Together in Bed, Apart in Soul

Four Steps to Spiritual Intimacy in Marriage

“With no one else has it been more difficult to have consistent, uplifting spiritual conversations than with my wife. . . . And I’m sure she would say the same.”

Grimaced nods suggested he wasn’t alone. Fights, misunderstandings, indifference, exhaustion, busyness, and insecurities made consistent soul-intimacy feel next to impossible. Co-existing, many of us had experienced, was easier than co-mingling. Some of the men around the table had given up entirely, explaining away their hunger for it as “something that just doesn’t work for us.”

As spiritual leaders of our homes, we brainstormed why the struggles persisted. Some had married extremely competent women who could take care of their own spiritual lives well enough (and had done so for years). These women didn’t seem to need us to nourish their souls and wash them with the water of the word (Ephesians 5:25–27) — some of the men felt that they actually slowed their wife down. Others of us couldn’t talk much about anything without it leading to an argument. Others felt too exhausted from work to go deep when they got home. Others feared losing their wife’s respect because they weren’t a biblical scholar like other men she appreciated.

Whatever the reason, she had her Bible study; we had ours. She read this book; we read that book. We may pray together before meals. Many of our most in-depth talks stood as distant memories. While dating, the day didn’t afford enough hours to discuss all we wanted to concerning the Lord. Now, we seemed prepared to go deep with anyone but her. What happened? Together in bed, apart in soul. We had become spiritual roommates.

The Wall We Need Removed

Sometimes, our spouse can be the hardest Christian to have spiritual intimacy with. We can go deep with close brothers, our small group, those we disciple, or old friends we’ve known for years, but the path roughens when we attempt to “go there” with her. A wall stands between us and our lily.

The wall is made of many bricks. Endless needs of family, church, and neighbor, self-doubt about our knowledge of the faith, seasons of spiritual depression on one or both sides, residual conflicts all make the undressing of souls harder than the unbuttoning of clothes. The battle for spiritual intimacy is uphill — and our enemy ensures it.

Satan hates our marriages because he hates what it represents: Christ’s relationship to his Bride. He means to destroy them. And if he cannot convince us into adultery or apostasy just yet, what better way to immobilize our spiritual union than to divide us? What God has joined together, Satan means to spiritually — if not physically — separate. He will not have us holding hands gazing upon the beauty of the Lord. He intends for us to live spiritually as though we had no spouse.

These challenges speak nothing of a flesh that tempts and excuses, a world that numbs and distracts, difficult circumstances that leave us low and confused, and marriage advice borrowed more from psychology than theology. Even some of our leaders avoid eye contact when the question is asked: How do you lead, nourish, and cherish your wife spiritually?

Four Simple Ways to Start

The need of the day is intentionality. We often can get deceived into assuming that because we have physical proximity — we eat dinner together, run errands, watch TV, live, play, and sleep under the same roof while both loving Jesus — we will necessarily have soul intimacy. We mistake the rubbing of shoulders with the kissing of souls. It is not uncommon to go weeks without even realizing that you’ve not talked deeply once. Proximity suggests intimacy, but can actually undermine it. We are reminded to date our spouse, and now, to go deep with them.

My aim then is simple: To encourage you to press on and remind you that there is more. You can have depth again. You can behold him together, and be changed from one degree of glory to another together. For some, this may seem unattainable — as it did for my wife and me for a season. But to increase spiritual intimacy, we resolved to spend intentional time together in his word and prayer, developing a routine we found to be manageable, effective, and at the very least, a good place to start.

1. Hunt Little Foxes

When we seek the Lord by ourselves, we can better ignore tensions in our marriage. When we seek him together, we can’t. (It’s much harder to, anyway.) Thus, it’s good to begin by hunting little foxes that would threaten our time before the Lord.

Expose and then pray that the Lord would kill the little hindrances to your love, any impediments to your beholding him in his glory together. The lovers prayed this way in the Song of Solomon: “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom” (Song of Solomon 2:15).

Practically, this means confessing sin to one another and then bringing it before the Lord. When I’ve led this effectively, I’ve asked my wife if there is anything we should confess to each other or any hindrances that stand between our hearts and the Lord. Such times have often allowed us to give and receive forgiveness, centering our relationship on the foundations of what makes such forgiveness possible: the good news of God’s mercy toward us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:32).

This is a consistent opportunity to be honest, keep short accounts, and forgive one another as Christ forgave us. This is not an invitation to settle old scores, be passive aggressive, or take out our frustrations on one another. It is an opportunity to ready ourselves to seek the Lord of mercy in his word together.

2. Look at the Book

Read through a chapter or so of the Bible together. You could read more or less, but the point is to read something — and that something being from the word of God.

Reading through books together can certainly be profitable, but if you have time for only one thing, let it be God’s book. No other can shape your life and marriage like the Bible can. No rival exists. No book is sweeter, truer, more powerful, more satisfying, and more fortifying for our souls or marriages than Scripture. No other book is living and active, no other is God-breathed, no other one can raise the dead and show us God. How different would our marriages be if we were building them on the rock of God’s word?

3. Discuss the Text

A man need not be more knowledgeable than his wife to wash her with the word. But it does require some effort. Wrestle with the text some beforehand, even for a few minutes. Come ready to ask a question or two. Draw out your wife’s insights and questions. Share thoughts (and ask her) about what you love about God from this text or what application you’d like to apply in the family for the week ahead. Help place this passage within God’s redemptive story. Don’t feel pressure to speak profoundly about the word; let the word be seen as profound and Christ as beautiful.

Three fatal errors can occur in our Bible reading together. First, we can fail to be consistent. Second, we can fail to ever have any real-world application to our lives. Third, we leave with much to do or think while missing God. We must not neglect our pure spiritual milk, nor be mere hearers of the word, nor search the Scriptures while missing Jesus. Find fresh reasons to worship God, love neighbor, and put sin to death — together.

4. Pray: Adore God and Ask for Help

After meditating on the text, exult in who the triune God is: his excellencies, his holiness, his steadfast love and faithfulness. Then exult in who God is for us: Father, Savior, Master, Friend. Delight in him together as two children before their Father. Then pray his word over your life, your marriage, your neighborhood, your nation, your world. Ask for help to obey and live for his glory.

Don’t Despise the Day of Small Beginnings

Just as many couples take time to learn how to serve one another emotionally or physically, it takes time to learn one another spiritually (no matter how long you’ve been together). It may be bumpy at first, but you can be more than roommates. Daily plodding, daily seeking. You can’t go back in time, but you can begin where you are. For my wife and me, this meant starting to spend meaningful time together in the word (from 20 to 45 minutes) multiple times per week.

On days when my wife and I misunderstand one another or sin against each other, our resolve to press on in this makes all the difference. We committed to do it, and this gives us freedom to really try. By God’s grace, we’ve drawn near to the Lord together, believing that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). As we fight to resist the devil’s sowing discord in our time together in God’s word, he has begun to flee from us.

It is possible to spend intentional time together, multiple times a week, in prayer, his word, knitting ourselves together, exploring mountain ranges of his glory, and being refreshed through confession, repentance, and gospel-reminders. There are flowers, fruits, and streams in the garden of spiritual intimacy that you can, even now, cultivate and enjoy.