this impossible. A good illustration of a conflicted or neurotic need is the powerful fear of intimacy in a person whose painful loneliness makes him crave closeness intensely. Consequently, his behavior is a baffling pattern of reaching out toward others in a way that invariably pushes them away. As psychiatrist Lawrence Kubie says, "A major source of unhappiness between husband and wife is to be found in the discrepancies between their conscious and unconscious demands on each other and on the marriage, as these are expressed first in the choosing of a mate and then in the subsequent evolution of their relationship."(16) The "Parent-Child" games described by Berne (Chapter 3 ), usually involve such conflicted needs in both parties.

To some extent, there are tensions and conflicts between the various needs in everyone. (This is called "normal ambivalence" by counselors.) Every husband has some need to be nurtured or mothered by his wife, but he also has a contrary need to feel strong, independent, and masculine. When this kind of conflict is severe, it disrupts relationships. The danger in all conflicted needs is that ordinarily the individual is aware .of only one half of his needs; the other half is unconscious. A husband who has an intense need to feel self-sufficient (and whose need for dependence and nurturance is hidden from himself) may pull away from his wife and then blame her for not being attentive enough. In other words, he has avoided seeing the contradiction within his own desires by projecting the conflict on his wife. In most such cases, the wife has a parallel conflict which matches and reinforces his. Marital partners who can become aware of their ambivalence -- the ways in which they are both projecting their inner conflicts on the screen of the marriage and trying to manipulate each other -- can begin to take steps toward mutual need-satisfaction.


The process of assisting a couple in marriage counseling often follows these steps: The first is to help them discover how the needs and desires of each are being denied and deprived by their present patterns of relating. Second is to assist them to find and experiment with alternative patterns of relating which will produce a higher degree of mutual need-satisfaction. Third is helping them to improve their communication skills, which allows them to feed each other more fully, resolve conflict constructively, and discover compromise solutions to the problem of divergent or conflicted needs. These steps can be used in self-help efforts by relatively healthy couples.

The place to begin is diagnosis: What are the feelings of each partner regarding the extent to which his heart-hungers for the "foods of the spirit" listed above are being satisfied in the marriage? Is each person aware of how the other feels about the points at which he feels

satisfied and the points at which he feels deprived? Once these are out in the open, the partners may be able to begin experimenting with changes in their way of relating that will result in a more balanced diet for both. Whatever empathic understanding develops through this process is relationship-enhancing in itself. Putting oneself in the other's skin, even to a limited extent, obviously increases the intimacy in the relationship. It is remarkable how many couples have never asked themselves: "I wonder how my spouse really feels about this behavior on my part?" For a wife to begin to empathize with the pressures and insecurities of a man's world with its fear of failure, its pressure to deny dependency and to maintain a godlike image of autonomy, and the threat of changing sex roles, can be a growth experience for her and her husband. The same applies to the husband's awareness of the unique self-esteem problems of women faced with changing sex roles, the continuing dual-standard in many areas, the increasing period of life after the children are raised and the problem of finding significance therein, and the preparation for creative widowhood which faces the vast majority of women in our culture. Whatever understanding of each other's "worlds" a couple can achieve will put them on the road to greater intimacy.

The second step is to begin to experiment with alternative patterns of relating which may prove to be more mutually satisfying. Mat and Laura, married seventeen years and in the middle of rearing a family of four children, confessed to each other that each was dissatisfied with the direction their relationship was taking. They agreed that they were overinvested in the children and underinvested in their marriage. Mat asked half rhetorically, "How much time have we spent alone with each other during the past month, except when we were asleep?" Both knew the answer and both sensed that here was a part of their problem. Some restructuring of their schedules made a place for regular face-to-face time together. During their discussion, Laura told Mat that she sometimes wondered if he still had some of the feelings about her as a female -- feelings that went far beyond interest in sex, per se. Mat recognized that she was feeling a lack of affectionate appreciation and that he had probably been careless about expressing tender feelings that mean so much to a spouse. At this point he was able to talk about his feeling that Laura seldom demonstrated her interest in him sexually by initiating sex play. In this process, they were talking with some openness about their unmet hungers and needs, and providing each other with fresh opportunities for saying Yes to these needs. It is clear that an important channel of need-satisfaction is better communication (the focus of the next chapter).

Some couples discover that, if they try, they can increase the points at which they have connections with each other, thus broadening the range of their intimacy experiences. For example, couples who have little or no relationship in the area of creative or artistic sharing may discover a new point of touching when they take a course in painting or creative writing or music appreciation together. There is some poetry and music in nearly everyone's soul; marital partners can help bring it out of each other through mutual encouragement and sharing. Shared experimentation in the areas of intellectual interests, recreational pursuits, and spiritual searching may result in the adding of another facet of intimacy to a couple's relationship.


The process of growth in intimacy is understood well enough so that several key points can be emphasized. For one thing, acceptance of the valuable aspects of the present relationship gives a necessary launching pad for growth in the future. John Levy and Ruth Monroe state: "The first step toward a happier marriage, however achieved, is freedom to value the relationship as it is."(17) Again, a marriage in which there is even a minor degree of intimacy can provide some nurturance and openness by which greater intimacy can grow over the years. In this sense, a good marriage is a therapeutic relationship. It can be an experience of being close to another person with safety; as each partner learns to risk being more caring and more honest in sharing his feelings with the other, healing of the wounds of the spirit takes place. Another point worth emphasizing about growing intimacy is that no degree of intimacy can erase the sense of mystery in the relationship. This is the answer to the worry that too much intimacy destroys the mystery that is essential to love. Anne Philipe in No Longer Than a Sigh describes her feelings about her husband:

I look at you asleep, and the world you are in, the little smile in the corner of your lips, the flicker of your eyelids, your naked relaxed body, all these are mysteries. I swim at your side in warm transparent water, or I wait for you to appear in the frame of the door under the wisteria. You say good morning and I know what you have dreamed and your first thought at the edge of sleep -- and yet you are a mystery. We talk: your voice, your thought, the words you use, are the most familiar in the world. We can even finish the sentences begun by the other. And yet you are, and we are, a mystery.(18)

Like a scientist's experience in probing the intricacies of nature, each discovery in the intimacy of marriage opens up a dozen new dimensions of mystery.

Another key point about growing intimacy is that intimacy is a road and not a goal. The achievement of intimacy is always only partial -- the closeness and mutuality only fragmentary. One couple said: "Our marriage is not perfect; we often make each other miserable. Nevertheless we like living together. This life together, difficult as we find it, is still more satisfying than any other."(19)

In this chapter we have been focusing on some down-to-earth issues: (1) How can a couple overcome the walls in their marriage, replacing them with bridges? (2) How can they stimulate the growth of creative closeness? (3) How can they increase their skills in intimate relating?  

Our approach to these issues has been to emphasize the crucial significance of mutual need-satisfactions. We have begun to de- scribe what might be called, "The Care and Feeding of a Growing Marriage." The key to this whole process is skill in sharing meanings -- i.e., skill in communication. This idea was implicit in the words of Tournier with which we began this chapter. Heart- hungers are satisfied as two people communicate effectively and in depth. How this ability can be increased will be our concern in the next chapter.


Spend some time talking about the strengths of your marriage. Tell each other what you

like and admire about the other. What are the things you value about your relationship? How can you make the most of these strengths and values in increasing the intimacy between you?

Discuss your relationship. Talk about the ways in which each of you does or does not receive satisfaction of the various needs described in this chapter. In other words, do an inventory of your marriage as a need-satisfying relationship. Differences and similarities should be discussed so that each can understand how the other sees his own and the other's needs. The "Self-Other Fulfillment Checklist" may be useful in taking your inventory. In those areas in which you agree that improvement is needed, plan strategy for experimenting with new ways of relating which may be more need-satisfying.

Remember that unhappiness and conflict occur in a relationship because of a lack of mutual "want" satisfaction. Some needs and wants of marital partners are mutually exclusive; others are not. During conflict periods, each person withholds satisfactions from the other because he himself is feeling so unsatisfied and therefore angry. This produces a cycle of mutual emotional starvation. The less each gives, the less he receives from the other.

When you experience conflict in your marriage, try these steps as a way of interrupting the negative cycle: (a) Clarify, in your own minds and with each other, what you aren't getting from the marriage (e.g. affirmation, affection, sexual satisfaction), (b) Concentrate, not on the areas in which your needs are mutually exclusive or contradictive, but on the "areas of overlap"(20) of your two need systems. Focus on those needs which represent positive things you both want in your marriage, (c) Pick a realistic goal which you both will find enjoyable and fulfilling if you achieve it. (d) Decide what you must do to achieve this goal and begin this action. Don't worry now about the areas in which your wants are in conflict. By working together in

the area of overlap that area will tend to grow. By doing something positive to move toward a mutually-chosen goal, you'll begin to feel better and this will make it possible for each of you to meet the needs of the other more fully. A satisfaction-cycle may well replace the vicious cycle that operates during conflict.

If you are using the book in a marital growth group, it may be helpful to role-play a situation in which barriers to intimacy are present. Experiment with new ways of handling such situations, which may result in more mutual need-satisfaction. For example, experiment in role-playing with various ways in which a couple might handle a breakdown of communication on a subject such as disciplining children. Reversing husband-wife roles is a useful method for seeing each other's perspective. On some issue on which there is disagreement, the husband plays the wife's role as he understands her viewpoint, and vice versa. Five- to fifteen-minute sessions of role-playing are usually long enough to provide the group with grist for the mill of productive discussion. This technique should be used only in a group with a trained leader.


(Instructions: This instrument is designed to stimulate discussion of mutual need-satisfaction within your marriage. After discussing each need, check the blanks which apply. Then plan specific steps by which at least one need of each party can be met more fully.)

Plan of Action

Basic Heart Hungers:

Security (from feeling acceptance and belongingness)

Service (giving love to others, investing one's life, meeting others' needs)

Esteem (feeling valued, recognized, affirmed by the other)

Enjoyment (sexual, intellectual, recreational, aesthetic, spiritual)

Love (knowing the other cares --deeply, warmly, and dependably)

Limits (the need for responsibility, dependable routines, respect for reality and the rights of others)

Freedom (the need for autonomy, distance, respect for differences)

Faith (the need for a philosophy of life, values, and trust in God)



1. Tournier, To Understand Each Other (Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1962), p. 29.

2. Nathan Ackerman, The Psychodynamics of Family Life (New York: Basic Books, 1958), pp. 85-86. The principle of complementarity -- each bringing to the relationship what the other lacks -- is closely related to the idea of "marital balance" as described by Dorothy Fahs Beck in her insightful analysis of marital conflict; marital balance is "a dovetailing of the partners' needs and patterns of reciprocity in meeting them such as will maintain over the long run an equilibrium in gratification that is acceptable to both. This balance in satisfaction and rewards is apparently essential for the long-term stability of the family as a system. The concept does not imply that all the needs of each partner must be met, but simply that the core needs specific to a given marital relationship must be satisfied. The level of giving and receiving needs not be equal provided the ratio of gratification to frustration is acceptable to both . . . . the needs met may also be either 'neurotic' or 'healthy.' The relationship . . . is seen as one that fluctuates with the changing needs, growth of family members, changes in family composition, and stress and crisis" "Marital Conflict: Its Course and Treatment -- As Seen by Caseworkers," Social Case-work, April, 1966, p. 212).

3. This definition is from Regina Wescott.

4. John Levy and Ruth Monroe, The Happy Family (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1938), p. 148.

5. Erikson, Insight and Responsibility (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964), p. 231.

6. Paraphrased from Ross Snyder, "Married Life," unpublished paper, p. 13.

7. Insight and Responsibility, p. 233.

8. Op. cit., p. 13.

9. Emily H. Mudd, et at.. Success in Family Living (New York: Associa- tion Press, 1965), p.175.

10. Baruch, How to Live -with Your Teen Ager (New York: McGraw-HiU, 1953), p. 23.

11. Gibson Winter, Love and Conflict (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1958), p. 115.

12. James A. Peterson, Education for Marriages (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1956), p. 237.

13. Pollak, lecture. University of Pennsylvania, January 18, 1967.

14. See David Roberts, Psychotherapy and a Christian View of Man (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953).

15. Dark Ellzey, How to Keep Romance in Your Marriage (New York: Association Press, 1954), p. 4.

16. Lawrence S. Kubie, "Psychoanalysis and Marriage," in Neurotic Inter-Action in Marriage, ed. Victor W. Eisenstein (New York: Basic Books, 1956), pp. 14-15.

17. Levy and Monroe, The Happy Family, p. 177.

18. Anne Philipe, No Longer Than a Sigh (New York: Atheneum, 1964), pp. 30-31.

19. Levy and Monroe, op. cit., p. 178.

20. This phrase and the general approach to conflict resolution are from the work of Billy Sharp and H. Rhea Gray.