Intimacy can be a cringeworthy word (and thought) to those of us who have been abused, and really don’t understand what that is truly supposed to look like. We often feel like we don’t deserve it because we are told things that cause us to believe that we aren’t deserving. Intimacy isn’t just sex, but of course, still includes sex. It’s scary, after escaping abuse, thinking about the possibilities of being sucked right back in because of our desire to be loved in the way that we are supposed to be. Is there such thing as intimacy after abuse, and if so, what is that supposed to look like?
In an effort to fulfill these desires, I see many survivors jump right into another relationship, abusive or not. Regardless of our desires, our hurts, and our past, jumping into another (romantic) relationship as part of the healing process is almost never a good idea.
However, building healthy, mutual friendships are exactly what we need as a part of our healing process. What I mean by mutual is that it is not a one-sided, one gives all while the other takes all kind of friendship. It is a healthy, give and take. You can laugh together and cry together. You can be vulnerable, real, and you. And the best way to find these kinds of relationships begins with prayer.
It was an “accident” that I found the women that God has placed in my life, and by accident I mean that I wasn’t searching for it. However, I placed myself in a healthy atmosphere, and I got involved. God still placed these women in my life, and they were diligently praying for the relationships that we all have. I started by reaching out to a woman to mentor me, and women closer to my mom’s age speaking truth and love into my life. The friends my age were still great, I just didn’t know I needed more.
Almost all of these women, now including women closer to my age, connected to me through our church. I know many of you have church wounds (I do too), and I know they are legitimate and real. But here is the deal. Not all churches are bad, but there will always be people that hurt us. We are all sinners, and we will also hurt others sometimes. What helps us to grow more intimate is to work with each other, and God, to get through those hurts. Also, not all of the people in the church are the same as the others who have hurt you in the past. I found that getting involved in smaller groups, going to retreats, and putting myself in situations to meet new people is extremely helpful. Please don’t think that I am suggesting you put yourself in situations with unrepentant and abusive people, I am referring to those who hurt us, but also would be repentant and want to reconcile.
I know few (probably none) of you opened this to hear about intimacy in friendships, but let’s be real, they are important and we overlook them far too often. We need these intimate friendships, even if it’s only one or two. But, I know what you really want to know is about intimacy in your romantic relationships. Before we even get there, we need to talk about what we are doing in our lives now to prepare us for intimacy God’s way. That starts with our intimacy with God.
We all have wounds, and many of us here have huge, intimacy wounds that create difficulty, walls, and hesitations when it comes to being intimate emotionally and sexually with someone else. But, that won’t get better without looking to change ourselves, even if we aren’t responsible for the wounds that we have. What are we doing in our walk with God? Have we prematurely jumped into a romantic relationship? How can we expect change without changing what we are doing?
If we don’t take responsibility for our own change, God’s way, we will continue to make the same decisions with the same type of people. Change doesn’t come until we see the need for our own change, and we act in obedience towards that. This often means spending a significant time alone – single. “Significant time” means at least a year from the time of the final break up with the last. Not a year until you marry someone else, but a year until you even consider dating someone else. One of the wisest things my counselor told me was to wait a least a year to date after the finalization of my divorce. He went on to describe that those who prey on people like me will be on the prowl. They have the proper script they need to capture me and others like me in our most vulnerable moments.
Let’s be real. We can’t be trusted to make big relationship decisions when we are just beginning to heal from such deep wounds. Most of us are looking to be validated, to be made to feel special after a big rejection, and to feel loved in a way that was missing in the previous relationship. The problem is, we won’t find it repeating old patterns, and jumping into another relationship way before we are ready (even when we think we can handle it).
Taking it a Step Further
If dating is off the table early after a breakup, we should understand that sex is absolutely off the table. Any physical act of affection is off the table. It seems like it may be common sense, but when we let our emotions take over, the struggle is very real. That’s why we have to live in truth to help our feelings along. Sex is off the table even when the right, healthy person does come along. If you want one less dose of shame to deal with, save sex for marriage, even if you have had sex before. God doesn’t tell us to do that because He doesn’t want us to enjoy life. He created sex, and He made it to be enjoyable, but like everything else, there are boundaries surrounding it to help it “work” the way it is supposed to. Saving sex for marriage, and even backtracking to saying, “we won’t have sex again until we are married” helps you to be emotionally and physically safe. It’s a protection. There is a time and place for everything. The time here is when you are married, and the place is within your marriage. And again, this includes all the “everything except” stuff leading up to sex.
Saving sex for marriage doesn’t mean that sex won’t be a point of contention in your marriage ever or at all. But, it does help put you ahead of where you could be if you don’t follow God’s design for intimacy.
Intimacy Beyond Sex
Realize that intimacy goes way beyond sex. Intimacy in sex is more than simply an act. How is it bringing you to connect with the other person? Outside of sex, what are you doing to connect, open up, be transparent, etc. with the one you are with?
This is where the preparation of your heart, mind, body, etc. are so important. If we aren’t working on our own change, what makes us think that we will magically be a good partner for someone? Intimacy, just like relationship has to be a commitment, and it has to be worked on, and it begins before we ever step foot in a relationship.
We must never forget that we only have control over ourselves and our own choices. It’s foolish to think we can get by in life by trying to control others with our expectations and actions. Work on you and God. Intimacy begins with Him. If we don’t have intimacy with Christ, it’s highly unlikely that we will succeed at long-term intimacy with anyone else.
Take that year off starting now, if you never did (not if you are in a marriage, of course). Reevaluate your spiritual health, and your relationship with God. Seek friendships that are strong, godly, and honest. Give them permission to speak those hard truths into your life. After a while, you will notice, you have a gang of women in your life ready to tell you to boot the next guy that is in the relationship for the wrong reasons.
If you are in a marriage or a long-term relationship, headed towards marriage, make that effort to still find those godly women that will speak to your heart. Get on your knees, seek God for those friendships. Stay on your knees and pray for that intimacy with God, in your marriage (or future marriage), and with others. It’s hard work, but it is work well worth it.
For more intimacy related resources, check out Rob and Jenna Crenshaw and #TheWholeProject.
- How Can We Tell the Difference Between Good and Bad People?
- How Do We Bridge the Gap of Abuse as a Church?
- Abuse is a Weapon
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National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233