For the Guys: When Your Wife Hates Sex

My Wife Hates Sex: What To Do

Usually I write this blog for women, but I do have a fair number of men who read it, and I get emails all the time from men saying, “my wife hasn’t had sex with me in months. She hates sex, just doesn’t think it’s important, and I don’t know what to do.”

One man writes:

What once (far too long ago) was vibrant, ecstatic, passionate and FREQUENT has become flat, robotic duty-oriented and only frequent enough to miss the definition of sexless. (yes, she actually brought that up in an argument once. She “makes sure” we have sex at least 10-times-a-year so I can’t say it’s a sexless marriage). This has been a downward spiral since we became pregnant with our middle daughter nearly 10 years ago. She had complications with that pregnancy, and I was afraid to hurt her, so we went for 10 months without sex. Steadily, over time, the variety of positions diminished as well. Now about the only “acceptable” position is with her on top.

Over the last year, or so, we’ve fought less and talked more about this and frequency is improving (on average about two or two-and-a-half weeks between encounters.) But it is still a major wedge between us. I fully accept responsibility for allowing our sex life to dissipate. I allowed myself to become bitter and selfish because my needs weren’t being met; deeply un-Jesus of me. I am working to die to myself and my needs, sacrificing myself for my wife in an effort to more fully live out the command of Eph. 5:25, but I struggle SO DEEPLY with feelings of resentment, anger and hunger for my wife.

She is in a very stressful season of life right now, and inasmuch as I know that frequent MEANINGFUL sex could help de-stress her, right now it’s just one more stressor on her to-do list. A messy, unpleasant chore.

And so I thought I’d write a post for the guys on what to do when your wife hates sex.

Figure Out Why Your Wife Doesn’t Like Sex

All of us–yes, even women!–were born with a sex drive. We were created to want to make love and to experience intimacy that way. Unfortunately, that often gets short circuited, and many women “turn off”. It’s important to figure out why. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Sexual abuse in the past
  • Feeling ashamed of sex and sexuality because of how she was raised or because of sexual experiences before marriage
  • Simple exhaustion and busy-ness
  • Physical problems (ie. it hurts, or they have low testosterone)
  • Emotional problems (problems with vulnerability, letting go, trust, always has to be in control)
  • Relationship issues (feeling distant from you)

Scenario 1: Relationship Issues

It’s really important to first examine yourself and make sure that relationship issues are not the cause. But, if they are–let’s say that you used porn in the past and really hurt her that way, or you’ve both been fighting a lot–the good news is that this is likely the easiest one to get over, because it’s largely in your control. You can talk to her honestly, tell her you love her, show her in word and deed that you care about her, help around the house, tell her she’s beautiful, and make every effort to acknowledge that you recognize the problem and that you take it seriously and that you will address it.

This may take a while for her to feel close to you again, but if you persist, it will likely get better.

For most marriages where this happens, though, I think #3–simple exhaustion and busy-ness, is the main culprit. It’s not a relationship issue, it’s not a psychological issue, she just never seems interested. She’s totally shut down. So let’s turn to that for a moment.

Scenario 2: Your Wife Hates Sex but There’s No Obvious Reason

Other than exhaustion, it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason. Your wife has time for everything but you, and you’re feeling really neglected and really sad and rather desperate.

I think this is the most common reason, and I want to try to explain what your wife is likely feeling.

Have you ever gone grocery shopping after you’ve had a big meal? It’s actually not that easy to do. You pick up something off of the shelf, and then quite often you put it back because  you can’t imagine ever eating it.

When you’re full, it’s very hard to imagine feeling hungry. When you’re full, it’s hard to imagine even wanting to eat a particular thing. Foods that would normally tempt you–say, chocolate cheesecake–just don’t seem that alluring.

Many women walk through life with that kind of feeling about sex. But how can they, if they’re not “full”, so to speak? It’s as if their libidos don’t exist. When women don’t make love for a long time, their libidos often go into hibernation, because for women libido is a use it or lose it phenomenon. And when your libido is in hibernation, you can’t even picture wanting to make love. It doesn’t even compute. You can’t imagine your body feeling that way.

So there you are, desperate for sex, and your wife acts like it doesn’t even exist and it’s rather distasteful. In this particular letter writer’s case, this could very well be a factor. They were having frequent sex; then they went ten months without it and she never regained her sex drive.

So what do you do? You simply have to talk to her. Don’t give her a guilt trip, like “you’re my wife and you aren’t supposed to deprive me” because guilt sex is totally unsexy. You want her to feel sexy again; you don’t want to give her another reason to hate sex!

Instead, talk about intimacy. You want to feel close. You want to experience that with her. You feel as if you guys are missing out on such a great part of life, and you want to try. Tell her about the use it or lose it thing, and ask if you could even try to schedule sex, twice a week, for a month and see what that does. But again, talk to her about intimacy and having fun and joy and experiencing something together, do not talk to her about what she owes you, or about how frustrated you are. The more you talk about how frustrated you are, the more you sound like some lesser being who can’t control himself. I know that’s harsh, but when a woman has no libido, someone who does can look kind of pathetic, like they can’t control themselves. That’s why keeping the conversation focused on intimacy is better.

Share with her this post on why you want her to start the sexual journey with you

Scenario 3: Physical, Psychological, or Emotional Issues She Needs Help For

Many women who hate sex do so for good reason. Maybe they were abused. Maybe they grew up in an environment where they had no control over anything, and they refuse to lose control now. Maybe they were shamed as children. In this letter writer’s case, I wonder if control issues also play a part. She had a difficult pregnancy (very scary for a woman), and now the only position she wants is the one where she is in control. She may have a few control/trust issues that she needs to work out.

These are deep seated issues that affect sex so much for women, because sex is an intensely personal thing for us. We’re literally letting someone else into our bodies. And our sexual response is far more in our heads than yours is. Yes, there are certain parts of our bodies that feel really good when stimulated, but they only feel good if our heads are in the game. If we don’t want to do it, we won’t feel good. We’re brain-centred  rather than genitalia-centred.

If she has these issues, then, they need to be dealt with before she’ll ever be able to enjoy sex fully. She needs to get some outside help, and ideally that would involve talking to a counselor who is trained in this sort of thing.

The problem is that because she doesn’t want sex, she’s likely perfectly able to keep going through life just as she is. It’s you that’s suffering, even though she’s the one who is hurt. That means that she doesn’t feel any urgent need to get help. Talking to her again and showing her that she does need to address it is crucial.

But perhaps when you talk to her about it she gets defensive and breaks down in tears right away and starts talking about how awful she is, and then you have to reassure her and you never get anywhere. That’s a very common scenario, too.

In that case, I’d take this tack with her:

“Honey, I’m not going to divorce you. Stop saying that. That’s a copout. You’re trying to push me away so that you don’t have to deal with your issues. I am not leaving. I am not going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to stand back and see you punishing yourself like this. For whatever reason, you are determined to live a small life and lose out on some of the huge blessings that God wants to give you. What kind of husband would I be if I let you do that? I’m responsible before God for you. He will hold me accountable for how I treated you. And when you push me away, or say that you just can’t work on this, that it’s too hard on you, I understand, but it’s not good enough. What you’re really saying is, “God created me for an abundant life, but He didn’t really mean it. He meant it for everyone but me. He made me broken.” And He didn’t.

What this really comes down to, honey, is an issue of faith, not an issue of sex. Do you believe that God is good? Do you believe that God loves you? Do you believe that God wants the best for you? Because if He does, then He wants to bless our marriage. And He wants us to feel really intimate. And He wants us to feel like we’re truly connected. You’re walling yourself off because you’re afraid to be vulnerable. And when you do that, you can’t grow. So you’re copping out on God, too.”

I know that may sound harsh for you to say to her, but it’s the truth.

And then try this,

“Honey, for the next two months, I don’t want to talk about sex or concentrate on sex. What I want to do is really work on our spiritual intimacy. As your husband, I want to pray over you every night, and ask God to bless you. I want to read Scripture with you every night, even if it’s just a chapter. And I want to pray together with you for our kids.

And in those two months, I’d like to pay for you to see a counselor. I’ll go too if you want, but I’d really like you to find someone to talk to so that we can get to the root of this. I don’t want to see you living your life small. I want you to live a life full of passion in every way, and I think God wants that for you, too”

Now counselors cost quite a bit–often $100 an hour. But let’s say that your wife needs 12-15 sessions. That’s $1500. Is that a lot? Yep. But as an investment in your marriage? It’s priceless. If you can afford it, please do, and tell her that she shouldn’t feel badly about the money.

And if it’s not a counselor she needs, perhaps it’s just a doctor to check her testosterone levels, or an ob/gyn or Christian sex therapist to help her through vaginismus (pain during sex) issues. Whoever she should go to, do your research and have it all figured out.

As for how  you act during those two months, pray a lot. Eventually work up to just holding each other, naked, without having sex. Let her start to feel close to you and accepted by you and intimate. And don’t give up! Keep telling her that no matter how hard she pushes you away, you’re going to fight for her.

Scenario 4: She Won’t Get Outside Help

You’ve talked to her. You’ve prayed over her. And she absolutely refuses to get help.

At this point it’s likely time to involve a third party. She is hurting herself. God created us for passion, and she is unable to feel it. As her husband, you are responsible for her, and you do need to help her find that healing.

So insist that you talk to a counselor or pastor together. Insist that she get help. If she won’t, talk to a pastor or counselor yourself and ask the best way to handle this. Talk to a few select men that you can trust to pray with you and figure out a strategy. But leaving it alone is not a good idea, because God wants healing for her. He wants love and intimacy for you. And He wants your kids to witness a vibrant marriage.

Good Girls Guide My SiteWhere to Go Now

A few more thoughts. If your wife has never seen sex as a positive thing, she may benefit from reading The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It explains how sex is far more than physical, and shows how it can actually be a beautiful, intimate thing. Many women have written me saying that they always felt sex was somehow dirty, but after reading it, they understand it so much better now. That may help her.

31 Days to Great SexAnd if you are ready to start again, the 31 Days to Great Sex challenge can help you ease into things. You don’t have to have sex for 31 days straight; many of the challenges aren’t sex, but are learning how to flirt again, how to be affectionate again, how to talk about sex. And you can stretch it out for more than 31 days. I do talk about libido differences and how to deal with them, and how to see sex in a positive framework. So it can be a fun one to work through.

I want to say to you guys dealing with this, I understand how hard it is. I’m sorry you’re walking through this. You are not alone. God does want more for your marriage. And I pray that something I said can help you find it.

6 Ways to Listen Well

6 ways to listen

Today, please welcome Time-Warp Wife,  Darlene Schacht. She has a way with telling truth–in a way that packs a punch. Here she is talking about learning how to listen.

Poetry… I’ve read Dr. Seuss. Does that count?

Ask me to write a poem, and I’m lost. Seriously. I wouldn’t know a good poem if it was staring me in the face. On the other hand, my niece Stephanie is an incredible poet. At least I think she is. I’ve never known enough about poems to tell for sure, but she puts pen to paper and off she goes creating beautiful words. The fact that she does it with ease tells me she knows what she’s doing.

A few years ago, she told me they were having an “open-mic night” at a bookstore downtown, and asked me to come along.

Why not? I figured it would be a fun way to spend an evening with her. The only problem was that it wasn’t exactly fun. It was kind of boring to be honest with you. Every writer had about 10 minutes to read while the rest of us spent the time picking at hang nails, surveying the crowd, and counting the number of chairs in the room–anything to keep us from falling asleep.

The only people who seemed to be enjoying themselves were the ones standing up at the podium. One by one they took their place up on stage excited to share their words with the world. Once their ten minutes of fame came to a close, they had a few of their own hangnails to pull.

Later that week, I asked Stephanie why she hadn’t stepped up with the rest of the writers. Why didn’t she read her poems?

Her answer is one that stuck with me…

She said that she used to be a big part of that crowd, but what she realized after a while was that everyone was there to be heard, but few came to listen. She made a choice that she wanted to give herself to the art instead of taking something away. Sounds like a true poet to me.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. – James 1:19

It’s true to life too, isn’t it?

While most of us want to be heard, few of us take the time to listen as much as we speak.

Sure I listen, but to tell you the truth most of the time that I’m listening to someone, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next.

It’s hard to “hear” when you’re not listening, isn’t it?

We had a friend once who had the gift of listening. Did you know that listening was a gift? Neither did I, but I’m calling it one today, okay? We could be in a room full of people, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak he leaned in, focused on what I was saying, and hung on every word that I said. Not just me, it was my husband, it was our friends–it was anyone and everyone that wanted to talk.

I’m not so gifted, which is why I have to exercise myself in this area.

 Stopping to listen to someone with both ears, is a way of showing compassion. It tells them that you care about their words. Whether they have good news to share or they’re looking for a listening ear, what they’re really wanting from you is someone who’s present in the moment. What they need is someone who values them enough to consider their words.

When Michael and I used to talk–in the early years of marriage–I didn’t understand what he needed from me. My idea of listening to him was searching for a solution, before having my turn on the soapbox.

Some days he’d tell me about a bad day at work and by the end of the conversation we were both more frustrated than we were at the start.

It wasn’t until he finally said to me,I just need you to listen to me. That’s all. I’m not looking for a magic solution–I just need my wife.” 

exchanging ideasAnd so when it comes to our marriage, listening has become a part of my vow.

My goal is to listen to him and to consider his words, before I speak an encouraging word.

And how do I do that?

Here are six ways to listen well, that I have been learning:

1.  Practice – Listening takes patience and it takes restraint. Neither of those things come easy without practice.

2.  Get Focused – Carve out time to listen to each other in a quiet place free of distractions. Maybe go for a walk or grab a coffee together.

3.  Remember, You’re Not a Therapist – Listening well doesn’t mean that you have to have all of the answers. In fact some times advice is the last thing they want. What the person needs more than anything is empathy first. Just being there for them is a gift in itself.

4.  Ask Questions – The best way to continue a conversation and keep the ball in their court is to ask questions about the situation. And don’t forget about these questions as well: Is there anything I can do? How would you like me to pray?

5.  Don’t Bathe in the Spotlight – One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome as a listener is my tendency to ignore what they’re saying while I’m thinking of my own story to tell.

6.  Lean in to Give Eye Contact – Two of the best listeners I’ve ever met have great body language. You could be standing in the midst of a multitude and feel like you’re the only two people on earth.

Learning how to listen isn’t hard. It just takes practice.

Stop what you’re doing to listen. Don’t sit there looking around at other people or hailing down a waitress for more sugar. Engage with the person you’re talking to. Give them eye contact. Immerse yourself in their words.

Lord, teach how to listen, how to be present in the moment, so that I too might bring a gift.

 

Messy Beautiful LoveDarlene SchachtDarlene Schacht is the original founder of Christian Women Online Magazine and The Internet Café Devotions and writes the popular blog Time-Warp Wife. She is coauthor of Candace Cameron Bure’s New York Time’s best-selling book, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness. Darlene has been married to Michael Schacht for more than 25 years. They have four children.

Check out Darlene’s new book, Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages, which releases today!

 

Embracing Change in Your Marriage

Facing Change as a Couple

Last week I went out for dinner with some dear friends Derek and Lisa and their two boys. My husband and I and my two daughters have been camping with them every summer for almost 16 years, and our kids are great friends. Derek has a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit, but last week he made a point of being home for dinner on multiple nights. Often his job doesn’t allow him that luxury, but he put his foot down and insisted.

He wanted to be there for Lisa, because last week their oldest son started college in another town, and he knew it would be difficult for her.

But that’s not all. As we headed out to the parking lot to our cars after our meal, he put his arm around her and he said, “Next year Paul will be gone, too, and I’ll be all Lisa has. I want to make sure there’s something left of us so she still wants to be with me.”

He was laughing when he said it, but that’s a serious concern, and Derek’s right. This year brought a big change to their marriage, but next year will bring an explosive one. And so they’re preparing.

I know how they feel, because I’m in the same boat. This is my last year with Katie (meet her here!) at home, and I’m relishing my time with her. But Keith and I are also planning things to do shortly after she leaves so the change won’t be as jarring.

It will be a big change, but marriage is full of change.

Today I’m part of an “Embrace Your Marriage” virtual marriage retreat, where 6 bloggers all talk about an aspect of marriage. And this week we’re tackling this idea of embracing the change that comes in marriage. Last week I did my “typical” thing and talked about sex (I am the Christian sex lady after all), but today we’re tackling change.

Our marriage has seen some major changes.

We started out marriage as students, and then later with Keith as a doctor and me as a SAHM. I transitioned into writing, and we had to find time for me to do that while still homeschooling our girls. But we’ve lived through other changes, too.

Our sex life was just started to get better when I got pregnant. And nauseous. Remember those days?

We were starting to feel like life was going well when our second child was born with a heart defect, and later passed away.

We’ve lived in downtown Toronto and then in a small town. We’ve moved. Keith has switched jobs. We’ve switched churches.

And all of these things has brought stress. Take the most apparently mundane thing there: Moving. We live in a large house, and in a lot of ways it would make sense to move when Katie leaves. But there is no way I’m moving again, because I read a study once that said that moving takes 6 months of productivity out of your life, and I believe it. You have to pack up your house. You have to keep it clean so you can sell it. Then you have to physically move. You have to unpack. You have to get used to where things are in the house now. You have to figure out where you’ll go grocery shopping and where things are. It’s exhausting. And I don’t want to do it again.

Change isn’t nice, and yet change is inevitable.

And if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this:

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, but hold on to God tightly. (click to tweet!)

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, and to God tightly. -- Sheila Wray Gregoire

I know it sounds like I should be saying hold on to your husband tightly, and I do believe that, too. But I think the most important part of navigating change is actually navigating our own attitude. And often the reason we don’t like change is because we begin to get too comfortable in the life we have, and then we resent it when we have to give it up. Or perhaps we get this picture of what life “should” be, and when life changes, we get resentful at those around us who caused the change.

But this life is not meant to be your real life; your real life is with God, and this is only temporary. When we keep our focus on God, then we’re better able to navigate change.

Here are just a few other principles to help:

1. Keep a Friendship with Your Husband

No matter where you are in life right now–whether you’re pregnant, or working opposite shifts, or getting out of bankruptcy, or preparing for a move, keep spending time with your husband, like my friend Derek did. Often people justify not spending time, saying, “this is just a phase, and it will pass, and so right now I have to throw myself into my work/kids/church.” There may be a time for that (I remember an email I received from a woman who was spending six months across the country away from her husband, because her son was sick and needed treatment at a specific hospital, and she was going with him. In that case, there was little they could do except for Skyping a lot.

But in general, do not say, “this is just a phase, so we’ll spend time together later.” You don’t know what other changes will come. Always keep your marriage as your first earthly priority.

2. Recognize that Change is Stressful–Even if it’s Good Change

We humans crave routine. We want to know what’s coming, so that we don’t have to expend so much emotional energy figuring out what we’re going to do everyday. So change–even if it’s good change–is stressful.

In those periods of “good” stress, like having a new baby, a new job, or a new house, cling to each other even more.

3. Change Together

I am not the same woman who walked down the aisle, and Keith is not the same man who was waiting for me. After two decades of marriage we have changed. And that’s inevitable.

So make sure that when you change, you change together, and the easiest way to manage this is to do things together and keep talking. I have talked to so many women who married young, who then say, “I matured after we married, and he never did mature.” Well, I matured after we married, too, but my husband matured with me because we stayed side by side in everything. It is possible to change together–but you have to be together to change together. So keep communicating!

We’ll talk more in this Virtual Retreat on the next few Mondays about how to do that. But for now, why not read the posts by the other great bloggers at the Embrace Your Marriage retreat, talking about how they Embrace Change.

And here’s your challenge this week:

Consider some of the ways that your marriage has changed over time. Start counting the blessings that these changes have brought. Write them down.

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

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.

When Baby Isn’t Perfect

something is wrong with your babyToday is the eighteenth anniversary of my son Christopher’s death, and I’ll be heading out to the graveyard later, likely by myself. I like it better there alone. But I thought this post may be appropriate for the day–about what to do when you get a diagnosis that something is wrong with your baby.

I shifted uncomfortably on the cot. The baby had been pushing on my ribs for over an hour as the technician kept trying to get a better view.

“It’s a boy,” she announced as my husband entered the cubicle holding our 15-month-old daughter. We were ecstatic, but I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t look me in the eye.

The next day I learned the answer. “I’m sorry, Sheila,” my doctor told me. “There’s something wrong with his heart.”

It’s hard to explain the panic you feel when you hear that something is wrong with your baby, even one who isn’t born yet. And that panic only worsened for us as, over the next few weeks, I endured a dizzying battery of tests. We learned our son had Down Syndrome and a very serious heart defect.

I experienced such intense fears during that time. Could I handle a sick child? What would this mean for my daughter? Would all my time be taken up in caring for my son? What would his future be like? And above all, would I have to watch him die?

As soon as we learn we are pregnant—and for many of us, even before—we start dreaming of what it will be like to hold the baby, to watch him grow, or to see her blossom. But for some of us, those dreams are shattered. The child we dreamt about isn’t coming. The one we have has something wrong.

The first few weeks can be the most difficult in your life as you struggle to cope with grief and fear, care for a new baby and perhaps even rearrange your life. Here are some steps to help you through this challenging time.

1. Nurture your marriage

An estimated 25% to 33% of marriages break up within a year of the birth of a handicapped child. That’s not a statistic you want to join. Resolve now, before you do anything else, that you will still be each other’s greatest priority. Speak and act kindly to one another. Give each other space to handle the grief differently, without passing judgment. You will need each other in the years ahead. Remember that if you walk through this valley together, your marriage can emerge stronger and more precious to you than you had ever thought possible.

2. Take your feelings to God

Cheryl Molenaar’s daughter Lindsay, now 12, was born with a chromosomal defect that has left her profoundly disabled and with the mental level of a one-year-old. Cheryl remembers feeling grief at the loss of all her hopes and dreams, mingled with intense frustration at not being able to ease her daughter’s suffering.

It’s only natural that these feelings lead to anger toward God. How could He let this happen? For Cheryl, the experience shook her faith. Yet through wrestling with God, Cheryl learned God will always carry you through. “Sometimes you can’t feel God,” she says, “But ask God to let you see Him, and He will show you Himself.”

My son Christopher died when he was 29 days old. Though I never received an answer why, I was given something better: a peace I cannot explain that could only have come from God. God is big enough to handle our questions, when we seek Him out and let Him in.

3. Seek early intervention

Paul and Judith Colley’s daughter Laura was born prematurely at 25 weeks. A year later she was diagnosed with hearing problems and possible developmental delay, so she was quickly fitted with a hearing aid. At two years of age her speech was slow and doctors were concerned with her development. Today, though, after years of speech therapy, she is above average on almost every scale. This child, whom they once thought might be permanently delayed, is flourishing. The reason is early intervention.

When you’re given a diagnosis for your child, the simple truth is that no one knows the potential he or she has. Certainly some children will have a harder time learning than others; but for many early stimulation can help. Ask your paediatrician to connect you with community resources or books that can guide you through the process.

4. Ask for help

No one likes to feel that they can’t cope. Yet for Cheryl, outside help saves her sanity and keeps her from the brink of exhaustion. Seek out help from friends, relatives, your church, and community resources. You’ve been given a big burden to carry, but God never meant for us to carry our burdens alone (Galatians 6:2).

We live in a society that values perfection. Having a baby who’s not perfect throws us through a loop and challenges everything we believe. Yet through that challenge, we will inevitably come to “taste” God more as He sustains us day by day. As Cheryl cares for Lindsay, she is constantly reminded that His “grace is made perfect in weakness”. Her child has taught her things about God no sermon ever could. And as she loves Lindsay, so protectively and fiercely, she gets a clearer picture of how God cherishes her.

If you’re dealing with disappointment and grief, Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella?, can help. Read more here.

Wifey Wednesday: The Truth In Love Marriage Challenge!

WifeyWednesday175It’s Wednesday–the day when we always talk marriage! And today I’ve got a bit of a challenge for you. I know you’re up to it!

Yesterday I was talking about the balance between Truth and Love in our marriage. Truth is standing up for what’s right, and confronting sin. Love is showing mercy and grace. Both are necessary. As Micah 6:8 says,

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

We are to act justy (Truth) while loving mercy (Love). And Jesus was the perfect balance of both.

But as I explained yesterday, truth in love is rare. Most of us tend naturally towards one or the other. Some of us are quick to debate and bring up issues, and often seem critical. Others of us let things slide a little too much, and often seem like pushovers. How do we find the middle?

The Truth in Love Challenge from To Love, Honor and VacuumJulie, one of my frequent commenters, had this great insight yesterday:

[A book I once read] talked about our speech in terms of color – love being red, and truth being true-blue. I’m definitely on the blue side. The visual picture was to “speak purple”. I’ve been trying harder to bring in more “red” – more kind, loving, affirming words in the conflict.

So how do we speak PURPLE–and find that Truth/Love balance?

Well, today I want to look at a scenario, and see how Truthers would react, and then how Lovers would react, and then I’ll ask you all to write in the comments what you think a Truth/Love balance response would be. And I’ll randomly pick from the comments I like (because I think there will be plenty)! to win a collection of ebooks, including my own.

Here’s the marriage scenario:

Jane sighs as she wipes down the counter after doing a mountain of dishes. For the last few days it had been almost impossible to get the kitchen clean. She’d been called in to fill-in for a sick colleague at the library, and so her part-time job had suddenly become a full-time job this week. And while her mother-in-law was amazing with Jimmy, the toddler, it meant that the laundry didn’t get done and the lunches weren’t really packed. Monica, her 11-year-old, was supposed to pack lunches for herself and her 8-year-old brother, but Jane had been too tired to force the issue last night, and she’d had to do it herself.

But tonight, in a pique of frustration, she decided she couldn’t handle it anymore. After making a full spaghetti dinner even after working 8 hours, she had cleaned up the kitchen, threw on some laundry, and somehow managed to supervise Jimmy having his bath.

Yet her husband, Greg, had been playing his video game for the last 3 hours. The older two kids were ready for bed, and Greg hadn’t even looked up. Jane had been cleaning up, and Greg had been playing. If he had just helped her last night maybe things wouldn’t have gotten out of hand. But he was stressed from work (they were going through another round of lay-offs, and he was afraid he was going to be next), and he’d retreated from her and the kids. And Jane just didn’t feel like she could handle this all by herself anymore. This wasn’t like her husband. He occasionally went on video game binges, but he was usually really involved with the kids. But lately he’d gone into his own little world, and Jane had had enough. Why did he get to relax while she had to work all the time?

Okay, can anyone imagine that scenario? Now, what does Jane do?

The Truth Response:

Jane stares at Greg, hoping that her penetrating gaze can break through his fog and make him feel guilty. It doesn’t seem to work. So she tells Monica to take her brother upstairs and get ready for bed, because Daddy will be up to read a story in a minute.

Then she walks over to the TV and turns it off without a word. Greg becomes really agitated, and yells at her for interrupting his game.

Jane takes a deep breath and coolly says, “I know you are stressed. But you are still a father, and right now you’re a lousy one. You haven’t lifted a finger around here for days, and you are setting a lousy example for the kids. Is this what you wanted to become? A lazy couch potato who wastes his life on video games when you have three kids who need you?”

“I am done, Greg. I am done. I need some time now. You march upstairs and read to those kids and get your act together, or you’re going to come home tomorrow and find that all your precious video games have been thrown out.”

The Love Response:

Jane glances at Greg, biting her fingernails that are way too soft from all the dishwashing, and wonders what to do. Quietly she asks Monica to take her brother upstairs and get ready for bed, telling her she’ll be up in a minute to read to them.

Then Jane approaches Greg on the couch and sits down beside him. She puts her hand on his leg, and he doesn’t even seem to notice.

“Greg,” she says. “I know you’re really stressed, and I’m worried about you. But the kids miss you. They need their dad. Do you think you can put the game away and come upstairs and say good night to them with me?”

Greg replies, “Jane, I just need to unwind. I’ll finish this level in a minute and then I’ll go upstairs, okay?”

“Thanks, Honey,” Jane replies as she gets up and follows Monica. She reads her two older ones a story, and then another one, and then another, but still no Greg. Finally she kisses them both and says prayers with them, and goes back downstairs. Greg hasn’t moved.

Jane bites her lip again, and then turns around and goes back upstairs, heading to bed herself.

Has either scenario solved the problem? Nope. The Truth response has treated Greg like he’s a child and will just build walls between the two of them, as well as likely starting a tit-for-tat retaliation cycle. The Love response leaves them both feeling isolated and alone.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…

So here’s my challenge to you: What SHOULD Jane do? What would be a Truth IN Love response? Leave your suggestions in the comments section. I’ll write down the ones I think are all good and valid (I don’t think there’s just one possible response, so anything that sounds plausible to me rocks!), and then I’ll randomly draw from there using random.org.

Good Girls Guide My SiteThe winner will receive these ebooks:

  • 31 Days to Great Sex (by me!)
  • How Big Is Your Umbrella (also by me, about walking through hard times)
  • Another Reality Check (by me–a collection of 90 of my favourite columns)
  • The Cherished Home: Protecting What’s Important by Mary Clendenin (with printables)
  • Taming the Laundry Monster by Angi Schneider
  • When Motherhood Feels Too Hard by Kelly Crawford
  • Herbal Remedies for Children by Rosalee de la Foret

AND an autographed paperback copy of The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex–which makes a wonderful wedding gift for any new bride (or a gift for any married woman, actually!)

I’ll choose the winner this Saturday at 9 a.m. EST, so get your comment in before then!

There’s such a wealth of wisdom in my readers, so I’d love to hear what you come up with about how to speak PURPLE in your marriage!

Note: if you feel like what you would have said has already been said by someone else, that’s okay! Just say “I agree with so and so” and explain why, and that will count! And the answers don’t have to be elaborate. Just give us an idea of what you think a truth in love approach would be.

The Truth In Love: Finding the Balance During Marriage Conflict

The Truth in Love Challenge from To Love, Honor and VacuumTruth and love don’t seem like opposites, but they can be. Someone can use truth as a weapon, hurting others. Someone else can try so hard to save someone’s feelings that they fail to confront some serious sin.

All of us veer more towards one or the other. For those of you familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality test, you could see them as the Thinking/Feeling dichotomy (though it doesn’t always fall along these lines). But some of us will be more prone to fight for the truth, no matter what gets blown up in the process, and some of us will want to avoid truth to minimize casualties.

Jesus, though, wasn’t on the side of truth OR love; like with everything, Jesus found the balance of confronting sin while upholding the dignity of the person.

Unfortunately, there are two competing philosophies which encourage us not to emulate Jesus, but instead to lean to one side or the other–and both philosophies are wrong.

First, there’s the secular feminist one, which goes something like this:

You are an adult human being, and as such, you should never take any crap from anyone–especially your husband! Stand up for yourself, no matter what, or you’ll become a doormat. Put a firm line in the sand, and DO NOT let him cross it.

Then there’s the hyper-conservative Christian one, like Debi Pearl, that says this:

Wives are to submit to their husbands in EVERYTHING–even if their husbands ask them to do something the wife is uncomfortable with. He is the leader; what he says goes, and if you continue to disagree after you have shared your views, you are sinning.

(Interestingly, this perspective seems to ignore the fact that Sapphira was struck dead in Acts for obeying her husband, and Abigail was rewarded for disobeying her husband in 1 Samuel 25. See Visionary Womanhood for a great rundown of these and other examples.) 

Here’s the problem: When our fundamental personality matches with a philosophy we follow, we will tend to stay stuck on the extreme, unable to find a healthy balance.

Here’s a very insightful comment that was left here last week in my post about Mark Driscoll’s mess. Commenting to a DIFFERENT blogger who was also active in the comments, Tracy wrote:

Lori, I read your blog, too. You almost seem legalistic about submission. By my very nature I am very introverted. I find it difficult to express myself to most people, and most especially to my husband. When I read your posts about wifely submission I get more of the same of what I already do: Shut Up, Put Up, and Cover Up. So when I disagree with my husband I shut up, put up with whatever he wants and cover up my thoughts and emotions. What I need are more posts like Shelia’s (what I probably need is counseling but I know me and I know I likely won’t), but I gravitate more to yours because through yours I can justify not communicating like I should with my husband.

Commenter Tracy says that it’s in her nature to put up with stuff and not speak up for truth, and so when she reads something encouraging her to do that very thing, she does it. It justifies her own fallen nature.

God Wants Two Primary Things From Us: Worship and Spiritual Growth

He wants us to worship Him, and He wants us to reflect Christ more and more everyday (Romans 8:29). Or you could phrase it, we are to love God and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. Two things.

Now, if we’re to look more and more like Christ, then that also means that we are to have a balance between truth and love. We are to stand up for truth while also loving others. Indeed, I think that’s what submission boils down to; we submit ourselves to God, and then we willingly love and serve others in accordance with our love for God. But that service would never, ever contravene God.

In fact, let’s take it one step further.

It is not only God’s purpose that WE look more and more like Christ; it is also God’s purpose that OUR HUSBANDS look more and more like Christ.

  • When we speak the truth in love we urge husbands towards godliness;
  • When we speak only truth, we push them away through nagging, criticizing and blaming;
  • And when we speak only love, we allow husbands to continue in selfishness and sin.

If God wants BOTH you and your husband to grow, then that means that God wants you to move towards a balance of truth and love. If we are followers of Christ, God is always stretching us, even just a little bit. If you’re not being stretched, then maybe God is asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and find that proper balance. Here are some practical steps to take to do that:

Finding the Truth in Love Balance For “Truthers” (that’s ME!!!)

  • Practice listening before you speak. Let the other person finish talking before you open your mouth
  • Ask about emotions: what do you need from me right now? What are you feeling right now? Understand the emotions behind the issue before you try to tackle the issue
  • Use a quiet voice
  • Before you mention something critical, say two encouraging things
  • Periodically (say once a week), invite your spouse to share some concerns for five minutes and say nothing at all. At the end, just give him a hug. Still say nothing. Seriously. Zip it.

Finding the Truth in Love Balance For “Lovers”

  • Learn to say no to others. Say, “I don’t think I will enjoy that particular Bible study this week”, or “I’m not able to attend that women’s social because I have too much on my plate right now.”
  • Make it a habit of expressing your feelings. If you are upset at your husband, communicate that in a non-blaming way. “I feel lonely when you play video games for hours after coming home”, or “I feel taken for granted when you don’t do any dinner prep or clean up, and leave me with the food mess and the children.”
  • Use a confident voice
  • Do not end a conversation about a conflict unless you have agreed on something practical to do about it or have agreed to talk about it another time. If he wants to end it, you can say, “I understand you want to be finished talking about this, but I still think this is a serious issue. When would you like to continue our conversation?”

It will be very difficult to say these things if you are a “Lover”, and it will be very difficult to say nothing if you are a “Truther”. But if we don’t grow in life, what’s the point? If you stay comfortable with your own personality, choosing a misguided philosophy which doesn’t stretch you and which doesn’t promote health in your relationship, you’ve accomplished nothing.

God wants to mold you, and that means taking you out of your Truth or Love comfort zone.

I have a committee meeting later this month for a ministry I’m involved in. In the past, I have really pushed my agenda, because I was sure I was right (I still am, actually). But I didn’t get what I wanted, and I burned some bridges in the process. There has been much healing, but as I was praying last weekend on how I should handle this meeting, one thing I was told clearly is that I am not to bring anything up. I can express my opinions if there is a discussion, but I am not to bring up new issues. I won’t pursue my agenda; I will step back. More love (and listening), less truth (and lecturing). That is what I am doing to try to find that godly balance.

What about you? Let me know in the comments if you’re a Truther or a Lover, and tell me how you think God wants to stretch you!

And come back tomorrow for my great Truth in Love Comments challenge–with a prize, too!

We Stopped Having Sex–and Here’s What I Learned

We Stopped Having Sex--what it did to our marriage, and why I'm glad we started again“We stopped having sex.”

A woman wrote her story on my Facebook Page yesterday, and I thought it was worth sharing with you, and could help clarify perhaps my thinking around the post yesterday–“Should you have sex even if you don’t feel like it?”

I’ll share her comment in just a moment, but first a few quick things!

I’ve been camping for a week so I wasn’t active in the comments, but I’m thrilled you all liked my post about what to do with your wedding dress so much. Boy, did that get shared! That post meant a lot to me, so I’m glad it touched you all, too.

Now, a few things about yesterday’s post.

I totally get what some people were saying about the word “duty”. As soon as we make sex into a duty, we make it EXTREMELY unsexy. I don’t think that’s the way Lindsay meant it, though, but I’ve actually written about how unsexy obligation sex is before, too.

We’re not arguing you should let your husband use you!

Neither Lindsay nor I was arguing that you should just say to your husband, “you can if you want to”, especially if you really don’t want to. That’s not really making love. That’s letting him use you. And that’s rather unsettling.

What we were saying was this:

If this is something your husband really wants (and some could argue needs on a regular basis), then why not just jump in? It’s our attitude that is the key. If we say to ourselves, “I don’t want to do this, and I hate doing this, but I’ll just get through it,” you will hate it. If you say to yourself, “what a great chance to bond when I feel rather icky. Maybe this can change the whole dynamic,” you’ll likely enjoy it.

It all depends on how you think about it!

Let’s do a Thought Experiment: What if you stop having sex?

What would happen to your marriage? Here’s what one of my readers wrote on Facebook:

I have to be honest and I’ve never told anyone this.

I have been married almost 10 years and we did not have sex before marriage. I expected it to be great, especially since we waited like God had asked of us.

Life went on and it really wasn’t a priority for me. Wasn’t that it was bad, I just had too much on my plate in my mind. We worked different shifts at our jobs (worked for same company) but enjoyed each other when we had time to spend together–usually out to dinner or a movie.

Then after 3 years we got pregnant. My husband was just convinced we shouldn’t have sex during pregnancy…And I was okay with this. What a dummy I was! We were not intimate at all for almost a year.

Then after our son came, it didn’t pick up immediately. I was over tired and was NOT in the mood what soever. I was not too excited about the extra weight from my pregnancy and I became a stay at home mother stuck in the frump that can often come with it.

Shockingly (sarcasm), we started to really go through rough patches. Sex was still not a priority for me and I couldn’t figure out why he just wasn’t listening to me! I was his wife. I thought he was my best friend. What had happened to us?!

We had another child almost 2 1/2 years after our son. Obviously we did have sex a few times during that time but to be honest it was a chore now. Then after our daughter and son turned 3 and 5, I had had enough. He works 6 days a week and is tired to do too much on the one day off he has. I stay home all day with the kids and about to start homeschooling….I need some time alone! So when we did have any time together, I just preferred to not be touched, loved on and pretty soon I didn’t even like him to kiss me.

One day I finally got on my knees and poured my heart to God. I surrendered myself and everything to Him and asked what could I do to bring my husband and I back to what we once had….really, better than ever. One thing was to start praying for a heart for my husband again. I wanted to work on me for once and not pray that he would change like I had for years before. I prayed I would enjoy his touch again, etc. Then one day I read a blog (maybe this one) that talked about stop saying no! Take a challenge to stop saying no to your husband no matter what.

Sounds primitive to most but I was willing to give it a try. What could it hurt?

But I didn’t even get a chance to it in action…the more I was praying, the more I was wanting him more than I ever had! Even times that I was so exhausted and got in the shower (where I do a lot of my praying), I was anxious to get out and spend time with him. Sometimes that led into sex but sometimes it was just being together and NOT him on the sofa and me in the chair across the room…like it had been for years.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I didn’t feel like it but I just knew it would be better in the long run if I did because it brought us closer than I could ever explain. My husband is a very personal person and still has a hard time opening up to me, even after all these years, but started to almost immediately. I’m not saying it was all me during all these years but I can honestly say that when I stopped taking the focus off myself and what I deserved, I started seeing my husband and our sex life very differently. I am not saying sex is the answer to everything but it should does bring a closeness that you may otherwise never get–especially with spouses that have a hard time communicating. I hope this some how helps with the conversation and even a situation someone is dealing with today. I’ve never told a soul but I felt led to take to speak up after reading this.

Thank you for sharing that comment! I do believe that that story will resonate with a lot of women. Most of us have been there. We stop making love for a variety of reasons–we’re tired, there are babies, maybe a few health concerns–and then we find our marriage drifting and we don’t know why.

Let’s make sex back into a priority!

And so here are a few other posts that can help you do that, that may apply to your specific situation:

Good Girls Guide My SiteBut what if sex actually hurts? Do I still have to?

No–you have to figure out why it hurts! This post on vaginismus may help. I also have quite the section in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex for women struggling with this.

But why should I have to fake it? So what if he needs sex–aren’t my needs important, too?

Yes, absolutely. And that’s why I believe that sex should be mutual. But here’s the thing–you, as a woman, actually control your sex drive. He doesn’t. That’s because our sex drives are almost entirely in our heads. So we have to get our heads in the game and start anticipating sex ourselves.

What about other problems–like porn, or sex not feeling good, or past abuse issues?

Many of us have reasons that sex isn’t really happening, and I’ve written so much on this subject it’s hard to point to every possible relevant post. We’re all coming from different places. But I do have a round-up post of different marriage and sex advice that talks about all of these different issues. Chances are you can find a link to your own obstacle there.

31 Days to Great SexAnd almost all of the obstacles I can think of are dealt with in 31 Days to Great Sex. It’s a great one to work through with your hubby!

So please understand–I am not saying that we should let ourselves become some sort of receptacle for our husbands. Absolutely not! But sex was created to be something beautiful between you and your husband. It binds you together. It helps you sleep better! It helps you feel closer and helps you communicate. And it was meant to be fun. If it isn’t doing those things in your marriage, then take the initiative to do something about it. Don’t just stop having sex–figure out what the problem is and throw your energy into fixing it. Your marriage is worth more than just a hum-drum existence. When we prioritize sex again, we can find that marriage becomes so much more invigorating!

Don’t miss out on that. Please.

 

Does Marriage Counseling Help?

Does Marriage Counseling Help

WifeyWednesday175It’s Wifey Wednesday, the day that we always talk marriage! Today I thought I’d address a question I often get when I advice people to find a third party to talk to about their marriage. Does marriage counseling help?

A few years after our son Christopher died, Keith and I relocated to the small town we live in now. We were established in our own home (finally!), Keith started his pediatric practice, and I was home with our two young daughters. We were finally out of student mode and into adult mode.

And perhaps because of that, a lot of “stuff” started surfacing. All the feelings that we hadn’t dealt with when we were always in crisis mode with babies and school and training bubbled up, and I, especially, had a hard time coping.

So for about 6 weeks we went to see a marriage counselor.

It was really very helpful. We managed to talk through a lot of issues, work through a lot of pain, and get some new tools to help us process things, especially the grief we were feeling after our son Christopher died.

For us, marriage counseling helped. We weren’t at any risk of divorce, but we simply had some bumps in the road that needed to be smoothed over.

All couples go through rough patches.

Some of the patches are rougher than others. Sometimes you need to work through a major sin that needs to be forgiven, like a physical or emotional affair, or addiction, or porn use. Sometimes you need to talk about boundaries. Sometimes you just need to figure out how to resolve conflict and make sure you’re truly listening–and hearing–one another.

I think more couples should likely go to counseling, and when I talk to counselors, most of them say, “I just wish this couple had come in three years ago when the problems could be more easily addressed, rather than now when it’s such a big mess!”

And so I want to encourage you today that if you need help, go get it. It doesn’t mean your marriage is failing or at risk of failing; it simply means you want it to be the best it can be.

At the same time, not all marriage counseling is equal. So if you want to get the most out of it, here are 4 things I think you should look for:

1. Marriage Counseling Works Best When It’s Time Limited

Does your counselor want to see you on a weekly basis forever and ever until you announce you’re done? Or does your counselor tend to see people for 6-12 sessions to sort out a specific issue?

Unless you have deep seated psychological issues, I think time-limited counseling is more helpful. It says, “we’re addressing one problem, not everything that could possibly make you sad under the sun.”

When you focus on ways to make things better, you tend to make them better. When you focus on everything that’s wrong, all you’ll see is all the problems.

I’ve written at length on my issue with counseling that doesn’t work well, and this is the heart of it. If the counselor wants to talk through all of your problems and psychological issues, then you’re really just focusing on the bad. It’s better to focus on solutions.

2. Marriage Counseling Helps Most When It’s Solutions-Oriented

And that’s what good marriage counselors do: they find solutions. The key is to modify behavior and thought patterns rather than trying to figure out every single root cause for why you’re insecure and why he’s controlling, or vice versa. Certainly a good counselor will probe this a little bit, but understanding why you’re insecure can only go so far. Ultimately you have to figure out what to do differently in your marriage to make both of you feel accepted and loved.

Ask your counselor, then, if they are solutions-focused rather than therapy focused, and ask for some examples of what kinds of solutions they suggest to their clients. Counselors who give homework and who teach you how to communicate are focused on solutions; counselors who only want to talk about emotions usually aren’t.

Happily, counseling has really changed in the last twenty years, and more counselors are now focused on solutions. And that’s great!

3. Marriage Counselors Should Be Committed to Marriage

Nevertheless, not all marriage counselors are created equally, and not all marriage counselors believe in marriage. Many marriage counselors, especially secular ones, are more focused on words like “happiness, inner peace, identity, strength, fulfillment.” They really don’t like words like guilt, fault, and shame.

A counselor who is focused on helping clients find their fulfillment and happiness may not be committed to helping a struggling marriage survive. They may too quickly decide that fulfillment is best found separately. If you are committed to the marriage, make sure you find a counselor who is as well.

4. Marriage Counselors Should Be Committed to Health and Wholeness

At the same time, don’t get a counselor who veers too much to the other extreme. Yes, I believe in marriage, and yes, I believe that God hates divorce. But do you know what God also hates? God also hates abuse, and He hates people hiding behind their marriage vows to avoid growth or repentance or doing what’s right.

A marriage counselor should have a healthy respect for boundaries, and should not want her clients to violate their boundaries by not holding someone accountable for violence or for controlling behavior, even if the one who is violent or controlling is a spouse. A counselor should not believe that marriage vows mean that if a man refuses to stop using porn, or if a woman refuses to stop her emotional affair, that the spouse should just do the Love Dare and leave it at that. The Love Dare is great–don’t get me wrong. But sometimes people need to be told: you need to stop what you are doing; it’s not acceptable; and just because you’re married doesn’t mean you can treat your spouse like this.

So, yes, a marriage counselor should believe in marriage. But they should not believe in marriage at all costs. They should believe in working towards wholeness and health within the marriage–and sometimes that wholeness and health can’t be found without setting some clear boundaries and even separating for a time (though this is only in extreme circumstances. James Dobson in Love Must Be Tough talks a lot about this, too).

Why don’t more people do marriage counseling? It’s often a combination of fear, embarrassment, lack of funds, and a fear that it won’t actually work. But I’d encourage more couples to try it. Sure, it may cost $1500 or so for your sessions in total , but that’s a lot less money than a divorce lawyer will charge. And if you and your husband will get on good ground, it will likely help you succeed more at your careers, too. It’s really worth it if you need it and have the funds at hand. I know many of you don’t, but if your marriage matters and you need it, plan on putting it in the budget for the coming months, if at all possible.

I was sent this great infographic on how marriage counseling helps couples from a couples counselor in Austin, TX: Louis Laves-Webb. It’s great, and he said I could share it with you. I hope it dispels some myths about whether or not marriage counseling works, and I hope it may encourage some of you to give it a try before issues get too big–and before you give up.

How Marriage Counseling Can Help Your Marriage Infographic

 

Now let me know: have you ever tried marriage counseling? How did it work for you? Tell us in the comments!

Top 10 Tips for Transitioning After a Long Absence with Your Spouse

Transitioning Back with Your Husband--when he's gone a lot for workIs your husband a pilot? A trucker? In the military? A business manager? Maybe, like many, your husband travels for work.

Lots of us are married to men who need to be away for long periods of time, and making that transition home can be quite difficult. Today guest poster Liz Millay shares what she’s learned about renewing that bond when your husband arrives home. Here’s Liz:

I have come to learn that spending time away from a spouse is much more common than I would have realized prior to entering marriage. I have a friend whose husband  travels for work for weeks at a time regularly. One of my husband’s best friends spent the first two years of marriage living in a different state than his spouse.

Sometimes life just doesn’t pan out the way you had hoped, and you find yourself having to spend a significant portion of time away from your better half. Times like this are so very difficult–but while it may seem that the time apart is the hardest aspect, the tougher transition may be right around the corner, as the transition back to living together can bring a whole new set of challenges.

So what can you do to ease into this transition? Now that my husband has been back with us for the last couple months, I’ve looked back on the experience and have come up with my top ten tips for transitioning back together after a long absence from your spouse.

1. Begin to prepare yourself as soon as you part ways.

Stay involved in each other’s lives as much as possible. Do things for each other whenever you can. Keep each other updated on what’s happening in life and stay on the same page in regards to finances, plans, dreams, etc. For more ideas on surviving your time apart, check out this article I wrote here.

2. Know your triggers.

Before we even reunited I already knew exactly what would be the most difficult aspect for me: my independence. I like doing what I want, when I want. I like being in charge of my own schedule. Transitioning back to bending to someone else’s agenda and desires after a time apart is always difficult for me. I knew it could easily become a trigger for tension and arguments. I had to be prepared to let go of always getting what I wanted. When you’re married both parties have to put each other first day in and day out. Although we weren’t without bumps, recognizing this trigger ahead of time helped greatly.

3. Don’t be like the Israelites.

Do you remember what happened with the Israelites after they left Egypt? It didn’t take long for their excitement to fade into bitterness. They started complaining and in no time they were wishing they were back in Egypt. In slavery! What a 180! So how does this relate to reuniting with your spouse? It is very easy to go from “over the moon excited to be back together” to “oy, life sure was easier when you weren’t here doing xyz.” Excitement fades and real life starts to grind away. He leaves his clothes on the bedroom floor. She never remembers to put away her hair dryer. You can easily get lost in the excitement of reuniting and be blind-sided by those annoying day to day things you’ve forgotten. I’m not saying it’s bad to be excited about your reunion, but if you’re not careful you can go from an emotional high to bitterness and frustration in 6 seconds flat. Keep your expectations in check and stay focused on the positive.

4. Remember where your strength comes from.

Especially towards the end of our time apart, I remember just wanting to be with him again. I wanted someone who would hug me after a bad day and then go get me a bowl of ice cream. I was tired of being lonely. When you’re apart, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything is going to be better when you’re together again. However, even though it’s definitely nice to have someone at your side to go through tough times, your husband is not your Rock. God is. The same God who got you through your time apart is the same God you need to lean on in the day to day once you’re back together.

5. Get on the same page.

Don’t withhold any reservations you’re feeling as you transition back together. Take it from a self-proclaimed, bottling introvert—you need to put everything on the table. Knowing each other’s concerns and struggles helps you encourage and build each other up, and give a little extra grace. My husband was aware that I was going to struggle with losing my independence. Knowing this made it easier for him to extend an extra dose of grace in those bumpy moments.

6. Don’t be afraid to fight.

Yep, you heard me. Fight. I’m not saying be mean and nasty; however, knowing that there are going to be some bumps in the road as you readjust to life together helps you take those arguments in stride. Shortly after being reunited with my hubby, we spend around 30 hours in the car together in the span of less than a week. At times we found it hard to keep a conversation going. At one point during the drive, we had a fight. It wasn’t ugly, but we were both frustrated. We were misunderstanding each other. But, you know what? We worked through it and got on the same page, coming away with a deeper understanding of where the other was coming from. After it was over, I found myself glad that we had gotten into the argument, as it was much more productive than just sitting in silence!

7. Have fun.

Be silly. Do something interesting together. Go on a date if you can. At least sneak in some alone time. Snuggle a lot. Enjoy each other. Spend some time just getting to know each other again. Be proactive in making sure you are having more positive moments than negative ones.

8. Reclaim your intimacy.

After spending an extended period of time away from each other, the intimacy you’ve built as a married couple is bound to suffer to some degree. You might find yourself wondering “who even is this person I’m married to?” Honestly, there is no easy fix for this except to just start doing it again (pun intended). Open up and be vulnerable with your spouse. The best place to start this is in the bedroom. I don’t want to speak for all men, but there’s probably a good chance your husband is feeling deprived in the sex department. Don’t think it’s just for him though, the benefits extend to both of you! See some of Sheila’s posts on intimacy here, here, here, and here.

9. Be understanding of changes that happened while you were apart.

Especially if you spend a very long time apart, there are bound to be some changes that could possibly take you off guard. There were two big ones for us. The first was that while my husband was away our son transitioned from a baby-like toddler to a 2 going on 20 toddler. You parents know what I’m talking about, the change that happens between two and three – the whining, the stubbornness, the “where-did-my-sweet-baby-go”? It totally threw my husband off guard and it was tempting for him to wonder what in the world I did to our kid. He had to take a step back, give me the benefit of the doubt, and realize that the changes were normal. The second thing was that for our last five weeks apart my husband had officers training for the Air Force. Being in such a strict, rigid environment changed him. I had to make sure I was understanding as he adjusted back to family life.

10. Have a truckload of patience.

For me, this was probably the most important thing. Once we were back together it was tempting to feel like everything needed to be perfect RIGHT THEN. I had to realize that we didn’t need to fix every single problem in our marriage overnight. Honestly, that realization alone relieved the pressure and made things so much easier. Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. On those days when it feels like your feet are dragging and the finish line is nowhere in sight, remember that it’s okay to slow down, just keep moving forward, loving and giving grace along the way.

We are a military family now, and while my husband’s position isn’t likely to experience frequent or extensive periods of deployment, the job will definitely lead to times where we are apart. So, I would love to know, if your husband travels for work, or if he’s in the military what life lessons have you learned?

LizMillayLiz is a twenty-something wife, mother, and jack-of-all-trades. When she’s not reading books, cooking, or crafting, this chocolate lover can be found outside. She admits she’s a nerd and maybe a teensy bit stubborn too. Liz blogs about faith, family, and life’s adventures at Simple Life. Messy Life.

 

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Reader Question: How do You Prepare for Marriage Long Distance?

Reader Question of the WeekCan a long distance engagement work?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it–and invite my readers to chime in, too. Here’s one from a woman in a long distance relationship wondering about engagement:

A few years back I met a guy from several time zones away. We got to know each other through facebook/skype/texting/etc, and saw each other in person for a month or so each year. The last visit (3 months ago) we both admitted that feelings had developed beyond that of “just friends”, and we want to try a relationship with a purpose (neither of us want to just casually date).

What kind of advice would you give to those in a long-distance relationship? We are neither young nor desperate, and are willing to take our time. Even so, I don’t want to miss a huge red flag (or HIM to miss one!) that would be completely obvious if we were living close to each other.

This is such a common scenario today, and here are a few thoughts I have on having a healthy (and productive) long distance engagement:

Long Distance Engagement: Making it work

Long Distance Engagement = Skyping with a Purpose

This reader has hit on something really key–when your relationship consists mostly of Skype dates, how do you make sure you’re not missing red flags? When you see each other on a regular basis, you can figure out if they’re lazy, if they’re good with kids, if they’re kind to strangers, if they take care of their home, and other things like that. When you don’t, then all you see is the persona that the person uses online. How do you get past that?

You Skype with a purpose!

And by that I mean that when you do Skype, you aren’t just talking about “safe” things that make you feel close and all luvey duvey. You don’t just bond over childhood memories or favourite movies or things like that. You actually have to ask the hard questions and make an effort to get to know each other. That can be a difficult thing to do, and the first step is doing exactly what this reader did–clarify the expectations of what this relationship is.

What Are We Doing?

One of the problems with long distance relationships is that, especially in the early stages, you’re always guessing about what the person feels about you. You text and they don’t text back for a day. Does that mean they don’t care? You were hoping to Skype tonight but he’s too busy. Does that mean you take the relationship more seriously than they do? And because you can’t really see body language in the same way, it’s inherently insecure.

Long distance relationships for just that reason have the capacity for a lot of heartache. I’ve seen my girls and other kids I know agonize over long distance relationships because it’s just not clear where it’s going. One person may just have fun chatting while the other is really invested in the relationship. And how do you take it to the next level?

It isn’t worth obsessing over someone long distance for too long. I think we owe it to ourselves to clarify what we’re doing. So once you have some degree of confidence, ask, “what are we doing?” And it’s fine to set some ground rules, like, “if we’re going to talk long distance, I don’t just want to be someone you turn to when you’re bored. I expect that we’ll connect twice a week to get to know each other. If you’re not comfortable with that, I’d like to move on…”

Many women assume they’re in a long distance relationship because they have a guy that they like that they skype with every now and then. But he may not see the relationship the same way. So you do have to talk about it, and be prepared to move on if he isn’t that into you.

Once it’s apparent that you both do want to date with a purpose, then it’s time to do some interesting things while you talk online!

Do Some Personality Tests

Early on in your relationship I think it’s fun to take some personality tests online and figure out some basic things about each other. What is your love language? What is your MBTI type (this is my favourite personality test!).

Ask Some Hard Questions

If you’re moving towards engagement, you have to really know each other. But it can be tough and awkward to ask the hard questions. So I’d recommend getting a book, like 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged, that you agree to work through together. That way if a question’s awkward, you can say, “well, we did agree to work through the book….”

Some people have found the book a little negative–like he’s giving you all kinds of reasons NOT to get married, which can solidify someone’s decision who is commitment-phobic. Perhaps I’d agree in some cases, because I do think commitment is one of the hugest issues in marriage, and you’ll never find that “one perfect person”. However, because of the inherent riskiness of long distance relationships, I’d really recommend a book like this, because you do need to discover those red flags.

Some of the key things you’ll want to know: how does He serve God? What has God been saying to him lately? What is his relationship like with his family? What are his career goals and how is he moving towards them? How do you handle money? When’s the last time you looked at porn? Yes, they’re tough, but you need to know!

Get Other People Involved

As much as possible, use Skype to create some interactions that you would normally have. Meet his parents. Meet his friends. In fact, as often as possible Skype with other people involved, too. You want to become part of his social circle and he should become part of yours.

Once the relationship has become serious, it may be good to set up a Skype meeting between a pastor and the two of you.

And take other people’s concerns seriously. When you’re in a long distance relationship, it’s easy to think of the two of you as living in your own little world, but if you get married, it won’t be just the two of you. It will be your friends, your family, your co-workers. You have people who care about you–listen to what their instincts (and even the Holy Spirit) may be telling them.

Set Up a Schedule to Talk

If you’re moving towards engagement, then you should be skyping/texting/interacting regularly–I would say at least 2-3 times a week for an extended period. If you only talk once a week, then it’s easy to just put on your best face. You want to see them in real life as much as possible–and they need to see you like that, too.

Do A Bible Study

Read and study the Bible together and pray together. Now, some people aren’t really comfortable with in-depth Bible study. That’s not their way of relating to God, and that’s okay. But you can still read a Psalm together. You can agree that “this month we’re going to read through the book of Acts”, even if you don’t do a word study on it. And you certainly can pray together! Make sure that your spiritual life is part of your long distance relationship, even if you can’t go to church together.

Plan for “In Person” Visits

I know it’s expensive, but you simply must spend the money and be together in person several times before you get married. It’s cheaper to do that than to rush into a relationship that’s wrong. Ideally these visits could be for a few weeks, but even a long weekend is better than nothing. Meet his family. See where he lives. Go to church with him (do people know his name? Do they greet him?). The hard part, of course, is where do you stay, since you likely don’t want to stay overnight with him. That’s where meeting some of his friends on Skype beforehand can be good. Or perhaps you can stay with his parents! It may be awkward, but it’s actually good to get to know his social circle and his family anyway.

Once you do get engaged, I think it’s important to move to the place where he lives, or have him move to where you live. Obviously sometimes immigration issues may make this impossible, but if it is possible, be with him on a daily basis before you actually tie the knot.

I know many couples who have married after a long distance engagement, and they’re all still married and still happy. My daughters did the hair for one wedding last year that was just a blast–she was from Pennsylvania, and he was from Saskatchewan, and they met in Bible quizzing. I’m not against long distance relationships at all. I just think you have to be super careful and super wise, and go in with your eyes wide open. But in this day and age when technology makes long distance engagements possible, it opens up a whole new world, and I think ultimately it’s a good thing.

But I’d like to hear from you–what would you add to this list? If you married after a long distance relationship, what’s the one best thing you did while dating? Let us know in the comments!

Good Girls Guide My SiteAnd, of course, if you’re getting married, I can’t recommend The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex highly enough! I wrote it for any engaged or married woman, but it’s really my prayer that more engaged women will read it, because I think if you understand sex better from the beginning you’ll save yourself so much heartache–and you’ll have so much more fun. I’ve got a special chapter in it for the wedding night/honeymoon, so please read it before you get married!