Your Wife Craves Heart Intimacy with You

Your Wife Craves Heart Intimacy with You

Today, we begin a new series, Loving Our Wives Well Because We Understand the Needs of Their Hearts. Here is a quiz. How would you summarize these statements made by women as to why they were divorcing their husbands?

  • My husband is no longer my friend.
  • The only time he pays attention to me is when he wants sex.
  • He is never there for me, emotionally, when I need him most.
  • I hurt all the time because I feel alone and abandoned.
  • We’re like ships passing in the night—he goes his way and I go mine.
  • My husband has become a stranger. I don’t even know who he is anymore.

What these wives were starving for was heart intimacy with their husbands. It is a heart need of wives that wasn’t even on the screens of these husbands. However, this foundational need of wives for heart intimacy with their husbands is spelled out in at least 5 biblical texts, which this episode explores.

It should not surprise husbands who thoughtfully read of the creation of Eve that a wife has a profound heart need that he doesn’t experience nearly as strongly—the need to feel connected to her husband. After all, she is designed FOR relationship. Adam is created for the ground, from the ground, given a name that means ground, tasked to work the ground, and his sin brings a curse upon the ground. No wonder he loves the earthy part of connecting to his wife! But Eve is made for the man, from the man, given a name that means “out of the man,” assigned to assist the man, and her sin brings a curse upon her relationship with the man. No wonder a lack of heart connection to her husband would be so excruciating to a wife!

This feminine longing for heart intimacy is a foundational part of God’s marriage design. In Genesis 2:24-25, we read, A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed Notice that the goal of marriage is loving intimacy (vs 25) to be “naked and unashamed.” Such loving intimacy happens by joining lives, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,” and by joining bodies, “they shall become one flesh.” As husband and wife join their lives, they share their ideas (mind), their decisions (will) and feelings (emotions). This union of hearts, minds, and wills is then celebrated by the joining of bodies in sex. The marriage commitment is to regularly join hearts and bodies. Most men love joining bodies but are clueless about the fact that equally important to God, and usually more important to wives is connecting two naked hearts. Peter seems to have understood this reality, for he commands husbands:

A. Meet her need to feel understood. Live with your wives in an understanding way (I Pet 3:7). “Your wife’s first need” says Peter, "is for you to understand her, which means discovering what is going on in her heart." Literally this text says, dwell-together according to knowledge. Dwelling together refers to sharing everyday life. The Greek word for “know” is not the word for observing objective facts. Rather, this particular word indicates a relationship between the knower and what is known that progresses into deeper understanding. Peter seems to recognize what psychologists have discovered—that one of the deepest of human needs, especially among women is to feel understood. An astonishing number of men, including ME, entered marriage clueless about this fundamental dimension of marriage—connecting two naked hearts, i.e. emotional intimacy. Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoker, in their book, Every Woman’s Desire, observe:

  • 84% of women feel they don’t have heart intimacy (oneness) in their marriages.
  • 83% of women feel that their husbands don’t even know the basic needs of a woman for emotional intimacy (oneness) or how to provide it.
  • A large majority of female divorcees say that their married years were the loneliest years of their lives.

Let’s sharpen our picture of heart intimacy. Christian counselor Barbara Rosberg in, The Five Love Needs of Men and Women, cowritten with her husband, explains:

“The word, ‘intimacy’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘innermost.’  What this translates into for those of us in the marriage relationship is a vulnerable sharing of our inner thoughts, feelings, spirit, and true self…This support is achieved through listening, empathy, prayer, or reassurance.”

"Heart intimacy" to a wife means feeling so thoroughly loved and accepted that she easily and constantly shares with her lover what is going on in her heart. To a wife, the heart intimacy she craves is having her husband be her best friend—who loves to talk with her about everything—because that is what best friends do. Rosberg describes one wife’s yearning for heart-to-heart connection: “Melody’s idea of intimacy is sitting on the love seat with Dan, a couple of cappuccinos beside them, a roaring fire in front of them, no kids around them, and plenty of time for a good, long, heart to heart talk” (Ibid). While many Christian men look back on their wedding day as the beginning point for having regular sex, their wives look back upon it is the day they married their best friend. Romance is icing on the cake for them. The core of the relationship is being such close best friends that they stroll through life, arm in arm, sharing the secrets of their hearts, knowing that those secrets will always be valued because their husband loves them unconditionally. The next three biblical truths show how to build and maintain that intimacy.

B. Know what’s happening in her heart. Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph 5:28). Paul recognizes two characteristics of men: 1) they take care of what belongs to them and 2) they default to taking care of themselves. In the deepest possible way, our wives are worthy of special care and devotion because their body so thoroughly belongs to us that to love them is to love ourselves. Here is the point:  Men pay constant attention to their bodies. When my body aches, I groan. When my body is hungry, I eat. When my body is tired, I rest. When my body craves sexual release, I pursue my woman. When my body is wounded, I care for the wound. When my body is sleepy, I nod off. We are so united to our bodies that we cannot ignore them for long. They get our continual attention.

Men default to treating our marriages like our cars or lawnmowers: so long as they keep running, we take them for granted; it is only when they breakdown that they get our attention. Paul says, “Men, take the opposite approach. Your nervous system tells you immediately when your body is in pain. You should be so vigilant to know what is happening in your wife’s heart, that you know right away what she is feeling. Your connection with your wife’s heart should be so strong that it is like the nervous system of your own body.”

Intentional attention to her heart requires skillful listening to help her open it to us. Christian Counselor, Paul Tournier writes “In order to really understand, we need to listen, not to reply. We need to listen long and attentively. In order to help anybody to open his heart, we have to give him time, asking only a few questions, as carefully as possible, in order to help him better explain his experience” (To Understand One Another).

Principles for Helping Her Open Her Heart to Us

1. Proactively make it your job as husband to know what is going on inside her (to the degree that she feels safe sharing it) by asking, “How is your heart?”

2. Pay attention. There is no substitute for locking our thoughts onto what she is talking about. Tournier explains, “A woman thinks in detail. Details interest her more than general ideas. She has a need to tell all the days happenings, once she is with her husband… To him this appears very small and dull. When the wife senses that her husband no longer is listening to her, she feels terribly alone” (Ibid).

3. Practice shutupping. Therapist, Emma McAdam observes, “In general, people ask too many questions under the guise of listening. (Therapy In a Nutshell Video Series). Interrupting with questions makes the other person feel like she is being interrogated. Or worse—it puts you in control of the conversation and guessing about what is going on inside her instead of letting her continue to talk about what is going on inside of herself! Good husbanding IS about being interested in her day and asking about it. But once she starts to answer, my job is SHUTUPPING.

4. Use body language that shows you are engaged with what she is sharing. If she starts to well-up always move physically towards her and perhaps show the kind of touch, hand on shoulder, or hug that fits the moment. Lock your eyes to hers.

5. Mostly listen solely with the goal of understanding what she is trying to communicate. Listen for the deeper meaning behind the words, especially her FEELINGS. Tournier continues. Through speech men express ideas and communicate information. Women speak in order to express feelings, emotions. I discovered this truth as a pastor, when I called one of the moms in our congregation who had four kids. I casually asked, “Kathy, How are ya doing?” She answered, “Well I’ve got four nooses up on our porch. I’m about to hang all four of my kids.” After I got off the phone, I asked my wife, “Do I need to worry about what Kathy said?” Sandy laughed and said, “Honey, Kathy was just telling you how she FEELS. That’s what women do!”

There is a place for giving advice and problem solving. One of my sons has started asking his wife, “Do you need me right now more to understand what you are feeling or give advice?” But keep in mind that our primary goal is helping our mate share her feelings so she can lay bare her heart and still be cherished. Giving advice too quickly feels like you are 1) discounting her feelings, 2) trying to change her, or 3) not grasping the complexity of the problem instead of giving her the gift of understanding and cherishing the vulnerable inner self, she has just revealed.

6. Occasionally mirror back to her what you think she just said, especially looking for her feelings. You may say, “I think you’re saying ABC," and she may say “No, that’s not it at all.” That’s okay. The goal is to cause your bride to feel like you are trying to understand what she is feeling because you cherish her. Here are a few phrases to use to summarize what you think she was trying to communicate:

  • “So, from your point of view….”
  • “It sounds like you’re feeling….”
  • “You believe….”
  • “It seems like….”
  • “What I guess you’re feeling is….”

So, Paul commands husbands, “Be so in touch with, and responsive to your wife’s heart, that you are as quick to react to what is happening there as your nervous system is quick to react to pain in your body.”

C. Nourish her heart. Paul continues his instructions for husbands in Eph 5:19: Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but NOURISHES and CHERISHES it. Here, Paul goes to the world of tender care for infants for an analogy, using two words loaded with meaning. The first is nourish. The Greek word is EKTREPHO, from TREPHO to rear, to feed, primarily used of children + EK from or out of. The heart of a wife needs to be regularly fed with the ingredients required to nourish her heart just as an infant is dependent upon its mother’s breast milk. Women contemplating marriage seem to intuitively know this. In a pre-marriage class, each fiancée was asked, “What do you hope to get out of your marriage that you wouldn’t get if you were to remain single?” Here are some women’s answers:

Anna: “I want companionship and a sharing of intimate moments. I want to have a relationship with the Lord together.”

Vickie: “I can’t explain it real well, but I want a partnership, emotionally and physically. I haven’t got a best friend and haven’t had one for a long time. I want that in Craig.”

Kathryn: “I would like a bond that no one and nothing can touch, through good times or bad.”

Stacy: “I want companionship and love and my very own cheering section. I want someone to be there to accept me as a whole person, good and bad, someone I can count on.”

Sadly, many husbands who failed to provide the nutrients their wives’ hearts required were utterly shocked when out of the blue, they heard from them, “My feelings for you have died.” One such man was Fred Stoeker, author of the book, Every Woman’s Desire. He recounts the event “I sat across the kitchen table from my wife, Brenda, and I could tell she was waiting for my undivided attention. Then she looked intently into my eyes and changed my world. ‘I don’t know how else to say this to you, so I’ll say it straight,’ she began. ‘My feelings for you are dead.’ Her words arrived like a fastball pitch to the solar plexus. Dead? My head spun. Where was this coming from? Our marriage had started out with such promise.”

Stoeker goes on to observe that Brenda’s feelings had died because he had not devoted himself to “oneness.” “Oneness has terms,” he writes. “Comply with the terms and emotional closeness will follow.” Stoeker had failed to make deposits into Brenda’s heart that kept her feelings for him flourishing. Here is a list of heart nutrients that counselor Barbars Rosberg says make wives’ hearts thrive (The Five Love Needs of Men & Women.)

  • Loving her at her greatest point of pain
  • Loving her at her greatest point of vulnerability
  • Loving her at her greatest point of failure.
  • Encouraging her.
  • Standing with her.
  • Respecting her opinion.
  • Talking with her and listening.
  • Being tender with her.
  • Spending time with her.
  • Serving her.

These nutrients of our love are needed to cause her heart to thrive.

D. Warm her heart through giving her your affection. Back in Ephesians, there is a second word that Paul uses for the tender care husbands are to provide their wives. Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies…he nourishes and CHERISHES it. The Greek word for cherish is THALPO, the word for warmth. It is used of birds covering their young under their wing, keeping them close, providing warmth. What is in view is the warmth of familial affection. The NT word for affection, PHILOSTORGOS, is from a combination of the two words, PHILEO--friendship love and STORGE--family love. The warm, protective, affection pictured here is non-sexual hugs, non-sexual touch, tenderness. Counselor Willard Harley has seen many tragic stories of husbands who did not “affair-proof” their marriage by meeting their wives’ needs for constant closeness and non-sexual physical affection. Here is a summary of one (from His Needs Her Needs Building An Affair-proof Marriage.)

When Jane fell in love with Richard, she knew she had found her prince. Dates with Richard felt exciting, and when he held her in his arms the passion level went right off the scale. However just a few months after marriage, the passion began to pall. Jane started noticing something that was odd to her. Whenever she cuddled up for a hug or a little kiss, Richard became sexually aroused. Almost without exception physical contact led straight to the bedroom. Her love-tank craving for non-sexual affection was soon sitting on “E.”

At work, Jane was transferred to a new department, and there she met Bob, a warm and affable fellow who loved everyone. Bob had the habit of draping his arm over the shoulder of whomever he walked with—male and female alike. No one took offense. He was just a friendly man who liked everybody. Jane noticed that she started to look forward to Bob’s occasional hugs. They always made her feel good—warm and comfortable and cared for. One day they met in the hall. Bob greeted her as he gave her a little hug. “You know, Bob,” she said, “I’ve meant to tell you for a long time how much I appreciate your hugs. It's nice to meet a man who loves to do that.” “Well then come here!” He laughed and gave her another hug and little kiss on the cheek. Jane tried to act calm but that little peck started her heart pounding. It continued pounding in the following weeks as she started receiving little notes from Bob. They were always tasteful, caring, sweet, and non-sexual. But, before long Jane found herself having an affair with Bob. What happened? Did Jane’s wedding vows mean nothing to her. No. Jane was so starved for affection that she was literally hugged into an affair. In the counseling room there is a nearly universal complaint voiced by wives—he only gets affectionate when he wants sex. But this text commands husbands to give their wives non-sexual affection constantly. It keeps the warmth of their feelings for their husbands kindled. To most women affection symbolizes warm care, security, protection, safety, and love, like a baby bird being tucked under its parent's wing. To neglect this command of God is to rob them of the constant source of reassuring love they are designed to need.

The old Puritan author, Matthew Henry, seems to have grasped the need of a wife to be to be cherished and connected to her husband’s heart. He wrote. “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be beloved by him.”

For Further Prayerful Thought:

  1. Why do you think 84% of wives say that their husbands are not meeting their need for heart intimacy with them?
  2. What do you most need to remember about listening well to your wife to help her open her heart to you?
  3. What is your reaction to this statement: For most wives the pain of their husbands never connecting with them at the level of heart intimacy would be like the pain a husband would feel if his wife never had sex with him.
  4. What do you think of this description of a wife’s need for affection: it is regularly communicating in small, non-sexual, ways that you care about them. What else besides hugs fit this category for your wife?