There were few occasions when my husband missed our son’s games. I usually reported the games to him with the major plays and included the contributions our son made in the games. At home (or on the phone if my husband was out of town), he would ask our son, “How was your game?” Despite knowing the outcomes of the games, the high and low points, and particular details of how our son played, my husband always wanted to hear about the game directly from our son. They would proceed to go through a blow-by-blow account of the game with lively commentaries and earnest critiques.
Going beyond the objective, getting past mere information about our spouse and children, intimacy with them allows us to enter their subjective world. It opens the door to their minds and hearts and not only lets us know who they are, but it also frees them to discover more deeply who they are as they share and reveal their inner selves to us. Intimacy strengthens the familial bonds.
Exchange of Gifts
It takes at least two persons to practice intimacy because it is a relational thing – there is an exchange – a precious gift is entrusted and a response commensurate to the gift is granted. In communicating thoughts and feelings, one is given the opportunity to entrust himself to another and the other person is provided the chance not only to be in his shoes, but also to respond to him personally – to walk with him, a privilege to be savored.
First, a gift is given and received; then by the response, the recipient gives and the giver receives. At the end of their game reviews, my husband would respond depending on how our son felt about his game. He would give our athlete a big dose of encouragement if he had a bad game or congratulatory affirmation if he had a good game.
Sharing of Minds and Hearts
Fostering intimacy takes time and patience; we can cultivate a culture in our homes that encourages expressing, sharing and responding. When trust is established, it paves the way for loved ones to share what is in their hearts. Modeling intimacy is the most effective way to teach and foster it in our family relationships:
- Carve out time for regular and casual sharing – eating dinner together comes as a natural way to do this or time in the car with the radio off. Parents openly express and share their own thoughts and feelings – and encourage loved ones to share their thoughts and express their feelings. When troubles and serious things arise, sharing about them will seem normal and natural.
- Begin a couch time with your spouse, when for a few minutes a day, you can share what is in your mind and heart – doesn’t have to be deep – just get in the habit of sharing with each other. This models to our children the primacy of the husband-wife relationship and what married relationship looks like. Added bonus: When children see their parents sharing and having a close relationship, it strengthens their sense of security.
- Let us be available and ready to listen when loved ones talk about what is going on inside of them, even if it seems trivial to us. If we are busy or not ready, we tell them – “I am busy right now, give me five (or plus) minutes, I want to hear what you are saying.” Then give them your full attention.
- Let us ask them to explain further their thoughts so that we may understand their ideas. Many times, verbalizing thoughts helps speakers clarify ideas for themselves. Let us give feedback to their ideas without being dismissive.
- The tone of their voice or facial expressions may indicate that real emotions are at play even if the explicit words express only facts. Let us ask them to identify what they are feeling so we can respond accordingly. Feelings are real but not always easy to identify. Identifying feelings helps a person to be in touch with what is going on inside of himself. Together with our children, we’ve looked at a list of feeling words like, angry, disappointed, surprised, delighted, etc. to give us words to use to more accurately express our feelings.
- A response is important in fostering intimacy; it closes the loop – indicating to our loved ones that we not only understand their minds and hearts but that we care for them. For example, when one expresses sadness, we respond with comfort; or when one expresses joy, we respond with jubilation. An appropriate response constitutes our relational expression of affinity and affection for them. They are precious moments when a child responds with kindness to a parent who has shared particularly challenging feelings.
Intimacy opens the path from one heart to another heart and back. Without intimacy, we live in the shallow surfaces of our relationships that often leads to loneliness and isolation. Our priest tells us that most people in their death beds talk singularly about their loved ones; regrets and satisfactions of their lives are measured by the state of their family relationships.
The family is the domain of significant relationships and it is in these relationships that intimacy should naturally be fostered. Skills for intimate interpersonal relationships are learned and honed in the primary relationships of the family. These interpersonal skills are the same ones exercised in prayer; as Christians with a personal relationship with Jesus, intimacy with God is possible. Our Father wants to hear everything directly from us. Let us allow Him into our subjective world; He listens and He does respond.
Fostering Intimacy – Part 2 will be posted next week.
Intimacy with God in Prayer and Teaching our Children Intimacy in Prayer