Wifey Wednesday: When your Marriage Is in Crisis

When your marriage is in crisis: how to move forward by setting boundaries

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own posts below. Today I want to tackle a really hard question–one that is left often in the comments. What do I do if my marriage is in crisis, but he doesn’t think it’s a big deal and refuses to change?

Here’s a comment, for instance, that was left yesterday when we were talking about the trauma of a husband’s porn use:

If he is unrepentant how do I set boundaries? I have read your article on 4 things a wife needs to do if her husband is looking at Porn… but if he isn’t to the place of wanting to be done how are boundaries set? Technology free hours would never fly with him. His phone took a dive into the fish tank last week and I was praising God. But he mailed it in and got it fixed, and nearly every night he would take his laptop and dissappear. And now the smart phone is back and it travels with him every where he goes. Even to the bathroom! He also deletes history.

I want to say first and foremost that I weep for women in this situation. A man who is throwing away a marriage to indulge in pornography is acting so selfishly and immaturely. Even though it is likely an addiction, it still makes me almost physically ill to think about this.

And I know there are men doing other things which are toxic to a marriage–gambling, overspending, refusing to work. I received an email last week from a woman whose husband, as soon as they were married, announced, “I believe that God will provide work”, and so he refuses to look for work. They now live in his parents’ cramped basement while she tries to hobble together what money she can while caring for the children, while the husband plays video games all day. And then there are the men who write in whose wives have refused to have sex for years.

These are horrible, horrible situations. And if you confront your husband (or your wife), and he does nothing to change or says he won’t change, what do you do?

I recognize that the vast majority of those reading this blog do not have marriages in crisis, and don’t worry–some “regular” marriage thoughts will be coming again soon on this blog! But I do receive so many notes from women in crisis situations that I thought it warranted a post. And because I rank so high on Google for certain search terms for people in crisis in their marriages, I get a lot of people in that situation here. So this post is for those who are in crisis!

Whatever you tolerate will continue.

I wish people could understand this earlier–even when they’re dating. If you tolerate a little bit of porn, it will continue until it’s a lot. Obviously we should never go ballistic over each and every sin, but there are some things which need to be non-negotiables, and I think being sexually pure and being responsible with money are two things that are essential in any marriage. I would not marry someone who did not have a proven track record on these two things.

But what do you do if you marry someone and then these things pop up? Or if you married someone assuming the problems would get better, and then they didn’t (hint: that’s a really bad idea).

You still don’t enable sin–you be a spouse, not an enabler. If you follow that link, I have an in-depth post on when it’s necessary to get some help in your marriage and to stop tolerating certain things, and I’d encourage you to read that first. Then come back here and we’ll call this a part 2.

Read: Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?

Get yourself some support

Something has to change. A man can’t be retreating into the bathroom to look at porn on his computer, all the while his wife knowing what he is doing. A woman can’t keep living in her parent’s basement while her husband refuses to work. These things must stop.

But likely if you’re in this position you’ve talked and talked to your husband, and nothing has changed. So what do you do?

First, get some support around you. That doesn’t mean that you confide in everybody under the sun, but find a few people who can pray for you and who can give you some wise advice and counsel. I’ve shared the story before of one older friend of mine whose husband had used porn for several decades in their marriage. They had gone to counselors, and he had promised to quit, but he never did. So one day she confided in their small group and in her pastor, and the small group came and helped her move out while the pastor had a meeting with the husband saying, “you need to get your life back on track, and if you don’t, we will support your wife.”

You need a church community that takes confronting sin seriously. Unfortunately, not enough do. To many Christians, the highest ideal is a couple that stays married–no matter what. Yet this is a misreading of what God wants. God doesn’t want marriage to be a cover for people having to work on their issues. God’s purpose is that we each look more and more like Christ. Yes, God hates divorce, but you know what He hates more? His children falling farther and farther away from Him and getting more and more sucked into sin. And when we tolerate horrible behaviour, it gets worse. I am not advocating divorce. I know the vow is crucial. But it should never be a cover for people to sin.

So find yourself a Christian community that understands the necessity of wholeness. That may take some time. It may mean switching churches. It may mean that you have to get involved in that church so that you have a natural group of people around you. It takes investment on your part to be part of community. But you need that community! This is a spiritual battle. You need prayer. You need people pointing you in the right direction so you don’t get bitter and vindictive. Search those people out!

Get yourself a counselor

Likely you will need a trained person to walk through this with you, too. Most churches have a list of counselors they can give you. Some churches even have them on staff so that people in crisis don’t have to pay.

Own your boundary

Now that you have support and you know that something must be done, the question remains: what should you do to make him stop?

Right?

Wrong. That’s not the question. You can’t make him stop. You can’t pressure him to do anything. The only thing you can do is enforce your own boundaries, not his. And that means that you have to come to terms with the fact that he may not choose to change. Things may stay exactly the same, no matter what you do. Grieve that. Feel that. That is really hard to live with. This is why you need people around you, so that you know that you are never alone, and so that they can point you to Jesus.

So what is the real question? It’s this:

What is the limit to what I will tolerate? And what should be my response if that limit is crossed?

For instance, you may say, “If he is not actively looking for work, providing an income, or caring for our children so I can work, then I will not work to support him. I will work to support our children and myself, but not him.” Or you may say, “I will not be intimate with someone who is turning to porn for release. I will be the sole object of sexual attention, or I will not be the object of sexual attention at all.”

Let the law of sowing and reaping play itself out

The best vehicle that God gave us to learn to listen to him was the law of sowing and reaping–we reap what we sow. You see this throughout the Old Testament, when Moses, for instance, warns the Israelites: if you follow what God says, you will be blessed. If you don’t, you will be cursed. And this cycle continues throughout the prophets.

Boundaries in MarriageWe see it in Galatians 6:7:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

We should reap what we sow. Too often in marriage, though, we disrupt the law of sowing and reaping, as Cloud and Townsend explain in their book Boundaries in Marriage. A man sows destruction by using porn, and the wife reaps the rejection and sorrow.

If he is doing something to jeopardize the marriage, then he must feel the full weight of that. That is God’s tool to move him towards repentance.

Please note, I am not talking about everyday sins, like being short with you, or not always helping clean up the house, or buying too many gadgets. I’m talking about fundamental things that are toxic to a marriage. (If you’re not sure that your issue is that fundamental, then talk to someone else and get their perspective!)

My friend Anna caught her husband Paul with porn, and her response was to gather her brothers and her father to confront her husband. They disconnected the internet, carted off all the equipment, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was getting help or else. They even made sure he went and saw the pastor and got in an accountability group.

Having an intervention from people close to you is a great first step, and for many people, this works.

But what if it doesn’t work? This may mean that you have to separate for a time. That’s a scary, scary thing. But not all separations lead to divorce, and I have seen many people reconcile after a separation. This does not necessarily mean that the marriage is over. But you have to be prepared for the marriage to be over. You’re not doing this to manipulate him; you’re doing this to preserve truth. There was no truth in a marriage where you tolerate the intolerable; you’re running back to God and relying on Him, and you’re putting your relationships right.

Please: do not separate unless you have first talked to some Christian mentors or a Christian counselor and pursued other options. Don’t take this option on your own, as the first step. This is HUGE. You owe it to yourself, your husband, and your kids to consult with others and get their support. If you do something without getting help, you’re likely to let emotions take over and do something really drastic from the start. And then you won’t have help! Let people offer you advice, prayer support, and emotional support. And then they can be there for your husband, too.

If I separate, can I move on with my life?

Quite frankly, no. You are still married. If those around you agreed that separation was the best option after other things had been tried, and you have separated, I hope you have done so not with the intention of leaving him permanently. I hope that this is to provide breathing space. Space for him to be confronted by God, and space for you to find healing. Rushing into another relationship cuts off the chance of healing of your marriage, and especially if you have children, you owe your marriage some time.

Again, this is where wise counselors around you can help you navigate.

(Note: There are exceptions–I talked to a woman recently who finally left her abusive husband after finding out he had sexually abused their teenage daughter. He went to jail. She remarried. He ended their marriage by abusing their daughter. Some things should signal the end, I believe.)

Be gracious–It’s the direction that matters

If someone has been addicted to gambling, they won’t lose that pull overnight. If someone has used porn habitually for years, successfully giving it up cold turkey is really hard. Focus on the direction: is he getting better and trying to get better with occasional lapses? Then take those lapses for what they are. They are temporary failings, but they do not mean that he is not committed to the relationship and that he’ll never get better. For most people it takes years for the lapses to stop entirely and for the pull to go away, but they can start going in the right direction almost immediately.

If the issue has been sexual refusal, and she (or he) is starting to try to have sex again, if they don’t seem into it, that’s not a reason to give up or get mad. Look at the direction. If they are trying and if they are humble, then give grace.

Final thoughts

I wish I had some magic answer: If you do this, he will change (or she will change). But life isn’t like that. I don’t know why some spouses get to the point that they don’t care what the other thinks.

But, please, no matter what you are going through, know that God sees and God knows. Know that God wants to help you through this. Know that you are not alone. And know that God’s desire is for two people who love and follow Him, not people who cover up sin and hide it.

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Have any marriage thoughts for us today? Link up the URL of a post in today’s Wifey Wednesday link up party!



How a Simple “Thank You” Can Transform a Marriage

What a Husband Needs: GratitudeLast Friday I had the tremendous privilege of meeting up with fellow marriage author Shaunti Feldhahn while she was speaking in Ottawa. Shaunti is part of my new Christian Marriage Authors Pinterest Board, and you have one more day to enter our contest to win a marriage library of 12 books!

I took her on a bit of a walk in downtown Ottawa, where we saw the Parliament buildings with the flag at half mast and the War Memorial with the flowers from the recent shooting, but then we went to her event at night where she was sharing about the Secrets of a Happy Marriage.

(Really Bad Selfie Alert: Never let two 40-something women take a selfie together. “How do you hold the phone? Where’s the button? Is this right?”)

SheilaShaunti

I found her talk fascinating, and I’ll be sharing a bunch of her insights over the next few weeks. But I want to start with just one which I think is revolutionary.

Let me tell you the story the way Shaunti told it.

Shaunti is a born researcher. She doesn’t really write marriage advice books as much as she takes surveys, does interviews, looks at the current literature, and then detects trends. Much of her research is first-hand, meaning she conducts it and oversees it herself.

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big DifferenceA few years ago she started a multi-year project trying to identify what it is that the happiest couples did that set them apart from other couples. So she took over 1000 couples and asked the couples, separately, to rate their marriage from 1-5, with 1 being absolutely amazing and 5 being absolutely lousy.

Then she took all the marriages where the couples BOTH rated it a 1, and looked at what stood out. Interestingly, there were many differences between them and even couples where one rated it a 1 and one rated it a 2. Those successful couples were very unique, and she published her findings in her amazing book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.

What she found, though, was that it was not big things that made a successful marriage. Certainly there were some things that helped, like coming from an intact family yourself, but much of it was just the little things we do, day by day, without even noticing. Interestingly, when she asked these couples what it is that THEY thought made their marriages good, they were often wrong. They either couldn’t answer, or they said the advice you’re supposed to say (like we always communicate, or we never go to bed angry). But that wasn’t it.

It was often just little tiny things that turned a marriage around.

So let me tell you about one of those little tiny things today.

And to start, let me tell you another story.

Back many years ago when Shaunti was starting her research, she was trying to figure out what made men and women tick. After doing many surveys, she felt she was ready for some intense focus groups. So she had a group of teenage boys in a boardroom setting for a half a day–one of those rooms with a big board table in the middle and then two whiteboards on either side, with those doors that shut to cover the whiteboard. She spend half a day jotting down all the things these boys said about what their greatest need was. They brainstormed and talked and finally figured it out. Then she closed the doors on that whiteboard and brought the girls in.

She asked the girls, “Today we’re going to figure out what it is that girls really need.” One of the girls piped up and said, “I object to that language. We should be talking about what we as PEOPLE need.” Shaunti let that go and she took notes and brainstormed and wrote it all down on the whiteboard. Then she walked over to the other end of the room and opened the doors. Not one single word was the same on both boards. The girls were flabbergasted.

What a husband needs and what a wife needs are very different things.

Shaunti summed it up like this:

A man’s heart question is, “do you think what I do on the outside is good? Am I competent?” A woman’s heart question is, “Am I loveable? Is what I am on the inside attractive to you? Would you choose me again?” Very different.

Shaunti collected this research and published it, but she hit a bit of a wall. She knew her husband needed respect, but how exactly do you show that? You can’t go around all day saying, “Oh, honey, I respect you!” That doesn’t work. You can ask advice, and defer some of your decisions, but there must be something else, right?

And as she was doing this study of successful couples, they pinpointed what it was.

What wives needed was easy. The husbands who said “I love you” and who held hands while walking or touched her in public were answering the question, “would you choose me again” in the affirmative. You bet I would!

What a husband needs was surprising: The wives who said “thank you” communicated that “I think what you just did on the outside was great.”

That’s it. Just saying thank you.

That took me a long time to understand, and I still have to work on it. When I was first married, I used to say to Keith, “I love you so much honey!” I’d say it several times a day, “I love you!” “I love you!” “I love you!”

A few years in he got a little frustrated and said,

I know you love me, Sheila. But sometimes I’d just like to hear WHY you love me.

That threw me. What in the world did he mean? But I started to try to say that more. “You’re so smart!” “You handled that interaction so well!” “You make me feel so protected.”

And now I’ve added trying to thank him for the things that I see him do.

Tell him why you love him!

My friend Sharol calls this “catching him doing good”.

Deliberately look for things that he is doing that are praiseworthy–and then thank him, even if it’s a little thing. Just say thank you.

This seems so little, though. Does it really make that big a difference in marriage? According to Shaunti’s research, it does. But just imagine this: let’s say that there’s tension in the marriage because he’s working hard and he’s not home very much right now. And he’s worried that you’re upset at him, and he feels disconnected. Meanwhile you feel alone and frustrated and really tired. What normally happens? He comes home and you’re a little short with him. He gets defensive because he’s already feeling a little bit like a failure at home. And this is how bigger problems of isolation start.

Follow the Christian Marriage Author Pinterest Board to win a library of Christian marriage books!But what would happen if he came home and you kissed him at the door and said, “thank you for how you provide for our family”? It’s like there was this balloon of tension between you and you just let out all the air. He relaxes. You relax because he’s relaxed. There’s less sniping. And now if you talk tonight there’s not this feeling like anyone’s a failure. You’re on the same team and you’re trying to tackle something together.

Feeling distant today? Just try saying thank you more often.

Whenever he does something that you appreciate, even if it’s something he should be doing anyway, like putting the dishes in the dishwasher, just say thank you. It changes the dynamic, and sometimes that’s all it takes to break through the walls so that you can start feeling close again.

Let me know: Has there ever been a seemingly small thing that has transformed your marriage? Tell me about it in the comments!

And don’t forget to enter our contest to win the marriage library for our new Christian Marriage Authors Pinterest Board! You could win Shaunti’s book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages!

P.S. I will be continuing my “Lies We Believe About Men” series, hopefully later this week. I really enjoyed the first two posts last week! I’m just a little disorganized right now since my final edits are due on my book on Thursday, and I have a million things going around in my head. But I will get to it, I promise!

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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.

 

Lies We Believe About Men: Men Only Want One Thing

Yesterday I started talking about the lies that women often believe about men. Today I want to tackle another one: Men only want one thing. And I’ve asked Julie Gorman to share an excerpt from her book What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men.

Men only want one thingWhat more could he possibly want from me?

Greg seemed dissatisfied with our love-making. Displeased, discontented, and disappointed. Put a “dis” in front of it, and Greg probably experienced it.

I felt him becoming more and more distant.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, exasperated.

Without skipping a beat, Greg responded. “I want you to want me!”

I seethed with anger and thought to myself. What? You want me to want you? Oh, please! Get over yourself. I am so sick and tired of not measuring up to your standards. Why am I never enough for you? I never deny you sex. Give me a break!

“I don’t want to just have sex with you, Julie. I want you to want me,” Greg continued. “I don’t just want to have sex. I want to make love. I want to connect. I want you to want to kiss me passionately.”

TV scenarios of women dropping everything to respond passionately to their lover’s touch flashed through my mind.

Seriously, Greg? You’re going to complain about my level of passion now? Most men would feel ecstatic if their wife didn’t say no to their physical advances. It’s not enough that I push my fatigue to the side to engage with you in bed? It’s not enough that when I’m not in the mood I willingly avail my body. No, that’s not enough for you! Now, you want me to rip off your T-shirt at the drop of a hat and be some bubbling bombshell who …

Greg interrupted my thoughts. “Julie, I just want you to want me.” It was the third time he’d used that phrase, and I couldn’t take it any longer.

“You want me to want you?” I erupted. “Greg, I have never denied your needs. I’ve never declined your advances. I’ve never—ever—ever said no to you!” I snarled with prideful disdain. He couldn’t rebuff that!

“You’re right. You may have never said no, Julie … but you’ve also never said yes.”

As I looked into my husband’s eyes, I saw something I never noticed before. Greg displayed a passion for me, not just my body. I began to realize he wanted me to say yes to him in my heart, to love him with my soul, to connect with him in my mind. And so did God!

Unfortunately, my view of sex swung on a pendulum of great extremes, both of which were wrong! On one side, I manipulated sex to maintain and keep Greg’s affection. On the other side I despised and held sex in contempt, secretly angry and privately disgusted by its demands. I performed sex out of fear of what would happen if I didn’t. My limiting thoughts stifled my expression of love. I didn’t want to feel that way, but I couldn’t help how I felt. I desperately needed God’s intervention to overcome the lie that Men only want one thing.

Here’s the danger of believing that lie.

As a single person, if I believe that Men only want one thing, I am more likely to make concessions to my faith and compromise my standards, believing this is what I’m supposed to do next.

As a married woman, if I believe Men only want one thing, I’m tempted to treat sex as an item on my busy to-do list. Let’s see: I dropped off the dry cleaning, check. Chauffeured the kids to school, check. Made dinner by 6:00, check! Had sex with my husband, check! Check! Check! And, in the process, I miss out on the sexual intimacy and oneness God intended.

The deception that a man only wants one thing violates God’s design.

It mis-aligns God’s plan. God intended sex as a celebration of oneness—oneness of body, mind, and spirit reserved for the union of a husband and wife in holy marriage.

Married women, ask, “Do I express tenderness and connection in my love-making?” If not, ask God for a greater intimacy and renewed passion.

Single women, ask, “Have I given away my affection outside of God’s design?” If so, ask for His forgiveness, and commit to express sexual intimacy only within the confines of marriage.

God wants husbands and wives to enjoy His gift of sexual intimacy within the confines of marriage. He desires us to celebrate the marriage bed and keep it holy. And within the confines of marriage, God encourages us to drink in intimacy and embrace unity with our spouse, not treat sex as another duty needing to be checked off our ever-growing list of responsibilities.

For more help on this topic, pick up a copy of What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men. You’ll discover strategic Scriptures, questions, and practical applications to align your thoughts with God’s and life-transforming insights on how to experience a more intimate relationship with Him.

What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men: 12 Secrets Toward Greater IntimacyGorman-Standing-2Excerpted from What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men by Julie Gorman. Copyright ©Julie Gorman. Published by Authentic Publishers; used by permission. Article originally published in WHOA Magazine for Women, Volume 4, Issue 2, spring 2014. Visit Julie’s website and hear her radio program at juliegorman.com.

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.

Lies We Believe About Men: All Men Are Perverts

All Men Are Perverts: From the lies we believe about men seriesIt’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own marriage posts below.

Today I want to start a short series on the lies we often believe about men, starting with this one: all men are perverts. Have you ever felt that way?

When I was nineteen years old I took a missions trip to Tunisia. There were 6 of us, from 4 different countries, and we visited several missionaries there and learned the culture and talked to lots of people. The problem was that everywhere I went in public, men touched me. Everywhere.

I’d be sitting on a crowded bus, and some guy behind me would reach his hands around and feel my chest. Or we’d be standing in a crowded bus and a whole bunch of guys would feel me up, and I couldn’t tell who they were. I tried to tell the people I was traveling about this, and the leaders of the team, but they didn’t do much about it. I think it was because the other women traveling with me weren’t getting the same attention. I was blonde and young and cute, and they, quite simply, weren’t. To talk about protecting me would be to make a statement on their desirability, so they did nothing.

I asked one of the guys to act like we were married or something, but he wouldn’t. And so I felt very alone. I’d wear a scarf over my head to try to hide my hair. I stopped making eye contact. Eventually I just didn’t want to go out to the cafes and talk to people like they were, and then the team would get mad at me for not wanting to minister. But I couldn’t take it anymore.

When I returned to Canada I had a difficult reintegration. I still couldn’t look at men in the eye. If I was walking on a sidewalk and a guy was walking towards me I’d have to cross the road. I stopped saying “hi” to strangers (and we’re Canadian. That’s normal). It took me a few months to relax and be myself again.

Fast forward twenty odd years and I started writing this blog–and with it I started to get emails from women in some serious pain. I’d get a dozen a day. And I’d read them and they’d be heartbreaking and often gross. Husbands who were into porn. Husbands who had done something to her niece. Husbands who had been caught photographing her best friend’s underwear. Husbands who wanted things that were gross.

When you read those emails day in and day out you start to feel like all men are pigs. And then my husband would come home from work, all happy to see me, and I’d bark at him. It got so that I had to stop reading the emails. My assistant reads them now and passes on the ones that she thinks I can use on Facebook or for Reader Questions. And she prays over them. (So pray for her! That’s a lot to have to read through). But it was tough.

What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men: 12 Secrets Toward Greater IntimacyAll men are perverts.

I think we all go through times when we feel that way. Julie Gorman has written a book called What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men: 12 Secrets toward Greater Intimacy, and one of those secrets is that all men are NOT perverts. Julie weaves her own story about why she believed that–abuse, promiscuity, and more, that scar the heart and leave you knowing you want to get close to men, but hating them in the process. How do you stop that feeling?

Julie writes like a novelist, weaving vivid stories into her chapters on the lies that we believe about men. And the book isn’t a self-help book as much as it is a Bible study, pointing us to passages to study, verses to consider, and prayers to pray to help us defeat these lies with the tools that God’s given us.

She knows what it is to feel like all men are perverts–just like you probably have at times, or do right know.

If you’re walking with a husband who is using porn, it’s easy to get sucked in. If you’re married to someone who has had an affair, it’s easy to start believing that lie. Or maybe you’re married to a wonderful man, but all the things that other guys did to you has just distorted your image of men so much that you can’t relax around him. You can’t let him be him.

And it hurts. It hurts because you don’t want to live like this, and you don’t want to feel this way about your husband, but what hope is there? You feel like you know the truth about men, and the truth is that they ARE gross. Men are perverts. Men do only want one thing. And somehow we’re supposed to give it to them? Makes sex seem awful, doesn’t it? I understand.

After years of blaming her husband and looking down on her husband, Julie realized that she couldn’t keep living like this anymore. She had an epiphany, and it went like this:

I could bash man’s design, or I could seek to educate myself about how God wired his body and desires differently than my own.

I could openly see all men as perverts, or I could view the men who sexually sinned against me as fallen beings in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

I could run away from the painful memories and build more walls of isolation and pain, or I could invite God to heal and restore His original intentions for my life.

I could masterfully concoct and strategize plans to protect my heart, or I could allow my heavenly Father to expose the wounds that ravaged my innocence since I was four and heal the fallout of men’s actions.

You face that choice today, too.

If you’re walking through life thinking all men are perverts, you are at a crossroads.

If you keep going down that path, telling yourself that lie (and it is a lie), then you will find yourself increasingly isolated, alone, and bitter. And that is not God’s design for you.

The truth is that SOME men are perverts.

Some men will use little girls. Some men will travel to Asian countries to rent out an 8-year-old virgin for the night. Some men will kidnap Nigerian teenagers to pass them around their camp.

Some men will stare at pictures of naked women being used. Some men will throw away a great family and a great marriage for a little roll in the hay with some woman at work.

And some–not all, but some–of these men are upstanding men. Some of these men are normally good guys, but they occasionally fall. They are tempted, and they don’t make it through.

Yes, some of them are evil all the time. But most are not.

And so we have a choice: will we define all men in terms of their temptations (and some of their failures), or will we see them as creatures like us, who sometimes fail, but who are, at heart, good?

For there is a problem with defining all men as perverts. When we do that, we define ourselves, too. We say, “I am going to be the strong one and put a wall around myself so that a man can’t touch me. I am going to keep myself from being hurt.” But when you keep yourself from being hurt, you keep yourself from being vulnerable–and vulnerability is a part of love.

Your marriage was meant to be wonderful--don't let someone who hurt you in the past keep hurting you today.

I know many of you have seen so much evil in your life it’s hard to let go of it. But I think, like Julie, you have a choice. Will you let your past experiences impact your life now, or will you let yourself be free? Will you let yourself truly experience love with a good man who sometimes falls, or will you condemn yourself to a life locked up in a box of your own making?

God doesn’t want you in a box.

God wants to start healing you. You are precious, and if things were done to you, He is angry about that and He will avenge and there will be justice. But He wants you to know love, too.

If you’re struggling, why don’t you pray this prayer today:

God, I know that you created us, male and female. I know that your design is perfect. But I feel like you messed it up–like you made men to be disgusting pigs sometimes. I’ve seen it. And I don’t want to live with that constant suspicion and that constant fear anymore. Please, God, help me to see men through your eyes. Take my bad memories and show me that they don’t define me–and they don’t define men. Let me experience your love. Lead me through a journey of forgiveness and letting go of bitterness. And in your mercy, surround me with good men. Let me notice when a stranger opens the door, or smiles politely, or lends a hand. Keep my eyes open for the good. And keep my eyes open for the good in the man I married, too. Teach me to trust, and forgive me where I have let anger seep in. I don’t want it anymore, and I give it to you. Most of all, let me see the perfect man, Jesus. Let me see how He loved women and sacrificed for women. And let me experience His love today. Amen.

Christian Marriage Advice

Now it’s your turn. What advice do you have for us? Link up the URL of your own post in the linky below!



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.

This One Tip Revolutionized Our Marriage

Tip_1Today, welcome Kyle Gabhart, author of The Phoenix Marriage, who wanted to share how to revolutionize your marriage.  His experiential story will change how you see your spouse!

One weekend in February of 2013, my wife and I attended a weekend marriage conference that rocked our world. The workshop was presented by Dr. David and Teresa Ferguson at our local church. We had so many amazing realizations that weekend, but one of those stands out more than any other. Dr Ferguson walked the couples through a simple visualization exercise:

Imagine you are sitting next to God and both of you are gazing a short distance away toward your mate. Rather than seeing him or her as your spouse, try to imagine what God sees – His child. Uniquely created for a divine purpose, He has cared for and nurtured this child for years. Now ask Father God what He loves about His child. What is it about him or her that delights the Father? What special qualities has He uniquely placed within him or her and why did He choose this person to be your soul’s mate?

This simple exercise transformed our marriage. Our physical eyes that saw only chores and bills and schedules were exchanged for spiritual eyes to see one another with grace, compassion, and love.

How do you see your mate?

If your marriage is anything like ours used to be, you likely see your spouse in terms of his or her function. Your mate is a partner that helps with chores, finances, logistics with the kiddos, and makes sure you never have to go alone to the movies. While all of those are true, they only scratch the surface. All of those functional elements are generic qualities which would be applicable to anyone operating in the role of husband or wife. Beneath that surface layer is someone specially crafted to share a life and a mission with you. Yet, losing sight of this truth is so easy to do.

This one tip revolutionized our marriage--see like God does!

What does God see?

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” -I Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

God sees His son or His daughter. He sees a precious child whom He uniquely endowed with talents and capabilities. Your spouse didn’t come from a mold. There was no factory assembly line. This was a custom job for a specific purpose. God lovingly crafted your husband or wife and chose to trust you with loving this person for the rest of your life. Before the two of you even met, He was delighting in this person every day. Long before the two of you said your vows, He was weeping over your mate’s failures and celebrating each success. He LOVES your mate unconditionally. Do you?

Honor your mate

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its purpose.” -Proverbs 16:3-4 (ESV)

The Lord has made EVERYTHING for its purpose, your spouse included. Those qualities that annoy you most, may actually be a side effect of the unique gifts that your spouse has been blessed with by God! My wife sometimes gets frustrated by my absent-mindedness. But this is just a natural side effect of being a thoughtful and introspective person. These are the very same qualities that I use in ministering to her heart and shepherding marriages on a daily basis! Likewise, I tend to get aggravated by Tammy’s insistence that we leave on time to get to places we need to go, and yet it’s this very quality that makes her so invaluable to managing our crazy family of eight!

Commit to honoring your mate. If one or more qualities bother you, ask God to help you see why He created them that way. Chances are, you’re missing out on an incredible aspect of your spouse. Then once you discover it, commit to celebrating this quality of your mate and praise them for it. The dynamic of your relationship will radically change when you honor your mate’s uniqueness by seeing them the way Jesus does.

Kyle and DebbieThe Phoenix Marriage: God Creates Beauty Out of AshesKyle Gabhart is a devoted husband and father of 6. He is also a blogger, public speaker, entrepreneur, and author of the the newly released The Phoenix Marriage. He and his wife Tammy, founded Equip Your Marriage, a faith-based ministry dedicated to empowering, equipping, and restoring marriages. Kyle is an avid soccer player and board game enthusiast, but he prides himself on being a constant embarrassment to his children.

WEBSITEEquip Your Marriage

BOOK: Phoenix Marriage

 

A Peek Inside a Blogger’s Marriage

Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to LookI’m on the road right now (well, technically I’m in the air) traveling to Colorado! If you live in the state, come and meet me! Details of where I’ll be when are here. So I didn’t have time to write a post today. I have a contest I wanted to announce, but it will have to wait until next Tuesday. Instead, I wanted to share this lovely guest post from Emily Wierenga, author of the touching memoir Atlas Girl, giving us a peek inside her marriage.

The other night we left the boys with my sister, rented a hotel room in the mountains. We planned to snowboard the next day.

We bought some beer and take-out and I couldn’t rest that night. For hours, we lay there in our separate beds because the room came with two, but I couldn’t sleep. And I cried.

Trent stretched out his hand across the space between our beds, his fingers reaching for me in the dark. “Hold on to me, Em,” he said. “I’m here.”

“Hold on to me, Em. I’m here.”

We’re not exactly John and Yoko.

Trent’s a math geek and I’m a literary nerd. He’s loud and I’m quiet. He’s athletic and I run into walls. We both like books. We both love camping. And we’re both over-the moon crazy about each other and our boys.

But marriage has come hard for us.

Hard, with years of anorexia and insomnia and fists punching the wall.

I’m putting away the laundry, the seven loads which Trent folded for me while playing a computer game, because between my books and my boys, I can’t seem to take a shower or do any house cleaning. Let alone fold the laundry.

And I’m putting the baskets away when he calls “Suppertime,” because Trent’s made burgers, and on the table, a salad: with peppers and grated Jalapeno cheese, lettuce, bacon bits, and grated carrot, and chopped onions which always make Trent cry–it’s the only time I see him cry– and “I made you fancy salad,” he says.

Like my friend says, there’s nothing sexier than a salad-making man.

But truth is I’d be a wreck without my salad-making man.

The one who held me those long, skinny anorexia years.

Our best conversations happen over a board game because games are Trent’s love language, and we’re still getting the intimacy thing.

I used to fight him when I got mad, sometimes with my fists, and he’d shake his head and grab my wrists and then finally leave. Slam the door and drive off while I wept into the couch pillows, but that doesn’t happen anymore.

No man is perfect, and Trent will say things that unintentionally hurt me, or he’ll forget to take out the trash, but I will also do things–like forget his birthday, as I did one year–and ours is the kind of marriage that throbs with love.

Ours is the kind of marriage that throbs with love.

The kind of love that will not give up: not through anorexia, not through insomnia, not through moves to Korea or moves home to take care of parents with cancer, not through slammed doors or tears or fists, because there’s also the salad. There’s the laundry. There’s Trent taking the kids to his parents so I can write. There’s him reaching out in the dark to hold me, to pray for me.

I want the kind of marriage that dances into its Golden Anniversary, that kisses each other on wrinkled cheeks and laughs at each other’s jokes long after the sun has wound down.

I want the kind of marriage that dances into its Golden Anniversary.

Golden Anniversary

 

And maybe the secret is to never stop reaching out in the dark. To never stop taking hold of each other’s hands. And to never let go.

Not even for a moment.

Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to LookEmily Wierenga is a blogger and the author of several books, including her touching memoir Atlas Girl about her struggle with anorexia and figuring out where she fits in this world. She’s an artist, a writer, a mother, and a lover. You can find her at http://emilywierenga.com.

Marriage Box

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! This week I’m taking a hiatus while I finish the edits to my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and so I’ve asked  guest poster Darlene Lopez to tell us about her marriage box–and how it changed the way she saw her relationship.

When I got married 13 years ago we were given a beautiful wooden  box with this poem, Marriage Box, written in it.

Marriage Box

This box truly has been an inspiration to me in my marriage. Marriage truly is like an empty box. Many people get married for all the wrong reasons and have an abundant of expectations when they get married, I was one of them. I thought marriage was going to be filled with all sorts of companionship, sex, love, romance, intimacy, prayer, Bible studies, understanding, deep friendship and love. Boy, was I  wrong.

I found out that marriage truly is empty unless you are infusing into it daily.

The truth is marriage at the start is in fact like an empty box. There really is nothing in it at the beginning. All the things you look for in marriage is really what is in the other person and it is up to both of you to infuse those things into your marriage lest it become an empty box. You can not day after day take out of your box if you don’t put something in it to withdrawal from. It reminds of a bank account. You can not keep spending and withdrawing money from your bank account if you have not deposited any money into it. If you attempt to do so, you will find your account over drawn and eventually the account will need to be closed because you were irresponsible and unable to maintain it.Early on in my marriage I would complain about my husband not being romantic enough, affectionate enough, serving enough, loving enough, not spiritual enough etc.

I remember being reminded daily as I saw the wooden box sit on our bedroom dresser, that marriage was like an empty box. As I complained about how “empty” my marriage felt and how lonely I felt, God showed me that it was because I was withdrawing more than I had deposited. I was in the “negative” so to speak.

I remember calling my husband during the day frustrated and overwhelmed with homeschooling and housework. I’d want him to drop all he was doing to pray with me, I had no consideration that he was working nor did I care that he didn’t need the added stress. To top it off when he would get home, dinner wouldn’t be ready, I’d have him make dinner because after all I had been with 5 children all day. I wanted him to rub my feet while I relaxed, I was very selfish always wanting to be served, even sex became all about me and my needs. I was taking so much out our marriage box and would rarely deposit anything in it. If I did manage to make a deposit I was sure to take out my portion before my husband took out a with-drawl.
I would daily look at that box and it would serve as a reminder to daily pour into my marriage.When I would take out, there was a sense of entitlement, after all I had infused whatever I took out into my marriage so I had every right to take out my fair share.

I remember keeping a running tab and account on how much my husband was infusing and putting it.

It was terrible. Can you imagine the kind of wife my husband had to endure?  Just thinking about how I behaved makes me sick.I remember if he wanted to be intimate sexually, I would check our marriage box to see if he had infused romance lately and it had to be in the form that I approved. If he didn’t read or pray with me, then he had no right to to tell me how to behave spiritually. If he didn’t listen to me then I wouldn’t listen to him.Marriage isnt 50-50 its 100-100

Our marriage became this you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back kind of love.  The only problem,  I was so quick to point out when he wasn’t scratching my back and therefore I would withhold scratching his.

How horrible to live this way. I was so judgmental, always pointing out his faults/failures as a man and leader of our home.  We both were miserable.

I knew the scriptures, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love thy neighbor as thy self.

You see,  It was not a love issue for me, I loved my husband. I loved him the same way and as much as he loved me.

Until one day, I was reading and the words of Jesus to His disciples really penetrated my heart so deep. They were the words in John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

I was hit with the pondering truth of the love of Jesus.

Jesus was calling me to a different kind of love, a gospel kind of love. If I was going to love my husband the way Jesus said to, then I would need to think about how he loved me.

This led me to the cross. The cross is where love was demonstrated and ultimately on display for all to see. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Scarcely, would one die for a righteous man but Jesus laid his life down willingly for the joy that was set before him.

He showed us what love is. He loves without condition, without reservation, and without wanting anything in return. His love is unconditional.  This is gospel centered love.

Jesus love isn’t a if you do this or that then I will love you, but rather nothing can separate us from the love of God neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What a glorious love indeed. I remember after reading and thinking about the way Jesus loved me the next question was this, “Is this enough for me?”  Was the way Jesus loved me enough to compel me to love my husband the same way, or would I continue to love my way, the way I had been, the if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back kind of way?  Was Jesus enough for me?

This is what it boils down to in marriage, it isn’t about putting in–in order to take out.  It isn’t about serving to be served, loving to be loved, nor giving to get.

It’s about sacrificially laying down your life, saying my life is yours.

Marriage represents Christ and the Church, we wives represent the bride of Christ to an unsaved world. Therefore, the way we love our husbands shows the world our love to Christ.

The gospel in marriage changes our attitudes from a serve me attitude to a glorify God and love my spouse attitude.

The gospel is enough and until Jesus satisfies you, you will continue to love selfishly.

 

WIN_20140829_115619 (2)Darlene Lopez  I am vintage_retro_women_kitsch_50s_kitchen_magic_postcard-r1bc589a962f149588e409401d9d4f2c9_vgbaq_8byvr_512a wife of 13 years, mother to 5 (including a set of twins), keeper of my home but most of all I am a  blood bought saint.  By the grace of God I am raising a generation of  future homemakers and men. I am passionate about herbalism/natural living and love to inspire and motivate other homemakers to love their husbands and chidlren. I am learning that I am more sinful than I ever knew yet more loved than I ever imagined. You can read more about my journey at http://homemakingforrealwomen.blogspot.com/.

Christian Marriage Advice

Now it’s your turn! What marriage thoughts do you have for us? Just enter the URL of your marriage post in the linky below!

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.



Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin“If you get raped, does that mean you’re not a virgin anymore?”

That was one of the anonymous questions asked at a small group my 17-year-old daughter was a part of this summer. The adults leading the discussion hemmed and hawed, saying technically, they guessed, you weren’t a virgin.

My daughter, worried that one of the girls in this group had actually gone through this and was in agony, piped up. “It’s not the physical that’s important to God. It’s the heart. And God looks at the heart, and He can heal you and still give you a wonderful pure marriage.”

She’s heard me talk about this a lot around the table, and she’s quite passionate about it.

But this was one of a string of things that I’ve heard of lately that make me think that we need to change the way we talk about sex. This is the last of a 3-part series I’ve written on how I wish Christians could reframe the way we talk about modesty and purity. Today I want to talk about purity, the word “virgin”, and how we’re emphasizing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, for this conundrum I don’t have a clear answer; I just see the problem. I hope, after reading this, that you all can help brainstorm with me and find a new way to talk about purity instead of emphasizing virginity.

So let’s start with first principles:

God made sex to be a beautiful, wonderful thing.

It is also meant to be experienced within marriage. It’s also only in marriage that sex can reach its full potential, because sex is supposed to be intimate not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. You can’t feel “like one” if there is no commitment. So sex is supposed to be beautiful and passionate, and marriage was created to be the environment for that passion.

I hope that’s clear–God does want us to wait for marriage for sex. Absolutely no doubt about that. And He wants us to do so for very good reasons. That’s why we say that God wants us to stay virgins until we’re married. However, I’m not sure that saying “God wants you to be a virgin when you’re married” always gives the right message. Here’s why:

1. You Can Be “Impure” and Still Be a Virgin

When we stress virginity as the sign of acceptance by God and the church and obedience to God, then we inadvertently say that “anything up to that point goes”. Of course, no youth pastor or parent would say that’s their message, but it is one some young people hear. One friend of mine, now 45, told me that he was 22 years old before he realized that heavy petting was actually not okay.

We need to talk not only about sex but about everything sexual. If all we ever say about sex is “don’t have sex until you’re married”, then you haven’t explained why purity isn’t about making sure that you’re a technical virgin; purity is an attitude of the heart. And you haven’t talked about the fact that other things can be sexual as well, and should be saved until marriage. We simply need to open lines of communication.

2. You Can Be Pure and Not Be a Virgin

In the surveys that I did leading up to the launch of my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I asked people about their sexual experience before marriage. Then I left a box where people could write anything they wanted to say. I didn’t prompt them, but over 35% of women who weren’t virgins when they were married volunteered that they wished that they had waited. It really wore on them.

I so want to say to these women that God’s healing is available to them. You are not the sum of what you have done with your body; your identity is about what Jesus did with His body for you. And God takes our filthy rags and makes them new. He restores!

If you look back at the Gentile New Testament church, it was filled with people who were mostly NOT virgins when they were married. The Jewish culture protected chastity, but the Roman culture did not. When Paul was saying things like this, in Ephesians 2:1-5:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesha and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

When he said that the people in Ephesus had “gratified the cravings of our flesh and followed its desires and thoughts” he meant it. Ephesus was a haven for temple prostitution. We think we live in a sexual culture, but so did they! These early Christians had quite the background, but they also were so grateful that Jesus had made them pure.

Because everyone in those days came to Christ as an adult, after they had messed up earlier, they could celebrate Jesus’ forgiveness perhaps easier than we do because most of  us were raised in the church and then messed up. And so we carry great shame. Maybe we need to identify more with these Ephesian Christians and stop beating ourselves up, but be grateful for what Christ has done for us!

3. Stressing virginity makes it sound like once you’ve failed, there’s no point in even trying anymore.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine in the military, who had been transferred to another base, crashed at my house for a few days with his wife and 21-year-old daughter as they were moving across Canada. During one of our conversations (don’t you love catching up with old friends?), my friend told me about one of her daughter’s friends who wasn’t a Christian. That girl had decided that she wanted to be a virgin when she was married all on her own, which is great.

But then one day she and her boyfriend got carried away and her virginity was gone.

She realized that she had lost her dream–to wait until her wedding–and so now there was no point. The horse has left the gate. You can’t close that door now.

I wonder how many people, both inside and outside the church, feel that same way. They want sex to be special and to be saved, but then if they mess up, they figure there’s no point in trying to reclaim any kind of boundaries, because you’ve already completely blown it.

When we stress virginity, then once it’s gone, it’s gone.

4. Stressing virginity makes purity legalistic

And that’s essentially my problem. Talking about virginity makes the issue a physical one, not a heart one.

God cares about the heart, not the hymen.

Of course, for our own sakes and for the sake of righteousness He wants us to wait until we’re married. But what He wants even more than that is people coming to Him with a pure and eager heart for a real relationship with Him. He looks to the heart (purity) not to outward appearances (the hymen). And you can have purity when you come back to God.

Listen, I still want my girls to be virgins when they’re married. Absolutely. But I just wonder if by using that word we’re stressing the wrong thing.

I really and truly don’t have an answer for this one. I would prefer to stress purity over virginity, but I’m not sure that’s a good answer, because “purity” has a bad ring to it in the wider culture, too. It sounds judgmental (though I don’t mean it that way. Our purity, after all, is not from our behaviour. It’s from what Christ has done for us).

I know this has been a heavy week. I’ve talked about how the modesty message can mess up women’s body image, and how the purity culture (the one that says that you can’t do anything other than hold hands before you’re married) can mess up our view of sex. And now I’m talking about how perhaps the word virgin is being used wrongly. I don’t mean to criticize the church, and I also don’t mean to demean modesty, purity, or virginity–all of which are important.

I just want to make sure that we’re stressing heart things and we’re pointing to sex the way that God intended. I think the time has come to have this discussion–with your youth pastor, with teens you know, with engaged couples–and start to reframe things.

As part of that discussion, then, let me ask you: how would you handle the virginity/purity issue? How would you frame it? Let’s talk! Just leave a comment below.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:

Does the Modesty Culture Make Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
Does the Christian Purity Message Make Women Ashamed of Sex?

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!

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:

Does the Modesty Culture Make Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

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

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