Reader Question: How Do You Reset Your Sex Life?

Every MondayReader Question of the Week I like to post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. Today a reader is asking, “how do you reset your sex life?”

 I have read The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex and am intrigued by the mention you make of the first four years of your marriage. You mentioned having a lot of pain during sex and that it started your sex life off in a bad way. I had a similar start and now, a year after having a baby, sex is much easier. The trouble is that my husband is so demoralized by our early experiences that we still don’t have sex much, and I’m often rejected. No matter how I plan, prep and try to make it happen, he can be pretty cold. It’s like he’s used to and expects a bad sex life. I’m thankful that you try so hard to put a positive light on intimacy, but it would be nice to hear suggestions on dealing with a cold husband.

That’s a difficult question, isn’t it? It could take other forms, like:

I’m a victim of child sexual abuse, and for the first few years of our marriage I was scared of sex. I’ve received healing now and I want to have a great sex life, but it’s like my husband has shut down.

Or perhaps:

I spent years refusing sex with my husband, but I’ve now realized that was wrong and I want to change. But he doesn’t believe me!

When we start marriage seeing sex as a negative thing, it’s really hard to establish a new dynamic in your relationship where it’s fun, easy, and spontaneous.

I’m going to point you to some resources I have at the bottom of this post, but I’d like to tell you a bit of my story. I don’t do that too often anymore; most of my posts are suggesting advice. But I thought some of you may want to hear more of my story.

How to Reset Your Sex Life

Like the original questioner said, I did have pain during intercourse for the first few years of our marriage. I shared that in my book The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex; I wasn’t sure if I would or not because it’s something really personal to me, and it really was a very painful part of my life and my marriage. I’m still dealing with some emotional scars from it, as is my husband, although we honestly have emerged really strong together.

Keith and I have been speaking at marriage conferences since 2005, but I never really shared that much about this part of our life, even though we were very open about sex in general. But when it came time to write the book, I really thought it needed to be in there. And so I did write about it, and even shared some rather funny–in retrospect–stories of running screaming from doctor’s offices who thought that all I needed was a mirror and an anatomy lesson to get over my condition!

What I really needed was time, space, and healing–and delivering three children vaginally probably helped quite a bit, too. And so I honestly am totally and completely over that.

But the problem is that because that was such a defining part of our marriage in our early years, it was hard to readjust emotionally and relationally once things were “working”, even when the physical wasn’t a problem. We were in a rut where Keith would want sex and feel guilty; I would feel obligated and feel guilty; and both of us just in general felt a lot of shame.

This questioner is saying that her husband is cold towards her. He very well could be. But I wonder if something else is going on, where he was so ashamed of still wanting sex even when it was painful to her that he eventually just shut down. You see, sometimes it’s easier to shut down than to deal honestly with what’s going on inside your head and your heart. And when we don’t see how we can get legitimate needs met, we often try to build these walls to protect our hearts. And perhaps this man has built a wall, and he’s afraid to see things as having changed because he may get hurt again. And he’s trained himself to think of sex as a negative in their relationship.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, too–it isn’t just if she has a physical condition that makes sex difficult. If she has sexual abuse issues (which we’ll be talking about later this week) or other fears, he can also shut down. It’s his defense mechanism because something that really matters to him seems to be making the marriage worse.

The problem is that even though the husband may shut down his sexuality due to a combination of self-preservation and love for his wife, because he’s shut down sexually it’s now even harder for him to feel or express love, since for most men sex is so intertwined with love. So while he may have shut down sexually to protect them both, out of purely altruistic motives, it often ends up hurting both of you. You’re missing that deep connection–not just sex, but real intimacy. He’s shut off a part of himself, and because of that you’re missing something big.

And if he’s shut off intimacy, then even if you’ve changed, it’s hard for him to compute or adjust to the new reality. He likely has some resentment built up, and he may have transferred a lot of his needs somewhere else. Maybe he gets his self-worth from work, or sports, or something else. Obviously if he’s using porn that’s a big problem, but not all men who shut down use porn at all. I know my husband didn’t. But it’s still hard for them to come to a point where they can have sex without feeling guilty. No matter how much you try to convince them that it honestly is okay, deep inside they feel shame for wanting something that has caused you pain.

I tell you all this to try to help you see it from his point of view. You, albeit unwittingly, without meaning to, pulled the rug out from under him when sex didn’t work for you. And that was likely really devastating to him. Now you need him to forget all that and meet you where you’re at.

That’s hard.

But it’s not impossible. Here are just a few quick thoughts:

1. Acknowledge That Your Husband was Hurt

When sex was hard for me, the focus was mostly on the pain I was enduring–both physical and emotional. Keith’s pain was shoved aside. And that’s really how it needed to be in order for me to get better.

But at this point, if you have emerged on the other side, it’s worth letting him air how he did feel, and reassuring him that he does not need to feel guilty for his sexual feelings. Apologize where you can, and let him know that the fact that he was hurt hurts you, too–even if you don’t see how you could have done anything differently at the time.

2. Be His Friend

I know I say this all the time, no matter what the problem is in marriage, but it is so much easier to communicate about the hard things in our marriage if we’re also communicating about the little things. So work on laughing together and doing things together, and it’s easier to truly reset.

3. Do a Sexual Reset

You need to reset your sex life–so do it! I’ve got a post here that takes you through the steps:

How to Reset Your Sex Life

4. Schedule Sex

When sex is difficult, and fraught with emotion, then it’s easy for each night to feel stressful: are we going to tonight? Is it going to turn into a fight? Will he turn me down? Do I dare mention it?

If you’ve got it scheduled on your calendar–say twice a week, to start with–then it takes a lot of the anxiety out of it. During these periods of adjustment, when you need to find a new normal, I highly recommend scheduling sex, even if it’s only a temporary thing.

5. Be Patient

I want to reassure you today that couples can come through to the other side. If sex has been a major source of stress in your marriage, you really can make it through and redefine sex and become spontaneous and fun! But it doesn’t happen overnight, and you need to be patient.

If you’re the one who has received healing, chances are you have been working at this for months, if not years. You’ve seen the progress. You know what’s occurred. You can feel the difference. But he hasn’t. He doesn’t know what’s going on inside your brain, and it’s quite likely he’s shut himself off so that he doesn’t get his hopes up. He’s afraid to see that it could be better.

Just remember that you are further along in this process than he is, and you need to give him time to catch up. You need to give him time to trust you again–to trust that you do actually enjoy sex. And so give him that time!

6. Be Honest

Okay, here’s the hardest one for me to do–and the one I still struggle with. To Keith, it was so traumatic if I ever made love “just for him”, because it was initially hurting me. He is so afraid of ever doing anything that would hurt me again that if he senses that I’m uncomfortable it’s hard for him to want to keep going.

I needed to learn that when I was having triggers, or things were uncomfortable, I needed to tell him, and we’d stop. If he knew that I would tell him if I didn’t want to, then he knew that if I WASN’T telling him, I really did want to. If he wasn’t sure I’d tell him if I was uncomfortable, he was always, always doubting himself. So if you are getting over sexual abuse, and 80% of the time things work fine, then the 20% that they don’t–tell him. Even if it would disrupt the night. If he knows you’re honest when things aren’t working, it makes it much easier for him to let go when they are. So NEVER fake. That would kill any trust you’ve built up. Be totally honest, and then he’s more inclined to believe that you’re enjoying it when things are working well.

I hope those tips help. I know how hard it is emotionally to walk through something like this, but believe me–healing is possible, and you can both come to a beautiful place in your marriage. I pray that you will!

Now, let me know: have you ever struggled with rebuilding your sex life? What did you do? How did you heal? Let me know in the comments!

When Erectile Dysfunction Hits Your Marriage

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to tackle a Reader Question, and this week’s is a common one: “my husband has ED” (erectile dysfunction).

One reader writes:

Can you post about men with ED problems. My husband is 52 and I am 53. We have struggled in the area of sexual intimacy for most of our 27 yr marriage. I was always the one with low libido and my husband would react very negatively. I recently had my hormones checked and she gave me testosterone shots and it reversed our issues! He is struggling with ED. He is on blood pressure meds and thyroid pills. We are trying to talk thru the emotional aspects but it is very difficult.

I would say that’s the typical “face” of ED–a middle aged man, with some health problems, who suddenly finds that things aren’t working well. Yet increasingly it’s also younger men who have ED:

We’re in our twenties and we’ve been married for two years. My husband has never really been able to maintain an erection. Either it peters out before we really get started, or else he ejaculates too quickly. So now he’s almost given up trying, and he just plays video games until about 2 every morning. I want us to be intimate but I don’t know how to get around this.

This week I’d like to do a three-part series on erectile dysfunction and marriage, looking today at strategies to deal with impotence (ED), tomorrow at some of the “other” sexual problems we face, like premature ejaculation or delayed ejaculation, and then on Wednesday at how to keep a great sex life even when these things start to plague your marriage.

I have to admit from the outset, though, that I feel awfully sorry for men. Let’s face it: lots of times we women make love when “we’re not really in the mood”, and it works fine. We don’t always orgasm, and it doesn’t matter. But for a guy, if things don’t work perfectly, everything is thrown off. No wonder it’s so scary! And when things start to go wrong, there’s often a vicious cycle that starts, where they get so worried that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then these husbands stop wanting sex altogether.

So let’s look at the three main causes of ED–one cause for ED in young men, and two causes for ED in older men–and then see some DOs and DON’Ts for the different scenarios.

If this isn’t an issue in your marriage, please read on anyway! I have a special word further down for wives who haven’t experienced this yet–because I think the key word is YET, and we need to be prepared!

My Husband has ED: A look at ED in young men, ED in older men, and what to do about itED in Young Men

It used to be that the face of ED was Bob Dole in the Viagra commercial–an older man, who had been fine in his younger years, but now health problems and circulation problems had affected things.

Over the last decade, though, an epidemic of ED in young men has started. Here’s Dr. Oz–pretty much as mainstream as you can get–talking with a panel about how ED is now becoming a young man’s issue. And the reason? Porn.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the top 10 effects of porn, and one of the most common that they’re finding is that it causes sexual dysfunction, from ED to premature ejaculation to delayed ejaculation. It trains the brain to become aroused to an image, and not a person. And then when the image isn’t present, the person doesn’t provide enough stimulus. And so the arousal process doesn’t work.

This can be the case even if your husband is no longer using porn. For instance, I received this email:

My husband and I were both virgins when we got married. I was 22 and he was 23. He told me that he had used porn a lot as a teenager, but stopped when he was 20, and while he was still tempted, he really doesn’t look anymore. He and his best friend meet regularly to keep each other accountable & before we were married he gave me access to his computer and phone. But we had sex on our wedding night (it was really quick), and then once three days later, and now it’s been two months and he says he isn’t interested. Is this normal?

Yes, actually, it is normal–at least it’s normal for guys who have used porn a lot in their formative teenage years. Even if they’re not using porn anymore, often that arousal process is still messed up and needs to be retrained.

Porn is not the only cause of ED in young men–it could be that the two causes that I’ll list in a minute for older men apply better to your husband. But for most men under 40, porn is the root cause. So what do you?

1. Stop the porn

No ifs, ands, or buts. This will not get better if he is still using porn–it will only get worse. Project Know is a community of over 73,000 self-reported internet porn addicts who have made the decision to abstain from porn and masturbation, and they’ve produced some great research on their membership. 37% of these addicts reported experiencing erectile dysfunction, and only 27% reported having no sexual dysfunction at all–meaning that 73% of active porn users do report some sort of sexual dysfunction. The good news? Once you abstain for a few weeks, and your body and brain start to normalize, 60% report an improvement in sexual dysfunction–though they could still have problems, as our letter writer shows.

Nevertheless, it will not get better while the porn-and-masturbation cycle is still occurring.

These posts may prove helpful:

Top 10 Effects of Porn (show them to your husband if he’s skeptical)
4 Things You Must do if Your Husband Uses Porn
Are you a spouse or an enabler? (if your husband refuses to deal with his porn addiction)

2. Start the Recovery Process Focusing on Intimacy

Assuming the porn use is in the past, and your husband realizes that it was a major cause, you can now retrain the brain to become aroused by true intimacy, and not just anonymous images. Here’s a post on sexual recovery from a porn addiction, which includes some exercises on learning how to become vulnerable and truly naked with each other.

31 Days to Great SexI’d also highly recommend my book 31 Days to Great Sex (which is only $4.99 in the ebook version), which can walk you through, step by step, how to build real intimacy. Taken together, the book helps couples understand the difference between real intimacy and just sex, and helps couples move step by step towards achieving that.

Some DONTs for Younger Men with ED

  • Don’t recreate porn in your marriage, thinking this will solve it! The answer isn’t to be “hotter” than porn; it’s to retrain the brain to find real intimacy!
  • Don’t berate him for it. See porn as the enemy, not your husband.
  • Don’t rush things. It takes a while for recovery, and if you cling to each other, and give it time, you’ll come out stronger.

Some DOs in Marriages where Young Men have ED

  • Do work on your friendship with your husband–the more you can laugh together, the more you can take on anything!
  • Do work on creating more spiritual intimacy–like praying together or reading a chapter of the Bible before you go to bed. When you can become spiritually vulnerable with each other, this has a big impact on our intimacy, and often triggers a sexual response because of that intimacy.
  • Do encourage your husband to talk to someone else. You can’t be his accountability partner. You have to be his wife. Let him go to someone else to grill him. Don’t let that person be you.

ED in Older Men

When we think of ED, we do tend to think of older men.

Good Girls Guide My Site1. Dealing with the Physical Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Here’s what I reported in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex:

According the the National Institute of Health, chronic erectile dysfunction affects 4% of men in their 50s, 17% of men in their 60s, and 47% of men over 75. Transient, or temporary, ED affects about 50% of men between 40 and 70. About 70% of chronic ED has physical roots, while the rest has emotional roots.

If your husband experiences ED once, don’t worry about it. It’s likely just temporary and it will pass. If it happens a few times, though, your husband needs to see a doctor. ED is often one of the first signs of circulatory issues, heart issues, and other health concerns. He may not like seeing a doctor, but think of ED as an early warning beacon. Don’t ignore it.

Sometimes ED can be caused by medication. If he’s on a number of medications and he starts experiencing ED, have the doctor or pharmacist take a look at all the drugs in combination and see if they’re all necessary, or if there may be a better combination that he could try.

ED can also be caused by obesity, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol. We may think we can “have a few drinks” to get us in the mood, but actually the opposite is far more common. Living a healthier lifestyle can often overcome many of the causes of ED.

2. Dealing with Emotional Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

A physical root to ED can often morph into an emotional cause for ED. Because a guy’s virility is so tied up in how he performs sexually, when he suddenly isn’t able to, even if it’s for a legitimate physical reason, it can cause him to become so insecure that he’s afraid to try again. Or when he does try, the stress that he’ll fail causes him to fail.

Other men have an emotional root to ED to begin with. It could be sexual issues–perhaps sexual abuse in the past, or dealing with homosexual feelings, or some issues from the family of origin. Or more commonly it could simply be stress. He starts to feel like he’s not man enough at work or in another high pressure situation, and this comes into the bedroom.

If your husband has ED, he’s going to feel sexually nervous. Many men, after a handful of times dealing with ED, swear off sex altogether. I’ve even received letters from women saying that their husbands have moved into another bedroom. Sometimes these same men are then caught masturbating. The men want release, but they’re scared of what may happen to their ego if they attempt intercourse. Or they become almost asexual, deciding that it’s safer psychologically to shut down that part of them.

Some DOs If Your Husband Has ED:

  • Do help your husband through stress he’s feeling–at work, with finances, with family. Help him talk through his feelings by being a sounding board. Do fun things with him.
  • Do treat ED as a minor inconvenience–not the end of the world. Sometimes things don’t work; let’s watch a movie instead, or just kiss for a while.
  • Do work on helping your husband stay healthy. Drink less alcohol, lose some weight, and quit smoking. These can help in the bedroom, too!
  • Do talk to your husband before this happens.

I want to emphasize that last one:

Even if your husband has not experienced ED yet: chances are one day he will. If you talk about it beforehand, it can make it easier. Look: we women are going to go through menopause, and EVERYBODY knows that. It’s talked about and joked about. We’ll get moody, we’ll get hot flashes, and our libidos may disappear–for a time. Because we’re expecting it, it isn’t as big a deal. Maybe we need to talk about ED in the same way! Most men will likely experience at least intermittent ED. If you talk about it now, before it happens, and acknowledge it openly, you can decrease the emotional punch that it may bring. Say that you expect it one day, and when it happens you’ll get through it together and develop strategies once you need to. If it’s something you’ve talked about, then it isn’t coming out of the blue, and it isn’t likely that he’ll be as self-conscious about it.

Some DONTs If Your Husband Has ED:

  • Don’t try to analyze this at the time. Let it go, and then talk about a few days later. Don’t push things in the bedroom, when it just happened.
  • Don’t baby him. Treat it matter-of-factly: this is something most men go through at some point, and we’ll get to the bottom of it. I have confidence in that–and in you.
  • Don’t Make This About You. Helen, from the The Unintimate Marriage, writes about her journey with a husband who has ED. And she has this advice for us: There is one temptation you will have through all of this: to make it about you. I’ve been there. You’re in the middle of a pretty hot and heavy make out session and you realize that it is causing very little reaction in him. All of a sudden you are off track too. You’re thinking, “Oh my goodness! He does think I’m fat!” or “I knew it, he does hate this haircut” top it off with a little, “Has he met someone else that he thinks is prettier than me?” Our insecurity comes on quickly, so I want you to really hear me when I tell you that this is not because of you! Don’t question how he feels about you at the time; treat it matter of factly, and move on to something else. You can talk about the root causes when it isn’t so emotional.

Where We’re Going From Here

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about how to handle two other areas of sexual dysfunction: premature ejaculation and delayed ejaculation. On Wednesday, we’ll look at how to keep a sex life alive even if sexual dysfunction means that intercourse itself isn’t always lengthy, possible, or very enjoyable.

 

Reader Question: My Husband Married Me Because I was the “Good Girl”

Reader Question of the Week

Ever feel like “there’s no passion in my marriage”?

Every Monday I like to answer a Reader Question, and today’s is from a woman who said her husband married her because she was “the good girl”–not because he was passionately in love with her. She writes,

I am in my late 20s and have been married for a year and a half. We have been blessed with a beautiful baby who is 4 months old. I am grateful to God for all His blessings, I have married a good man of faith.

In recent weeks, it has become clear that I was chosen to be his wife because I would make a good wife and be the right ‘helper’ in bringing my husband closer to God, but not because he was madly in love with me or because he was deeply attracted to me–ever. My husband says he made a conscious choice not to be driven by sex, but to choose someone for the more lasting values that marriage has to offer.

On some level, I have known this but I assumed it was perpetuated by my low self esteem. Our sex life makes me sad and frustrated; my desire to be physically intimate is much greater and deeper than his, and he doesn’t understand my perspective on marital sex and how important it is to me. Now it is abundantly clear that if he found me more attractive, he would be more driven to have sex with me. It would be less of an effort to initiate it with me. It would be more frequent, spontaneous.

It breaks my heart because I know for certain that I married someone who doesn’t adore me, doesn’t desire me deeply, but loves me for all the ‘right’ reasons. It hurts so much. We are Catholic and deeply believe in the sacrament of marriage and my question is: how do you come to terms with knowing you, as a wife and mother, were the sensible choice rather than one of passion and love? How do you find your happiness knowing that previous women my husband had sex with before marriage were more attractive to him than I am? How do I find peace as a wife and mother, without feelings of regret, resentment, disgust, anger and deep hurt towards my husband and myself? How do I overcome feeling like a second choice and feeling stuck?

I can feel the hurt in this letter. She had an image of she and her husband both being madly, passionately in love with each other, and she’s missing that. She feels like she’s second best.

So here are some thoughts that hopefully can help her change her perspective!

1. You Need a New Fairytale

Read some Jane Austen. Seriously.

Sense and Sensibility is the tale of two sisters: Elinor and Marianne. Elinor is all “sense”. She’s logical, she doesn’t let her emotions rule her life, she’s loyal, subdued, and steady. Marianne, on the other hand, is all “sensibility” (English 19th century speak for emotions). She falls hopelessly in love with a man named Willoughby who sweeps her off of her feet. They are both passion to the extreme.

Yet Willoughby turns out not to have very good moral character, and breaks Marianne’s heart.

She gets ill and almost dies (she is rescued by Colonel Brandon), and as she is recuperating, she starts to notice the Colonel, who has always been there, in the background, steady and secure, too. He is kind. He is loving. He is moral. He is upright. And in the end she chooses him.

He is not the Passion of her Life. He is Better.

Too many of us live with this idea that true love is “feelings”–that butterfly feeling when he is near; the way your heart skips a beat when he touches your hand; the undeniable attraction and obsession you feel for him. That is love, right?

Sacred SearchWhat Austen was trying to show in her novel was that basing a marriage on these feelings often leads to disaster. It is far better to look around you and find someone who is WORTHY of your love. Someone who will be steady. That may not create these breathless moments, but it does create a lifetime of peaceful and quiet happiness. And perhaps we should value peaceful and quiet happiness more, and breathless moments less?

Science says that Austen had a point. In Sacred Search, Gary Thomas’ book on how to find a mate, he debunks the whole “I need passion in a husband” myth pretty well using science. It turns out that breathless, heart-skipping-a-beat obsessive feelings last, on average, 18 months. That’s it. No matter how passionate they were, our chemical reactions to each other can’t sustain that in the long term. Eventually all these breathless feelings go by the wayside. And then what is left?

As C.S. Lewis said, “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity; the quieter love enabled them to keep the promise.” (click to tweet)

Quieter Love

2. You are Not Second Choice. You Are First Choice–and That’s Better!

"There's no passion in my marriage!" Redefining what we think love is.Why do we think that because he was passionately physically attracted to other women that you are somehow the second choice? On the contrary, you’re the first! He had that breathlessness. He had that heart skipping a beat. And in the end he looked at it and said, “that’s not what I want.” He knew that these women wouldn’t provide him with a lifetime of steady, secure love. And so he looked for someone who would.

That makes you the first choice!

He knows what’s important, and he found it in you. You have the IMPORTANT qualities, and that means he must value and love you very much.

(If you’re having trouble getting over your husband’s sexual past, though, this may help).

He knew Proverbs 31:30:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

And he made the right choice! You’ve got a keeper, there. A mature, steady man who wants a great wife and to raise a great family. That’s wonderful!

3. Okay, but…What About the Sex?

She has a lot of assumptions in this email, and one of them is about sex. She writes:

Now it is abundantly clear that if he found me more attractive, he would be more driven to have sex with me.

I’m not sure how that’s abundantly clear, and there may be more going on that she’s not telling us. But I can tell you that early in the marriage–and this couple is still early–there are often sexual problems. It does take a while to get used to each other. In my book The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, I share some surveys I did of thousands of women. And what I found was that the best years for sex in marriage were 16-20–once you’ve been married for over a decade, the kids are a little older, and you have a lot of practice and trust.

Now, perhaps sex really is infrequent and this really is a problem. It’s hard to say, because it really entirely depends on what her expectations are. But in about 30% of marriages the woman does have the higher sex drive than the husband.

If you’re feeling really lonely in your marriage because your husband doesn’t seem to want sex, these posts may help:

My Husband Doesn’t Want to Make Love (the first in a four part series; links at the end)
My Husband Doesn’t Find me Attractive

Change The Way You See the Marriage

Many of the problems you’re experiencing–feeling unloved, feeling undesired, feeling lonely–may be a matter of perception rather than a matter of reality (or at least a combination of both). If you start appreciating the choice your husband made, and approaching him that way, that could start to change the dynamic.

Right now he may feel your hurt and not know what to do with that, and that could be driving you away. But if you start praising him for things, think how that could change the dynamic!

I love how you are so mature! I love how you provide for me and our baby. I love how you value what’s really important, and how you have goals, and how I can always rely on you. So many women don’t have that; I’m the most blessed woman in the world!

Say it and mean it!

Get on the Same Page About Marriage

You both believe marriage is for life. You both believe that marriage should be based on not just love, but also a deep commitment for the right reasons. You both believe that God wants you together.

That’s a lot of common ground.

If you’re then unhappy with some aspects of the marriage–like sex, for instance–you can go to him and say,

We both believe that God wants our marriage to be wonderful, and to reflect the love that He has for us. I just feel like we’re missing an aspect of that in our sex life. Can we pray together for that, and work on putting the effort into our sex life that God would want us to have? I want us to feel real passion together, and I think God has that for us!

In other words, base your requests on your common ground.

And then really work on your friendship! The more you’re able to laugh together, instead of mourning what you don’t have, you’ll likely find that a much deeper love grows. You won’t be saying, “there’s no passion in my marriage”, but instead, “we have a deep and abiding love.” That’s much better!

Now tell me: Have you ever felt like you were the “sensible choice”, but not the passionate one? Have you ever felt like there was no passion in your marriage? What did you do? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Question: My Husband Doesn’t Think I’m Adventurous Enough in Bed

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to post a question that a reader has sent in and try to take a stab at answering it! Here’s one that many of us may deal with: when your husband thinks you’re boring in bed:

We have been married for 3 years. Our sex life has never been very exciting, let’s just say it is almost satisfying. After having a bumpy sex talk tonight my husband told me that on a scale of 1 to 10 his pleasure is at 1…. I find that very discouraging and I don’ t know what to make of it since he always finishes when we have sex and so do I. I may not be very adventurous in bed and I always feel clumsy but I want to change things and this is why I tried talking to him. He says that if it doesn’t come naturally I shouldn’t try anything because he wouldn’t like it. Please give me some advice.

That’s so hard! Our sexuality is really tied up in our identity. It’s in our sexuality that we’re often the most vulnerable–that the “real me” comes out. If your spouse then tells you you’re boring in bed, that’s a big rejection.

So let’s try to work through some of this together.

When you're scared you're boring in bed: figuring out what's really going on.

1. Be Honest with Yourself: Are You Comfortable in the Bedroom?

When you’re the one where sex has short-circuited

Don’t worry; I’m going to deal with his issues in a minute, because I do see several red flags in this email. But it’s always good to begin with ourselves.

She’s admitting here that her sex life hasn’t been that exciting, though she does reach climax and so does he. That’s pretty good! Not a lot of couples can say that, so she’s already doing pretty well.

One of the big reasons that it may not feel super exciting, though, is because we tend to do the same things each time, or we hold ourselves back. Sex becomes stupendous when you stop holding yourself back and you jump in with both feet–and any other body parts you want!

If we’ve grown up a little ashamed of our sexuality, so that it’s hard for us to say what we want, or to try new things, then it could be that “boring in bed” pretty much describes your relationship.

If you want to try to make sex exciting, but you really don’t know where to start, I’ve written a post on spicing up your marriage that you may find quite helpful!

Remember that God created sex, and He really does want us to enjoy it. It isn’t something shameful. There is nothing particularly holy about the missionary position over any other position, and there is nothing wrong with exploring your bodies and feeling good. You may have to ease into that a bit–talking to him if you’re nervous and keeping the lights off. But do try! And see how good you can feel.

2. Be Real: Are You “Boring in Bed” or Is Your Husband Emphasizing the Wrong Things?

When he’s the one where sex has short-circuited

There’s something about this particular letter that is sending off some bad vibes to me. Many men wish that their sex life could be more exciting, and there honestly is nothing wrong with that.

But in this case he’s not looking for sex to be more exciting; he’s looking for her to be transformed into something else. “if it’s not natural, don’t try,” he says. That sounds to me like he isn’t willing to put in any effort; she’s just supposed to live up to some ideal of what he thinks sex should be. That’s not intimate; that’s not a partnership; that’s a distorted view of sexuality.

Also, she’s reaching climax, and he’s reaching climax, and he’s still rating their sex life a “1″. Believe me, many men would be ecstatic if their wives were enjoying sex that much, and for most men, that’s the majority of their pleasure–giving their wives pleasure. He’s not rating it a 5 or 6, though; he’s not even rating it a 4. He’s saying it’s a 1–the worst it can be.

Again, that says to me that there are some issues going on that have nothing to do with her.

He could be fixating on a particular thing he wants to try, and he’s so fixated on that that until he gets it he won’t be satisfied. Or he could be picturing what to him is a “good lover”, and quite often that image lines up with something someone has seen in pornography. Porn wreaks so much havoc with our expectations and with our libido, so that we’re no longer able to take pleasure in being together.

Often when a guy has a genuine sexual issue stemming from unrealistic demands, we women “own” the problem. We start to feel like the issue is with us, as if we aren’t beautiful enough or sexy enough or “nympho” enough. But the problem may not be with you at all. The problem may be that either our society’s warped view of sexuality or past porn use has put images in your husband’s head that make a marriage relationship seem boring.

I don’t know if that’s the case with our letter writer, and I don’t know if that’s the case with you, but I have seen this many times. A husband starts telling his wife she’s awful in bed or that she’s boring or that she’s frigid when really the issue is that he has used porn and robbed himself of the ability to enjoy a regular, healthy sexual relationship in marriage.

So examine yourself and ask, “am I being myself in the bedroom? Am I being vulnerable? Am I letting myself go and having fun?” And if you can say that you are, but he still isn’t satisfied, then perhaps it’s time for a conversation about where this is coming from. What exactly does he want you to be like? Why does he want you to be like that? If he can’t communicate it to you (as this husband seems unable to do), then it’s likely that he’s embarrassed to tell you what’s really going on. And in that case it’s probably good to start asking about past porn use or present porn use.

3. The Most Explosive Sex Happens When We Feel Truly Intimate

When your relationship has short-circuited sex

The best sex isn’t when we try 10 positions in one night, or when we use sex toys, or when we act out a weird scenario. It’s when you feel completely and utterly one, and when you are open and vulnerable with one another. Intimacy is the best aphrodisiac.

So if sex has become boring, maybe what you need to work on is your prayer life together. Or perhaps you need to start being more vulnerable and sharing more of your dreams and passions for your family. Or maybe you need to talk about some of your fears, and have him share some of his fears.

Kiss Me AgainBarbara Wilson wrote an amazing book called Kiss Me Again, where she talks about why sex often isn’t pleasurable, and what we can do to bring our libidos back in line. And she says that this is what often happens: when we date, we start having sex. That gives us this sense that we’re really intimate and close. But the problem is that often we weren’t that close yet. Here’s why:

There are 5 levels of emotional intimacy. With some people we talk about just the facts: it’s cold out today, eh? But with one or two people in our lives we should be able to share our deepest hurts and dreams and fears. We should be able to become completely vulnerable.

If you have sex when you’re only on level 3, where you share opinions and thoughts but not feelings, then sex becomes a substitute for emotional intimacy. And then, when you get married, it’s likely that you may never progress beyond level 3, because your emotional intimacy stalled. You felt close when you really weren’t. And now sex isn’t able to keep that close feeling anymore, so you’re both aware that you’re missing something. You feel like roommates rather than soulmates.

If that resonates with you, I really recommend picking up Kiss Me Again, because she goes through how to heal this in your marriage and get to those deeper levels of intimacy again. And when you do that, sex often starts to become really explosive–often for the first time!

Those, then, are my thoughts on this question. Perhaps you’ve short circuited sex because of shame or guilt; perhaps he has short-circuited sex because of porn; or perhaps you both need to delve into more intimacy. Ask God to show you where you need to concentrate, and then work through this together!

Let me know: have you ever had disagreements because you’re “boring in bed”? How did you handle it?



Reader Question: I Caught My Husband Texting Another Woman

Reader Question of the Week

A woman writes: “my husband is texting another woman. What do I do?”. Every Monday I try to answer a Reader Question. Sometimes the questions I get are really hard ones, and today’s is an example. I know many of you have caught your husband on Facebook with another woman, or texting another woman, and your whole world is thrown up in the air. You’ll likely relate to this:

My husband does have a history of looking at porn on the internet, but claims to not do this anymore. Recently, I logged into his computer to print something, and his facebook was up. There happened to be a text between he and a “friend” who he claims helped him when we were going through marriage problems a while ago. He says they were just friends and she helped him understand a women’s point of view. Well, the FB text was horrible, sexy talk from him. He was asking her about masturbation and if she thought about him during it, etc. I have been praying about this since, but my question is: do I tell him I know? I am having a very hard time with this, as I feel every time he brings up sex or talks to me about something personal, that he is lying to my face.

I am so, so sorry if you’re walking through this, and I want to give a few general thoughts about it. These would apply whether you catch your husband texting another woman, catch him using porn, or even catch him in an affair.

"My Husband is Texting Another Woman". When you catch your husband betraying you, what do you do?

You Are Not to Blame if Your Husband is Being Unfaithful

I see this in so many women’s emails: the husband is doing something that is completely and utterly wrong, and yet she is the one who feels badly or guilty. Here she’s wondering if she should tell him, because if she does he turns it around and often blames her, and this sends her into a tailspin.

When a spouse is doing something wrong, one of the marks of it is that they will deflect the blame. If you’re walking through a relationship like this, you’ll often suspect something, but if you bring it up you’ll be told that you’re crazy, that you’re jealous, that you need to see a counselor, or, if the person can’t deny it, that it is all your fault because you weren’t sexual enough, or you weren’t available, or you nagged too much.

I’ve seen women who were certain their husbands were having affairs for years, but at the same time they felt that maybe they were just too jealous or were reading too much into things. They started to doubt themselves.

There’s two reasons for this: Your husband often denies and turns things around on you; but you also are so scared to face the truth that the relationship may be as bad as you fear that you throw the responsibility back on yourself.

So let me say this loudly and clearly: If your husband is texting another woman, or sexting another woman, he is the one doing wrong, not you.

You are not to blame. Yes, we can contribute to the temptation to sin. But no matter what you did, there is NEVER an excuse to start a relationship with someone who is not your spouse, and you need to let go of that guilt.

No Matter What Happens, You Will Be Okay

Please hear me on this one. You are bigger than your marriage. You are precious to God, just who you are. If your marriage falls apart, God will not leave you, and He will carry you through this.

For most of us, divorce or separation is the scariest thing we can imagine, next to losing our children. Our whole identity is tied up in being a wife. The thought that the marriage may be at stake sends us into such a tailspin.

Marriage is a wonderful thing. Marriage matters. The vow matters. But listen: God is bigger than your marriage. You are more important to Him than your marriage. And you honestly will be okay. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, you will cry a river of tears. But He will carry you.

Now, hear me on this, too:

I am not saying that your marriage is over. I am not saying that it can’t be rebuilt. But until you are able to say, “My trust is in God, not in my marriage”, you will not be able to deal with this problem effectively. You will be so scared of losing your marriage that it will be hard for you to confront, to draw boundaries, and to do what is necessary to give yourself a chance at saving your marriage.

Now is the time to go running to God, and to find a close friend or counselor to help you do that, so that you have His inner strength and peace to deal with this.

Dont Doubt in the Dark from Dayspring

 

You Must Confront Him

Our letter writer is wondering if she should confront her husband. It’s understandable. As soon as you say the words, you can’t take them back. You can’t go on pretending everything is fine. It’s out in the open, and now all the ugliness has to be dealt with. What if you can’t put that genie back in the bottle?

If you don’t confront him it will get worse. If you don’t confront him you are hurting his own spiritual life. He needs to feel the consequences of his actions; that’s the only way that he will have the motivation to do the right thing.

Love Must Be ToughMany men (and many women) are living in this fairytale that they can have their cake and eat it, too. The more they go down that path, the more they damage themselves as people and hurt all those around them. He must be made to choose–which means that you need to be willing to accept the fact that he may not choose you. (The best book on this that I have found is Love Must Be Tough).

A few practical things: If you have caught him texting, take a picture of it. If you caught him on Facebook, take a screen shot. It is best to have proof so that he can’t argue or tell you that you’re crazy. If you found him using porn, take a screen shot of the computer’s internet history, just so that he can’t deny it. Then, instead of debating whether he actually did it, you can move on to dealing with the consequences of it.

Also, sometimes it’s better to confront him in the presence of a third party who can help you navigate that conversation. If it’s something big, talk to a pastor or counselor first, and ask them to be present while you talk to your husband. This isn’t always possible, but often these conversations go better this way.

Living in Truth is Better than Living in a Lie

There is nothing more exhausting than trying to maintain a fiction about your life. It is easier to live in the truth, even if the truth hurts, than to maintain a lie. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus is the Truth; Jesus lives in the Truth. If you decide to live in the Truth, too, His resources and His power are there for you in a very powerful way.

Luke 8:17 says:

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

God is in the “bringing things out in the open” business.

When people start to be honest with each other, and honest with themselves, then God can work.

Whether you caught your husband using porn, or caught him in an affair, or caught him texting someone, the first step always is to run to God and put your trust ultimately in Him. Then remember: things need to be brought to light. Find a friend, or a counselor, or a pastor who can help you do this. Sometimes sitting down with a third party and confronting him is better than confronting him on your own. But do confront, do bring to light, and do know that no matter what happens, God is there for you and He can carry you.

Reader Question: How Do You Maintain a Good Sex Life with Herpes?

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and give my thoughts on how to deal with it. Today I’m answering a really tough one: What do you do if your husband has herpes (or another contractible STD)?

A reader writes:

Can I ask your advice on how to minister to a friend of mine and her husband? They have been married for a few years now. Just a week before their wedding she found out her husband has herpes – and apparently has severe outbreaks from them. My friend has a health condition that could severely be impacted by contracting HSV.

Can you give me some guidance to help them, specifically her… there are so many facets from the original betrayal of not knowing in enough time to think clearly before the wedding, the actual breakouts being SO severe, they cover him from thighs to mid stomach including genitals, and the loss of physical intimacy is damaging her self esteem.

Thanks for any prayers and words you could share.

This is probably one of the hardest Reader Questions I’ve ever had. My heart just breaks. This is one of the reasons God wants us to wait for marriage to have sex! Sex before marriage seems so enticing, but it can wreak such havoc with the rest of your life.

I don’t have an easy answer to this question, and so I’m just going to put up a few thoughts.

Husband Has Herpes

1. If Your Husband Has Herpes, Get Medical Help–and Keep Asking

For those of you who don’t understand what the issue is, the herpes virus, HSV (and there are two kinds of the virus), doesn’t ever go away. It stays in your system. Often you have no symptoms whatsoever, but every now and then you’ll have an outbreak with blisters, often accompanied by pain and fatigue in your muscles. The blisters may be just on your genitals or they may spread further.

There is medication to suppress the virus, which helps. But the problem is that you can contract the virus even if you’re not symptomatic–though it’s not as common. So making love poses a risk to the non-infected spouse. And when you do want children, there are added complications, because a woman with the virus risks passing it on to her kids. At one point they automatically did C-sections for women with the virus; now most deliver vaginally.

The outbreaks also often diminish over time. Couples often find that while the outbreaks were bad initially, after a decade or two they really are almost unnoticeable. And some people aren’t even symptomatic.

The key thing is to talk to your doctor. Find out what medications you can take. Talk frankly about sexual options–what is safe to do? What is not safe to do? Will a condom fully protect me? What do we do when we want to get pregnant? If my husband’s herpes isn’t symptomatic and there are no outbreaks, is sex safe?

I don’t want to answer those questions because I’m not a doctor, but things change really quickly, and they’re always developing new medicines, so keep asking. And even look for trials for new medications, because you never know!

2. You Simply Must Forgive Him

Here’s the really hard part. At some point you have to let it go.

This ironically can be even harder to let go of than an affair that happened during marriage, because as time goes on, the reality of what you’re dealing with sets in. With an affair, it gets further and further into the background. This is always there.

And there’s a danger that you’ll start saying to yourself:

My life would be easier if I didn’t have him. If I hadn’t have married him I wouldn’t be dealing with all of these problems.

It’s understandable. And in this woman’s case, it sounds like she has other health issues which would be severely compromised if she contracted the herpes virus from her husband. So every day that you live with it often gets more and more difficult.

You have to fight. Take every thought captive! When you start feeling resentment, take that resentment and give it back to God. Say to God, “Thank you for my husband. Thank you for what we do share. Thank you that you will carry us through this.”

Yes, you have a lot to deal with, but many couples have things to deal with. Life isn’t smooth for everybody else, either. You have a problem which is really obvious, but if you both rely on God, you can get through it. It will be a challenge. Sex will be harder for you than it will be for most people. But if you can remember that you are on the same team, you will be so much further ahead.

And here’s where I’m going to say something that is going to sound mean.

You married him as he is.

In this case, he should have told his wife earlier. The pressure to go on with the wedding must have been intense! But I get so many emails from women detailing all sorts of things that are wrong with their husbands, and yet in most of these emails, the roots of the problem were visible before the marriage.

If you knew your husband had herpes before you were married, and you married him anyway, you don’t really have the right to be mad at him for it now.

I know that sounds harsh. I know I don’t fully understand what you’re going through. But it’s still true. The marriage vow matters, and you made a vow to that man, as he is. You can’t second guess that vow now.

3. You are not Being Punished by God

My mother said something interesting to me recently. She was reflecting on some of the things that she doesn’t particularly like about her life, and she realized that a decade or two ago she would have assumed that God was punishing her. Those things that she doesn’t like were God’s punishment.

Now she has a different perspective. God isn’t punishing her, but what she’s going through is a natural consequence of choices that she made. You reap what you sow.

When you go through something like this it’s easy to think, “God is punishing my husband, and now my husband is punishing me, too!” And then we think God is angry, and it all gets into a huge mess in our minds.

But God isn’t necessarily punishing anybody. STDs are natural consequences of sleeping around before you’re married. Don’t think of it as God being angry; think of it as just you are now living with consequences.

If you see it that way, it’s easier to throw yourself at the throne of God and say something like this:

God, we are going through something that is so hard. We don’t know how to do this. We want to love each other but we can’t even make love the way we want to. We’re worried about the future. We feel distant. God, we need you to fight for us. You promised that you would heal our infirmities and carry our sorrows, and we need you to do that. We need hope. Give us a glimpse of your grace, and help us to see that we are on the same team, together, and that you are there to carry us.

I believe that it is often in these really hard challenges that God shows up the most. But it takes us first being honest and humble. It takes us first realizing, “I did vow. I did commit. I did marry him just as he is, and I have to accept that.” And it takes him saying, “I did do something that has hurt us both, and I’m sorry.” We need to be honest about our past choices and we need to own those past choices. When we are honest ourselves, we are laid bare. And when we are laid bare, God can work. When we carry anger and bitterness and blame then God doesn’t do very much. But when we’re broken, He often transforms.

So, please, keep banging on the door of your doctor and getting good advice and following up with treatment options.

But then, also, you simply must let it go.

You must forgive your husband, and you must come to terms with the fact that you made the commitment to him AS HE IS. Then both of you, together, throw yourself on God’s mercy and ask Him to build something beautiful out of your marriage. I do believe that God can do that, and it is often in the things that seem the most broken that God does His most beautiful work.

Reader Question: I’m Jealous of a Woman My Husband Works With

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at it. I get a lot of variations of this one: “I’m jealous of women at work!” When you’re worried that someone at your huband’s work has her eyes on your husband, what do you do?

A woman writes:

My husband and I have been married for over a decade. We’re blessed with wonderful kids and we love each other very much. We love God and we seek Him in all we do. My husband has been working with a married woman in our church for more than a year now. Their offices are next to each other and they occasionally share a coffee and conversation with each other at work. He has assured me that he tries to avoid being alone with her, he avoids talking to her for too long and leaves conversations with his male co-workers when she joins in. He doesn’t do anything social with her outside of the office. However, I have seen how she interacts with other men at church–she doesn’t have many female friends but flirts and jokes around with the guys all the time. She makes a point of it to bring up some of the conversations she’s had with my husband when we chat at church… I’ve taken out most of my frustration with the situation on my husband and we’ve fought about it a lot. He feels I don’t trust him, but I don’t trust her!

Changing jobs isn’t an option because in his line of work there can always be women working with him. I’ve asked if he could move offices… but he isn’t too keen to do that as he would be put in an awkward position to explain why. Should we speak to our elders at church? Or should I just get over my issues and trust him and leave it at that? We fight almost every Sunday after facing her again at church and I feel like its become an obsession with me. At church he barely greets her and they never speak but then she tells me about conversations they had at work. I’m afraid I’m doing exactly what I don’ t want to: driving him away.

Many of us are in similar situations. Women at work seem to talk to our husbands a lot! And coworkers certainly can pose a threat to our marriages, as I’ve written about before regarding texting and other technology. But in this instance, it looks like the husband is behaving well. So here are a few thoughts for this woman and others like her:

Jealous of Women at Work: Dealing with jealousy of your husband's coworkers

Don’t Take Something Out on Him He Hasn’t Done

The one sentence that really stands out in this email to me is this one:

He feels I don’t trust him, but I don’t trust her!

I’m not exactly sure what that sentence means. If you trust him, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. What is it that you don’t trust her to do? Do you think she’ll have an affair with your husband? She can’t do that if he’s trustworthy. Are you afraid she’ll come on to your husband? So what? If your husband is trustworthy he’ll turn her down. Why, then, berate your husband because you don’t trust her? She has no power over your husband if your husband is trustworthy.

Here’s the thing: if your husband is trustworthy, it really doesn’t matter what she does.

So what does it matter if you don’t trust her? What does it matter if she’s flirting with your husband? If he draws boundaries and turns her down, you’re all okay.

Suggestion: Ask yourself, “has my husband ever given me any reason not to trust him? Is my husband acting appropriately in this situation?” If you can answer those questions to your satisfaction, then honestly, let it be. Don’t punish your husband for something he’s not even doing–especially if he’s acting appropriately!

Now, if he’s not acting appropriately, that’s an entirely different story, and I’d point you to some of the articles I’ve written on emotional affairs and on discovering your husband is having an affair. But let’s assume for now that the husband is acting appropriately. What, then, should you do?

Decide What You Want Your Husband to Do

Let’s look at this letter for a moment. She doesn’t want to go to the elders, because no matter where he goes he’ll work with women. She doesn’t want him to switch offices because that’s not practical. She does want him to set boundaries, but he’s already done that. And he’s not texting his female co-worker, and she’s not texting him.

So if you’re getting annoyed at a woman, instead of focusing on that woman, whom you have no influence over, ask yourself, “what do I want my husband to do?”

The answer can’t be, “Get her to stop flirting!”, because he can’t control what she does. So it has to be something that he can do.

And if you can’t name anything you want him to do differently, then you have to let it go and stop bothering him about it. It just isn’t fair.

Make Sure Your Marriage is Rock Solid

Every marriage goes through seasons of distance. Every marriage at some point is at risk. And the easiest way to minimize the risk ISN’T to get rid of all the possible temptations outside of marriage. It’s simply to make your marriage the best it can be!

If you find yourself starting to get jealous, then work on your friendship more. Find a new hobby you can do together. Plan more date nights with your husband, even if they’re just at-home date nights. Make sex a priority!

Get to Know the Women Your Husband Works With

I firmly believe that as much as possible spouses should be involved in each other’s lives. And you’ll find that if you know the people your husband works with, jealousy will likely decline. First, they’ll know you, and it’s much harder to go after a man if you know his wife. And second, if she’s no longer an abstract but a real, breathing person, you may not feel such jealousy towards her.

I have an article on keeping marriage strong by getting to know your husband’s co-workers here.

Confront the Woman, if Appropriate

If you feel that she is being flirty with your husband, there’s nothing wrong with going to her and saying,

“I’ve noticed that you’re really a friendly person, and that’s great. But I’m not sure if you realize how it comes across when you’re that friendly to your male co-workers. It just worries me, and I’m sure it worries others, too, and I’m asking you, as a woman, to keep your conduct with my husband on a professional level.”

Would that be hard and awkward to say? Absolutely. But it’s far fairer to your husband to have that moment of awkwardness with her than to constantly grill him on what she’s doing.

Ask Yourself Why This Bothers You So Much

Something in this whole situation is triggering something in this woman. She’s reacting in fear and anger and lashing out at her husband. The question is, why?

Ask and pray through that question. When you start feeling scared, ask yourself, “what exactly is it that I’m scared of?” Pinpoint it. Then ask yourself, “Do I have a reason to be scared?” If the answer is yes, then I’d suggest asking you and your husband to go in for counseling together, or talking to a mentor couple. It certainly could be that you’re anxious because you’re picking up the signs of a real budding relationship.

However, in this particular case it really sounds more like she’s reacting to something that’s going on inside of her, not something that her husband is doing. Many of us start marriage with baggage. We’re insecure. We worry we’re not attractive. We worry no one will really want to stay with us for life. We worry our marriage will end up like our parents’ marriage did. And so when we see someone who seems like a threat, we go overboard.

The issue, though, is with you, not with your husband and not with this woman.

In this case, talking and praying with a friend through some of your insecurities and fears, and especially talking with a counselor about some of the insecurities you may have from brokenness in childhood, is likely a  good idea. Perhaps the whole reason that this episode is happening is to give you a jolt, or a kick in the pants, to deal with something. God doesn’t want you to be insecure, and He doesn’t want you paralyzed with fear. He wants you healed. If you’re over-reacting to something, it’s a sign that something’s wrong, and that there’s healing to be done. That’s perfectly okay. There’s nothing wrong with having issues; there’s only something wrong with refusing to work on your issues.

So find someone to talk to who can guide you through figuring out the root of your insecurities. A licensed counselor is probably best, and many churches can direct you to someone if they don’t have one on staff. But do deal with this!

Dayspring Peace Mug

I want to say, again, that I know that often in cases when you’re jealous of a co-worker it is for a reason. Your husband really is at risk of having an affair. In this case, though, it really doesn’t look like it, and I’ve received enough emails that are similar  that I thought it should be dealt with. Sometimes we blame our husbands for things that aren’t their fault, and it’s much better on the marriage to figure out what the underlying problem actually is.

Now let me know in the comments: Has jealousy ever reared its ugly head with you? What did you do?

Reader Question of the Week: My Husband Doesn’t Want to Use Birth Control

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it. Today’s is a toughie: what do you do when you don’t want to get pregnant, but your husband doesn’t want birth control?

I miscarried in the fall and I don’t feel ready to get pregnant again. My husband agrees and we’ve decided to wait until 2015 to try again. The issue is that he refuses to wear a condom and doesn’t want me on hormonal birth control or to use an IUD. He wants to use the” pull and pray” method and doesn’t want to use spermicide or anything. As a result I avoid sex. I deny him. Or when we do have sex I’m an emotional wreck afterwards. I don’t want to anxiously wait to see if my cycle actually arrives every month. It is just too much. Our relationship is suffering for it. I don’t know what to do.

That’s a tough one, and my answer isn’t going to focus on whether or not birth control is right or wrong. I know there are couples, both Protestant and Catholic, who feel that birth control is morally wrong. I wrote a round-up on birth control previously, and I do think that certain methods are okay. But regardless of where you fall in this debate, I think these answers will apply to all of us.

Here are some general thoughts, in no particular order:

My Husband Doesn't Want us to Use Birth Control--and I'm scared of getting pregnant. Some thoughts on how to handle this.

1. Get to Know When Your Fertile Times Are

Honestly, you just can’t get pregnant at all times during the month. It doesn’t work like that. You can only get pregnant when the egg is viable, and that’s roughly 3-7 days a month. Now, that may sound like a lot, because if you don’t make love during your period (and most women don’t), then that’s two weeks a month that are off limits if you don’t want to get pregnant and don’t want to use any birth control. But the fact is that’s also two weeks a month that are NOT off limits!


So get used to tracking your cycle. You can do this by taking your temperature every morning at the same time, using a digital thermometer. Get some free printable charts to track your cycle here. Now many of these sites are trying to help you get pregnant, but the principle is the same. When you know when your fertile times are, you also know when your infertile times are.

Track yourself for two months, and you’ll get a sense of about how many days after your period starts that you ovulate. Most people are within 11-16 days. Then you just stop sex for two days before that and up to 5 after, although many sites will tell you that you really don’t have to stop for more than 3-4 days. Just read up as much on the subject as you can until you’re comfortable.

What if you don’t ovulate at the same time every month? There are other ways to check–like checking your cervical mucous.

Remember: it is physically impossible to get pregnant when there is no egg present. So relax! Honestly! Get to know your body and trust your body.

In that first week after your period, you’re absolutely good to go! And many of us can FEEL when we ovulate (I hurt for about 12 hours), so three days later I’d be good to go, too.

The key to feeling relaxed about it is to get as much information as you can and then start charting. Even ask your husband to help you with this! When you know that it’s safe, you’ll feel better about making love on those times.

2. What Do We Do During the Fertile Times?

That’s all well and good, but what if, in the middle of the fertile days, the urge strikes? After all, hormonally we’re most likely to be “in the mood” in those fertile days, and it seems kind of counterproductive to say that you can’t make love in the fertile times.

If you’re both just opposed to hormonal birth control and don’t like condoms, one solution is to use nothing for most of the month, and then use condoms only on your fertile days.

If condoms are out of the question, too, then you have a decision to make. You can say to your husband:

Honey, I do want to have an active sex life with you and I do want to enjoy our intimacy. But I just am not prepared to be pregnant right now, and so I’m going to have say no on these days.

And then maybe you can do other things. After all, not all sex needs to be intercourse. You can bring each other to climax another way, and still enjoy each other’s bodies.

By the way, the “pull and pray” method is very dangerous. You can get pregnant with sperm that is released before ejaculation. And I think the “pray” part has rather sketchy doctrine. What you’re really saying is,

“God, I want you to do something for me, but I’m not prepared to do anything myself to achieve that goal. I don’t want to be pregnant, but I also don’t want to have to exercise any self-control or bear any consequences of my actions.”

That’s testing God, and I don’t think that’s right. To ask God to do something that you’re not also willing to participate in is immature.

3. Talk About Family Size and Timing

You really need to sit down and talk about family size and timing. This is a matter of mutual respect. If you have agreed that you don’t want any more children, then both of you need to be responsible with that, however that may look in your marriage. You can’t say, “we won’t have any more kids”, but simultaneously say “but I’m not willing to do anything about it.” That’s a cop out. If this is the case in your marriage, then having some discussions with him is in order, and if that isn’t getting anywhere, talking to a third party to help you work this out is likely in order, too.

4. You Husband Doesn’t Want Birth Control, But Regardless–Ultimately It’s Up to God

No matter what you do, though, remember that you are in God’s hands. Whatever happens, He will see you through it. I do understand not thinking it’s responsible to have more kids, especially if you already have a bunch, if your health is at risk, if you have special needs kids already that need attention, or if there’s military deployments coming up. There certainly are legitimate reasons to want to limit your family.

But remember that if you do get pregnant, God will carry you. He will give you the strength and the resources. You are never alone.

All of us need to be content with that, because I don’t think we were ever meant to live with 100% certainty that pregnancy wouldn’t happen.

If you’ve recently had a miscarriage, I am so sorry. I do know how that feels, and I wrote this column a few years ago called “A Prayer Through Tears” that you may appreciate.

Now I’d love to know your take on this. Have you ever had this situation? Or perhaps for you it’s the opposite: your husband wants more kids and you don’t. How did you handle that? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Question: How Do I Stop Yelling at My Kids?

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s question is a common one: “how do I stop yelling at my kids?”

A reader writes:

I yell at my kids too much. I’m just really busy and I don’t want to be this kind of mom but I find myself often yelling at them when they don’t listen to me. I don’t want to be like that, but how do I stop yelling at my kids? What should I do to calm down?

That’s such a common problem, and I hope I can offer some helpful thoughts!

How do I stop yelling at my kids? Thoughts on strategies to keep calm--that actually work!Are you Yelling at Your Kids Because You’re Too Busy?

Most of the time I yell it’s because I’m aggravated. And the reason I’m aggravated is because I have plans, and things need to get done, and other people aren’t getting with the program. So there are two elements to this problem:

1. I have plans that aren’t getting met

2. Other people aren’t getting with the program

We yell because we think the real issue is #2. But what if it’s actually #1?

Let’s take two scenarios and see how this could play out:

You need to leave to pick up the older kids from school at 3:45. Once you get them you’ll be going directly to karate lessons, so you need all their gear. Because you’ll be at karate so long, you really need to have dinner ready to go when you get home, so you have to have something ready to go. Before you go to school, then, you plan to cut up all the veggies for the stir fry you want to make, marinate the meat, and get the rice cooker on. That way dinner will only take 15 minutes once you get home.

Your younger two go down for a nap at 1. Instead of getting dinner ready, you decide to check Facebook. They wake up at 2:30, but they’re playing relatively well, and so you start browsing the news about the Olympics and other things. At 3:10 you realize you really need to get going. You jump up from your computer and start cutting vegetables. At that moment the kids, who had been playing well for forty minutes, start whining about wanting a snack. You’re annoyed. Then you realize that you never switched the wash into the dryer. You spend the next twenty minutes yelling at everybody as you run around like a chicken with her head cut off.

Here’s another scenario:

10-year-old Ben has basketball practice tonight and 12-year-old Jessica has hockey practice. You have to be at one rink for practice at 6:15 and the other one at 6:35. You won’t be home from everything until 8:30. You need to have homework done and dinner made and consumed before you leave the house at 6:05. But your husband doesn’t get home to help until 5:45, and you don’t get home until 5. While you’re making dinner you’re trying to get the kids to do their homework, but they’re being really slow. They’re whining. They’re waiting for you to fill in the answers, and you can’t do that and brown ground beef at the same time. You’re really aggravated because you’re only taking them to sports to be nice to them, but they won’t cooperate. You lose it.

Do you see what’s happening in both of those scenarios? The children are behaving perfectly normally. The problem is not that the children won’t get with the program; it’s that you have made decisions which makes it virtually impossible for the children to cooperate.

In the first instance, you chose to use time when you could have been getting things done to browse the computer; in the second, you’ve overscheduled the kids’ lives, and after a long day kids don’t always want to do homework right away.

The problem, then, isn’t that the kids aren’t being good. It’s that what you’re asking them (and what you’re asking of yourself) may very well be unreasonable.

Suggestion: Take a look at the last 3 times you really yelled at your kids. Analyze the situation. What was going on? Were you in a hurry? What was your schedule like? Can you trace it back? Is there something that YOU can do differently to prevent getting annoyed with everyone and everything?

Are you Yelling at Your Kids Because You’re Afraid of Something?

Anger is often a secondary emotion. We often feel anger because it’s “safer” to feel than some of the other emotions–insecurity, fear, guilt. So when someone pushes a button that triggers a “scary” emotion, we often react in anger, sometimes without realizing what the real trigger is.

Look at this scenario:

You’ve been teaching your 7-year-old letters and phonics for several years now, and he’s not getting it. He has a little book from school that he’s supposed to read to you at bedtime, but he couldn’t care less. He won’t even try. You’re frustrated and scared that he’ll never read, and you blow up at him when he won’t put in the effort. You want him to grow up to get a good job, not be stuck in some go-nowhere job.

In the meantime, you and your husband are having money issues. Your husband never finished his education, though you do have some college. And you’re scared your son will repeat the pattern. You’re scared, and you yell.

Or perhaps the house is always a mess and the kids seem to squabble a lot, and you find yourself yelling constantly. But if you analyze your feelings, it’s really that you’re scared you’re a failure. All you ever wanted was to be a wife and mom, and now you can’t even keep a house under control. What kind of mother are you?

Suggestion: Next time you find yourself yelling at your children, ask yourself: what am I really feeling here? Am I scared of something? Am I feeling guilty about something? Pray about that feeling instead.

Dayspring Peace Mug

Run “Yelling Interception” by Taking Time to Talk to Your Kids

You’re trying to feed the baby and your toddler is trying to crawl up in your lap and is making the baby cry. Or maybe you’re trying to talk on the phone and your 4-year-old is constantly pulling at your leg and asking for something. It seems as if you can never get any time alone, away from constant demands!

Here’s the truth: kids like to “check in” and know that they’re secure and safe. They know that when they have your undivided attention. If you can give your child some undivided attention throughout the day, even if it’s just in short spurts, they’re far more likely to let you have some of your own alone time later, as I wrote in this post on how to prevent temper tantrums.

Suggestion: Before you start something where you need the kids to leave you alone, take some 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2) time with them. Need to nurse the baby in an hour? Pull the toddler up on your lap now and read a story. Need to clean the house today? Before you start, get on the floor and play a few games with the kids. Make it a habit of giving your kids some attention before you need them to leave you in peace.

Set Consequences for Bad Behavior, and Let the Consequences Do the Work–Not the Yelling

Yelling is not a punishment, yet when we’re mad at our kids, often the first thing we do is yell at them. If that’s all we ever do, though, kids often learn to drown it out. It doesn’t phase them. You yell; you vent some steam; but nothing really changes.

How do I stop yelling at my kids? Try doing something way more effective! It’s better to have consequences for bad behaviour that are immediate, that are known, and that are obvious. So, for instance, if you tell kids to clean up, and then you give another warning, and they don’t, they lose their iPod for a week. You don’t have to yell; you just take the iPod away. (Here’s a bunch of effective discipline techniques for children that won’t induce yelling).

I’d suggest having three simple levels of punishments that will work for a variety of things. You could take away iPods or other electronics; you could take away video games and TV; or you could take away outings or fun things. If they’re younger, they could lose a toy. But just have three consequences for each child that work, and put them on the fridge. You can decide then if it’s a Defcon 1 situation or a Defcon 3.

When you start following through with consequences, kids usually start listening to you, and listening to the warning, better.

Practice A Serious Voice–not a Yelling Voice

Have you ever noticed how little kids especially are more inclined to listen when dad says something? My husband, a pediatrician, says it’s because dads have deeper, and thus scarier, voices.

We moms often have this sing-song voice. And we spend our lives saying things like this:

Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?

5 minutes later:

Guys, it’s really time to start putting things away and getting going.

5 minutes later:

I don’t see anyone cleaning up their stuff! Come on, we’ve got to get going!

5 minutes later:

(Yelling) I said to clean up!!!!! Why do you never listen to me!!!!????

But what did that sound like to a child? You’re likely using the same voice that you use for everyday conversation. Most women don’t vary our voice tones very much.

Suggestion: If you have something you really want your children to do, use a lower voice and fewer words. Instead of saying, “Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?”, try “Children, Please start cleaning up now.” In a deep voice. Change your tone, and issue a command, don’t make a statement. Let kids know you mean business, and it may not escalate like that. It will feel unnatural, like you’re being mean, but try it! Kids need to know the difference between you talking to them and you asking them to do something.

God Wants to Help You Stop Yelling at Your Kids

I hope some of those suggestions resonate with you! We all yell for different reasons, and often different triggers set us off. Recognizing those triggers, and seeing the cause, can help us substantially.

But I also want to reassure you that God wants to help you with this. He doesn’t want you yelling at your precious children, since they are also His precious children. He says in Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

But He also says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. You can do this because God can strengthen you and help you! So when you feel weak, ask Him to help you be a great mother to these kids. Ask Him to give you patience. Seek after patience in other areas of your life, too. Seek after peace and affirmation from God, so you don’t need it from your kids. And know that even this struggle can help bring you closer to God, and through that He can open the window onto some things in your heart, and can help healing you and your whole family.

Dayspring I Can Do All Things Plaque

Now let me know: If you’re trying to stop yelling at your kids, which scenario do you most identify with? Feeling busy? Feeling fear? Finding that kids just don’t listen to you? Which suggestion spoke to you? Or do you have other ones for us? Let me know in the comments!

On What is Abuse, What is Not Abuse, and Why We Should Be Very Careful

Reader Question of the Week
On Monday I like to post reader questions and take a stab at answering them. Usually I post a question that came in by email or on my Facebook Page. Today I thought I’d do something different, and respond to some comments on some posts last week.

I suppose I’m a glutton for punishment, but last week’s two posts dealing with abuse drew so many comments and got me all riled up, and I thought something more needed to be said. I’m not sure I clarified well last week that I do believe abuse is real, and I’m not sure I was clear about what is abuse and what is not. I wrote that piece for a specific purpose–sometimes we use the word “abuse” too cavalierly. But the discussion veered from there in the comments, and I thought clarification was in order, especially since so many people were asking me about what abuse really is.

So I want today to talk about what is abuse, what is NOT abuse, and why we need to be very careful about labelling things as abusive. If we aren’t careful, then we’re not really taking abuse seriously.
What Is Abuse, What Is Not, and The Difference

Let me start with a story.

When my daughter Katie was 4, she and her sister had been bugging me all morning, being loud and fooling around and not listening to anything I said. I told them to clean up. They did not. I told them again. Rebecca did. Then Katie started messing it all up again. In anger I hauled Katie up by an arm and plunked her down on the floor, where she promptly fell and hurt herself. She burst into tears, I burst into tears, and we had a good hug. That’s the only time I remember really hurting one of my children (and it wasn’t that bad), but I felt terrible.

I was not an abusive mother, because that was not typical of our relationship. However, had I acted in exactly the same way, everyday of our lives, Katie would have been better off removed from our home. What I did was wrong. But it was not abusive, because it was not typical of our relationship, nor did it cause much harm. But if I did it everyday, even though it didn’t cause much harm, it still would be abusive.

The key in this case is two factors: first, the severity of the harm; and second, the overall context of the relationship.

I think much of what we call verbal and emotional abuse fits into this category. In some cases it rises to the level of abuse, and in some cases it does not. It depends on whether the behaviour is part of a larger pattern or not.

An abusive relationship is one in which the abused person spends much of their emotional energy trying to figure out how not to provoke the abuser.

They hide their true feelings and their true thoughts. They try to gauge the abuser’s mood. Their lives become characterized by fear. What makes the situation abusive is not just the behaviour, but the fact that the behaviour forms a pattern. And rarely is it only one behaviour; it is usually several. The spouse yells; the spouse is jealous; the spouse withholds affection unless you completely conform; the spouse goes behind your back and separates you from friends; the spouse demands an accounting of all of your actions. There are few behaviours which are automatically abusive in and of themselves (the exception being sexual abuse or real physical harm, which are always abusive), but the pattern of behaviour can constitute abuse. That’s why I don’t like the emphasis on “is what he did abusive?” Sometimes someone can be abusive without doing any one thing that’s particularly horrible. It’s a whole pattern where a spouse has to deny their feelings and placate the other, and be constantly told that they’re stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about.

Let’s take the spanking-with-a-belt example, because that’s something that all of us can easily understand.

Personally, I don’t spank. I never thought it was a very effective method of discipline, and we used other methods when the girls were young that worked fine. I know some people do spank, and I understand. Most western countries, though, make it illegal to spank with anything other than one’s hand, and I agree with that.

However, pretty much everyone I know of my generation and those generations before me was spanked with belts, and the vast majority of them turned out okay. To say that spanking with a belt is abusive, then, to me, also says that they would be better off if they had been removed from the home, and that’s not so.

Do I think it was right for them to spanked with a belt? No. Do I think it was abuse? Not necessarily. In many cases it would be, and I’d point people to the critiques of Debi and Michael Pearl’s books To Train Up a Child, and the children who have been killed using their methods of corporal punishment, as examples. But at the same time, I’m supremely uncomfortable saying it always is abuse.

Let’s flush this out a bit using two different examples.

In Family A, this spanking happens for the slightest infraction. It is often arbitrary; sometimes the children get whipped for something, and sometimes they can get away with it. The children are often punished for their feelings–they aren’t allowed to be sad, or angry, and anything other than happiness is considered a betrayal. Even if they’re not punished, they’re ignored if they don’t behave perfectly and put on a smile.  (This, by the way, is quite characteristic of some of the harsh discipline techniques advocated in some parts of Christianity. In To Train Up a Child, for instance, the Pearls actually advocate that if the child is not misbehaving, that you set up a situation to tempt the child, so that you can then spank them with a plumbing line and teach them.) The children thus spend their lives trying to cover up their emotions, and trying to mollify their parents to prevent a spanking or to avoid entrapment. Whenever they want something, they second guess themselves, wondering if this will invoke anger. They thus have a difficult time figuring out what they think about anything. Their whole emotional and psychological well-being is affected.

In Family B, the spanking with the belt follows a large infraction. The child knows it will be the punishment for the specific instance of disobedience. It’s rare; it really is only used when something huge is done. The rest of the time, the relationship tends to be a loving one, where the child is able to share true feelings.

In both cases the spanking with the belt is wrong; in only one case is it part of the pattern of abuse.

And that, to me, is the issue: when we debate whether or not something is abuse, we’re usually not talking about severe beatings or sexual abuse (at least I hope we all agree that these things are automatically abusive, and you must take steps to keep yourself and your children safe). We’re talking about the grey areas: the yelling, the lashing out, the sulking, the controlling, etc. We often ask, “is this behaviour abusive?”

I think it’s the wrong question. It’s not whether the behaviour is abusive; it’s whether or not it forms a pattern of an abusive relationship. The same behaviour, in two different contexts, could mean something quite different.

I think the problem with our language is that we don’t have a word for behaviour that is WRONG, but isn’t part of a pattern of an abusive relationship, and so we call everything that is dysfunctional “abusive” to stress the severity of it. There’s two problems with that:

If everything is abusive, then nothing is. It diminishes the seriousness of abuse.

And secondly, it can make it difficult to deal with problems that aren’t as serious because we’re labeling someone as evil. That’s never a good way to inspire change.

There is behaviour which is absolutely wrong: blowing up at your family; manipulating family members; trying to control family members; getting overly jealous; picking at family members. It is ALWAYS wrong to do these things. But it is not ALWAYS abuse. It really depends on the nature of the rest of the relationship.

Abuse is a term which should constitute the sum total of the relationship and its effects on your mental and physical health.

I think we need a better word to denounce things like temper tantrums and rages and picking, when it doesn’t cross the threshold of abuse. We need a way to condemn it, and say, “it is not right to speak this way or act this way with your wife/husband/kids”. Instead we seem to have only one word, and that word is “abuse”. But as soon as you tell someone they’re being abused, it’s like saying “you should leave.”

What if the rest of your relationship is pretty good? You don’t walk on eggshells all the time; you just have hard periods occasionally. So you don’t want to leave. Or you decide leaving isn’t worth it. You now feel like you can’t complain about the behaviour, because it’s either abuse or it’s fine. And that’s not true.

There’s that middle, where the whole relationship isn’t abusive but someone is still doing wrong.

We need a word, like “abuse”, to mean:

The pattern of the way you are being treated is so harmful to your physical and/or emotional well-being that you need to distance yourself from your abuser.

And then we also need a word that means:

The way you are being treated is wrong and is harmful, and you have the right to speak up against it and to try to change it.

We need both words, so that we are able to tell someone:

You do have permission to leave. It honestly is okay.

But then we are also able to tell someone:

It is natural and right that you are hurt, and we all need to take action to change the behaviour.

If we don’t have both words, then we don’t really have the tools to help families in crisis.

In one case we may blow things out of proportion, which doesn’t solve the problem; and in the other, we may not treat things seriously enough.

I wish we had both words. If we did, I think we’d get into fewer arguments like the one last week, and it would be easier for us to address problems in the home without escalating them.

I think the reaction to articles like these largely depends on your own cultural framework. In some Christian circles, where an interpretation of submission includes never speaking up for yourself, abuse likely is unreported and not taken seriously enough. In other Christian circles, like the one I’m in, as soon as someone says the word “abuse” we all run around like  we have to protect someone from Evil Incarnate. It’s taken too seriously. Depending on which culture you’re in, you’ll likely read this article, and the one last week, with very different conclusions, and those conclusions likely relate less to what I’ve said than to what you have seen around you. Please keep that in mind in the comments!

I’m not going to participate in the comments today because I really said all I need to say in last week’s posts and in today’s, and I’m busy with other projects. But feel free to leave a comment if you’d like!