Six Ways to Pursue Spiritual Intimacy in Marriage

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Pastor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

No one knew it, but I felt like a failure.

God was blessing our ministry and marriage. People seemed to like us. And we certainly liked each other.

We both had a growing relationship with Christ, but my wife and I didn’t read the Bible or pray together. Jesus was — and is — everything to us, but we couldn’t seem to freely share his work in us with each other.

The questions kept nagging me. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? It’s supposed to be easier than this, isn’t it?

Can you identify? Maybe you want to pray or read the Bible more with your husband, but he resists. Perhaps you wish you could share your deepest struggles and passions with your wife, but she doesn’t really want to go there. Or maybe you feel like some kind of invisible wall divides you.

“If you find it difficult to consistently connect spiritually with your spouse, you’re completely normal.”

Without true spiritual intimacy, our marriages will flounder. I know firsthand how challenging it can be to intentionally pursue spiritual intimacy with your spouse, but God designed our marriages to deepen our joy in him as we dig into the goodness of the gospel with our most precious partner.

Marriage Pictures the Gospel

Ephesians 5:31 reiterates that, from the beginning, God made husbands and wives to be one. Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24, the time of the first marriage, to illustrate God’s good design across the ages:

“A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Then he lets us know what our marriages are really all about: reflecting Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32). God wants our unions to be a living, breathing reflection of the gospel. To the degree that we are spiritually intimate, we will experience and testify about God’s love for us in Christ to a watching world.

But too often, spiritual intimacy does not characterize our experience. The fleeting closeness, joy, and fun we had in a new relationship fade with the honeymoon. Or if we do taste the intimacy we desire, it often comes in unpredictable fits and starts.

Yearn for Oneness

Some of us experienced difficult family dynamics growing up, and we don’t observe many spiritually intimate marriages. Even if we do come across a model couple, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual intimacy. Growing children and growing responsibilities can sap our energy. Social media creates unrealistic expectations of marital bliss. And our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion,” ready to deaden and devour our marriages (1 Peter 5:8).

“If your marriage is going to make God look glorious, you must find more satisfaction in God than in your marriage.”

We bring our own pathology too. After the first husband and wife fell for Satan’s lies, they experienced a lethal disruption in their intimacy. They hid their bodies from each other (Genesis 3:7), and Adam abdicated his responsibility — both to God and to Eve. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12).

Oddly, there is a world of hope here. If you find it difficult to consistently connect spiritually with your spouse, you’re completely normal. You’re yearning for the oneness God created us for, but our broken, fallen world won’t fully allow it.

So, how can we begin to move our marriages toward the intimacy God designed them for?

1. Keep an open heart.

When we don’t experience the spiritual closeness we hope for, it’s all too easy to close off our hearts and shut down. Instead, acknowledge the hurt, and cry out to God with your disappointment:

   With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
      with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
   I pour out my complaint before him;
      I tell my trouble before him. (Psalm 142:1–2).

Even if your spouse doesn’t change, you will remain soft and open to Christ.

2. Pursue Jesus more than your marriage.

Even a great marriage is “loss” in comparison with “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Philippians 3:8). When we treasure Jesus above our spouse, we become the sort of person our spouse will want to draw close to. As John Piper has said,

If your marriage is going to make God look glorious, then you must find more satisfaction in God than in your marriage.

3. Replace things that kill spiritual intimacy.

We all have attitudes and habits that get in the way of intimacy. For example, I tend to get stressed and power through interruptions without asking God if they’re actually from him. This makes my wife want to run. Paul calls us to put off destructive patterns like this and put on new ones that reflect who we are in Christ (Ephesians 4:22–24). So, I’m learning to ask God for help to stay open to what he’s doing. As I consciously depend on God, it helps my wife and me avoid conflict and draw closer.

4. Intentionally share your weaknesses.

Pride tempts us to hide our struggles. But when we really believe that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5), letting our spouse in on a failure becomes natural and fosters spiritual closeness.

5. Choose something to do together.

Spiritual intimacy is far more than a list of to-dos like reading the Bible or praying together, but our marriages will only thrive when we hear God’s voice and have his hear together. Make a plan to pursue God together that you’re both comfortable with and get started.

6. Be patient and persistent.

“Without true spiritual intimacy, our marriages will flounder.”

We should expect some failures and setbacks. My wife and I have restarted an audio course on the gospel three times as we struggle with old fears and a full schedule. But there’s always hope for a new beginning because God’s mercies and faithfulness for your marriage truly “never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

Press on to Know Him More

In the end, there’s no magic formula to develop genuine spiritual intimacy in your marriage. It’s going to require an investment of time and energy that you might not feel like you have. But a spiritually intimate marriage is worth more than whatever small sacrifices you might have to make to get there.

Your wife is worth the extra effort. Your husband is worth the extra effort. Deepening your joy in Jesus together is worth anything.

(@bryanstoudt) is a pastor serving healthcare students and professionals as Area Director for CMDA in Philadelphia, where 1 in 6 physicians in the country does some portion of their training. After Jesus, his passions include his beautiful wife Sharon, their four children, coffee, and running. He writes at bryanstoudt.com.