Is The Purity Message Making Women Ashamed of Sex?

Does the purity culture movement make women ashamed of sex? How to reframe our message to encourage healthy sexuality!Yesterday I was talking about how our Christian modesty message can make women ashamed of their bodies, and pleaded for reframing our message: let’s point to God, not make rules.

Today I want to talk about how the purity culture message can leave women ashamed of sex.

To reiterate, I absolutely believe that sex is meant for marriage. I do believe that we should wait for marriage for sex–not only because God tells us to, but also because when we have sex before we’re married, we make sex into something only physical, and we miss out on the spiritual and emotional intimacy we’re supposed to have.

Yet I fear that by stressing to young women, “you must never ever think about sex or you’ll be lusting,” and “if you so much as touch a boy or kiss a boy before you’re married you’ll end up in bed together, so you shouldn’t have any physical contact”, then we inadvertently make women scared of sex. This isn’t universal; some women can grow up with that message and be just fine. But not all.

And so today, rather than arguing the point myself, I’d like to share with you two different emails I’ve had from readers, and then follow up with my own thoughts. This first email came from a woman after she read my post about how the purity culture can go overboard.

I’m 21 and I’ve been married two years. Two nights ago my husband and I FINALLY had REAL sex. Our wedding night was a disaster, and a trip to the doctor’s office revealed that I had vaginismus, a condition that makes sex impossible because my brain tells my PC muscles to clinch together. I’ve struggled with this for two years, as I’ve felt like a bad wife. I wanted to have sex by our second anniversary, and, by completing a program my doctor gave me, I can now buy and enjoy your 31 Days of Great Sex book!!

Anyway, the biggest struggle I’ve had through the last two years is trying to figure out WHY I have this issue. I’ve had a GREAT life with a wonderful upbringing, but apparently I was harboring sexual shame. I was not properly educated, and, growing up in the church, I remember  how guilty my youth pastor made me feel just for having a boyfriend. Though I never had sex, I struggled with setting boundaries sexual, and now I’ve paid the price for the Christian’s obsession with how “evil” sex is.

Here’s another story from a woman who wrote to me after I asked for stories about sexual shame. She was active in a very conservative homeschool community. She’s now engaged. She writes:

I grew up saving my first kiss, planning to only have a quick hug at engagement and then only hold hands until my wedding day. I never planned to be alone with a guy. I learned to shutdown if I ever felt any bit of sexual attraction or sexual feel good emotions/hormones. I didn’t know how my body would work when I felt attraction and my sex knowledge was very limited. I didn’t even know all of my own body parts.

Because of my lack of education on sex, sexuality and the way my body would response I was sure that if I was alone with a guy it would lead to kissing and that kissing would easily lead to all of my clothes laying on the floor within about 15 seconds. It would be like standing on the edge of a cliff. Once you stepped off, even if it was a small step, there would be no going back. You would lose control, be unable to make rational decisions and fall into deep sin.

The first time I had a “real hug” from a guy I liked (he squeezed me, then put his arm round my shoulder and massaged my hand) put my body into shock for about three days. I felt overstimulated and my brain didn’t know how to respond. I was amazed that I was still in control and could still make choices not to have sex but I also realized that because I had learned to shut off any sexual attraction that I could barley enjoy the good feeling let alone reciprocate.

I began to realize that if I went from training my brain to be essentially asexual, rejecting my sexuality until my wedding night, it wouldn’t just turn on and work like it was supposed to. If a hug sent me into a three day shock what would it be like on my honeymoon?!

My amazing fiance never pressured me to do anything I didn’t want to do. We have abstained from sex and will continue to until we’re married. He always asks before we try something “new” and always respects my choice. That being said we talked and felt that it was wise for us to get to know each other a little bit physically so I would deal with my fear of sex. We would still be considered “conservative” in our physical interaction but he began initiating little things like hugging me close, touching my hair, rubbing my back etc. Each of these things were introduced slowly and he always gave with the intent of bringing me happiness and not expecting anything in return.

For each new thing I initially could not reciprocate because I had to focus so much on letting it feel good and not shutting down pleasure. I had quite a learning curve, I felt and sometimes still feel shocked by simple new things. I felt like I should be naturally responding but that I was held back because I had repressed these feelings for so long (by the way I am 22). I was very surprised at the way my body did respond to feeling good… physical and hormonal changes that are natural when there is a combination of touch and attraction. I was also amazed at the fact that I was still in control and that neither of us HAD to have sex right then like I had always been led to believe.

I am so thankful to my wonderful fiance. He always gives without expecting a return. He was/is so patient with me, letting me talk through my issues and insecurities. Truly my sexual health is a priority to him over his own enjoyment.

I think each couple needs to talk about their own physical standards and these may change some as your relationship does but I would encourage a serious couple to get to know each other at least a little bit physically. Are there wise boundaries? Yes! But sexual attraction is NOT bad. Feeling good is NOT bad. Enjoying each other is NOT bad. Not all physical interaction is sexual and not all sexual interaction (like kissing) is sex. We are sexual beings… and that’s ok.

I appreciate her sharing her story, and I want to leave a few thoughts:

1. Physical contact does not necessarily lead to sex.

I have had so many emails from women saying, “I thought that if we kissed the clothes would immediately fall off and we’d be unable to control ourselves. So I was scared to kiss him. But actually, that didn’t happen at all. We could totally control ourselves.”

When we tell young people that any physical contact leads to sex, we tell them that their bodies can’t be controlled by their minds or their wills. Their bodies become the enemy. And that makes women especially disconnect from their bodies–seeing them as evil, and not wanting to let their bodies feel anything. That does not go away just because you put a ring on your finger.

2. Some physical contact can be a good thing.

Affection is natural. To deny any kind of physical contact makes your body seem somehow evil, and makes us concentrate so much on avoiding any stimulation that it’s hard to reverse that.

I am not saying that physical contact is necessary in a relationship. Not at all. If a couple decides they want to save their first kiss until marriage, that is totally their prerogative, and that can work very well for some people. The Duggars live by that philosophy and are very vocal about it.

The problem is that not everyone emerges from that kind of purity culture whole. Some may, but others end up deeply shamed. We need to be very careful that we are not legalistic about this, telling people that kissing or hugging or holding hands is somehow evil. It isn’t. The Bible says sex outside of marriage is wrong, but kissing is not sex, and kissing does not necessarily lead to sex. It didn’t for me, it didn’t for my friends who dated and married the same time we did, and it didn’t for our parents and grandparents (most of whom kissed before marriage, too). Even Laura Ingalls kissed before she was married!

3. When we teach women to avoid sex at all costs, then marriage can seem like rape.

I think this gets to the heart of vaginismus. If you’ve been taught to avoid sex always–that it is bad, and that it is wrong to feel turned on, then what happens when you’re married and suddenly you don’t have a choice? Now, obviously all women still have choice, and for a man to demand sex when she doesn’t want it is wrong, and to take it when she says no is rape, even if they are married.

But even if he doesn’t force her–even if he’s as gentle as a kitten and is kissing her and trying to warm her up–she can still feel these conflicting, scary emotions: “sex is bad, and yet now I have to do it. It’s expected of me.” That tension can cause her body to refuse. She’s not consciously refusing; but it is affecting her nonetheless. Even if it’s not vaginismus, she can find it virtually impossible to be excited, because she feels so out of control in an area of her life where she has always been told she has to have complete control.

How We Can Reframe Our Purity Message

If I could reframe our message, I would talk less about why sexual feelings need to be avoided, and more about why they’re natural, and how to channel them elsewhere. I would talk about intimacy, and how it’s best in marriage, rather than saying “no sex until marriage”. I would talk less about setting up specific, rules-based boundaries, and more about how sexual feelings will be inevitable and good when you love someone–and here’s how to pursue God together to make sure those feelings don’t take over. I’d try to say something like this:

God made sex to be an awesome way to bind you and your husband together. It’s amazing physically, but it’s also incredibly intimate emotionally and spiritually, too. And it’s that intimacy we were made for–we feel it intensely physically, but we were also created with hormones that actually “bond” to the other person when we make love. It’s supposed to make you feel super close to one person.

Billions of people have had sex, but not all of them have made love, because the two are not necessarily the same thing. And if you want to truly make love, you need to save it for marriage, because that’s what God intended, and that’s what He promises you. You’re going to feel a real physical drive for sex, and that’s perfectly fine, because it’s a reminder to you about the real intimacy you yearn for. Don’t worry if you have that drive; ultimately it’s a good thing. Just ask God to help you channel that drive elsewhere until you’re married because then you’ll be able to experience sex the way it was intended.

That drive is really intense, though, so be careful to create some boundaries so you can stay pure. But it’s okay to be attracted to someone. It’s natural. It’s part of being a woman/man. And one day you’ll find someone that you can share with completely. And believe me, it is worth the wait.

I hope I’d say it a little better, and maybe some of you have something you’d like to add. But I think telling young people: don’t have sex, don’t even think about sex, sex is bad, isn’t a good message, because how are they automatically supposed to flip that switch once they’re married?

There’s one other aspect of the purity message I’d like to look at tomorrow, and that’s the way we talk about virginity. But for today, I’d like to know: did the purity culture make you ashamed of sex? What are you planning on telling your kids so that they can have a positive view of sex, while maintaining their desire for purity? Let me know in the comments!

Is the Christian Modesty Message Causing Women To Be Ashamed of Their Bodies?

Does the Christian Modesty Message inadvertently get it wrong? A look at healthy modesty messages for girls that don't teach shame.Today I’m beginning a 3-part series on how we should reframe the messages that we give young people about sex and Christian modesty. As a Christian sex blogger I get so many emails from women who grew up in the church whose marriages were really hampered by shame that never should have been theirs, and I think we simply need to take a good look at what we’re actually saying, and then figure out how to say it differently.

Heads up: I’m about to challenge the Christian modesty message: the one that says that women need to dress very modestly, because unless they do, they will encourage lustful thoughts on the part of guys and lead them into sin.

I think that’s a dangerous way to frame it–dangerous to girls, and dangerous to guys, too.

But before I do that, I need to point something out. Let’s look at a pendulum, with “Girls can cause guys to lust and so must cover up” on one side, and “Girls can wear whatever they want and guys should deal with it” on the other. The problem is that when you argue against the first premise, people think you’re arguing FOR the second. So if you’re not arguing A, you must be arguing Z. But what if you’re actually arguing M?

I’ve written before that modesty DOES matter, and I do believe that. So please don’t accuse me of saying Z when I’m really saying M!

Okay, now with that intro, here goes! I’m going to deal first with how the Christian Modesty Message errs, and then look at how we can reframe it so that we’re still honouring God, respecting ourselves, and respecting each other.

How Christian Modesty Got Off Base

The Christian modesty movement gets its starting premise from this statement by Jesus:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:28)
 (NIV)

So lust is a really big deal! And if that’s true, then women should do what they can to reduce the chances of lust, right?

Well, let’s take a look at this for a moment. Why did Jesus say this? Basically, in those days if a Pharisee saw a woman coming down the street, they would avert their eyes and walk to the other side of the street. Women were seen as temptresses, as evil, as shameful.

And Jesus put the burden right back on the Pharisees: “It’s not her fault if you lust. Lust is YOUR problem.”

Jesus was trying to remove shame from women and replace it with righteous sorrow for sin. That’s a good thing.

And yet what have we done?

We’ve placed the burden back on the girl again when we start making rules for how women should dress.

I’ve sat through events aimed at preteen girls which told them how many inches below the clavicle their shirts can be. I’ve been at homeschooling track meetings where girls were given measurements about what they should wear to track meets, and I’ve seen some families requiring their daughters to run the 1 km race in a long “Little House on the Prairie” skirt. And I wonder: What does this do to the girls?

I asked that question on Facebook last week, and one woman wrote this:

I grew up covering my body and its curves to help men not sin. We had to wear skirts and dresses to the ankle (at least that’s what we preferred: that allowed to to play Little House on the Prairie and hide my unshaven legs.) sleeves couldn’t be shorter then four inches off the shoulder. The neck line had to fit two fingers from the pit of the throat. Anything that cut deeper into the chest was immodest and “oh my gosh! Fix your shirt!” Nothing could be tight so as draw attention to the chest or hips. We weren’t even allowed to wear smooth fitting skirts-they all had to have enough gathering at the top to just flow over the body and not stick to it. How ridiculous we must have looked to others when we played homeschool baseball or basketball on the driveway. At fourteen my mother accused me of looking at my father with a sexual eye and told me that all men only want “one thing:sex” and that it was on their minds all the time. The way I dressed would help them not to sin.

I know that is an extreme example, but I have seen it in real life. And I think even when Christian modesty isn’t enforced to that extreme, it still has some negative repercussions, like these:

Legalistic Standards for Modesty Teach Girls Their Bodies Are Dangerous

If your body can cause someone to sin, then your body is a source of shame. It’s something dangerous, lust-inducing, almost sinful, in and of itself. If the mere sight of your curves can cause someone else to err, then your curves must somehow be bad.

I know this is not the intention when people teach modesty. I’ve heard of the “secret keeper” approach which says that what you have is lovely, but it’s just yours, and it isn’t to be shared, and I think that approach can work. But often it’s laced with the message that if you don’t keep the secret, you lead others into sin.

What happens, then, if someone really does sin? Let’s say that you’re date raped, or someone says some derogatory things about your body. You now believe that it is your fault because you’ve grown up thinking that men cannot resist seeing curves, and so if they act inappropriately, it must be because they saw too many of your curves. It puts the burden for sin in the wrong place. And if women start feeling shameful of their curves, as if their body is the enemy, how in the world are they supposed to start liking their bodies and being comfortable sharing their bodies with their husbands once they get married? If you’ve been taught from the time you’re small to worry about your body, it’s really difficult to start seeing it as a good thing that can bring you and  your husband pleasure. The very fact that he wants pleasure from your body seems somehow twisted already.

When I was a teenager I worked in a Christian bookstore. A woman who had only recently become a Christian worked there part-time. She was 30, single, and drop-dead gorgeous. She could have been a Victoria Secret model. She dressed very fashionably, but also very modestly. No cleavage, lots of turtlenecks (it’s Canada, after all), and nothing too tight. Yet week after week the elders would sit her down and tell her that she needed to dress more modestly because men were lusting after her. Her clothes were not the problem–it was her beauty, and she could do nothing about that. They were calling her beauty sinful. She finally just went to another church.

Legalistic Christian Modesty Teaches Girls that Boys “Only Want One Thing”

The Christian modesty message also says that boys are basically helpless to withstand this onslaught of seeing girls’ curves. All guys, including all older men, will lust if they see you. I’m not sure how that message is supposed to make women like men.

When I was 19 years old I went on a summer missions trip to Tunisia. It was very scarring for me, because every time we were on crowded public transport (which was quite a lot), men would literally feel me up. I could never tell which man it was, because we were jammed into buses, but I’d have hands all over me. When I got back to North America it was about  two months before I could look a man in the eyes again. I had tried so hard the whole time I was there to not catch anyone’s attention, and it didn’t work. Men became the enemy.

We’re doing the same thing. But let’s face it: If a guy will fall into lust because he sees a girl with a V-neck T-shirt on (even if there’s no cleavage), what in the world is he going to do if he walks through the mall?

Legalistic Modesty Teaches Girls that THEY Don’t Lust

I’m going to let my daughter explain this one. I think she does it very well:

Legalistic Christian Modesty is Just That: Legalistic

We’re told in 1 Timothy 2:9:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

Dressing modestly is important. But notice that the text does not define what decency and propriety is. When we start to define it rigidly, then we are becoming legalistic. What is modest in one culture is not modest in another. There aren’t absolutes. When I was in Kenya, showing cleavage was less offensive than showing bare shoulders (though the children’s home where we were didn’t show either). Things vary by culture. The spirit is important: we all should be modest. How that is lived out, though, is ultimately up to the individual, and should not be imposed, or else you are adding to Scripture.

It’s interesting, but one of my friends pointed out that in the Old Testament, the dress that was criticized was unisex. It was very clear: men should look like men; women should look like women. Women have curves, and I think that’s okay.

 Let’s Change the Message!

1. Point to God, not rules.

Whatever we do, we are to do it to the glory of God. So when we dress, we should be glorifying to God. Teach young people, both guys and girls, to ask themselves that question: am I portraying myself as a child of God? If everybody asked themselves that question, a lot of problems would go away anyway. And having girls dress modestly for the wrong reasons doesn’t glorify God. He cares about the heart, not the outward appearance.

2. Don’t give a double standard.

Dress codes are fine, especially at teenage events, I think. Most schools have dress codes (no spaghetti straps, no low-rise jeans, etc.). But if you have a dress code, it should be focused on both guys and girls, not just girls. So say something like, “Girls, no string bikinies, guys, no speedos. When out of the water, T-shirts should be worn by all at all times.”

 3. Allow for beauty

Another woman on Facebook wrote this:

I too was taught that it was my responsibility to dress so that guys didn’t lust after me. Even if I dressed modestly but looked pretty that was a problem because when a much older guy made unwanted physical and verbal advances toward me it was my fault. After all, how could I blame him? I was told that If I wasn’t “so pretty” or if I wasn’t “so fun to be around” then none of this would happen. It was hard because I was never really taught how to enjoy my body. Things were either unflattering / too big or were “too sexy.” The line between the two extremes was not explained… I developed my own style and have loosened up, but even after a year of marriage, I still struggle with knowing how to be sexy at home and what is too sexy for out in public.

So many households and churches talk so much against what clothes to wear that they never talk about how to be beautiful. Most girls yearn to be beautiful. Let’s start talking about how all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made; how the urge to be beautiful for women is universal and God-given; and then show girls how beauty doesn’t need to mean sexy. You can be totally lovely without twerking, so to speak. Beauty is not the enemy, and we need to acknowledge that girls want to be beautiful, and guide them about how to be truly beautiful.

Tomorrow we’ll ask whether the purity culture contributes inadvertently to sexual hang-ups, and whether there’s a different way to frame it, too.

Now I’d like to hear from you: how did the Christian modesty message affect your view of your body (or did it?) How are you teaching your children? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

How Our Culture of Sex Got So Messed Up

How Our Culture Gets Sex Wrong--and what we in the church need to do to combat the message

Today is the beginning of a 4-part series I’m running on this blog about the culture of sex, and how we in the church talk about sex. I’ll be discussing how we inadvertently make women ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of sex, and then I’ll wind up talking about how we need to reframe our discussions around purity. God meant sex to be something beautiful and wonderful in marriage; too often, as we try to keep people from sin we end up making it seem like sex–and our bodies–are bad.

I asked Michael Rittenhouse to set the stage for our discussion by sharing a little bit of his journey. He’s the author of Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, which is a great book about how our culture gets sex wrong. Here’s Michael:

As a five-year-old, I didn’t get why Goldie Hawn danced on TV in a swimsuit and graffiti. But I knew it had something to do with “sex,” and even though they rarely said “sex” on TV, they did say “making whoopee,” so I figured that’s what we called dancing in a swimsuit and graffiti.

Miss Hawn’s outlandish show disguised the fact that there was a war on. Not Vietnam, not the Cold War, but a cultural war, rolling out on our TV screen every night.

On one side, we had hippies, streakers, sitcom characters, and various others who seemed to have it in for the established order. They waged a guerrilla war for what they called “free love,” by which they meant “sex” in a very specific sense.

Their side had at least one legitimate gripe: a stifling, predominant culture that pushed matters of sexuality not just behind closed doors, but so far away from normal discourse that many people felt uncomfortable even talking about it with a doctor.

In writing about this conflict in “Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You,” I needed a name for each side. For the hippie-streaker-sitcom axis, I borrowed “Liberators” from a James Thurber parable called “The Last Flower.” His liberators would “set fire to the discontent.”

Sex: What Your Parents Didn't Tell YouThe late 20th Century’s sexual Liberators set fire to every social more they saw as constraining their base impulses. Many of those fires continue to burn, in the forms of hookup culture, abortion on demand, 40 percent unwed maternity (U.S.), and a high divorce rate. The Liberators knew what they opposed, but didn’t seem to care much about what their rebellion unleashed.

But what to call the other side, the focus of all the Liberators’ anger? Whose sensibilities meant that children’s dolls could not have genitals under their clothing, or that “The Tonight Show” must not air with the phrase “W.C.” (water closet, an oblique British term for bathroom)?

I dubbed them Prudes. On TV they looked uptight, dressed for church 24/7, and old. In real life they were just ordinary people reared in a Victorian-influenced culture, where respectable folk tried to shun their base impulses. They extrapolated the privacy that humans instinctively feel about sex into a taboo on any talk of it. As a result, in their growing up, nobody had spoken to them much about sexuality, and they, in turn, said little to their offspring.

As a child, I noticed the way adults’ voices grew hushed over matters of sexuality; how everyone watching TV in the family room pretended not to notice the feminine-hygiene commercials; how my innocent questions about what I saw in public—XXX theater ads, Playboy magazine, even a Great Dane’s testicles—earned an abrupt change of subject, or a promise to discuss it later. (That promise was not kept.)

I would find my answers elsewhere. This usually meant going to the Liberators in some form or other because, unlike the Prudes, they were always reaching out to young people, whether through books, movies, magazines, or even the schools.

I knew I didn’t want to be a Prude, because they didn’t look like fun. But the Liberators seemed untrustworthy, like salesmen hawking goods certain to disappoint.

For all their differences, the Liberators and the Prudes shared one core belief: God was on their side. Both of them were badly mistaken.

Liberators rationalized that whatever we’re inclined to do is OK with our Creator, because, well, he created us. Adam and Eve, man, they had everything right before the fig leaves, and if we would just roll up these parking lots we could have paradise right here. Of the Trinity, they seemed to identify with Jesus most because he was young and always in trouble with the Man.

Prudes deduce from the Ten Commandments that God takes a pretty dim view of anything like a vice. Because sex appeal can overrun our defenses, we should just lump all those nasty carnal desires together and push them out somewhere else … like Nevada, along with the nuclear waste. Doesn’t God want to keep us safe from sin and self-destruction? We should follow his lead on that, starting with fig leaves and any notion that sex and gender underlie every human interaction.

What both sides missed is that God invented sex.

Doors are never closed to him. He’s present in every encounter, hoping we will welcome him just like we say grace before a meal. He’s put a little glimpse of immortality at the height of sexual intercourse, and the degree to which we experience it hinges on how much of ourselves we are willing to surrender.

Ideas like that didn’t originate with me. I would owe them to a courageous parish priest; to C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft; to a little-known but influential therapist and author, Alexander Lowen; and—although I’m not a Roman Catholic—to Pope John Paul II, whose “Theology of the Body” would reassert the connection between sexuality and spirituality via popular writers like Christopher West and Mary Healy. And, of course, I owe our host on this blog.

If such voices existed during the war, I didn’t hear them. Even now, they have to shout over the censorious Prudes and the cynical Liberators, neither of whom wants to admit leading a lost cause.

But I’m optimistic. The Web has opened new, lateral forms of communication—blogs, podcasts, self-publishing. Now all that’s left is for parents (like me) to shake off our inherited Prudery, get a handle on the sexuality God’s given us, and communicate that appropriately to our offspring.

God invented sexuality to bring us out of ourselves.

Without it, we’d be like the amoeba: self-serving, isolated, incapable of anything greater than the sum of our parts.

So I hope to spur more parents to get out of themselves and talk with their children about how they came to be. After all, we (pro-)created our kids through the gift of natural sexuality. And to distinguish this from a spectrum of contrived “-sexualities” claiming legitimacy, I use the term “orthosexuality”—sex as nature intended. Uniquely capable of creating whole new human beings, orthosexuality is worthy of celebration, reverence, and respect. The privacy naturally associated with it must never be confused with shame.

A culture that panders to our innate, selfish tendencies cannot and will not do this for us.

Plus, the one gift I can’t give my kids is mates who understand all this. That’s up to you.

Sex What Your Parents Didnt Tell YouMichael RittenhouseMichael Rittenhouse is passionate about bringing God’s message of sex back into the discussion. He travels around the nation in his RV, talking to MOPS groups and churches about how we can reclaim real sexuality.

Michael’s book, Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, is available now! It goes into the historical reasons why we got sex wrong, and then talks about how we can figure out a healthy view of sex ourselves, and how we can pass that on to our kids. It’s a great read! It’s available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle, and it’s available in .pdf in Sheila’s store!

Embracing Your Friendship: Stop Drifting Apart

Stop Drifting Apart: Staying close in marriage even during seasons of distance

Everyone has what I call “seasons of distance” in their marriages where drifting apart seems imminent.

They’re inevitable, and they’re usually no one’s fault. My husband and I are just emerging from a “season of distance” when he had a combination of a heavy call schedule and a conference, so he was only home three nights in two weeks. At the same time I’m desperately trying to finish the edits for my new book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and I’m under deadline. So he’s gone and I’m stressed, and neither of us feels really supported. But it’s no one’s fault.

I remember another big season of distance where we seemed to drift apart: Keith was finishing up his residency in pediatrics and had to study for his pediatric exams. At the same time we had a baby and a toddler, and I was quite simply exhausted. Again, neither of us felt we had the support we needed because we both had so much on our plates, it was hard to be there for each other even though we wanted to.

A friend of mine is entering a season of distance as her dad starts chemotherapy this morning in a city two hours away from where she lives. She’ll be spending a lot of time supporting her parents over the next few weeks and months trying to help her dad get more comfortable and deal with the pain of the tumour, which is likely ultimately fatal.

These are all stressful times where you begin drifting apart if you’re not careful–and again, they’re no one’s fault. It’s just life.

Today I’m part of the Embrace Your Marriage virtual conference, running every Monday in September. Today is the last installment, and we’re looking at how to embrace your friendship. I thought I’d take a bit of a different tack this morning: how do you keep a friendship and still feel close during these seasons of distance which pull you apart?

I’ve written before about keeping a friendship with your husband–about finding hobbies to do together, and spending time together, and walking together, and I absolutely believe in these things. But my husband and I do have hobbies and we do have things we do together, and yet that didn’t come into play at all in the last few weeks. Sometimes you can know how to build a friendship, but you go through seasons where those things aren’t enough or aren’t always possible. Then what do you do?

I’m a big believer in this “turn a bad day into good data” philosophy–or, in other words, instead of getting mad at yourselves for messing up, look at what happened to make you mess up and then figure out how to avoid it in the future.

As I shared earlier, I really did mess up during this season of distance. I let the fact that we were both feeling isolated take over my emotions and started a rather meaningless fight, and I’m really sorry for it. But looking back I can see where we went wrong, so I’d like to share a few pointers for these seasons of distance to see how we can keep them from pulling us apart emotionally, even if we’re apart physically.

4 Ways to Keep from Drifting Apart During Stressful Times in a Marriage

1. Talk Everyday

Check in everyday if you’re apart from each other and really talk. It doesn’t have to be for long, but actually share something meaningful.

Think about it this way: there are different levels of initimacy when you communicate. You can share facts–“today was so busy and I didn’t get done the chapter I had to finish.” You can share opinions–“I really think the chapter’s good the way it is and I don’t want to change it.” And then you can share feelings–“I’m just so overwhelmed, and I’m worried that nothing that I’m saying is even very profound.”

A lot of times when we’re busy we tend to stick to the facts and opinions level of intimacy. We don’t really go down to share feelings–or even fears.

And what makes you feel like you’re drifting apart? When you feel as if your spouse doesn’t understand the big things going on in your heart, or all the big things that you do.

So here’s a suggestion: Everyday, even if you only have a few minutes to talk, share your “high” and your “low”. Or share your biggest success and your biggest disappointment from the day. When were you happiest/most proud? When were you feeling worst about yourself? They don’t have to be big things, but they have to reflect real emotions. And as you share, you’ll likely figure things out for yourself, too. Sometimes we don’t even realize what the source of your angst was all day until you think about it (“I got a really nasty email from a co-worker and I didn’t know how to process it and it hung over my head all day, even though the co-worker has no power over me.”)

2. Talk About the Little Things

Talk about the Little Things!

The “high” “low” exercise lets you talk about feelings. But don’t neglect the little things, because most of our life is little things. If you want to feel as if your spouse knows what’s going on in your life, then share those little things, too. You can call it your “check-in” exercise. Each of you take turns, where you don’t interrupt each other, and share for about 5 minutes all the things that happened in your day. That way you’re up to date, and you feel as if the person does share your life.

3. Leave Well

When you’re parting, whether it’s saying good-bye on the phone or saying good-bye when your spouse leaves for work, leave well. If you’re in person, see them to the door. And then ask these two questions: “What can I do for you today?” And “How can I pray for you today?” Just two questions. In times of busy-ness these matter so much–they say, “even if I’m busy today, I’m going to take the time to pray for you, and I’m going to do something for you, because you matter.”

2 Questions to Ask To Keep Your Marriage Strong

4. Don’t Bring Up Big Issues

Here’s the final one: put those big issues on the back burner. If you feel distant, if you feel like he’s not a good parent, if you feel as if you’re not resolving a big conflict–don’t talk about it. Here’s why: when you go through seasons of distance, your mind will automatically make these issues bigger than they really are. In fact, your mind may even create issues that aren’t there (mine did).

Decide that in your marriage you will regularly talk about issues when you have time, not when you’re both stressed. In these busy times problems are magnified, so trying to talk about them is unlikely to solve them, and will likely increase the feeling of distance. Keep them until you have time again.

I didn’t do all of these things during the last few weeks, and I really regret it. In fact, my husband and I are talking about implementing these four things more regularly right now. I don’t want to feel distant again when it’s no one’s fault.

I could say more about what to do to keep a friendship close–stay off of screens at least for part of the evening, go for walks together, go to bed at the same time. These are all important. But sometimes I think these four things are all you can do. In those seasons of life where life is almost too much, these four things will keep your head above water in your marriage.

So now I’d like to know, what do you do in seasons of distance? What do you do to stay close when life is pulling you apart? Share it in the comments.

And here’s your Embrace your Friendship Challenge all of us are giving today: Carve out some time to spend together. Do something that takes your minds off of screen time. Then make it a habit.

So far in Embrace Your Marriage, I’ve talked about:

Embracing Grace
Embracing Change
Embracing Your Differences
Embracing Oneness

And all the other bloggers have, too! Today, you can follow their links and see what they say about embracing oneness in your marriage.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife
Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

Guard Their Hearts

Next Tuesday I’m starting a series on this blog that I’m so excited about–how we need to start reframing how we teach kids about sex, and how we need to watch the messages we’re inadvertently giving about sex. To get ready for that series, I thought I’d rerun this column from a few years ago on why we need to teach kids to guard their hearts. Too often sex ed is just about guarding their bodies, but it’s the heart that can really hurt.

Guard their heartsThis column was originally written for a secular audience.

When parents contemplate their teens having sex, pregnancy and disease aren’t the first things that come to mind. Instead, it’s panic, the mere thought causing us to jump into bed and pull the covers over our heads. In more rational moments we may work through these feelings so we can talk to our kids, but our first response doesn’t tend to be terror at the possibility of disease—it’s terror at the possibility of the act itself.

Most parents would prefer, to put it mildly, that their teens not have sex.

If they do, then somebody is going to know them in certain ways even more intimately than we do. But that intimacy, in the context of what is probably a fleeting teenage relationship, seems just plain wrong. After all, sex is so much more than just a physical act; it’s intrinsically connected with our psyches. Whether we intend it to or not, it forms a bond between two people, and using it cavalierly can be damaging.

The Redbook survey of 100,000 women showed this dramatically. It found that women who had been sexually active at 15 were far less likely to have happy marriages and satisfying sex lives later in life than those who had waited. In the wrong context, then, sex can shatter our spirits, and give us sexual baggage that will affect future relationships.

As columnist Rebecca Hagelin has said, there is no condom for your heart.

There is no way to protect yourself when you’ve given your body and your soul to someone and they’ve rejected you. It’s little wonder that up to two-thirds of sexually active teens regret not waiting for this very reason. These same teens are also more likely to be depressed and suicidal that their inexperienced peers.

Yet we have a difficult time articulating this to our children in part, I think, because we’ve been told that sexual experimentation cannot and should not be interfered with. If we tell our teens to say no, we may inadvertently teach them there’s something shameful about sex.

This reminds me of a story a male teacher friend once relayed to me. A 14-year-old girl asked him privately if she should have sex with her boyfriend. The teacher asked, “what did your parents say?”. She replied, “that I should do what I think is best.” He quickly extricated himself from this compromising situation, but here’s what he was thinking. If she had wanted to have sex, she would have done so. She would not have asked her parents, and she would not have asked him. She was looking for a responsible adult to tell her it was okay to say no. Instead, everyone was telling her they expected her to say yes, even though deep inside she didn’t want to.

When we give kids the “safe sex” message, we’re essentially saying, “we know you’re going to do it anyway, so use a condom”.

We give kids the impression that the pull for sex can’t be resisted, so everybody must be doing it.

Even adults I respect expect me to say yes! I’d have to be a freak to say no.

Yet it’s a myth that teenagers aren’t able to wait. Our grandparents’ generation largely waited until the wedding night. We may believe that older people never fought these hormonal urges, but I bet the senior citizens out there could tell us a different story.

Counselling teens to wait isn’t teaching them to be ashamed of sex; it’s teaching them to give it the honour and importance that it deserves.

It’s elevating making love, not maligning it. After all, little in life will have more long-term physical, emotional and spiritual consequences than what you do with your body. It may be uncomfortable to talk about such things with teens, but we need to try. We can’t control our children, but we can make it more likely that they’ll choose a certain path. Remember, that path is better. It is more fulfilling. And our kids deserve to have us point the way.

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Inspiration for A Great Marriage

Always refuse to give up on each other!

Hello, everybody! I’m a little under the weather today, so I thought I’d leave you with some inspiration from a graphic and from some past posts!

The 5 Main Trigger Points for Conflict–maybe if we understood that the thing we’re fighting about is not actually the thing we’re fighting about, we’d solve things sooner!

Celebrating Our Differences–a more recent post on why differences don’t have to drive you apart. Sometimes they can even make you into better people.

When You’re the One Who Needs Forgiveness–what do you do if you’re the one who messed up badly in your marriage? Thoughts on working towards reconciliation.

Getting Over Thinking of Sex as a Chore–if it’s become only a “duty”, then here are some thoughts that can help you see making love differently.

When Your Marriage is in Crisis–Fight! Sometimes we need to fight for our marriage.

And did you know that I have a round-up post with links to all the most frequently asked questions on this blog? Everything from getting in the mood to dealing with porn to feeling hopeless in your marriage–even how to talk to your teens. Check it out here!

I hope you all have a wonderful day! And if you think of it–pray for me as I head off the doctor. I’d really like to get what’s bugging me sorted out before all my speaking engagements start soon! Thank you.

Wifey Wednesday: When You Blow It

Perspective in Marriage: Why Us Matters More Than Me

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage–and then I give you a chance to link up your own marriage posts at the bottom. Today I want to talk about perspective in marriage by being a little vulnerable and telling you about how I blew it this week–and how a birthday party reminded me what was important.

My husband and I have been tired, stressed, and apart quite a bit lately, which is never a good combination. We both have too much on our plates (I’m doing the final edits for 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and booking four speaking tours, and he’s working hard at the hospital), and Keith has been away at a conference and on call a lot, so we’ve seen each other maybe 3 nights in two weeks. It’s not normal, this too shall pass, but it’s tough. It’s a season of distance in a marriage. It’s inevitable, it’s no one’s fault, but it can impact you.

The root of a lot of my stress is that I’m naturally an extroverted person living an introverted life. An extrovert isn’t just a “people person” who is the life of the party (I’d often rather hang back in large groups); an extrovert is someone who processes things by talking about them, not just by thinking about them. Yet I spend my day making little decision upon little decision, by myself at my computer in my living room. When Keith does get home, I’d love to fill him in, but it would take so much time, and quite frankly I’d rather put it behind me and just be US.

But what that means is that I sometimes feel like there are few people in the world who understand all the things that are on my mind. So it’s a little isolating.

And when you’re feeling isolated, hurts are magnified.

The other night a hurt was magnified. It was an old hurt, and Keith did nothing to magnify it. It was something that happened a long time ago that Keith is sorry for, but that still affects me quite a bit.

It was not even something particularly awful; it was just something that happened that hurt me. And I fixated on it again and couldn’t sleep.

We talked about it (it’s often a bad idea to talk about things late at night; they totally get magnified), and I got overly emotional and it was rather embarrassing looking back now. But at one point Keith in utter frustration said something important. He said:

I just need to know that US matters more than YOU.

He wasn’t trying to get me to see his point of view; he was trying to get me to say OUR point of view. I had a right to be hurt, but I had to stop thinking about what was best for me and start thinking about what was best for us. And he was completely and utterly right. It isn’t about what’s fair; it’s about what brings oneness, and focusing on how Keith loves me now is far more important than looking at a series of hurts that I experienced earlier (of which he was only a part).

That was Incident #1.

Now I’d like to give you Incident #2.

It’s a Friday night, and the banquet room in the restaurant is full of laughter and clinking glasses and loud greetings whenever someone else enters the room. It’s my father-in-law’s seventieth birthday, and certainly family is there, but also friend after friend after friend.

I looked around that room and my mind went back to their twenty-fifth anniversary, just a year or two after Keith and I married. Keith and I had hosted that surprise party and had invited all of their friends, and pretty much everyone in that room had been at that party. In fact, I remembered pretty much everyone in that room from when Keith and I married. My in-laws are loyal friends, and their friends stick around, even twenty years later.

But what really struck me was not that they had all these individual, loyal friends. It was that these friends were all couples.

There were Bob and Sheila, who took my kids fishing one year when we were camping; Jack and Marilyn, who let us borrow their canoe (and Marilyn taught my kids to quilt!); John and Marie who were adopted grandparents for my husband (and I still remember Keith sitting up with Marie one night in the hospital when we almost lost John a few years back); Linda and Karl; Paul and Cheyenne; Willard and Shirley; and the list goes on and on and on. In fact, I can’t think of a single couple friend that I knew twenty years ago who is not still a couple today (except for Tony, who is now remarried, because Claudette, my mother-in-law’s best friend, passed away a few years back. But everyone is so happy for Tony!).

Last week I wrote about The Good News About Marriage; how the divorce rate is not, and never has been, anywhere close to 50%. It’s actually closer to 28%. And looking around that table, it looked close to 0% for these people–these couples who had had euchre parties and done midnight walks for cancer and had been at each other’s kids’ weddings and baby showers for years. And lately, increasingly, they’ve been at the hospital, holding one half of a couple’s hand as they made it through a stressful night after a heart attack or a mini-stroke.

I’m sure those couples had tiffs in the middle of the night, too, especially during inevitable occasional seasons of distance.

But they all learned something important: US is more important than ME.

May "Us" Always Matter More than "Me" in our #marriage - Sheila Wray Gregoire

It’s not even that YOU are more important than ME; it’s that US is more important than ME. We fight for the “us”, so that years later we will still have a best friend, a confidante, a gem.

It’s easy to lose perspective in marriage because it’s so hard to get our eyes off of “me”, especially when you’re tired and stressed. But what good does it do to hold on to ME if you lose US? Us is such a gift, and I will fight for it. Just not necessarily again at one in the morning.

Christian Marriage Advice

Now, what do you have to share with us today? Just put the URL of a marriage post in the linky below!

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Top 10 Ways to Embrace Your Future InLaws

Embrace Your InlawsToday’s guest post is from Lauren Hanna from The Encouragement Express–a great blog site for engaged couples.

10 Great Ways to Embrace Your Inlaws

I think for most of us when we hear the word “in-laws”, something akin to the music in Jaws or Psycho starts playing in our heads. We immediately think of every awful, judging scenario Ben Stiller had to deal with in Meet the Parents, and we cringe.

As an engaged person, one wonders: What am I getting myself into? Meeting and dealing with the in-laws is a whole different ball game. I personally think it can be a wonderful experience. My fiancé, Will, and I are now two months out from our wedding, and by the grace of God, we have had remarkable success in this area. Getting married is one of the biggest transitions in life we’re ever going to have. Emotions are high, and that’s when the best and worst often come out in people. So here’s some tips that Will and I have learned on how to navigate the in-laws, so that everyone is left feeling valued and important. Also, I HIGHLY recommend Danny Silk’s book, Keep Your Love On. It has been a life saver for me through this experience and is all about how to communicate and confront others lovingly and with honor.

1. Set Boundaries

This is the number one thing I have heard as marriage advice in dealing with family members. You and your fiancé are going to have to set boundaries with each of your parents, together. It may not sound fun at the time, but it will pay off! A few weeks ago my family was trying to change my entire wedding, because it didn’t meet their expectations. I got this long phone call from my mother, telling me the 101 reasons why I needed to change it. Instead of getting all upset, I thanked her for her opinions, let her know that I valued them, and let her know that for us that the current option we have is the best one. Get this, she then apologized for stepping over the line and has been better since. Now not all boundary setting interactions will go this smoothly, but as long as you honor them and stand your ground, they will respect you – even if they don’t agree with you. To quote from Danny Silk’s Keep Your Love On: “It’s your responsibility to set a boundary for how many disrespectful or damaging exchanges you will endure. The moment you pick up a dueling sword, you are equally guilty for whatever blood is shed.”

2. Be Slow to Offense

Like I said earlier, emotions are high during this time. Unfortunately more often than not, something is going to get said that is offensive. Instead of taking the bait of provocation, take a deep breath and ask yourself “Is this worth getting upset over?” I guarantee you, 99% of the time that answer will be “No.” The deep breath is a miracle worker, because it calms you down instantly. Instead of acting out of emotion, you’ll now have a better chance of being reasonable. Furthermore, when you choose not to take offense to something, and set a boundary if needed in that situation, you are setting a standard for your relationship with that person. You are saying, “I choose to value our relationship above all else.”

3. Remember, They’re Grieving

This piece of advice given to me, before I was engaged, has been a HUGE help to me during this time. Getting married is a time of celebrating what God has put together in you and your fiancé. Although your parents and in-laws will be happy for you, for them there is often another emotion… loss. For them it is the final thing reminding them that their baby is all grown up and moving on with life. That can create a sense of grief, which can manifest itself through control, manipulation, distance and selfishness. Once you realize it’s actually grief, then you can help assuage that by reminding them that no one is losing anything. You’re creating your own family now, and that is an exciting thing. “Each display of love, no matter how seemingly small, is a powerful act of spiritual warfare that removes anxiety from the environment and replaces it with freedom and safety.” – Danny Silk.

4. Plan Things for You All to Do Together

A great way to ease the tension with the in-laws is to do stuff together. Get to know each other better. Try and find some common ground. You and your fiancé can take them out to dinner or to a movie or some fun activity. For example, one of the things that Will and I are going to do for his parents is take them whale-watching. Neither of them have ever been, and it’s been something they have both been wanting to do. So ask about their interests and do stuff together! If you’re in different places, talk on the phone or have Skype dates! It’ll show them that you are excited to become a part of their family, as well as welcoming them into yours.

5. Have Them Be A Part of the Wedding Planning Process

I know some of you just cringed at this, especially if you’ve been dealing with controlling in-laws. My wedding planner suggested to me to have each set of parents in charge of something when this happens. If they’ve been unpleasant in the planning part so far, make it a small thing. Something that won’t be the end of the world to you if it isn’t exactly what you want. Since our parents are so different, we decided to do that, so there would be no toes stepped on. We made my parents in charge of table decor. We made his parents in charge of hotel services. We also sent them pictures/info on decisions we were making and asked their opinion. Each time we thanked them for their opinion, regardless of whether or not we went with it. This makes them feel valued and included, as they should be.

6. What’s Their Love Language?

Watch your in-laws. How do they receive/give affection? Is it through words of affirmation, acts of service, spending time with you, gift-giving, or physical touch? When you notice, respond in like manner. This will communicate to them that you value and appreciate them.

7. Be Thankful

Make sure to sincerely thank them every time they bless you. If they give you a gift or pay for something, send a thank you note at least. This is so simple, but it is not done very often and will go much farther than you realize. When our parents let us know that they wanted to help us out financially with the wedding, Will and I each sent them flowers with a thank you note in them. They loved it! I mean who wouldn’t? So gratitude… it’s a big deal.

8. Value Relationship Over Being Right

To quote Danny Silk again, “Refuse to let disagreements intimidate you into moving away from one another. Prioritize the connection above the argument.” You’re going to disagree with your in-laws on things. You are different people, and therefore see the world in a different light. That’s okay. Differences are supposed to be used to strengthen us. Don’t let your need to be right kill an important relationship before you even get married. You’re going to be connected to your in-laws for a long time. Is it worth being right if it damages your relationship?

9. Pick Your Battles

Here’s another life-saver piece of advice that someone gave me–it goes hand-in-hand with being slow to offense: Pick your battles. Not everything needs to be fought, and it’ll make your life and their lives a lot easier. Now I’m not saying to let them walk all over you in the name of “getting along.” However, just as there are some battles to stand up and fight, there are also ones that you don’t need to. The ones that don’t need to, are usually dealing with the little things that might be irritating. They might not know that they are bugging you, and think they are helping you out. So give them a break every once in a while. It’ll save your relationship. One more thing, don’t dwell on the battles you decided not to pick. As women we tend to go over things again and again and again in our heads. That’s still choosing to fight that battle. Only now it’s being fought internally. You have enough stuff to do and focus on during this time. Just let it go.

10. Be Excited

You are getting married! I mean that is exciting! The one that you have waited for, dreamed of, thought about constantly is finally here. Be excited! Try not to let all of the stress of planning a wedding, and going through this transition rob you of the joy you should be feeling. The more excited you are, the more fun you have, the more everyone else around you will feel the same thing. Joy is highly contagious. An unsure in-law will come around so quickly when they are dealing with a joyful and excited bride. After all, the joy of the Lord is your strength!

So have fun in the process of being engaged! It is possible to have great relationships with your in-laws, and I pray that each and every one of you feel valued and favored by them. Relationships do take work, sometimes a lot of work, but they are so worth it!

 

Lauren HannaLauren Hanna is a 25 year old composer based out of LA. She took up blog writing about five years ago when people started asking her to send them daily encouragements. One thing lead to another and now she is the writer of a successful blog called The Encouragement Express. She loves God with all her heart, and loves seeing people become who He made them to be. She is currently engaged to her best friend, and very excited to start this new season of her life.

 

The Two Shall Become One: Embracing Oneness

The Two Shall Become One Flesh: How does "oneness" actually happen?

“…A man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

That verse is read at weddings, and we hear it often: “the two shall become one flesh”. But what does it really mean?

Does it just mean that the two shall become one FLESH–as in the two shall join together while making love?

Or is there more of the “the two shall become ONE” connotation–that somehow you actually form a true oneness when you’re married that transcends just our bodies?

To tell you the truth, I’ve often wondered about that. How can having sex, in and of itself, make you “one”? It’s just joining two bodies together, and let’s face it–people do that all the time. Is that the “oneness” that God was talking about? Or is it something deeper?

Here’s another picture of oneness:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10, NIV)

“Perfectly united in mind and thought.” I love that picture of oneness, too: that we have mind and purpose. And I’ve written about that aspect of marriage and how it relates to submission. I do believe that oneness is more than just physical, but today, as part of the “Embrace Your Marriage” virtual retreat, I’d like to talk about physical oneness.

Six other bloggers are participating in the Embrace Your Marriage retreat, and I think most of them will be writing about more of this unity aspect of oneness. Because I’m the resident Christian sex blogger, I thought I’d try to look at how unity and oneness truly are part of God’s plan for the marriage bed, too.

It’s hard for sex to make us feel like one flesh if sex seems kind of distasteful, or if it’s awkward, or sex, or if you’ve been abused in the past. So many of us have so many roadblocks for experiencing great oneness in sex, and I completely understand that.

Today, though, I don’t want to write a practical post on “how the two shall become one” when you make love, because I’ve written on practically how to get over some of these things before (and I did it in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex). Sometimes I think we just need a picture of perfection to help us go in the right direction, and that’s what I’d like to do today.

I believe that God meant for this to be something beautiful and stupendous, but I am fully aware that sex is not like that for many, if not most, of us. I’m not trying to be insensitive to your needs; I just want today to ask you to put aside the problems, and recognize that all of them flow from this world’s brokenness in some sort. And I want you to just imagine–just imagine that those problems weren’t there, and look at what God did intend.

How can sex make “the two become one flesh”? Does it just mean because the bodies are joined? Or is there something more to it?

I think there’s something far more.

Great Sex Is Vulnerable–It Reveals Our True Selves

When sex works–when we’re experiencing real pleasure–what we’re also doing is becoming truly vulnerable. In order for a woman to experience pleasure, she has to let go of control. She has to stop thinking and trying to make things happen, and she has to just let things happen (that’s a big difference). I’m not saying she’s passive or that she can’t move during sex or something; not at all. But it is almost like the sex takes on a life of its own, and it sweeps you away.

That’s essentially what an orgasm is, after all. You don’t create it; it happens. And to allow someone to sweep you away, and to allow someone to be part of that whole process with you, means that you hand over a huge chunk of yourself. It’s dependent on trust, because it creates a huge vulnerability in you.

That’s why sex is so difficult when trust has been broken, either because you were abused in the past, or something has happened in your relationship. Great sex requires vulnerability, and vulnerability requires trust. But the essence of it is that we’re no longer trying, it’s just happening, and that means that we’re showing him who we are underneath all the masks we put on everyday. In our sexuality who we are is really revealed. He sees what gives you ultimate pleasure. He sees what gets you over the moon. Sometimes you don’t even want to see that–not necessarily because it’s dirty or shameful, but because it’s so personal. And yet, in great sex, everything is bare.

Great Sex is Transcendent–You Lose Yourself

She has to let herself just “experience”. It’s almost like, in some way, she loses herself. All the things that make her “her”–the way that we choose to talk, the way that we choose to make decisions, the way that we choose to present ourselves to others–all of those go out the window when you’re having great sex. You aren’t “you” anymore; you’re someone else, someone more primal. That’s why C.S. Lewis said:

We must recognize that…is the act of love we are not merely ourselves. We are also representatives. It is here no impoverishment but an enrichment to be aware that forces older and less personal than we work through us. In us all the masculinity an femininity of the world, all that is assailant and responsive, are momentarily focused.

(from the Four Loves). He goes on to say that in lovemaking, we cease to be Steve an Sally, and we become Her and Him, quite different.

Great Sex Is Intensely Private–He’s the Only One Who Will See You Like This

That kind of intimacy and vulnerability can’t be shared with just anybody. It would be emotionally impossible. We can’t open up like that for everybody. You can only open up like that if commitment is part of your relationship, and if you know that this is the only person who will ever truly “know” you. I think that’s what God meant by this verse in Genesis:

“And Adam knew Eve his wife…” (Genesis 4:1; NKJV)

That Hebrew word for “know” is an intensely personal one. It’s the same one that David used when he said, “Search me and know me O God”. It isn’t a head knowledge; it’s a deep intimacy.

Great Sex Literally Bonds You Together as One

And then there’s the chemical process God threw in. Not only does sexual arousal require us to bare ourselves; but at orgasm we release the hormone oxytocin, which literally bonds you. It makes you feel attached to this person. It creates a true emotional and sexual bond that is very hard to break (though ties with past lovers can be broken).

That oneness in marriage is a deep intimacy, and it can’t be found just in your friendship or just in your unity of thought and purpose–though that is an important aspect as well. It is most intensely found when we make love. And when we do, we open ourselves up. We reveal our true selves. We lose our true selves in each other. And we feel joined.

If that is happening in your marriage (and that is what God wants for you, even if you are experiencing roadblocks), then can you see how it would also be easier to achieve that unity of thought and purpose, too? When we feel bonded and bare, it’s so much easier to also get on the same page, because you will show each other grace, you will be kind, you will more naturally agree.

Making love is such a beautiful thing, and that’s the way that God designed it.

I know it isn’t always like that, but I’d encourage you to see it as an act of faith today: even if you aren’t experiencing it, can you believe that this is what God designed? And if this is what God designed, then can you agree with God that He wants that for your marriage, and can you start working towards it and praying for it?

Maybe if we worked on the sex side of our relationship, rather than some of the other things, those other things would fall into place more easily. I’m not saying it’s a simple process, but often when sex is going well, all those other things do seem to be easier to solve.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re having trouble experiencing this kind of oneness, I’d encourage you to check out The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, which talks about how something can be “holy” and “hot” at the same time–and explains how sex was meant to be passionate. If it hasn’t been that in your marriage, please check it out! Don’t miss out on what God created for you to enjoy.

Thanks for being part of this Embrace Your Marriage series.

So far I’ve talked about:

Embracing Grace
Embracing Change
Embracing Your Differences

And all the other bloggers have, too! Today, you can follow their links and see what they say about embracing oneness in your marriage.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife
Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife

31 Days to Great Sex
31 Days to Great Sex is here (only $4.99!) It's the best $5 you'll ever spend on your marriage!

Learn to talk more, flirt more, and even explore more! You'll work on how to connect emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Find out more here.


 

What’s the Real Divorce Rate?

I write the “Messy Faith” column for Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, and here’s a recent one about the real divorce rate. You’ll be surprised (and pleased!)

Real Divorce Rate

My salt-of-the-earth family values friend was dating a friend of mine, but after four years was still hesitating to pop the question. “I’ve seen so many friends divorce,” he explained. “I don’t want to do that to us.”

Divorce, in his mind, was like a virus.

If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you, and soon you’ll find yourself kicked out, broke, and crying into your coffee.

Our society treats divorce like it’s a contagion, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, the divorce rate is close to 50%, isn’t it? And the even sadder part: Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else–and some say even higher.

As a marriage author and blogger, I hear these stats everyday, and they’ve always confused me. Do they even pass the smell test? In the late 80s and early 90s I was involved with the Queen’s University Christian Fellowship group. Of the dozens of friends I remember from those days, as far as I know, only three have divorced. The other marriages have so far made it, even twenty years later.

If divorce is really 50%, then we must have either been incredibly lucky or part of a bizarre subgroup with the ability to withstand Kryptonite.

But forget anecdotes–what about just plain logic? If, as Christians, we believe that God helps us forgive, God helps us through grief, and God helps us withstand temptation, then why do we not believe that God also would make a difference in marriage? Why are we so quick to accept these stats at face value?

Perhaps this “divorce virus” is much weaker than we think.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceThat’s what Shaunti Feldhahn found when she analyzed the studies for her new book, The Good News About Marriage. Back in 2006 she was trying to dig up the current divorce rate for an article. She asked her assistant to check on it, so her assistant delved into footnotes from other articles. She sought out the original sources. And nothing could justify the rate of 50%–in fact, there didn’t seem to be a credible source at all. And so the two of them started a six-year project to uncover the real divorce rate.

What they found was revolutionary.

The divorce rate for first marriages is actually around 30%–and likely closer to 28%. Christians have between a 30% and 50% lower divorce rate than the general population–which puts us at around 14%-20%. Since these are American figures, we Canucks can likely shave a few points off of even that. Of course, a 15% divorce rate in the church still represents a lot of heartbreak and many hurting families, but it also means that the vast majority of marriages are happy.

The Real Divorce Rate: Good news about marriage! It's not 50%

So where did that “50% of marriages end in divorce” stat come from? In the 1970s, when divorce rates were skyrocketing, researchers were asked to estimate the divorce rate. They said, “If divorce rates continue to rise as they are now, we would expect the divorce rate to be 50%”. But divorce rates didn’t rise; they fell. And so that stat–which was never actually a statistical snapshot, but only ever a projection–never came true.

What about the idea that Christians have just as high a divorce rate? That came from a study from the Barna group, where respondents were asked to identify their religion. George Barna himself has disavowed this common interpretation of his study, since if you really want to know the Christian divorce rate, you don’t just ask what religion people claim; you ask about key things, like if they read their Bible, if they pray, or if they attend church. Do that, and the divorce rate plummets.

Feldhahn’s book is filled with all the analysis that a stats geek will love even more than Star Trek reruns, but here’s what it means for the rest of us, and here’s why Shaunti wrote it: What if the biggest threat to marriage isn’t divorce, but discouragement? If we believe that 50% of marriages end in divorce, then marriage looks really risky. People will choose to cohabit rather than take the plunge. Or, once they are married, if problems crop up, they think, “this is why marriages end. We’re one of the couples who won’t make it.”

On the other hand, if people realize that most couples do make it, then more people will tie the knot. When troubles come, they can say to themselves, “most people have problems, but most people get over those problems, and we will, too.”

Those who are married live longer. As the Institute for Marriage and the Family pointed out in a recent study, they tend to be wealthier and have a much easier time getting out of poverty. Their kids do better in school, are less likely to take drugs or alcohol, and are more likely to delay sexual activity. And, of course, they’re happier.

There’s Good News About Marriage out there, and we need to listen and spread the word.

Most marriages make it. Over 90% of married people would marry the same person again. Marriage is still a wonderful thing. Pass it on.

The Good News About Marriage: The real divorce rate

Will you help to spread the good news about marriage? Pin the pictures in this post, or share it on Facebook! Just use the buttons below. Let’s not let anyone ls flee marriage or rush to divorce because they think marriages can’t last.

31 Days to Great Sex
31 Days to Great Sex is here (only $4.99!) It's the best $5 you'll ever spend on your marriage!

Learn to talk more, flirt more, and even explore more! You'll work on how to connect emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Find out more here.