The Genesis 2:24 Cycle of Marital Intimacy
A Couple Must Become United
For a husband and wife to be united carries two implications. The first suggests that in order to be united, they must be in agreement as to the direction and purpose of their relationship. In other words, they must be on the same page. To be united in this way means that they have unity and have become harmonious with one another. There is little if no friction, contention, competition or strife among them. The second way of looking at being united carries with it an emotional connotation.
When two people perceive that each other have the other person’s best interest at heart, it then causes them to conclude that they are being loved and cared for. Our conclusions of such things generally produce loving feelings toward the person who behaves lovingly toward us. In this way, a man and woman create an emotional bond with one another. Thus they become united “emotionally” by developing loving feelings. Thus unity has both a cognitive analytical component to it and an emotional component. It is important to note that our minds have a cycle too. Feelings always flow from the analytical conclusions we decide about things.
Because unity can be looked at in these two ways, this is how some women can say, “I love my husband but am not―in-love with him.” On the surface, this may sound nonsensical. How can you love your husband or wife without also being in-love with him or her? What women are really trying to say is that, they recognize their continued desire to care for their husband and to do loving things for him (love is defined here as a verb or action that is done). Yet, because they do not continuously perceive those behaviors in return, they come to believe that they are not well loved. Consequently, without receiving loving behaviors from their husband they do not develop the loving feelings for him that they want to have (note that love is defined here as a noun which is an entity all its own and something to be experienced or felt). These loving feelings are the prerequisite that most women need in order to develop sexual desire for their husbands. While men do want to feel emotionally connected to their wife, it is not the part of the relationship to which they give the greatest emphasis. While men and women do appear to want similar things from relationship, they actually have lopsided appetites for those things.
The second phrase found in Genesis 2:24 is much easier to decipher. To say that a couple will become “one flesh” is obviously pointing to the physical part of their relationship. Here the biblical text is taking a look back at the individuation of Adam and Eve. In essence it is outlining the reversal of the divine surgery that God performed in the garden and the way He has designed for couples to regain total intimacy.
While physical intimacy most certainly can include sex, other expressions of it like, handholding, hugs, kissing, cuddling and spooning must also be considered. Wives often complain that they do not receive enough non-sexual touching from their husbands.
Nonsexual touch such as those noted, produce a neurochemical in the brain called oxytocin. As it turns out, oxytocin triggers the production of testosterone which ultimately gives a person the desire to be sexual. When women say that they want more nonsexual touch, what they really mean to say is that they need to generate those “sensual” brain chemicals in order to feel and be sexual. Unlike men who inherently have high levels of testosterone already coursing through their bloodstream, women need to produce some in order to be able to work-up-to sex. This is why foreplay is so important for them. Which is also why couple’s should focus the lion’s share of their time together on building unity; the wife’s emotional connection and nonsexual touching to prepare for the much less frequent sexual intimacy married couples should share.
To force the issue and become sexual apart from having these desires, may be what prevents some women from developing their own natural lubricant that would make sex pleasurable instead of painful for them. Notwithstanding other effects of aging on the relationship, like chronic feelings of being unloved, as well as a general desensitization to the pleasures of sex, some researchers believe that vaginal lubrication may become more difficult as a woman gets older due to a loss of estrogen and a thinning of the vaginal walls Osphena is a new drug that helps strengthen vaginal tissue counteracting losses of estrogen. Women who have difficulty being sexual or who have painful sex are commonly diagnosed with conditions such as vaginissimus or dyspareunia. Approximately 12% of women experience chronic symptoms of painful sex while another 20% experience it on an occasional basis. While these percentages might seem excessively high for the women who do engage in sex, they fail to include the numbers of women who avoid sex altogether due to the physical and emotional pain associated with it.
Consistent with Genesis 2:24, when a woman believes that she is connected to her husband and when she believes that she is being understood empathetically by him, that belief triggers the production of oxytocin. Because of the effects of oxytocin, that powerful brain chemical sends a signal to her brain that allows her to actually “feel” love. Since the production of oxytocin is linked to sexual desire by way of triggering the production of testosterone, it makes perfect sense that sex could follow the positive beliefs that she is securely connected and cared for. When we add the oxytocin produced from nonsexual touching to the mix, it produces a powerful one-two sexual cocktail that many women find hard to resist.
Not surprisingly then, when a woman perceives the opposite from her husband―that she is insecure and uncared for, the stress she feels not only fails to manufacture oxytocin but begins producing a different hormone called cortisol. That chemical, known colloquially as the stress hormone, actually suppresses sexual interest. Therefore, pressuring a woman for sex rarely produces the desired effect. Rather, the opposite occurs.
Some women may make themselves behave sexually under such circumstances but likely fail to find pleasure in it. Tim Stafford, in his book Sexual Chaos, quotes well-known sex therapist Helen Singer Kaplan who, in writing from the female perspective, states, “Sexual dysfunction is unlikely to occur in comfortable, caring relationships because there is little performance anxiety when [partners] trust and care about each other.”
The Husband’s Responsibility to “Unite”
are some other things that we must understand about the phrase “united to his wife”:
- Note that this phrase is directed at the husband.
- It tells him that uniting with his wife is something that he should do.
- From this, we can only conclude that, the state of being “united” is the husband’s responsibility both to initiate and to maintain.
- Not only that, because wives are now made aware of her husband’s Genesis 2:24 responsibility, it virtually turns that responsibility into a promise to her given his initiation of this cycle of intimacy with her.
When a man is able to generate beliefs of security and empathic understanding in a woman, he essentially causes her to feel united “emotionally” with him, a process which usually leads them to a physical union. Conversely, if a man is unable to unite emotionally with a woman, then the sexual aspect will usually not get started also. In this way each person is dependent upon the other. Furthermore, it is the man who must get the whole thing started, and, keep it going.
Science in Unison with Genesis 2:24
Many have been led to believe that the Bible is a book of “fairy tales” or “nice sayings” and that science and the Bible are in contradiction with each other. You may also be surprised to hear that these two strange bedfellows are actually in perfect harmony in what they also say about marriage. While the Bible refers to the Cycle of Marital Intimacy with terms like “united” and becoming “one flesh”, science has a similar way of referring to the same cycle. Scientists simply state things more clinically.
Researchers Doug Rosenau and Deborah Neel refer to the cycle of intimacy this way, “A wife wants to feel emotionally connected before opening herself up to physical intimacy—while a husband is just the opposite. He finds that connecting physically opens his heart for emotional bonding.”
In the book Secrets of Eve: Understanding the Mystery of female Sexuality, co-authors Debra Taylor and Catherine Weber echo that understanding when they offer advice to counselors who work with couples. They say that improving a couple’s sexual relationship is almost impossible without working on, and improving, the couple’s overall marital relationship. This means that employing “sensate focused sex therapies” with the couple before addressing the wife’s emotional connection with her husband, could prove to be more harmful.
In contradiction to the ease at which today’s couples seem to enter and exit that cycle, God has a very different perspective on what the durability of their relationship should look like. He knows and understands that once this bond and cycle of intimacy begins, it must not be interrupted by any outside party. Rather, He intends this bond and cycle of intimacy to be never-ending. In Mark 10:9, Mark quotes the response Jesus gives to the Pharisee’s question concerning the permissibility of divorce. Jesus states, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Later, as we will discover together, cohabitation, affairs and divorce can all have devastating results, especially for the children produced through the improper, even sinful use of this cycle of intimacy. God lovingly wants to protect families from those evils.
The W-N-P-S Sub-Cycle
If you are familiar with the book, Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, then you may recall the Crazy Cycle about which he has written. On this web page we call it the W-N-P-S Sub Cycle (a relational phenomenon which we will unpack for you later) because most couples experience it. This W-N-P-S Sub Cycle occurs when husbands fail to give their wives the love they crave and when wives fail to respect their husbands appropriately. Instead, the husband and wife devalue one another and show contempt for each other. The concepts of showing love and respect apply to our cycle as well. When that does not happen, couples go through a very predictable sub-cycle designed to re-engage that partner who appears to be withdrawing from the marital relationship.
Once a woman is emotionally connected with a man, she feels loved by him. When a woman honors her husband’s desire to connect with her sexually, he feels respected by her. In this way both fulfill what the Apostle Paul teaches couples in Ephesians 5:33, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Why do you think God inspired Paul to write these things? After all, shouldn’t this all come natural to a husband and wife? I am constantly amazed at how a husband tries to give his wife sex believing that is what she wants while women do likewise by giving her husband the empathic conversation she wants. This should sound simple but not many couples really get it. The disconnect they experience stems from the husband not understanding the wife’s need for a strong emotional connection with him and the wife’s lack of understanding of the sexual nature of her husband. Often times, a wife erroneously believes that her husband is focused on the emotional part of their relationship just like she is. Just as often, the husband believes that the way his wife wants to feel loved is sexual in nature just like he wants. God appropriately inspired Hosea to write in chapter 4 v. 6, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Husbands and wives simply do not understand each other and have difficulty in their relationship because of these things.
Without Reciprocity, a Spouse May Feel Used
In one section of his book, Eggerich’s suggests that: when a couple gets on the Crazy Cycle, the more mature spouse should take the lead and break that negative cycle. While that might be true for a committed couple, one which was in the Cycle of Marital Intimacy, but lost it, having the more mature spouse take the lead may not be a good idea for those who are just getting started. Let me explain.
If an unmarried woman were to initiate the Cycle of Marital Intimacy instead of the man, could have disastrous results for her. If she became sexual without first receiving the perquisite commitment and emotional connection from him, she may never ever get to feel that full emotional connection with him. Why? Because he has not had to meet any of her requirements in order to get the sexual type of intimacy that he wants. In a scenario like this, she has effectively released him from any responsibility to provide what she wants from the relationship. Furthermore, if this illicit sexual relationship continues, he may never see any need to give what she wants. Apart from him reciprocating back to her what she wants, the woman will eventually come to realize that is actually being “used” instead of being loved. Once she recognizes that the relationship is only a one way arrangement, and that she is being disadvantaged, she will likely develop resentment towards the man. That creates even more violence to God’s plan for how He designed intimate relationships to work in righteousness. Using the example of cohabitation, it takes about five years for a woman to get to this point. About 80% of cohabiting couples will end their relationship within that amount of time. &  It is never a good idea for a dating woman to take the sexual initiative because it lets the man off the hook for the responsibility of developing a more complete relational intimacy that would satisfy her as well. Rather, a cohabitant relationship has the unavoidable inherent tendency to allow the male to become lazy in this illicit kind of relationship. In regard to performing the full Cycle of Marital Intimacy, Jesus might say to men like these, “Practice the latter without neglecting the former” (cf. Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42). In other words, do not look only to your own interests (cf. Philippians 2:4) but consider what she wants as well.
Premarital Sex Can Affect Later Intimacy
Even though a wife may enable her husband to reinstitute the process by meeting his physical needs for connection first, generally speaking Genesis 2:24 singles out husbands to take the lead by addressing him first. Ephesians 5 reinforces the idea as the husband is described as the leader of the wife. Peter tells husbands that they should live with their wives in a considerate way (1Peter 3:7) supposedly inferring the importance of acknowledging their feelings. As noted by Scripture, the man should be the one who begins the cycle by meeting his wife’s emotional needs first. This might seem unfair to men.
Men who choose to follow the biblical path, and who are building intimacy in a dating relationship, are called to abstain from the sexual component of the relationship. God says it is to be “off the table” until marriage. While this may seem unfair to men, it really is for a good reason. The emotional need of trust must be well-established before she makes herself sexually vulnerable. She needs to know that the man she sleeps with will take care of her and her children, especially right after they are born. Taking care of an infant is a full-time job and she needs support in order to do that.
She must get to know him and identify any “deal-breaking” aspects of him before sex―not afterward. Secondly, sex creates all kinds of addictive neurochemicals in the brain that can cause a person to lose their ability to think rationally (if not morally) when it is brought into a relationship too early.
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is the part responsible for making rational and moral decisions. It is often referred to as the executor. When a person has experienced the pleasure of sex, the amygdala can take over and hijack the prefrontal cortex causing the person to make irrational choices based solely on obsessing over how to regain those feelings again. This desire can cause a person to fail to see negative aspects of their partner that should cause them serious concern. Addictive feelings could allow them to make a commitment to, and marry someone who is not good for them. Casual sex before fully knowing the person you are having sex with, is never a good idea.
Abuse and Brain Damage Can Affect Intimacy
A couple’s intimacy can be affected when the brain itself is injured somehow.
First, damage to the amygdala can be associated with a reduction in sexual activity. Since the amygdala helps to regulates feelings, without an emotional reaction from the amygdala to sexual cues, a person can lose the ability to appreciate the meaning of the sexual stimulation and thereby fail to act upon it.
Second, damage to the hypothalamus can produce either extreme sexual desire in a person or result in a loss of sexual interest.
Both types of damage can be related to a genetic defect or a traumatic brain injury caused by emotional, sexual or physical abuse, physical force or stroke. These must be considered in working with the causes of marital issues.
Cohabitation―A Form of Long Term Premarital Sex That Can Affect Intimacy
People who are sexually active before marriage run a risk that might show up later in the relationship. This is especially pronounced for those who cohabitate first. Without a full commitment from the male partner, the female may either consciously or subconsciously conclude that she is not fully “united emotionally” with him. By abstaining from marriage (which sounds very odd to say) there is a part of him that is reserved from her. This leaves her in a very tenuous place in the relationship as she has only a partial commitment to work from.
That withheld commitment basically communicates that a person is not “all-in” which implies that “As long as this relationship is satisfying to me then it can last. If it fails to be satisfying then it is over.” This keeps the female perpetually on her toes trying to please the man. This constitutes a performance view of love and is not based on the more permanent unconditional type that most people want. Consequently the cohabitating woman can never believe that her relationship is stable which, according to the Cycle of Marital Intimacy diagram, should eventually affect her ability to be sexual. Once she fails to be sexually attentive, then the failure of the relationship becomes more or less inevitable. This is why cohabitating couples who do eventually marry are more likely to divorce later than those couples who make a commitment up front. 
For couples who have had sex before making a full commitment to each other, trust in their relationship may be fragile as well. From this perspective mistrust is based on conclusions that, “Because you were willing to be sexual apart from a full commitment to me, then commitment means nothing to you.” Basing subsequent conclusions on this belief might further suggest that, without a need for commitment as a prerequisite for sex, your partner could be indiscriminately sexual with someone else in addition to you. Most people have serious reservations about staying with a “cheater.”
Under these circumstances, the inability to trust completely, would be based on, a recognition of the possibility for moral failure in your partner. Without being able to fully trust your spouse, the resulting emotional bond would be weak and subject to fits of paranoia and jealousy.
A Loss of Pleasure Can Affect Intimacy
Without deriving pleasure from intimate encounters with your spouse it is possible to lose desire for it. For various reasons some women do not enjoy sex. Therefore a lack of interest could hinder a wife’s desire to be sexual with her husband which may or may not be connected with her emotional connection to him.
The Mayo Clinic reports that more than a two-thirds of women experience anorgasmia. That means that these large numbers of women have been unable to achieve orgasm during sexual activity. In addition, some women, due to being sexually abused as young girls, may develop an aversion to sex and work hard to avoid it. They may desperately want the emotional connection but can’t accept the sexual part that comes with it. Some do so by eating excessively in an attempt to make their body less sexually attractive.
A significant percentage of sexually active women have never experienced an orgasm. The female body differs from the male in this respect.
Men are typically capable of one orgasm followed by a refractory period of about an hour. At which point they may be able to experience another. Women on the other hand are generally capable of multiple orgasms with each one becoming more intense than the previous one. Due to the pain associated with childbirth, God may have given this to women as a concession so that a woman might not lose interest in ever having sex again. In cases of women who have never experienced the power of multiple orgasms, sex therapists often prescribe self exploration to determine if orgasm is even possible. Sometimes a therapy called Sensate Focus is used to help couples rediscover pleasurable physical feelings that could lead to orgasm. Sometimes insufficient foreplay, preejaculation difficulties or inadequate sexual positions can prevent a woman from receiving the stimulation to her clitoris that would be necessary for climax. Consistent with the attitude of a large number of women, wives often say that it is not important that they climax each and every time they have sex with their husbands. Because of a desire for simple affection most are entirely satisfied with the physical closeness of their skin touching.
A Woman’s Safety Valve
For many women, there are additional reasons other than those that have already been mentioned that can cause physical intimacy to disappear. Possibly the best reason has to do with a Safety Valve that God has built into our intimate natures. It is designed to shut down the Cycle of Intimacy when certain relational criteria are not met. You may be asking, “Why would God want to stop intimacy, isn’t that one of His ultimate goals for marriage?” To answer that question we must first ask ourselves what is the outcome of intimacy? Or better yet, what is the outcome of bad intimacy?
For now the short answer is related to the product of a healthy relationship in which the Cycle of Intimacy is working well―which of course results in children. When children come along a couple has become “one flesh” both literally and figuratively. In the process of procreation, as a man enters a woman they become physically joined and are literally acting as “one flesh.” As the child is conceived from half of the chromosomes provided by the mother and half provided by the father, they literally join together to make “one flesh” (which makes Genesis 2:24 one of God’s double entendres). Furthermore, the physical intimacy they should enjoy in the process figuratively bonds them as “one flesh.” All three aspects are needed for the health of the child produced.
When we say that safety valves exist to shut down a relationship it’s not that we are saying that God is against intimacy. After all, He is the one who designed it. The truth is that intimacy between a husband and wife is highly important and God wants to use it for a very important purpose. While it is true that God does want you to be happy in your marriage―1Timothy 6:17d helps us to know that everything God created was intended to be for our enjoyment, your enjoyment of intimacy is not however the overriding reason for its creation. The reason that God doesn’t want a Marriage Cycle to persist for a man and a woman is because He is vehemently against children being born into a relationship where good intimacy is not present between the potential mother and father. If you’re not sure about that, read Malachi 2:15-16.
There Malachi connects for us the fact that marriage is supposed to create Godly offspring and that divorce and family disruption often produces the exact opposite. We have already talked about how sex before marriage can negatively affect the relationship. It makes it weak and unstable. Even worse than a superficial relationship is a home that is unstable, full of mistrust, where discord, yelling and screaming are ever-present. Would this be a good environment for children? Of course not! Consequently, God has built into both men and women a safety valve that prevents them from being sexual with anyone that is unable to convince them that they have anything but their best interest at heart. If he or she doesn’t feel that, sex is not going to happen, which means, children are out of the question too.
But, if a spouse can communicate that he or she is committed to the relationship they will be convinced through their individual Love Gauges that their partner will stay around to raise their children together. Once children arrive, sex is designed to maintain the husband’s physical bond while conversation is designed to maintain the wife’s emotional bond in so that each will do their job in socializing their children to grow up to be well-adjusted contributing members of society. Father absence is the root cause for high rates of juvenile delinquency, school dropout and teenage pregnancy as well as a host of other corresponding social-ills. Another important reason for maintaining the Cycle of Marital Intimacy is for establishing a bond that keeps spouses caring for each other in old age.
A Husband’s Divided Interest
Some men who grow up in poor families are especially at risk for acquiring a divided interest. At very young ages they may take on the responsibility of providing much needed financial support for their parents. In some divorced families, sons can become “the man of the house” and become enmeshed with their mothers, as a sort of surrogate husband providing emotional support to her. In both cases these can develop into habitual family patterns. Continuing to maintain these patterns of behaviors at the same levels after marriage can cause men to become double-minded in their hearts and divided in their objectives. They can easily get caught in the middle. While the Genesis 2:24 Cycle suggests that husbands ought to abandon their father and mother, when we couple that idea with 1Timothy 5:8 for the fuller Biblical picture, it shows us a more moderate view. In writing to Timothy, Paul tells us that we should care of our relatives and that the man who fails to do so for his own household is considered worse than an unbeliever. The corresponding message is not either/or but rather one of degrees. By telling men to care for their relatives and then condemning those who do not care for those closest to them as being worse than an unbeliever, Paul is giving greater emphasis to a man’s own household over extended relatives. He is essentially telling men to care for both groups but not at the same levels. Not only does scripture prescribe that a man keep some degree of connection with his family of origin but, he ought to make a greater effort at caring for those closest to him including his wife and children. In fact many wives want their husbands to preserve those family ties as it offers a greater sense of security and support than he can provide alone. As we will discover later, a husband’s family can provide a second tier protection when the wife’s family is unavailable.
Many times a husband’s family can offer additional support especially in times of need or crisis and it would be unwise for a husband to alienate himself from his family completely. The problem is that wives also don’t want to play second fiddle to her in-laws either—especially meddling ones. The point here is that God does not want a husband’s family of origin to remain the relationship of primary importance. That status should be transferred to the marriage. When a husband does pay more attention to his mother or father than he does his wife, he can inadvertently activate his wife’s Safety Valve.
This safety valve is based on her perceptive nature. God has equipped women to have a two thousand times better ability at reading the subtle facial-cues, inflections in tone and body language of another person than men are capable of. Because of their strong capacity to remember past experiences, women automatically log this information which might come out in arguments later not to contradict her husband but to help him see the patterns she does. When a woman sees the same negative, self-centered signals and patterns emerging from her husband, over and over again, it is easy for her to draw the conclusion that she is not truly loved. A woman uses all of this past relationship data to formulate an intuitive belief system that is used to inform her of his present intentions.
A Man’s Safety Valve
Most men tell me that they very much enjoy sex and consider it to be the penultimate way of expressing the love they feel for their wife. Their greatest desire is that their wife be able to reciprocate those sexual sentiments back to them. Men really want their wives to enjoy sex as much as they do. If she is mechanical; devoid of passion or her attitude is ambivalent, his heart is not warmed and no emotional connection is made. Men derive these feelings of intimacy in the moments that lead up to and include sex. Indifference can stop most men in their tracks. Often under these circumstances they may lose their erection thus forcing sex to come to a screeching halt. As a result, men often say that they in-turn lose their desire to relate to their wife on an emotional level. Only about 25% of men are able to perform sexually beyond having a negative perception like this.
To support this conclusion, in a study of rape, it was discovered that when a woman resists, 75% of the time the rape is unsuccessful. &  That is, the male is unable to maintain an erection and ejaculate. Interestingly, almost none of the rapists studied experienced any sexual difficulties with a “consenting” partner and their dysfunction was only specific to the context of rape. Obviously, in the case of rape, the female is not only communicating ambivalence or indifference but that she does not want sex at all. When this happens, the male Safety Valve does it job and stops him from maintaining an erection or climaxing. Just like the female’s ability to detect insincerity and disingenuousness from the male, so the male detects whether it is present in the female also. Therefore, a man’s Safety Valve stops sex while in progress, as opposed to preventing sex from getting started like it does in the female.
Because his safety valve stops sex, it also prevents him from experiencing an orgasm. If he does not experience her desire for him and orgasm then he will not have expressed his love nor have felt loved by the female thus making it less likely that he will develop an emotional bond with her. Without a strong bond between one another, the relationship is more or less doomed to dissolve.
Further, the imperativeness of Genesis 2:24 shows us that God intends for married couples to have consenting sex periodically in order to renew and strengthen this bond. The general consensus is that young couples, of child-rearing years, do this two to three times a week &  while empty-nesters average fewer sexual interactions per week. Evidently, the sexual bond is not as necessary after children have launched.
When young husbands do love their wives and sexual intercourse becomes a natural byproduct of the marriage, spouses stay together to raise the products of their healthy relationship―kids. While some women might believe that, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach“¾ depending on his type of hunger, sex is usually the best way. And so the Cycle of Intimacy continues.
A Man’s Respect Gauge
Many men desire to be held in high regard, especially by their wife. This translates into the concept of valuing. Both men and women want to be valued. From a woman’s perspective that means that when she is loved and cared for, that must mean that she has worth and value. One of the best ways for a man to feel worth and value is when his wife honors him with sex. When she is willing to do the most embarrassing thing a person can do, that is become naked in front of someone else, it tells him that he is important. Therefore the act of voluntarily making oneself vulnerable sexually to another person also assigns value. In most cases the more important someone is to you, the more willing you are to do what they want you to.
Some men, may on occasion, test how much their wife values them by making outrageous sexual requests of her. If she does something she would do with no other person, then he may use her act to affirm his value and importance to her. In regard to assigning value to her husband, the greater a wife’s sexual passion is for her husband, the greater will be his enjoyment of sex and the feelings of being esteemed and valued by her. Through sex, a husband reveals his vulnerability and nakedness to his wife and in return wants to know her body completely. When she allows that, he feels connected to her. Inattentiveness, or dismissal of his sexual cues tell him that she is disinterested in him and signal that he has little worth to her and that something is wrong with the relationship.
Consequently, men gauge the condition of the marriage relationship primarily on the frequency and quality of sex. If both are good, then the relationship is in a good place. It tells him whether the relationship is running on “full” or if it is near “empty.” The reason men gauge the marriage this way is because of the hormone testosterone which regulates sexual appetite. The more a person has of this chemical the more they want sex. And, when a woman willingly takes care of these biological urges he feels valued by her. If she is not willing to be sexual, then something must be wrong which causes him to feel personally rejected.
A Woman’s Love Gauge
A woman wants to know that she is deeply loved, cared for, safe and secure. Because of the relationship data that she accumulates from reading her husband’s intentions toward her, she is continually monitoring the messages she receives from him both direct and indirect. The messages women read are not usually reliant on the frequency and quality of sexual contact, as it is for men, but on the quality and frequency of direct and indirect messages. Women partly monitor the status of their relationship within the context of an indirect form of communication known as Protoconversation which measures how well her husband is tuning into her feelings.
The best way to describe this type of communication is through a popular euphemism, one that I actually hear wives use quite frequently. They often say to their husbands, “Actions speak louder than words.” In this euphemism, the implication of the words used, convey an additional message beyond the words actually spoken. When someone says, “Actions speak louder than words” they are saying that they think you are being hypocritical and that the person you say you are does not match with the behaviors they see from you. Through using a euphemism they are able to tell you this without actually using the word “hypocritical.” It’s a way of saying something without being bold, direct or offensive. Furthermore, women derive great pleasure from being able to be understood without having to directly say what it is that they want to communicate.
According to the mechanics of Protoconversation when someone speaks that way, a metamessage has been sent along with the words actually used. Women use metamessages more than men do and look for hidden metamessages couched in either tone or body language more than men do.
Consequently, in a romantic relationship, women monitor the frequency and quality of these indirect metamessages coming from her mate that convey to her whether she is loved and cared for or not. As a word to the wise, nearly every word or action is like a petal of a flower. They convey one of two things to her when plucked that say either “He loves me” or “He loves me not.”
Because women are constantly monitoring the frequency and quality of the messages they get, and use those to ascertain the status of their relationship, even quietness sends a strong message to them. What could it say to you? What metamessage could it convey? Some women might come to believe that her husband’s quietness might mean that he is angry with her and that she has done something to offend him. If he is angry or displeased with her, this is doubly troubling because it further represents a failure in her ability to communicate her love to him. Since she relies heavily on metamessages to convey her feelings toward him, his anger or displeasure with her means that he has failed to receive the loving message communicated through her behaviors. Perhaps his quietness means that he has become bored with the relationship or no longer wants to be intimate with her causing her to feel devalued? Because he is not talking her mind gets flooded with possible causes of his quietness.
Perhaps the most difficult part of a man’s quietness for a woman has to do with secretiveness. She wants to know that there is nothing kept secret that would separate her from knowing her husband‘s thoughts and intentions. Through communication, she reveals personal information about herself and wants to know personal information about him in order to feel valued and emotionally connected.
Through the act of communication, women desire to share their thoughts and emotions. Just as a man wants his wife to enjoy sex like he does, women hope that their partner will engage in communication with passion and enthusiasm as well. Just as a wife’s zeal for sex enhances the quality of it for her husband, so the degree of communicative passion that a husband expresses correlates directly to his wife’s level of enjoyment. Like men, women use intimacy to build relational trust.
If a person makes their self vulnerable by sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings, especially things that can be embarrassing to talk about, then value is assigned to the listener and, assuming that it was safe to do so, trust for the listener is built. Therefore the more open a husband can be with his wife the more she is able to trust him. She comes to know that he is not keeping secrets from her.
On-the-other-hand when she sees quietness, ambivalence and coldness from him it tells her that he is disinterested in her and signals that something is wrong with the relationship. When asked, “What’s wrong?” most men deny that there is a relationship issue. Generally more times than not that is probably true. Because men are less emotionally oriented than women, this disposes them toward more cognitive thinking, a man’s quietness likely means that he is working internally on solving a problem that is usually work related. Other men, men who fear conflict may not be truthful or forthcoming about the things they are bothered by.
When the Cycle Starts to Break
As a husband monitors the condition of his marriage through his sex gauge, and the wife monitors the marriage with her conversation gauge, when what either of them is being monitored goes missing, it creates a longing for restoration. Why? Because whenever a person becomes addicted to the pleasure of having something that makes them feel great, they want it back if it is taken away from them. This describes the obsessive panic associated with the withdrawal process. Withdrawal is heightened when spouses feel some level of lonely detachment when their spouse stops loving them the way they want to be loved. This causes their Love Gauge to show empty. When couples feel this sense of emptiness, they react by jumping onto a sub-cycle of the Intimacy Cycle called the W-N-P-S Sub-Cycle.
The concept of the W-N-P-S Sub-Cycle has been around for quite some time and you may know it as the Classic Pursuer-Retreater Cycle or as the Crazy Cycle. The W-N-P-S Sub-Cycle distinguishes itself from other descriptions of it in that the W-N-P-S designation helps clarify where a couple is at in the cycle. The letters W-N-P-S stand for the four predictable reactions that couples do or say in reaction to the sounding of their Love Gauge alarm.
When one spouse feels lonely and disconnected, the partner who is starving for attention will go looking for what is missing from the relationship. When spouses detect distance from their partner they often believe that the answer to their problem is found in increased efforts on their part. Indeed when their relationship seems threatened, many people do step-up and redouble their efforts. Take women for example.
When a woman feels that her husband is distant or disconnected this creates a sense of insecurity in her mind. To compensate, she seeks to find the reason for the difficulty and remove it so that she can feel emotionally close to him again. To find the reason for his detachment women will often ask their husband a direct question such as, “What’s wrong?” If you have ever experienced thus sub-cycle for yourself, of course the obvious reply that many husbands counter her “W” with is an “N.”
In the woman’s case “N” stands for his “Nothing” response which truly means that he is just fine and that nothing is wrong. When women have troubling thoughts or difficult issues in their lives, it is often helpful to them to verbalize those thoughts. They expect trusted listeners to empathize with the strong feelings that try to infer. That makes women externalizers of thoughts and feelings. Men are different. Because of their strong cognitive disposition, they prefer to internalize their thoughts and feelings and process them inwardly rather than outwardly with others. Consequently, when they are working on some mental exercise internally, they can become quiet. Because women would never try to decide something on their own, they try to love their husband they way they would want to be loved by getting him to talk about it. This often backfires on women because men are sometimes offended that their wife’s question implies that they cannot figure-out their problems without help or that he is emotionally disturbed about something. Many men have difficulty seeing themselves as emotional creatures.
Implications like these from a wife’s questioning often blindsides her husband causing him to feel angry. He knows that his quietness does not necessarily mean he is feeling upset or unable to figure-out something and her implication is an unfair assumption. He knows that his quietness means that he is just not done processing yet. He often perceives her inquisition as an unwanted interruption. He is more apt to share with her something that he has taken the time to ponder and understand rather than reveal to her something “half-baked.” He wants her to see him as smart and intelligent not incompetent. Thus in the scheme of the W-N-P-S Sub-Cycle, the wife inadvertently initiates the cycle by serving her husband the “W” part of it. The “W” stands for the question “What’s wrong” or worse “What’s wrong with you?” which men easily interpret as an attack of their favored cognitive nature.
Because women intuitively know when their husband is working on something internally, they are not able to accept his “N” nothing response. Therefore they try harder to drag it out of him. When they do that they have returned his “N” volley with a “P” by “Pursuing” the issue more aggressively with him.
When wives question their husbands like this, they are displaying a form of relational pursuit. They are looking for communication to find out what is wrong and why he is not informing her of what is happening. Why does she want to know? Because whatever will be happening to him will eventually be happening to her also. Because of a desire for safety and security, women want to prepare for eventualities in order to protect themselves. It really stems from a lack of complete trust that he will protect her. The more often bad things happen to a woman, the more fervent will be her pursuit. The more he says, “Nothing,” the more she presses him.
While any question can sound accusatory, thus causing someone to become defensive, a continual barrage might seem like warfare. If that happens often enough, men begin to think they have married a “nag” and might tell others that “She is always on my case.” Continuous prods to talk can send some husbands into “fight” or “flight” mode. They will normally either argue their case that nothing is bothering them or they will avoid talking all the more and “clam-up.” Dr. John Gottman refers to this as “Stonewalling” or “S” in or sub-cycle.
As the husband withdraws to avoid a fight or the ensuing stress that threatens his peace and quiet, husband’s may rationalize their withdrawal as, “Taking one for the team,” thinking that they are doing something positive for the relationship by escaping conflict. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
Many times, the wife interprets her husband’s silence as meaning that she has done something wrong and that she is “getting the cold shoulder” from him and is being punished in some way. Because she would never withhold information in a trusting relationship, and believes he would never also, his quietness must mean that he is angry with her.
As mentioned women are typically external processors of thoughts and get input from others before making important decisions. Men on the other hand tend to be internal processors. They try to figure things out on their own. The problem with that is, it just never occurs to men to share what they are thinking about even when her intuition is correct and they have been stressing over some problem. This is usually one of the first signs of a problem in a relationship. If it goes unaddressed after a long time of waiting, women will eventually stop asking what is wrong. Not wanting to give up on the relationship women are faced with leaving him or being relegated to feeling disconnected with him instead.
While many marriage experts are aware that women are often the pursuers in a relationship and that men tend to be avoiders, they are unaware that both spouses adopt these roles at times such that men pursue while women avoid relationship. Take the husband for example:
When a husband’s Love Gauge sounds its alarm he will generally not approach his wife with a verbal question of what’s wrong. His question is much more subtle than that―but no less direct. Many husband’s who are hungry for sexual intimacy will ask the “W” question by approaching their wife after dinner while she was putting away dishes; folding laundry or perhaps getting ready for work in an attempt to reengage her. He may press up against her from behind; wrap his arms around her and kiss her on the back of her neck or nibble on her ear. What do you suppose that he is trying to say to her? As she pushes him away, what you may hear is that he is asking her “What’s wrong…why are you being so cold to me” What you may NOT have heard is that he is really saying “Honey, I miss making love to you and want us to reconnect sexually so that I can know that our relationship is ok.” Those are two very different messages. Of course, as is predictable, his attempts to begin foreplay in the kitchen, bedroom or bathroom are met with her “N” which means “No!” His efforts to arouse her sexually have been met with resistance.
While a wife may or may not actually say “No” by saying something like “Get your hands off of me!” they may provide an excuse for why they cannot be sexual right then. Instead a wife might say “Can’t you see I’m busy here?”; “The kids are still awake.” Or “I have to get ready for work.” In other words, she has withdrawn from his advances in attempts to avoid sex. Here it should be pointed out that while researchers are correct in saying that men do withdraw from relationship―women do it also―albeit sexually.
Undaunted by her rejection, most men will make additional attempts. Later that night, while cozying up next to her in bed he may try to pursue her more aggressively. This time he might reach around and squeeze her breasts or touch her genitals hoping to seduce her. Predictably, a husband’s attempt to re-engage his wife sexually is often met then with stonewalling. This is a term that John Gottman and Nan Silver used to describe how a spouse can refuse to yield to their partner’s advances. Women often tell husbands, “Not tonight,” “I have a headache,” “I have to get up early tomorrow” or “I’m really tired tonight,” and subsequently roll over, turn their backs to their husband and go to sleep.
When couples find themselves on the W-N-P-S Sub-Cycle and make attempts to reengage the non-compliant partner, sometimes a spouse will intermittently respond to increased efforts on the other’s part. When they fail to respond, the spouse who feels disconnected may give up and then erect a wall of protection between themselves and the spouse who does not seem to care about them any longer. This is where the relationship can be exposed to serious danger because the spouse who feels disconnected will often look for other ways to obtain what is missing for them. Depending on how objectionable this method of coping is to the non-compliant spouse, it can do further damage to the relationship. Up to now we have looked at only two kinds of intimacy that a married couple can share. There are other types that can either enhance the emotional and sexual intimacy they share or detract from those if they are missing.
Other Kinds of Intimacy That Affect the Emotional and Sexual Relationship
As mentioned earlier, men and women relate to each other in a variety of ways not just emotionally and physically. Couples can relate to each other mentally, emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually. For example:
Mental Intimacy ―Husbands and wives may sometimes relate on a mental level by working on solving a budget issue, the best place to vacation or something as simple as discussing the weather. Reading this series of webpages together as a couple would be a great way to relate on a mental basis. Relating mentally engages the cognitive, analytical aspects of our thinking as we reason things out together. Because men favor the cognitive aspects of thinking a relationship can suffer if a woman neglects this type of stimulating conversation with her husband by giving too much emphasis to her feelings.
Emotional Intimacy ― Couples may relate on an emotional level by sharing a tender moment of personal transparency through sharing hopes, dreams and fears. This type of intimacy involves expressing the way life situations and circumstances make us feel. Because men favor the cognitive aspects of thinking a relationship can suffer if they neglect this type of stimulating conversation with their wives by remaining too analytical in their thinking thus ignoring her feelings.
Physical Intimacy ― As we have already discussed, couples may relate physically through the act of sex, hand-holding, hugs, spooning taking a walk together or cuddling. This forms the affection that couples share and provides the fuel that keeps the motor of their relationship running.
Social Intimacy ― When we have mutual friends who help us to see a side of our spouse that we would not otherwise get to see, then we are experiencing social intimacy. Intimacy is about knowing each other fully and being naked before one another. Interacting with other couples enhances both the cognitive stimulation that husbands want and the emotional support that wives look for.
Spiritual Intimacy ― Last but not least, couples may share spiritually with one another. According to Scripture, couples relate spiritually to each other in the act of sex by forming a covenant bond with one another. Couples may also relate spiritually through conversations of spiritual matters or perhaps through prayer and fasting together.
The Apostle Paul advises couples in 1Corinthians 7:5 that they should not forsake or neglect any aspect of intimacy. He writes, “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self‑control.” What Paul is telling us here is that while, devoting time and energy to the spiritual aspects of your relationship is good, do not let it become a substitute for the social, physical, emotional or mental parts of relating to one another.
As some have surmised that Paul’s statement is sexual in nature, we have just discovered through the Cycle of Intimacy that it refers not only to physical intimacy but also to emotional intimacy. The truth is that Paul’s admonishment is sufficiently vague to apply to both emotional and sexual types of intimacy and takes into account not just what the husband needs from a relationship but also what the wife needs as well. He is saying in effect, husbands do not deprive your wife of the emotional intimacy she desires and wives do not deprive your husband of the physical intimacy he wants. Why? Because when we ignore the intimacy our spouses want from us, we subject them to temptation.
Many couples nowadays fail to become fully “united” before becoming “one flesh” sexually. Couples who fail to talk about important topics such as jobs, in-laws, finances or Facebook friends are only deferring discussions to a later time. A good pre-marital counseling agenda will address these issues helping them to become united on them before they create an issue.
The Need for Grace and Forgiveness
In any valued relationship—whether with parents, children, siblings, friends, roommates, or coworkers—there are ups and downs. The down times are what can cause the Cycle of Marital Intimacy to come to a screeching halt at times. Therefore there is, from time to time, a need for grace and forgiveness in order to keep the relationship going because no relationship can be perfect. Not only can a marriage never be perfect, but it can never offer completely what each spouse wants from the other. In fact, our sinful nature prevents us from being able to be everything our spouse wants us to be. That is why you will never see me use the word "fix" when talking about marriages. In spite of the fact that they can never be perfect that does not mean that spouses should never try to improve themselves. Even a small amount of understanding and behavioral change can make a very substantial impact in the way two people relate to each other. Therefore while we can all be better partners to the ones we love, we must also be willing to tolerate some disappointment and emotional discomfort and offer grace.
Crazy Out-of-Control ― Good!
Because Genesis 2:24 speaks primarily to husbands, it effectively puts the responsibility of maintaining the relationship, once it becomes sexual―onto him. Because Genesis 2:24 apprises the wife of the husband’s responsibility it essentially makes him culpable to fulfilling it and turns his responsibility into a virtual promise for her. In the Ephesians chapter 5 phraseology which compares Christ and the church as being equivalent to the husband/wife relationship, the Genesis passage then becomes a picture of what God does―He places the onus of maintaining the relationship with us onto himself. The cross is the epitome of that which is how a covenant relationship is supposed to operate.
Sometimes, especially in Christian homes, when partners go above and beyond mere forgiveness and duty and begin to actively seek to provide what their partner desires. When this happens there becomes the possibility that the relationship can become supercharged or energized through the attitude and practice of servanthood. In essence, it provides synergy for both partners and accelerates the cycle.
If women grasped how important their husband’s need for sexual intimacy was, this might lead her to become more sexually available to him which in turn, might make it easier for him to meet her emotional needs. While this increase in sexual activity would likely be viewed by her husband as desirable and helpful because of the way he gauges the condition of the relationship, he might come to believe instead that everything was fine when in fact it was not. Apart from his reciprocation however, her increased efforts in the bedroom might actually work against her.
Here is an important principle. Servanthood only works when both parties are actively trying to meet each other’s needs. If one person becomes selfish or indifferent to the other then, the cycle breaks down. This is why a contract view of marriage never works. Contracts are based on the principle that if you do your part, (which people think is fifty percent), then I will do my part which is also fifty percent. The problem is that this fifty-fifty arrangement sets limits on what any one person has to do. Setting limits guarantees there will be shortfalls because no one will ever agree on what fifty percent is. Only when one person recognizes what the other person needs and, sets out to provide that for them, can servanthood flourish. Instead of fifty-fifty, I prefer the covenant approach to marriage and promote to couples that they each give one hundred percent to serving the other. When that happens, everyone’s needs get met and there is overlap instead of shortage. When couples implement this concept, marriage gets, crazy out-of-control good!
Dangers of Knowing the Cycle
There are some inherent dangers in learning what your mate likes and really wants from you. People can take advantage of this knowledge and manipulate one another to get what they want. Another danger has to do with expectations. Just because a partner comes to know these things may not translate into a change in their behaviors. Instead, they might expect changes from you.
Major Points to Consider
Because of the emotional roller coaster that many women experience while they are in child rearing years, this creates a unique circumstance that facilitates procreation. God has built menstruation to create an opportunity for husbands to make an emotional connection. Women often report severe drops in mood before their period that often is referred to as PMS or pre-menstrual syndrome. During this time women are highly influenced by the hormone progesterone giving even minor life events a highly charged emotionality. As men use sensitive awareness to understand that this is a trying time for their wife and take steps to comfort and reassure her, this sends her important metamessages of care and concern. While these are the kinds of messages that women want to receive all the time, they get especially magnified before her period. As husband’s show empathy during this phase of her menstruation, it helps her to become more sexually open to him a few days later when she has a biological desire for sex and is also able to get pregnant.
There is still much more to know and understand. Proceed to the Step by Step Specifics Page to get even more detail!
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Expanded Overview Page
The Birds and Bees Talk You've Never Heard...
The Genesis 2:24
Cycle of Marital Intimacy
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
Genesis 2:24 — NIV
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