Paul continues his instructions for husbands in Eph 5:19: Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but NOURISHES and CHERISHES it. Here, Paul goes to the world of tender care for infants for an analogy, using two words loaded with meaning. The first is nourish. The Greek word is EKTREPHO, from TREPHO to rear, to feed, primarily used of children + EK from or out of. The heart of a wife needs to be regularly fed with the ingredients required to nourish her heart just as an infant is dependent upon its mother’s breast milk.
Today, we begin a new series, Loving Our Wives Well Because We Understand the Needs of Their Hearts. Here is a quiz. How would you summarize these statements made by women as to why they were divorcing their husbands?
- My husband is no longer my friend.
- The only time he pays attention to me is when he wants sex.
- He is never there for me, emotionally, when I need him most.
- I hurt all the time because I feel alone and abandoned.
- We’re like ships passing in the night—he goes his way and I go mine.
- My husband has become a stranger. I don’t even know who he is anymore.
What these wives were starving for was heart intimacy with their husbands. It is a heart need of wives that wasn’t even on the screens of these husbands. However, this foundational need of wives for heart intimacy with their husbands is spelled out in at least 5 biblical texts, which this episode explores.
It should not surprise husbands who thoughtfully read of the creation of Eve that a wife has a profound heart need that he doesn’t experience nearly as strongly—the need to feel connected to her husband. After all, she is designed FOR relationship. Adam is created for the ground, from the ground, given a name that means ground, tasked to work the ground, and his sin brings a curse upon the ground. No wonder he loves the earthy part of connecting to his wife! But Eve is made for the man, from the man, given a name that means “out of the man,” assigned to assist the man, and her sin brings a curse upon her relationship with the man. No wonder a lack of heart connection to her husband would be so excruciating to a wife!
This feminine longing for heart intimacy is a foundational part of God’s marriage design. In Genesis 2:24-25, we read, A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed Notice that the goal of marriage is loving intimacy (vs 25) to be “naked and unashamed.” Such loving intimacy happens by joining lives, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,” and by joining bodies, “they shall become one flesh.” As husband and wife join their lives, they share their ideas (mind), their decisions (will) and feelings (emotions). This union of hearts, minds, and wills is then celebrated by the joining of bodies in sex. The marriage commitment is to regularly join hearts and bodies. Most men love joining bodies but are clueless about the fact that equally important to God, and usually more important to wives is connecting two naked hearts. Peter seems to have understood this reality, for he commands husbands:
1. Meet Her Need to Feel Understood. Live with Your Wives in an Understanding Way (I Pet 3:7)
“Your wife’s first need” says Peter, “is for you to understand her, which means discovering what is going on in her heart.” Literally this text says, dwell-together according to knowledge. Dwelling together refers to sharing everyday life. The Greek word for “know” is not the word for observing objective facts. Rather, this particular word indicates a relationship between the knower and what is known that progresses into deeper understanding. Peter seems to recognize what psychologists have discovered—that one of the deepest of human needs, especially among women is to feel understood. An astonishing number of men, including ME, entered marriage clueless about this fundamental dimension of marriage—connecting two naked hearts, i.e. emotional intimacy. Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoker, in their book, Every Woman’s Desire, observe:
- 84% of women feel they don’t have heart intimacy (oneness) in their marriages.
- 83% of women feel that their husbands don’t even know the basic needs of a woman for emotional intimacy (oneness) or how to provide it.
- A large majority of female divorcees say that their married years were the loneliest years of their lives.
Let’s sharpen our picture of heart intimacy. Christian counselor Barbara Rosberg in, The Five Love Needs of Men and Women, cowritten with her husband, explains:
“The word, ‘intimacy’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘innermost.’ What this translates into for those of us in the marriage relationship is a vulnerable sharing of our inner thoughts, feelings, spirit, and true self…This support is achieved through listening, empathy, prayer, or reassurance.”
“Heart intimacy” to a wife means feeling so thoroughly loved and accepted that she easily and constantly shares with her lover what is going on in her heart. To a wife, the heart intimacy she craves is having her husband be her best friend—who loves to talk with her about everything—because that is what best friends do. Rosberg describes one wife’s yearning for heart-to-heart connection: “Melody’s idea of intimacy is sitting on the love seat with Dan, a couple of cappuccinos beside them, a roaring fire in front of them, no kids around them, and plenty of time for a good, long, heart to heart talk” (Ibid). While many Christian men look back on their wedding day as the beginning point for having regular sex, their wives look back upon it is the day they married their best friend. Romance is icing on the cake for them. The core of the relationship is being such close best friends that they stroll through life, arm in arm, sharing the secrets of their hearts, knowing that those secrets will always be valued because their husband loves them unconditionally. The next three biblical truths show how to build and maintain that intimacy.
2. Know What’s Happening in Her Heart. Husbands Should Love Their Wives as Their Own Bodies. He Who Loves His Wife Loves Himself. (Eph 5:28)
Paul recognizes two characteristics of men: 1) they take care of what belongs to them and 2) they default to taking care of themselves. In the deepest possible way, our wives are worthy of special care and devotion because their body so thoroughly belongs to us that to love them is to love ourselves. Here is the point: Men pay constant attention to their bodies. When my body aches, I groan. When my body is hungry, I eat. When my body is tired, I rest. When my body craves sexual release, I pursue my woman. When my body is wounded, I care for the wound. When my body is sleepy, I nod off. We are so united to our bodies that we cannot ignore them for long. They get our continual attention.
Men default to treating our marriages like our cars or lawnmowers: so long as they keep running, we take them for granted; it is only when they breakdown that they get our attention. Paul says, “Men, take the opposite approach. Your nervous system tells you immediately when your body is in pain. You should be so vigilant to know what is happening in your wife’s heart, that you know right away what she is feeling. Your connection with your wife’s heart should be so strong that it is like the nervous system of your own body.”
Intentional attention to her heart requires skillful listening to help her open it to us. Christian Counselor, Paul Tournier writes “In order to really understand, we need to listen, not to reply. We need to listen long and attentively. In order to help anybody to open his heart, we have to give him time, asking only a few questions, as carefully as possible, in order to help him better explain his experience” (To Understand One Another).