God’s Design: To Need
Today marks our eighth session in our series His Needs—Her Needs. It may be beneficial to ask ourselves why we are discussing in depth this subject of relationships between the sexes? Being Fathers of St. Joseph, our spirituality consists of St. Joseph’s four pillars: embrace silence; embrace woman; embrace the child; and embrace charitable authority. Theses sessions are our attempt to unveil the mystery of woman and learn how we can imitate our patron, St. Joseph, in loving woman, particularly by embracing our wives in their complete person. Today we will be discussing his and her second most fundamental, God-given needs. The Latin word for “need” or to “have need,” as expressed in Matthew 6:32, “For your Father knows that you have need of all these things,” is indigetis, taken from the root words indu, which means “in,” and egere, which means “to need” or “to lack.” In the English, this word is translated as being “indigent.” Indigent can be defined as being poor, impoverished, even a beggar. God creates men and women with needs that can only be fulfilled by the opposite sex, and He has created marriage as a means for couples to have those needs met and experience fulfilment—that is, the love of God expressed through the human person of the spouse. The difficulty, however, is that we do not want to appear weak, impoverished, or admit that we have needs, or perhaps admit that we need our wives. It is vital that we understand that needing our wives, or having needs that only our wives can fulfill, does not indicates that we have a deficiency or that something is inherently wrong with us. No. This is God’s design. God designed spouses to need each other and express their needs to one another as a way for the two to become humble, pure, unified, and one flesh.
His Second Need: Physical Intimacy
Besides being respected for his strength, what do you think nearly every man needs? Another way to ask this question is: what do women often accuse men of only wanting or thinking of? Physical intimacy—conjugal relations, sexual intercourse. This desire is not simply a longing, but man’s authentic, God-given need, and if his need is not addressed by his wife, his marriage will undergo serious tension. For example, a female friend, expressing angst regarding her husband, said, “All he thinks about is sex—and when I don’t give him what he wants he stands outside the bedroom door, pacing the hallway in frustration.” Eventually, the husband slept on the couch while she slept in their bedroom. One evening she texted him, as a plea, a call for help: “I’m hurting.” To which he responded, “It’s your fault.” Within a year the marriage ended in divorce. Notice that she was expressing her authentic need—she was begging, impoverished, and poor. But because his need for physical intimacy was not addressed, he was unwilling to meet her need. There are three factors that we have previously discussed that help determine the trajectory of a marriage: First, couples must understand that their marriage is a means to experience God’s self-giving love—and that’s why it is so difficult; second, couples must understand and express their authentic God-given needs; third, they must accept that they cannot determine how the their spouse meets those needs. In other words, the survival of marriage depends on couples communicating their needs—particularly his need for physical intimacy and her need for emotional intimacy. As Professor S says, “Physical intimacy is not woman’s primary need, especially when she is spending her days tending to her children or feels worn down. The last thing she is interested in is renewing her marital vows. There are many good wives, good Catholic moms, who believe that intercourse with their husband is simply one more chore to do. They distance themselves from sexual intimacy and allow the thief, Satan, to steal, kill, and destroy their marriage; they allow Satan to separate sexuality from holiness. He convinces them that the sexual act is either profane or a burden. Women often become trapped in the belief that ‘this is one more thing I have to do.’ She needs a man who can transmit a vision of what the two are actually participating in when the come together in the marital embrace.” But what are couples participating in when they have sexual intercourse? What is the big picture—God’s plan and meaning—for conjugal union?
The Liturgy of the One-Flesh Union
Recall that the marriage bond between a man and woman is a sacrament, that is, a real, active, participation and revelation of Christ’s marriage to His Church (see Eph. 5). As John Paul II said, “All married life is a gift; but this becomes most evident when the spouses, in giving themselves to each other in love, bring about that encounter which make ‘them one flesh’” (LF n12). Therefore the one-flesh union is the pinnacle manifestation of the self-giving love of Christ to His Bride in human marriage. “This is My Body, given for you.” We hear these words echo throughout history in the sacred liturgy. Again, John Paul II says, “In that sign[the sacrament of marriage] through the ‘language of the body’ man and woman encounter the ‘great mystery.’ In this way conjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgical (TOB 380). “The language of the body reread in ‘subjective’ and ‘objective dimension . . . becomes the language of the liturgy” (TOB 377). In other words, the eucharistic liturgy is God’s expression of self-giving love, which culminates in the Bridegroom giving the Bride His body. Likewise, the one-flesh union between spouses is liturgical in that it is an act of self-giving love in which spouses, by exchanging their persons, expressed through their bodies, offer God thanksgiving—a type of eucharistic feast. Rather than pressuring our wives to “do this duty,” it is our obligation to communicate to them this liturgical vision, that is, that the conjugal union is one of the greatest expressions of self-giving and thanksgiving to God. God delights in the joy we experience in the one-flesh union. He created it to be pleasurable, to be a sign of the heavenly liturgy wherein we will experience the self-giving love of God throughout eternity. Professor S says, “Often, we may have difficulty experiencing the fact that at Holy Mass there is the mystical union of heaven and earth—the union of God and man. Likewise, couples may often miss the mystical nature of the marital act. Conjugal union is a renewal of the sacrament of marriage, it is efficacious—it transmits grace to the couple—it is a real living in the mystery of Christ’s self-giving love. It is up to the husband to communicate this vision and initiate this self-giving love for the purpose of granting to his wife a spiritual backdrop to their sexual union. The husband must understand and communicate to his wife that their union unleashes incredible amounts of grace that heals and elevates them as a couple.” The trailhead of the family is marriage and the most evident act of God’s glory and self-giving love in marriage is the one-flesh union. The grace that comes forth from this act heals not only marriages, but also the entire family. Just as the sacred liturgy of the Eucharist transmits grace to the Body of Christ—all believers—so too, the liturgical act of the one-flesh union transmits grace to entire body of the family.
Guardian of the Gift
Now, just in case you may be thinking that Professor S is a little too strong in saying that we men are called to communicate and initiate this sacred vision of sexual union to our wives, listen to what John Paul II says: “From the beginning man was to have been the guardian of reciprocity of donation and its true balance. Although maintenance of the balance of the gift seems to entrusted to both, a special responsibility rests with the man above all, as if it depended more on him whether this balance was maintained or broken, or even if already broken re-established (TOB 33:2).
Addressing Her Need for Emotional Intimacy
So how do we communicate, initiate, or reestablish the mystical vision of the one-flesh union to our wives? This vision can only be communicated by means of a man who is strong enough to address woman’s second primary need: emotional intimacy. If we hope for our wives to authentically desire to address our fundamental need for physical intimacy, we cannot resort to methods such as pouting when she doesn’t deliver, or verbally assaulting her with phrases like, “Why aren’t’ you interested?” “I didn’t sign up for this?” “What’s wrong with you?” These methods may initially bully her into giving us what we desire, but no real intimacy exists in such an act. There must be a different way to approach her. When I was in third grade our class watched a short cartoon movie that depicted a story of the wind challenging the sun to a competition. The wind spotted a man, wearing a coat, traversing the countryside, and challenged the sun, saying that he could get the man to remove his outer coat faster than the sun could. The sun agreed to the challenge and allowed the wind to have the first attempt. The wind howled, and blew fiercely upon the man, nearly ripping the coat from him. However, the man hunkered down, yanked the sides of his coat down tight to his body, and refused to allow the coat to be blown off him. The wind, becoming exhausted, relented, granting the sun his turn. The sun simply and gently showered the man with his warm rays, and the man quickly removed his coat. We can howl and blow wind with cutting and biting words about our wives’ irresponsiveness, but bullying techniques will never help our wives become liberated enough to reveal God’s self-giving love to us by revealing themselves to us. It is imperative that we show them the warmth of the Son—of God—His self-giving love, by addressing her need for emotional intimacy. As I discussed this concept with a friend recently, he said, “This connection between the woman’s need of emotional intimacy and man’s need for physical intimacy perhaps causes the greatest problems in marriage and hardly anyone is addressing this.” So how do you help meet her need for emotional intimacy while helping her understand your need for physical intimacy?
Pursuing the Princess
Our wives desire to be pursued, much like a princess desires to be pursued by a prince. We can properly pursue her by doing three things: The first is by consistently expressing our gratefulness for her. It is vital that we constantly recognize all that our wives offer, all that they are, and all that they do—and thank her for these things. Recently, a friend shared with me how his wife tried to be creative and prepared an exotic dish for the first time for dinner. He hated it. However, he saw in the sweat on her forehead from working over the stove top and in the glimmer of excitement in her eyes, her love for and dedication to him. He desired her to feel loved, and for her gift to be received, and so he told her that she was the greatest, most dedicated wife in the world, while muscling down the food, and he spent the rest of the evening n conversation with her. As they were lying in bed she confided in him, “I know you hated the meal, but I also really know how much you love me.” He met her need for emotional intimacy and she later recognized his need for physical intimacy. Second, it is important to delight in our wife’s beauty. Whether she’s wearing sweats and her hair is disheveled or she’s all made-up—it is vital that she believes that we believe her to be the most beautiful woman in our world. Third, we must spend quality time with her, looking her in the eyes, listening to her recount her day, asking her questions about her dreams and desires. Friends of ours, a married couple, have coffee together nearly every morning and also have movie night in bed every Sunday night. By doing this, the husband continually addresses his wife’s emotional needs. She is verified by his attention and senses that she is worthy of it and because of this she “reveals” herself to him on a consistent basis in hopes of making every effort to meet his need for physical intimacy. My wife and I, at the suggestion of a very experienced wife who had been married for forty-eight years, began having weekly date nights approximately fifteen years ago. Even if we are fighting, we never miss. Those dates allow us to work through the bad and experience the good in one another. My wife has only walked out on me once during our dates.
Pursue, Not Stalk
Now there are several important qualifiers regarding the three ways of pursuing our wives. First, these things can never be done as a means to manipulate or coerce our wives into giving us physical intimacy. If that is the case, our physical intimacy will only be physical and not spiritually intimate. No woman desires to be used or manipulated. She is not a project, she is a person. Our motives matter. What is our motive? Is it simply to obtain the gratification we desire at the least cost to ourselves? Our motive can be nothing less than doing all of it for God; to achieve union with God; to have our wives and children achieve union with God. The one-flesh union between spouses is intended to launch us into the very heart of God—that’s the purpose—whether we experience that physical intimacy or not. Sometimes not having sexual intimacy with our wives is better for us in our effort to achieve union with God, because it purifies us of our selfishness.
But what happens when our wives don’t positively respond to our initiation? As Professor S says, “All guys are at different places and all wives will not respond in the same way. The point is not to get what you want. The point is to live 150 percent as a man despite what you do or don’t receive; regardless of how she responds or doesn’t. The husband must continue to initiate a good on behalf of her and sustain it.” The key is to understand the principle: little “r” relationships are intended to lead to the big “R” Relationship. The little “r” relationship of marriage is created to train us, lead us, purify us so that we may be drawn into the big “R” relationship of the Trinity. Our primary motivation for addressing our wife’s need for emotional intimacy can only be because it is what God desires. When this is our true desire, marriage and our sexual desires can become the dark night of a husband; the refiner’s fire that purges us of self-attachment; the crucible that crushes impure motives. However, by loving her for her own sake, and consistently being a disinterested gift, she most often will respond. The second qualification is that we are to pursue our wife—not stalk her. For example, an acquaintance related how he washed his wife’s clothes, cooked her meals, waited on her hand and foot—he did nearly everything for her. He was dumbfounded when she left him. When he asked her why, she said, “You follow me around like a puppy dog—suffocating me.” He said in retrospect, “She was right, she needed a man—not a mom.” What an incredible insight. We must let woman become the woman God desires her to be by becoming a man who doesn’t make his wife the ultimate adventure and goal, but brings her alongside him into the adventure and goal of finding God.
As Pope Benedict said, “From the point of view of the Christian faith, man comes in the profoundest sense to himself not through what he does, but through what he accepts. (Here we consider our marriages.) He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift. . . . One must wait for it, let it be given to one. And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved. . . . If he declines to let himself be presented with the gift, then he destroys himself.” Our duty, then, is to pursue our wife by thanking her, expressing our admiration for her beauty, addressing her need for emotional intimacy, and leading her on the adventure of seeking out and finding ourselves in finding God.