Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to take a stab at a Reader Question. Today’s is about solving marriage problems–problems that are quite complex. I think we can learn a lot of basic principles from this one on how to tackle the big issues in marriage. So here goes:

I have been following your blog and FB posts for a long time now. I’d be interested to know what advice you could give to a couple with a toddler, who have a “normal” sex routine of once a month sometimes longer in between? He works 6-4 and I’m a full time student & stay home mom. Even before our child, we were in this sexual funk. He always wants to go to bed early to get rested up for work, but stays up late watching movies or goes to bed even before I put our child to bed. Then I stay up to do homework for school or go to bed and he is “already sleeping” or says it is too late. He spent a lot of time early in our marriage accusing me of wrong doing, which drove a wedge between us intimately. During pregnancy and after birth I dealt with a lot of hormonal rage and and the idea of intimacy made me physically sick to my stomach, even kissing was gross. So he felt rejected and not good enough although I told him over and over it was not him, just the pregnancy. Now I feel more like I did prior to pregnancy, and would like to attempt a more intimate marriage and a real sex life rather than once every month or two. I’ve bought books, devotionals, toys, sexy clothes, etc Nearly failed my last course because I started going to bed when he did, but he would always say it was too late and he had to get some sleep for work. Where do I even start?

Do you feel exhausted yet? I feel exhausted reading all of that, and I think most of us, if we were going to describe our frustrations in marriage, would do something like this. Solving marriage problems is hard because most problems are so multifaceted, and the idea of having to unpack all of it seems overwhelming.

So what do you tackle first?

Solving Marriage Problems: When the issue is huge, what do you tackle first?

Let’s look at all of the issues we have here:

  • Their schedules are out of whack
  • They each have busy lives
  • They have a history of mistrust
  • They have a history of her turning down sex
  • Now he’s turning down sex

So where do you start?

Solving marriage problems involves identifying the issues in each of these categories: 

1. Lifestyle Issues
2. Communication Issues
3. Sexual Issues

And I firmly believe that solving most marriage problems should be done in that order: deal with the lifestyle issues first, and then the communication issues, before you really tackle the sexual issues.

Now, this doesn’t really apply if the sexual issue is one of “he wants it but I’ve always said no”, when the ball is in your court. If you can simply start saying yes, then the problem may be solved easily! But lots of times sexual issues look like what this couple looks like: sex is almost non-existent. Or perhaps the problem has gone in another direction, and sex has become somehow dirty or pornographic or something. In that case, it’s a really entrenched problem, and tackling it alone likely won’t do much.

Let’s look, then, at how to start tackling this big of a problem in marriage.

1. Get Your Schedules to Match

As much as possible, make your schedules match. Here’s the issue: he has to be at work at 6, which I assume means that he gets up around 5. If he needs at least 7 hours of sleep, that means getting to sleep at 10. If you want more than just sleep to happen, that means hitting the pillow at 9:30. She says that she’s tried to go to bed when he does, but her husband is still tired. That likely means he’s chronically tired and not getting enough sleep. So make it 9:00 if you have to. No matter what people say, pretty much everybody needs at least 7 hours to function well. If you’re turning in “early” with him, and “early” means 10:30, he’s not getting enough sleep. No wonder he’s tired!

Now, she also has school, and she needs to get work done. I don’t know what her schedule is like in this case (maybe she’s in school until 5, or maybe she’s home by 2, I don’t know). But here’s the way I’d look at it: You’re going to sleep from 9:30-5:00 with your husband. When is the best time to get your schoolwork done? Is it in the morning, or at night? If you don’t get home until 5 pm, it’s likely better in the morning. If you’re home when your hubby is, you could likely do some at night.

So if you want to do schoolwork in the morning, keep your 2 year old up until 9:00 so that the toddler will sleep until around 7. That gives you two hours to work in the morning. If you want to do it night, start waking your toddler up at 5 and put that child to bed at 6:30 or 7. That gives you some time at night.

Do what you have to do to get on the same schedule, and talk to your husband about this so that he sees the importance of it.

I know 5:00 is awfully early, but if you start doing this, your body will adjust. The key is to keep the same schedule even on the weekends so that you can actually feel awake at 5!

I have seen marriage problems sort themselves out with this one simple change. So as much as possible, get on the same schedule!

2. Talk and Work on your Friendship

Now it’s time to talk. From her letter, it seems like what this woman has done is to try to go to bed with him, and to try to be sexier. But neither is working. Maybe it’s time to try something else: just talk. Often the thing missing from marriage is friendship. Try taking at least 15 minutes a day and talking together, maybe by taking a walk after dinner together. Develop a hobby together. Play one round of a card game every night together. Do something–anything!–that will let you talk and laugh everyday, and remind yourselves that you are a unit. I can’t stress enough how important this is.

And as you talk, then those walls of distrust and miscommunication will start to come down.

I’d seriously recommend trying to pray together as a couple, too. I know some of us aren’t comfortable praying out loud, but here’s a post on how to make prayer easier. And as you pray together, even if it’s not about your problems, but just about your day and your child, you will start feeling closer. When this happens, often some of that mistrust evaporates.

3. Tackle Sex

Once you’re going to bed together and you have a schedule that’s in sync, and you’ve developed some habits of spending time together, it’s time to tackle sex! Talk to him about how you want things to be more intimate and fun in your marriage. Try to initiate more. Schedule sex if you have to! Suggest working on the 31 Days to Great Sex together (it makes a great stocking stuffer!).

Sex encompasses everything that we are, and starting with sex when you have multiple problems often doesn’t work. Sex is the outward expression of how we feel about ourselves and our relationship, and sometimes we need to start there. Like I said, I still firmly believe that if the main problem is that you’ve said no when he wants it, you can solve that one by jumping in more! Often, though, the problems are more complex. So work on those other things first, and then develop a game plan together of how you can move forward to make sex super fun.

When I’m presented with complex problems, then, that’s the order I usually tackle them. Lifestyle first, then friendship, then sex. I find that works better.

But now tell me: what would you tackle first? Have your schedules ever been out of whack, so that it’s hard to connect? How did you fix that? Let me know in the comments!

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