Interpersonal Praxis Relationship Science Spiritual Praxis Article

Passion vs. Intimacy

Passion! The ultimate goal? If you look in magazines or look at Hollywood and Bollywood, it seems to be that way. If you look to Christian circles, especially evangelical or charismatic ones, passion for God is just as strongly emphasized. The fire must burn within you! I have always been somewhat critical of this for various reasons. But recently I stumbled upon a very interesting aspect.

One of my main hypotheses in my dissertation is that interpersonal, close relationships have many parallels to the relationship between God and man. For this reason I am studying social psychology. In a chapter on “Sexual Passion, Intimacy, and Gender” by Kathleen D. Vohs and Roy F. Baumeister in the Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy (Debra J. Mashek, Arthur Aron) I came across something very interesting: The relation between passion and intimacy.

The authors define passion, in short, as a very strong feeling, an attraction to another person. This strong feeling does not necessarily have to be reciprocated by the other person. Intimacy, on the other hand, requires mutual understanding, that one knows each other deeply, and it usually has to do with communication. Intimacy also generally involves positive feelings. And now it gets interesting. How is passion generated? Based on various studies, the authors argue that passion is caused by a sudden increase in intimacy. Let me explain it in a more practical way:

When a man and a woman are freshly interested in each other, they learn a lot of new things. Everything is fresh, special, exciting. Intimacy (getting to know each other) increases by leaps and bounds. As a result, the passion is also very high. You are in love, you have a crush, it butters and it flies… So far so good.

However, now something happens. This something is completely normal. The longer you’ve been together and the better you know each other, the less soaring these intimacy boosts become. Although the intimacy level is (hopefully) much higher over time than it was at the beginning of the relationship, it doesn’t rise as steeply. What is the natural consequence? Less abrupt increase in intimacy leads to a decrease in passion. This is perfectly normal.

Now, if passion is the goal, then this is tragic since passion cannot simply be produced. Striving for passion becomes a complete overload. Passion is a consequence! If, on the other hand, intimacy is the goal, then it does not necessarily or constantly have to show itself in fiery, burning passion, although the relationship is definitely “healthy”. Lack of passion is not a sign that something is wrong with intimacy. It is just a sign that intimacy is not increasing as intensively and suddenly.
However, you don’t have to be satisfied with a lack of passion. Instead of passion, you should simply start with intimacy. But how? In another chapter of the same book, there are studies that show that new situations in the life of a relationship can cause intimacy to grow by leaps and bounds. The principle is clear: new situations means that I get to know new sides of my partner. This can be a dance course. Even stronger and more regularly one finds new situations, if there is a shared goal outside of the relationship itself. A project, a task. This creates challenging situations which lead to getting to know each other afresh and therefore intimacy increases suddenly and consequently passion is rekindled.

So there you have it. Relationship advice for all couples out there. But what does this have to do with the relationship with God, the passion in faith? Very much! The principle is exactly the same. We don’t have to do any spiritual gymnastics. It is normal that the passion decreases over time, although I am getting to know God better and better and intimacy has increased. It is normal that after conferences and camps or other intense spiritual times, the passion is high, but just as quickly it fades away. These times are a concentration of intimacy. One could summarize it like this:

Not passion is the goal, intimacy is!

The best means for intimacy and passion to increase steadily seems to me the following: To live out God’s mission in this world. Bringing heaven to earth in partnership with God constantly creates new situations in which I seek God’s closeness, get to know him anew and thus new passion for him is kindled.

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