If you could have paradise however you imagine it, what would it look like?
If you could have that kind of paradise, do whatever you wanted to do there and be in charge of it, would you go there?
If you could have that kind of paradise, but nobody is allowed to be with you, would you still go?
"These are questions I ask couples across this country and internationally," says counselor Dr. Rick Marks. "As fed up as they might be with their marriage or relationship and, as tempting as it may be, these questions actually create tension in a person because human beings were not designed to be alone. I rarely come across a person who says they would take that kind of paradise. Yet I talk with hundreds of couples who are married and living a lonely existence."
Marks contends that the remedy for human aloneness is intimacy. Everybody craves intimacy and most people will find a way to have the intimacy they crave.
"Pain pursues pleasure," says Marks. "Your brain is wired to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. We are all driven by our needs until the day we die. When you don't feel loved, you search for ways to get that need met. This is why some people will say to you, 'Bad love is better than no love at all.'"
Consider this: If you had not eaten in five days and someone gave you a bunch of hamburgers, would it satisfy your hunger need? The answer is yes because the message to your brain is that you are eating something. If, instead of hamburgers, you ate rat poison, would that satisfy your need? The answer is yes. Your brain would release the same squirt of dopamine and initially, the need would be satisfied.
"This is what people often do in marriage when things aren't going well," says Marks. "If I need attention and I get any kind of attention, I feel loved - even if the attention comes from the wrong person. People will go to rat poison to get their needs met because it satisfies the need in the moment. Needs met or unmet affect how we think, feel and behave."
If someone asked, "Do you feel loved and valued in your marriage?" how would you respond? Believe it or not, creating intimacy in your marriage isn't all about your spouse. Sometimes you actually hinder getting your intimacy needs met due to prideful self-reliance, exalting your own needs as more important than your spouse's and being hypersensitive.
"Your spouse could actually be trying to love you, but due to your pridefulness, you refuse to receive it," says Marks. "We are often so focused on our own needs that we don't pay attention to the needs of our spouse. This is a recipe for disaster. I, along with many others, have experienced this miserable existence."
What can you do to increase intimacy in your marriage?
Discuss with your spouse: When do each of you feel loved and valued?
Then ask yourself: Do I make it difficult to create intimacy in my marriage?
The answers to these questions will help you pinpoint the areas where both you and your spouse can meet each other's needs. As needs are met, the healthy balance of give and take can help you produce a more intimate and fulfilling marriage relationship.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.