Dr. Juli Slattery Answers Six Questions on Sex and Intimacy in Marriage
Dr. Juli Slattery, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, a ministry devoted to reclaiming God’s design for sexuality, answers six questions below related to sex and intimacy in marriage. We asked her a few general questions such as, “What is the difference between physical and emotional intimacy?”, as well as some specific questions related to intimacy in different marriage seasons. Check out what she has to say.
Q: What is the difference between physical and emotional intimacy?
A: The difference between physical and emotional intimacy is profound. A lot of couples have physical or sexual intimacy for years without inviting in the emotional component. In this case, it’s really not intimacy—it’s your bodies being active together without sharing the journey. Emotional intimacy includes communication, vulnerability, learning to trust each other, and growing in that trust. God designed the physical part, the sexual part, to model what you should be doing in your emotional relationship as well.
Q: What is one thing I can do outside the bedroom that will impact what happens inside the bedroom?
A: One thing you can do outside the bedroom that will impact what happens inside the bedroom is have a spirit of humility. What is humility? Humility means having the perspective, “My way isn’t always right. I want to understand you. I want to be the first to apologize and admit where I’ve been wrong. I want to confess if I’ve hurt you because what’s most important to me is our intimacy.”
If you develop a spirit of humility within your relationship, then it’ll flow into the bedroom, where it’ll be safe to communicate. Your spouse will know you’re not just in it for yourself, but you want to be a servant and enjoy intimacy together. Humility is not something that’s easy to come by, but it’s something that God begins to give you when you pray for it and make it your heart’s desire.
Q: How do I make my spouse feel safe during sex?
A: Safety during sex actually starts in the context of your whole relationship. [For example], are you a trustworthy person? Are you someone who [says], “I’m not going to cheat on you. My eyes aren’t wondering other places. I am for you. You can trust me.” A lot of people try to build trust and safety within their sexual relationship without realizing they’ve done damage throughout the day [such as] in the way they handle conflict.
Within the bedroom, though, safety is built through reassurances [like], “I love you. You’re the only one I think about. I love your body. I only have eyes for you.”
Q: As newlyweds, what is one tip for how we should approach expectations for sex?
A: As newlyweds, it will help you to think of your sex life like LEGOs. Go with me here. When you buy LEGOs, you see a cool design on the front of the box, but when you open the box, you don’t expect to see the completed design. You expect to see a bunch of building blocks and pieces, and you learn to build [them] together. If you can see your sex like that way, you won’t be disappointed, but over time, you’ll build something beautiful in your sexual relationship.
Q: How do we have healthy intimacy after having a baby?
A: After having a baby, there’s about three months where the mom is going to be engrossed in being a mom. So, give yourselves three months for it to be [all about the mom] and all about the baby. After three months, start transitioning. Say, “How do we get back to being a couple?” Intimacy might take time, but [at least] have a date night even if it means connecting in your bedroom while the baby is sleeping. Intimacy must be a priority in your marriage long-term, and although, it might take time and effort to get there, if you determine you’re not going to let it be forever on the back burner, you will begin rebuilding intimacy.
Q: As empty nesters, how can we reconnect and rekindle romance?
A: Being an empty nester can be one of the greatest seasons of your marriage because you don’t have the distraction of children, but on the other hand, a lot of couples get to the empty nest and realize they [aren’t connected] anymore. So, it’s key to rebuild connection with your spouse during this season. [Here are] two things you can do to go the distance.
The first one—relearn how to play together. You probably have more time than you’ve ever had and maybe some discretionary income, so this is a season where you can take up a hobby together, travel, go on vacation, and rebuild that sense of friendship and companionship. The second thing is serving together. There’s something about serving together—whether hosting a small group or serving at your church—that helps you bond in a spiritual way. If you work on these two aspects of building intimacy in your marriage, then the romance is much easier to rekindle.