Marriage Enrichment: A Valentine’s Day gift that will help build intimacy

Write a letter to your spouse that mentions an instance that makes you feel grateful for him or her

By Marian Christiana

It is that time of year again when romance is in the air and the thought of love fills our hearts. It is almost Valentine’s Day, and Valentine’s Day has me thinking about the importance of intimacy in a marriage.

Maybe you are dreaming of your walkway lined with rose petals, or you are planning a romantic dinner for two. Maybe you and your spouse are taking a romantic-getaway vacation in order to celebrate your love for each other. All of these romantic gestures are good and necessary to help build intimacy. They create positive memories and help to keep the romance alive. These positive memories can also help a couple during the more difficult times of a marital relationship or what the textbooks call the “disillusionment” phase. Recalling those positive memories can help them return to experiencing true joy in their marriage.

All marital relationships go through cycles of romance, disillusionment, and true joy. Romance is the stage when you feel happy, lighthearted, and content. Valentine’s Day advertising capitalizes on this aspect of a relationship when no one has any faults or annoying habits. If your relationship has hit a rough patch, then disillusionment has set in. Disillusionment is the stage when it is hard to overlook your spouse’s faults, and you hold back from communicating your wants and needs. You begin to feel lonely and disconnected. You become “me” centered instead of “we” centered.

Our sacramental marital bond calls us to be “we” centered. By our sacrament, we are called to a sacrificial love. A love that is willing to die to ourselves for the good of the other. When we truly practice sacrificial love, we find the next stage of marriage: true joy. True joy requires us to be intentional about our marriage. We must decide every day to make our marriage our priority. True joy is characterized by the feelings of trust, unity, and love. A marriage may experience these cycles over time, or it may experience all of the cycles in just one day. The challenge is to find true joy with each other by the end of every day. Intentionally building intimacy through small and large gestures all day will definitely help a marriage find true joy.

Intimacy is so much more than just the sexual act. True intimacy is a combination of quality time together, the affection or tenderness that we show each other each day, and the appreciation and gratitude we express throughout the day. Knowing that our spouse is in our corner no matter what and is cheering us on highlights the unity that intimacy helps to build. This true intimacy is something that I have been thinking about this Valentine’s Day season. You cannot put a price on it, find it online, or buy it at a store. It takes time and energy. It takes commitment. I am sure that each married couple can pinpoint at least one serious instance where the intimacy of their couple-hood saved the day and saw them through some trial.

Personally, there are many times in our 38 years of marriage that our couple intimacy has seen us through life’s challenges, such as a death of a parent, health issues, or the children leaving home, just to name a few. It is always good to tell your spouse how much you appreciate them and how grateful you are for all of the things they do for you. However, it is very touching and enriching when your spouse highlights a particular instance when your intimate love for them resonated more deeply. I wanted to share one of those instances from my marriage with you and tell you how I plan to use it as my Valentine’s Day gift to my husband, Ralph.

In July 2005, I had just started working for the diocesan Office of Family Life in the Chattanooga Deanery. I was on my way home from a meeting at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. A young woman pulled out from a side street and crashed into my car. In an instant, I had broken both arms, one near the wrist and one farther up. Luckily, I was right in front of a fire department station and help was there immediately. With an initial surge of adrenalin, I had managed to call Ralph to tell him where I was and what had happened. I believe he was there on site before the ambulance. As soon as I saw Ralph my heart stopped pounding so hard and I calmed down. That was just the first part of this journey.

As you might guess, there were hospital stays, surgeries, casts, metal traction devices, logistics to work through, and lots of paperwork. Ralph was by my side for it all. All of that was wonderful, but I want to focus on one small act of intimacy from Ralph during that time that still warms my heart to this day. The traction device on my arm that was broken near the wrist needed to be cleaned twice a day for 10 weeks to prevent infection. The entry sites had to be pushed down and washed. I cannot remember what the cleaning solution was, but I do remember that it was not pleasant. Ralph took on the job of being my wound cleaner. Every morning and every night he would clean my wounds. He was so gentle but thorough. I felt so close to him during his cleaning ritual. I do not remember even talking while he was doing it. I just remember his tenderness and how close to him I felt, how loved I felt. I did not get an infection until the last week of my ordeal when I talked Ralph into letting me take care of the wounds myself. I was not as thorough as Ralph.

My Valentine’s Day gift to Ralph this year is going to focus on that particular act of service. I am writing Ralph a love letter expressing my gratitude for the love and care that he showed to me through that cleaning process. It may seem like such a simple thing, but his selfless act of love has stayed with me all these years. Memories like this one help to bring me back to the true joy in our marriage, especially on days that I need reminding.

This Valentine’s Day I would like to suggest a different kind of present for your spouse: a present that will help you build intimacy with your spouse through the use of your shared memories and the feelings they create.

Think of a particular instance in your marriage that causes you to feel grateful for your spouse whenever you think about it. Share that memory with your spouse in a letter of gratitude. You can still have the romantic dinner or sneak away for a romantic getaway, but I guarantee you that the letter about that particular memory will enhance your intimacy even more.

I almost forgot: please check out all of the marriage-enrichment opportunities coming up on our website. Oh, and if you see my husband, Ralph, please do not tell him about my gift to him. It is a surprise!


Marian Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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