Thursday, February 21, 2013

Better Together

9 - Emotional Intimacy & Individuality

We found these two trees while hiking in the mountains of Washington state.  They are by far the largest trees on this particular hike and reside on a bed of rocks at a very aggressive mountain stream.  A plaque told us that the entire forest was burnt to the ground at one point (a hundred years ago) but these two trees remained because of how close they were together and how close they were to water.   These trees were better and stronger together than apart.  

I don't really want to turn this into a sermon illustration, but every couple needs their own traditions, routines, and habits to form a strong emotional relationship that can withstand what the world will throw at it:
  • Shows always watched together
  • Friday Night Dates (with genuine listening & talking)
  • Adventures together
  • Certain sporting events or movies or games or concerts
  • Family or charity work or projects
  • Square Dancing, bowling, cards, or softball
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's
These things give couples common ground and consistency but here is where this particular blogette becomes less about marriage and more about life.  I love how these particular trees garner strength as they grow side by side rather than entwined completely.  It is probably a little tricky to give each other encouragement and support, to grow side by side, but yet not grow apart (or choke each other) as each tries to reach for the sun and the water.  

There is something to be said for maintaining an individual identity that is separate from your role as spouse or parent or even grandparent.  It is vital that both people find fulfillment in each other, that they know they are better together than without, but still have individualism; I'm sure this gets even more complicated in retirement or when a couple works together but it is important to have some varied interests and endeavors that are healthy*:  time with alternate non-couple friends / art classes / sporting events / book clubs / Bible studies / tennis / volunteer work / photography.

I'll never forget a rather embarrassing (at the time) story:  We were in the earlier years of marriage, my DH was in the middle of one of his masters degrees, had a full-time job, and a 2nd part-time job.  We had a really active toddler and a baby.  I was working in the office.  We had very little couple time and we were always trying to fit in as much as we could.  While we were together with a group of friends, someone asked me what my DH's thesis was about.  I couldn't remember for the life of me.  My DH, who I loved and adored, spent HOURS a week on something but I had absolutely no idea what it was.  I knew it had something to do with… !?!?! English?! Literature!?

At the time I felt just awful, like I barely knew my own husband, but the reality was that in our  precious time together, we didn't want it wasted so our talking rarely ever included his masters (or my other interests either).  As time went on, we would have more time but still have many other activities that we did individually rather than as a couple.  Golfing, yoga, art classes, music, books, my old column... even this blog.  It isn’t a secret.  He knows that I write it.  He knows how and where to read it, he likes it, and loves that I am doing it but doesn't take the time to check it (unless someone says, "Did you see what Kelly wrote last week?!" -- at which point, I usually sigh and say, "Ugh, now what?! Why do I do this to myself?!")  We ask each other how work was; neither of us are at the CIA, there isn't an impenetrable code of ethics or silence over our professions but rarely do we talk about it for long.  I know a couple of the people at his job and he knows some of mine but we have some very separate experiences* from work and home and then as parents.

Emotional intimacy is not necessarily about doing everything together or being completely entwined in every aspect of each other’s lives.  There are details that lead to emotional intimacy but it is mostly a matter of the soul and faithfulness and trust and growth (together).  I'm not sure the secret to finding the perfect balance (maybe in 40 more years) but I do sense that our endeavors as individuals make our marriage (and parenting) more dynamic and fulfilling.  

Disclaimer:  these individual activities should not be dangerous, cause jealousy or be rocky ground for mistakes or a financial burden on the family or even take up too much precious time/energy.  The goal is to find HEALTHY activities that can be easily supported by both partners-- most likely not high-stakes gambling, an assigned seat at the local tavern, modeling, sky-diving, etc...  Think artistic or athletic or intellectual or philanthropic.

Disclaimer 2:  there are stages of life, especially when the kids are little or money and time are tight, that extra personal endeavors take a bit of a back seat.  I would encourage you to not bury them entirely.  Try to find little ways to "sharpen the saw", maybe just a couple of hours a week, to fulfill individual interests or at least enjoy a walk in solitude or coffee with friends.

*Even when at parties or events, we try to sit by other people so when we get home we can catch each other up... Frankly, I'm much better at this than him.  I will come home knowing all sorts of information about job changes and babies and catastrophes and he found out that they came in 3rd for their fantasy football league but felt like they were robbed and should have won.

For a regularly updated and concise list of all of the mini blog series on love:  refer to the Intro / Love is all You Need

I'm taking the weekend off!  See you Monday at 6am! 


  1. So enjoying your series. You have a real gift Kelly, and I appreciate being able to soak up all your lovely, funny, and inspiring words.

    1. Oh Thanks! A little encouragement is always nice. Writing is such a solitary activity. Real life is starting to take over so I can't pretend to be a blogger, but hopefully I can write more later this week ;0)

  2. I just took a break from work to treat myself to your recent blog posts on marriage. Well done and full of truth! I kept thinking each one was my favorite until I read the next one. Don't stop!

    1. Thank you! That is very kind. I do have about 5 more drafts written for this mini-series but haven't had the time to edit and make them more concise. Hopefully soon.