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5 Types of Intimacy in a Healthy Marriage (Hint: 4 of Them Have Nothing to Do With Sex)

“We just don’t feel connected.” Both of them felt the same way. Somewhere in the timeline of their relationship, they had begun to drift apart, and now they felt as if they were living lives that were running on a parallel track rather than living lives intimacy that were connected. But how do you solve the problem of “connectedness”?

Usually, when people begin to feel disconnected from one another, the root issue of the problem is intimacy. There are a number of reasons that it may decline. Some of them are subtle, yet insidious, like the ever-increasing busyness of family life. Other reasons are overt and intentional, like trying to use the lack of intimacy as payback. Whatever the reason, once intimacy begins to wane, it can become hard to get back on track. One of the keys to reconnecting is understanding that being intimate is a multifaceted thing. In fact, there are five different types of intimacy, and only when we keep all five functioning can we have marriages that feel profoundly connected.

1. Spiritual 

The first — and most foundational — type of intimacy is spiritual. Spiritual intimacy can be seen as the hub from which all other intimacy types protrude. If spiritual intimacy is high, then the other types, though they will have seasons of greater or lesser intensity, will have a certain level of natural resiliency. Spiritual intimacy comes from being in the word together, praying for one another, and worshiping together. The word of God is the nourishment of our souls (Matthew 4:4Deuteronomy 8:3). When we are on the same spiritual diet, we can expect to grow in similar ways and therefore grow together — not separately.

The old adage that the family that prays together stays together, while not infallible, is generally true. At the same time, this doesn’t just mean praying in each other’s presence but actually making each other a central part of your prayers privately (and not just asking God to fix all the things that annoy you about your spouse). Worship is an incredibly intimate act that knits the souls of Jesus’s people closer to each other and himself. There are legitimate reasons that spouses may not be worshiping next to each other (e.g., helping out with nurseries or choir), but if connectedness is an issue, it may be time to put those activities aside for a season while you focus on the spiritual intimacy between you and your spouse.

2. Recreational

The second type of intimacy is recreational. Recreational intimacy is the bond that is created and strengthened by doing activities together. These activities can range vastly, from the mild (e.g., doing a crossword together) to the extreme (e.g., hang gliding), but it is the mutual enjoyment of them that fuels a couple’s connection.

This sort of intimacy tends to be its highest early in the relationship when both partners are willing to do and try things outside of their comfort zone just to have the opportunity to be in each other’s presence. As presence becomes more the norm than the exception, our motivation to engage in uninteresting activities may dwindle. Furthermore, as life gets more complicated with jobs, kids, house, and much more, the opportunities to engage in recreational activity plummet, and the cost can skyrocket. Nonetheless, God has made us to enjoy life’s activities — especially with our spouses (Ecclesiastes 9:9) — and our marriages need the ability to laugh and play together if they are to endure the times of tears and toil.

3. Intellectual

The third type of intimacy is intellectual. Intellectual intimacy is the activity of connecting to one another by discussing certain issues. The topics can be lighthearted (e.g., favorite movie) or serious (e.g., politics), but mental exercise with your spouse reinforces the relationship cord.

Similar to recreational, intellectual intimacy tends to be at its highest at the beginning of a relationship. Oftentimes it’s because the couple is still getting to know each other and how they think on various topics. As time passes, couples often assume they know how their spouse thinks on nearly every issue, and they cease exploring each other’s intellectual worlds. While a spouse can often predict what the other will think on a particular issue, details matter. No matter how many times a couple has discussed an issue, there is almost always some piece that is new and can be explored. And the rewards for doing so are well worth it.

4. Physical

The fourth type of intimacy is physical. Physical intimacy is the domain most people think of when they hear the word “intimate.” This includes but is not limited to sexual activity. There is also nonsexual physical intimacy such as holding hands, cuddling on the couch, or a hug. Sometimes nonsexual physical intimacy (e.g., cuddling) can lead to something more amorous (sexual activity), but it doesn’t always have to — and in fact, this is one of the biggest complaints for women.

Josh Squires
Josh Squires
Josh Squires serves as pastor of counseling and congregational care at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina. He and his wife have five children.

Chick-fil-A Summer Skills Camp Stirs Up Controversy With People Calling it “Child Labor”

A Chick-fil-A Summer Camp has sparked a lively debate about teaching children life skills through blue collar jobs. While some view it as an innovative educational opportunity, others see it as a controversial initiative that treads close to child labor.

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12-Year-Old Girl Dies by Suicide After Being Relentlessly Bullied and Harassed at School

After facing relentless bullying and harassment over the past school year, 12-year-old Flora Martinez ended her life on May 7. Now, her parents are demanding change from schools and administrators after the bullying persisted, even once she was gone.