“I used to think I had no problem with intimacy because I could have sex so easily. I can see now that I used sex as a tool to validate my self-worth. I have been married for 15 years and have never had any intimacy. Can a 42-year-old person learn intimacy?”
Wanting in Denver, Colorado
Dear Wanting: We tend to think of a relationship as a destination (“I fell in love, I got married, and I lived happily ever after”) rather than a process or a journey (“We’re working on improving our communication and how to be more tolerant of our differences”). When we create a relationship, we tend to quit growing and learning about ourselves and our partners.
One skill stands out above all the others if you are wanting to have a close, intimate relationship: the willingness to be a “student” husband and “student” wife. This skill is appropriate whether you have been together for four months or for forty years.
Students don’t assume they know what to do. They have the mind set of a beginner (“teach me, I’m open to learning”). The “student” husband/wife does not assume they know how to be a husband or a wife. They’re eager to learn, willing to “get” it, and are trying to learn the job better. So frequently, people assume they know how to be a wife or a husband, and they quit the process of learning how to be responsive to the other person. They then do marriage the way they think it should be done, and quit listening to feedback, requests and “teachings” their partner inevitably offers.
We all need feedback about what we’re doing right and about what we could be doing better, and we need it presented in a gentle enough way so that we can actually hear it.
In truth, nobody knows how to be a good husband or wife to you. They have to be taught what you want, need and desire, so they can learn the job description really well. Being a good student is helped enormously by having a good teacher: someone who is willing to gently teach us how to succeed with them so that we can be spectacularly successful.
Being willing to become a “student” husband or wife is, in my judgment, one of the two keys in being a good husband or wife. Being willing to be an effective and patient teacher is the other key.
That is how this “student” husband tries to go home every night. When I don’t, we’re often not close. When I do, usually we are. It is a continuous process of “getting it.”
Intimacy is about how willing I am in learning how to be responsive and nurturing to someone I care about. I am a specialist on intimate relationships and what goes wrong in intimate relationships, and I have finally figured out that I will never “graduate” and become a husband. A “student” husband is as good as it will ever get. It keeps me tuned in and conscious, and it helps us stay close.
It is easier to get a marriage license than it is to get a driver’s license. It is easier to get married than it is to be happily married.