Reconciling Relationships

It won’t take as long as you fear, but it will take longer than you would like.  Trust the process.

Reconciling Relationships2Sometimes a separation in a marriage is a necessary step in order to ensure safety and to have each individual work on themselves.  I’ve seen couples put marriages back together again and others not be able to.  In fact, I know this path well as my husband and I were able to reconcile our marriage after a seven-month separation.  Too often, couples want to rush past the necessary steps and go to where they want to be or wish they were.  This simply backfires.  So, in this blog post I would like to outline the steps for those who want to put their relationship back together again.

It won’t take as long as you fear, but it will take longer than you would like.  Trust the process.

Safety First

One of the biggest reasons to separate is because in some way one or both of the partners are not safe.  They are either physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally unsafe.  They don’t know how to discuss things, be emotional, or live life without some kind of a blow up and more hurt happens.

If either substance or abuse are a part of the issues, these are personal issues and a separation is necessary for the abuser to deal with their personal issues.  You cannot do marriage counseling when there is addiction or abuse present. 

A separation needs to actually be separate; little to no contact.  Some of these things can happen simultaneously or overlap each other, but you should not jump ahead too far and try to resolve conflict before creating safety.

Staying on Your Own Side of the Street

The goal here is not to cast or claim ‘fault’.  Your goal is to name the areas you need to work on and change.  List out what is NOT OK in the marriage.  You need to be able to name it, before it can be addressed.

Next, you need to examine how you have hurt the marriage.  It’s so easy to see how your mate has offended you but this is a time to consider how you need to change.  Please note: your sins and offenses do not have to be equal.  In other words, your mate may have cheated on you, lied, done drugs, spent all the money, burnt the house down, but in this process, you might have responded by not holding them accountable to let them reap the consequences for their actions.  Or perhaps you responded to their sins with criticism and hostility.  You don’t get to justify your criticism and hostility because they sinned bigger.

It can actually be legitimate to come out the other side and believe that you have done nothing to offend the marriage and it might be true.  Certainly, if one person is thinking everything is good in the marriage and the other person is hiding and lying they really can’t address unknown issues.  One person really can have personal issues that affect the relationship and the spouse doesn’t know how to respond.  These are legitimate reasons believe the issues are one-sided.  But it’s still a good time to ask yourself the question.

Here’s one problem: If everything is the other person’s fault, then there isn’t anything you can do to change your situation.

Here’s the other problem: If everything has been your fault and you’ve tried to change every way you can think of and you still have problems, maybe you are not naming the problem correctly.  Get help.

Remember: you aren’t trying to cast or claim ‘fault’.  But if you can figure out what Me, Myself, and I need to do differently, then you can change your situation.  Maybe what you need to do is to set some good boundaries.

At some point, when each person is ready, they come together with a third-party present, to talk about what the issues are and what is their part is to change.

If this can be discussed and agreed on, then you can move forward.  If this cannot be agreed on, blame is cast, accusations hurled, there is no agreement on past issues, then the marriage isn’t ready to move forward.

Building Trust

Once the couple agrees what the problems have been and each person begins to take responsibility of their part, then trust can begin to be established.  To build trust there must be evidence.  Trust is not built through guilt or manipulation.  It is not forced.  It is built through seeing bank statements, phone records, drug tests, GPS, confirming attendance at meetings, or any number of other records.  This is openly communicated by the person who broke trust.  If one person never had a spending problem, they will not need to show bank records.  The person who needs to establish trust needs to willingly offer evidence.  This is the fastest way to build trust (other than not violating trust again.)

Amends

Real Amends need to be made.  In most cases, both people will need to do this.  This is where the offender admits specifically for the ways they have offended.  Not every incident, but ways they have wounded a person.  Example: I have lied to you, manipulated, made you think things that were not true, broken agreements, etc.

An amend includes ways in which you hope to heal the hurt in the person you have hurt. Example:  I will respect your wishes for communication, I will prove my words with receipts, I will give you access to my accounts.

An apology needs to be free of if’s, but’s, and just’s.  These words dilute the apology.  Example: I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you made me mad.

After the above-mentioned things, you need to actually ask for forgiveness.  NOT: ‘I hope you can forgive me’, because that feels like a dump truck backing up and unloading a guilty-tripping pile of dung.  Using the words ‘will you please forgive me’ takes humility and it’s hard, and it frees us.

Acknowledge the hurt you have caused.  This is an important step because the person begins to feel heard and seen again.

Accept the consequences of your actions.  Accept the separation, the debt, the hurt feelings, going to jail, or whatever the consequences are of your actions.  This is one of the most healing things you can do for the person you have hurt.  It shows you understand the gravity of what you have done.  The Serenity Prayer is vital here.

If what is confessed is later used against you, you can know that this is still an unhealthy person you are dealing with and you cannot continue to move forward.

Building Boundaries

My definition of boundaries: A decision I am going to make given your actions.  It’s not a wall when you can’t take it anymore…it’s not stonewalling and avoiding…it’s an invitation into the land of healthy.  It’s saying, “If you yell at me, I will…leave the room, go to a hotel for the night, etc.  When you can speak with care and concern to resolve the issue, I will come back.”  It says, “I will engage with you when we can both be healthy.”

Boundaries are so important in any healthy relationship.  Each person needs to be able to have a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’.  What works for them and what doesn’t work, without receiving backlash of pouting, yelling, stonewalling, threats, or retribution of any kind.   Boundaries are the foundation to both love and respect.

Talking Kindly About Nothing

Both people need to be able to be present, with a third-party present, and be civil (and dare I say kind) to one another and not just in your words.  Death stares, clinched fists, slamming doors, avoidance, one-word utterances won’t work.    You need to be able to talk about the weather, the kid’s school program, or a change in schedule like you would someone that you like.

Resolving Conflict About Important Things

Again, with a third-party present and once talking about nothing can be civil, you need to start to talk about important things like problems and icky feelings with civility and kindness.  There can be no name calling, blaming, over-talking, demanding, lying, pouting, screaming, justifying, etc.  You can’t be hurling issues that have been resolved, bringing issues up that have no bearing on the current issue, or making things up in your head.  You talk about facts and feelings as though you care for one another.  Hard things are brought up with tenderness and compassion.

Resolving Conflict Without A Third-Party Present

Once this skill is established, you can begin to have these conversations on your own.  This should be done at a time and place where either party can leave if things don’t go well.  The conversation then goes back with a third-party present to help resolve the issue.  After several successes of having healthy conflict, it’s time to begin considering ending the separation.

Building Intimacy and Moving Forward

Intimacy is far more than sex.  It is sharing dreams, frustrations, successes, hurts, and hopes.  Often times, the couple has never known a time in their marriage (or in their lives) when they experienced real intimacy.  They first have to learn to become intimate with themselves and with God first to even know what their dreams or hurts are.  Only then can they begin to share them with another safe person.  To be a safe person, we must learn to listen and hold space for another person who is feeling their emotions, without correction, despise, or anger.

 

Diane Langberg writes, “I learned the paradoxical lesson that sometimes the way to fight against sin and suffering is to wait. We destroy the dignity of others when we refuse to wait for them –whether they need to tie their own shoes or they are struggling to find words for the indescribable. We bestow honor on another when we consider him or her worth waiting for.”

 

Love In Any Language

I think as a culture we are measuring our attempts at loving against these 5 Love Languages, instead of against Scripture.

Love In Any LanguageThere is much written on the 5 Love Languages.  I’ve read the book, articles about the book, heard sermons, and it comes up in daily conversations.  The original book written by Gary Chapman was published in 1992 and has sold millions of copies.  The premise is that we all give and receive love differently and that we should aim to love those closest to us in the love language they can receive best.  While there are certainly some good takeaways from this book, I think as a culture we are measuring our attempts at loving against these 5 Love Languages, instead of against Scripture.

First Corinthians 13 is the ‘love chapter’ in Scripture.  So if we are going to measure ourselves it would be a good idea to start there.

 1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

This sounds really important!  I can live my entire life faithfully, flawlessly, sacrificially, and with great talent, but if I don’t have love it means nothing.  So. Much. Wow!  Let that sink in.  That means I could love my spouse with Acts of Service, Gifts, Time, Physical Touch, or Words of Affirmation and if I don’t have LOVE then it’s all for nothing.   If that’s the case, then I want to seek after what it means to actually love…like it’s gold.

 Love is patience

Patience can only be developed in the laboratory of frustration.  This is why we need frustrations in our lives.  When I was a young mother I was a very impatient mother.  I thought I had a great deal of love for my children.  I certainly had a great deal of affection for them.  But I had little patience.  I still remember the day when I read this verse and realized that in all of the moments I was impatient with them I was not loving them.  Over the years I began to see that as I was showing patience I was honoring them.  Patience is the way of love.

love is kind 

Kindness is a desire to do good for another.  The dictionary says kindness is, “a good or benevolent nature or disposition.  Having, showing or proceeding from benevolence.  Indulgent considerate or helpful.”  I think it would also include “without an agenda.”  Love is kind without knowing the return on investment.  Kindness is so powerful that it is love even in the face of opposition.

and is not jealous;

Jealousy is characterized by resentment over another person’s success.  Do I want the success of someone who has taunted me?  Do I want good to the one who has hurt me?  I will sometimes struggle here.  But then I remember that sometimes ‘success’ and ‘goodness’ come in the form of hard knocks, when they come to teach life lessons.  I’ve had a few of my own hard knocks and they have been good to me.  I remember we all have our own stories and someone else’s success is not a part of my good story.

love does not brag and is not arrogant,

There is a difference between bragging and sharing your blessing.  Bragging is taking the credit and one-upping others. It’s about your own greatness.  But walking in humility is about understanding your blessings and giving credit to the One who has given all good gifts.

does not act unbecomingly;

Unbecoming isn’t a word we use much anymore.  It means inappropriate, ill-suited, inapt, incorrect, unacceptable.  Love acts in a way that is considerate of others.

it does not seek its own,

Love does not manipulate others for its own desires.  When I make requests of others, it needs to be clear of all expectation.  They need to be free to say yes or no, without repercussions.  I still believe that I can seek my own desires.  It’s more that I can’t put that on someone else with coercive tactics.

is not provoked, 

Love acts, it does not react.  It does not make a decision based on fear, anger, or grief.  It determines the way of goodness and moves toward it.

does not take into account a wrong suffered

Wounds are deep and painful.  I want to protect my wound so it heals and so that I don’t get hurt again.   But Love steps into truth and moves toward what is right.  Sometimes that means to forgive and forget.  Other times that means we say ‘no more’ for the sake of everyone involved.

does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

Lies are death.  Truth honors.  Truth honors my pain, my experience, and my humanity.  It sets me free to be exactly who I was created to be; imperfectly perfect.

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

All things.  After going through this list of what love is and what it is not, it now states Love does ‘all things.’   Love bears in patience and kindness.  It believes in patience and kindness.  It hopes in patience and kindness.  And it endures in patience and kindness.  Do I?

Love never fails;

Never is a very deep promise.  It’s a promise I can stand on.  Remembering that Love doesn’t always change my situation and it doesn’t always change another person.  But when I have loved well, it will never fail to change me.

 

Am I The One In Control?

Whenever you get ‘fed up’ look for a boundary to implement.  A boundary is ‘the decision I’m going to make for ME.’ Then you are controlling you and not him.

Am I The One In Control_I received this honest question in a text from a wife in a destructive/abusive marriage.  It’s far too broad and wide to answer in a text so I am writing some thoughts here:

“How is it that my husband is supposedly the blamer/abuser, when I have been the one for years believing he is someone he is not and pressuring him to be that man?”

First, you may or may not have responded to your husbands blame and abuse perfectly.  I don’t know of a single person who has always responded to someone else’s destructive behaviors perfectly…except Jesus.  

But, I would ask you a few questions:

Has he led you to believe he is someone he is not?  Has he said one thing and then done another? Has he said he would protect and care for you, but then been the most destructive person in your life?  OR has he said to you, ‘I am a lazy man and I don’t want to engage as a husband and a father’ and you are ‘pressuring’ him to be someone he doesn’t want to be?  

Secondly, who does the behavior serve?   Does your ‘pressuring him’ take away his voice and his choice?  Or are you pressuring him to keep his word to you? Are your expectations higher than what he is capable of?   Is your ‘control’ because you want the power over him or is it that you don’t want to live under his control?

I think we can have certain ‘common courtesy’ expectations, such as: calling when they will be late, keeping their agreements, taking everyone’s needs/desires into consideration when making decisions, personal hygiene, listening and working on issues and not stonewalling, and please and thank you.  These are things that are ‘common’ in our culture.  To require common courtesy is not being controlling.  They may have to be learned, but they are not too high of an expectation.  

Voice/Choice

We ALL have done destructive behaviors.  Every. One. Of. Us. Humans can be manipulative, selfish, and controlling.  We want what we want when we want it.

Abuse = power and control in taking away someone’s choice and voice.  Abuse is damaging to the human soul, psyche, mind, and body. We can even be abusive/destructive to ourselves and may need to learn healthy choices.  

The follow up question she had was telling:

“I don’t understand his inability to do the simplest things.  Like why should his hygiene even be something I have to bring up?  I am fed up with him not even showering or shaving. When I finally get fed up and ask him to shower, he just ignores me.  I feel like the only option I have left is to make him a spot in the basement to sleep. It feels like I am the controller.”  

My response:

Whenever you get ‘fed up’ look for a boundary to implement.  A boundary is ‘the decision I’m going to make for ME.’ Then you are controlling you and not him.  Give him options. Use ‘I’ and ‘me’ statements. Rather than “you smell and need to take a shower”, say, “I don’t appreciate it when I smell you all night long.  I understand that sometimes you don’t feel like taking a shower. When that’s the case would you please sleep downstairs?” He can always say no, and then you need to make a decision…you sleep downstairs with a space heater, go to a motel, buy a cot and sleep in one of the kid’s rooms, etc.  

Remember, boundaries must be implemented kindly or they come across as you are the one with the problem.  When you hold a boundary in outrage, they will discount your boundary because they think you are just acting impulsively instead of acting decisively.  It can take a long time to learn to hold boundaries firm, confident, and kind, but when you are able to, it makes them far more effective. And yes…you can have boundaries!  They rock!  If when you hold boundaries it is met with further abuse, it is time to consider getting support and creating a safety plan.

Your original question is worthy to think through.  It is possible to attempt to pressure someone to be what we want them to be rather than who they want to be.  There may be desired expectations that need to be let go. But if your expectations have been communicated and agreed to or if your expectations are ‘common courtesy’, then finding your voice and implementing boundaries is not being a controlling person. It’s living in a normal relationship.  

 

Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality Part 4

Sex is borne out of relationship, relationship is not borne out of sex.

HealthySexualityPart4
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

In Healthy Sexuality part 1, I wrote on how as a culture we’ve lost the concept of what healthy sexuality is, that it’s an important part of marriage, and there is healing available for those who carry baggage.  In Healthy Sexuality part 2, I wrote on seeing sex as good and it as mutual.  In Part 3 I wrote about what we bring into intimacy and what it is that we try to get out of intimacy.  In this last post, I will write about honoring our differences, finding connection and what to do with problems beyond relationship issues.  

Differences

Recognizing, accepting, and honoring our differences is an extremely important part of sexuality as well as the entire relationship.  It’s a common observation that opposites attract.  It feels like a cruel joke played on unsuspecting humans, but I believe it’s God’s wisdom to help us to grow into maturity.  Can you imagine being married to a carbon copy of yourself?  Our world would either explode or implode and run from any growth possibility.  We need our partners to not be like us so we grow in love, forgiveness, empathy, patience, and humility.  I can’t say I like this idea, but I see the wisdom of it.  

For me, exhaustion is probably the number one killer of being interested in sex.  Exhaustion does not damper my husband.  A stressful situation can disinterest me.  Stress does not seem to affect him.  Conflict, problems, debt, can all create apathy.  Not so for him.  Dishes in the sink, a task list undone, and children who need attention can all be intimacy busters.  These things do not phase him. My husband has learned to be considerate, caring, and patient with my needs.  I have also learned to reserve energy and put down some of my concerns of the day so that we can connect.

Caring for and honoring our differences while pursuing relationship is the very element that makes us complete. This should be happening in all areas of the relationship, mutually.  

Connection

Intimacy is all day long.  Are you overly critical?  Is nothing ever good enough?  Do you see yourself as having nothing to offer?  Do you ignore your spouse until you want sex and then ignore them after?  Do you listen?  Are you too busy?  Do you share your heart?  Do you want the best for your mate?  Or are you most concerned about your needs?

Sex is borne out of relationship, relationship is not borne out of sex.  In other words, if we are going to get back to good in the area of sexuality, we fix the relationship.  The problems in sex are generally reflective of the very problems in the relationship.  But just fixing the sex doesn’t fix the relationship.

I don’t believe it is ever right to use sex to punish.  But it is healthy to postpone sex until the relationship can be fixed.  There are many people who will disagree with me on this.  There are some who think if you just have sex it will fix the problem.  All I can say is, they can have their opinion.  The belief that everything is fixed by having sex is a shallow view of both sex and relationship.

I will admit recognizing the difference between punishment and postponement is a fine line and we can even lie to ourselves so we must take care.  We take care by naming the disconnection and working on a resolution.  Communication needs to be established.  If the problems are grave enough, it may mean a separation until trust and relationship can be re-established.

We must remember that marriage, in its essence, is a covenant of promises.   When the promises have been broken they either must be reestablished through repentance or be dissolved.  If this is not done, then all you have is a pretend marriage that breaks the heart of God (Mal. 2).

Therefore, connection is vital.  But we also need to recognize that when we have connection in relationship, sex is an important element of that connection and cannot be discounted. Learning to emotionally connect through kindness, listening, gesture, and concern makes the connection in the bedroom an extension of the relationship.   

Beyond Relationship Problems

There are many things that affect our sex life that are not relationship issues. Some issues are physical limitations, including pain, chronic diseases, hormonal imbalances, impotence, vaginismus, conditions that affect blood flow (diabetes or cardiovascular disease), neurological disorders, menopause or medications.    

Emotional issues like depression, anxiety, or flashbacks can all create roadblocks and hurt feelings.  These affect how we view ourselves, our spouse, and the world around us.  If we didn’t believe lies about sex before these problems, unfortunately, it’s a great opportunity to develop a few.

Most marriage problems I see are not in fact marriage problems.  They are personal problems that affect the marriage. For example, some people have an emotional disconnect from life and therefore they are disconnected from their spouse.  They could have many wounds covered over but gushing underneath. It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist than to feel and heal them.  Some have roaring emotions but can’t manage them because they blame others for their emotions.  They are emotionally immature.  They might have an incessant need to be affirmed or to be right.  There are many intra-personal issues that can affect relationship.

I want to encourage you that just because it’s hard now, doesn’t mean it must stay that way.  We’ve already established that sex is important. It can be embarrassing to address these issues but it is important.  I’m not saying that every problem can be fixed. We live in a broken world and I am aware that there are some things that remain broken.  But I am saying it’s worth attempting to fix it.

Conclusion

Getting back to good, healthy sexuality can be a huge struggle.  Our culture has created the standard of good sex as being animalistic, self-oriented, and free of relationship.  It’s assumed that everyone knows how, believing it’s mechanical.  When it doesn’t work for you, go somewhere where it does.

Finding the compass means putting relationship back into sexuality.  Finding North means we view sex as important, good and mutual. We learn to give and receive and honor our differences.  We learn to start with liking ourselves and not try to pull our validation out of someone else.  We make it more about connection than we do about an event.  And we need to look at our own brokenness and seek ways toward healing.  Sex is hard because relationship is hard and it’s worth working at to get to healthy sexuality.

Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality part 3

When we view our sexual appeal as a means to get validation of ourselves from our spouses, we set ourselves and them up for great disappointment because it doesn’t come from them.

HealthySexualityPart3
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

This is part three of Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality.   In part 1, I wrote on how as a culture we’ve lost the concept of what healthy sexuality is, that it’s an important part of marriage and there is healing available for those who carry baggage.  In part 2, I wrote on seeing sex as good, and it as mutual.  

In this post I will be writing about what we bring into intimacy and what it is that we try to get out of intimacy.  As we reclaim what has been damaged, it will take work to get back to a good place.  

Sex is About Giving and Receiving, Not Taking

One of the most helpful changes I made was seeing that I had something to offer my husband.  I didn’t understand that before and it used to feel like something was being taken from me.  I still don’t know that I can name what it is that I offer or that he offers me…maybe it’s believing in each other, or trust, or understanding.  What I do see is that it goes beyond the physical act to something more of an essence.  When it simply remains the physical act of self-fulfillment, it loses its potential for good.  When I chose to believe that I had something to offer it brought healing to me.  It’s helped to bring sex back to good.

One thing that has helped in this is communication.  In the movies we often see a glance across the room, an intense and passionate kiss, and then a whisking away to a bedroom scene all happening in about three seconds.  I don’t believe this is the norm, or the standard we should set.  

My husband used to approach me with a hug and I was left wondering, ‘is this a hug or is this a HUG?’ Where was this going?  Because I have a to-do list, you know?  I was intense and flying through the day, or exhausted from the day and now there was a hug.  I was less than receptive, wondering if he wanted something I was not prepared to give. He felt rejected.  It brought on hard feelings on both sides.  

I found it very helpful when we could speak to each other, “hey, I’m thinking of a rendezvous after dinner tonight, are you up for that?”  It allows me to be prepared to give and be prepared to receive what he has to give. We’ve developed our cues, our code words, our glances which invite instead of setting an expectation that gets disappointed.  The verbal or gestured invitation allows for choice.  It’s not a lack of passion to plan an intimate time.  It’s a thoughtful offer to connect.

It’s Not About Self-Image or Validation

We often try but we can’t get our self-image or validation from our partners.  This never works.  Our culture sets us up to believe that our femininity or masculinity is derived from our partner making us feel good about ourselves.  The problem with this is if I don’t feel good about myself to begin with, there really is nothing he can do to change that. Self-image starts with self and he can’t give it to me.  He can’t really even take it away if it’s base is from a clear conscience.  

In other words, if I think I’m worthless, and he tells me I’m worthless then he has just proven my point.  If I believe I’m worthless and he tells me I have worth, then I’m not going to trust his judgment.  I will think he is lying, he has a poor standard, or he doesn’t know the real me.  But, if I believe I have worth and he tells me I’m worthless, then I am going to think he is crazy.   When I have to suck my self-image out of my spouse and he can’t give it to me, I am guaranteed frustration and heartache.

John Eldredge writes in his book You Have What It Takes, “Every boy wants to be a hero. He wants to be powerful, dangerous. He wants to know . . . Do I have what it takes?  Every girl wants to believe that she is captivating, worth fighting for. She wants to know . . . Am I lovely?”

We get our understanding of how to answer those questions as children from our familial and cultural surroundings.  We first pick up what it means to be a man or woman from our parents or significant role models.  We look to them for approval to answer those meaningful questions.  As we enter adolescents it shifts to our peer group.  This is normal but still immature because it opens us up to be manipulated by others.  Ultimately, in the maturing process, it needs to shift to our own conscience before God.  Scripture tells us that every man can know right from wrong (Rom. 1).  When we live in a right way, our conscience affirms us and we don’t fall prey to trying to pull it from someone else.  

When we view our sexual appeal as a means to get validation of ourselves from our spouses, we set ourselves and them up for great disappointment because it doesn’t come from them.  If I don’t measure up to the standard I have set then there is nothing my spouse can do to convince me any differently.  For instance, If I’m not skinny enough for my own standard then nothing my husband can say or do will change my self-perception.  

Getting back to good means finding our validation through a clear conscience before God and liking the person we are becoming.  We then bring the person that we like to our spouse and give of ourselves and receive from them who they are.

In my next blog post I will be writing about honoring our differences, finding connection and what to do with problems beyond relationship issues.  

Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality Part 2

Because sex is good and because sex is important, it needs to be mutual.

Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

This is my second post in a series on Healthy Sexuality.  As I speak with people about the struggles they face, sexual issues comes up again and again.  Even ‘happily married’ people can struggle in the bedroom.  

In Healthy Sexuality part 1, I wrote on how as a culture we’ve lost the concept of what healthy sexuality is, that it’s an important part of marriage and that there is healing available for those who carry baggage.  In this blog post, I want to share with you some of the ways we get back to healthy sexuality.

Believing Sex is Good

Belief systems affect sexuality.  If you believe ‘I’m not enough’, ‘I’m unloveable’, ‘I’m damaged goods’, ‘I can’t trust anyone and need to hide’, ‘My value is in my looks’, or any of a hundred other lies, it will affect how you approach relationship as well as sex. If you believe sex is negative, then it will be negative.  

If you have experienced sex as manipulative, selfish, sinful, bothersome, irritating, perfectionistic, or done without care or being cared for, then sex will be difficult at best. It’s then easy to see sex as scary, corrupt and immoral.  If this is a part of your current relationship, you will need to deal with the relationship first before you can get to healthy sexuality.  It’s good to acknowledge if your experience was or is bad.  At the same time, you can acknowledge that it was created to be good.  If you continue to believe it is bad you will never get to good.

God created sex in every living thing to reproduce.  For mankind, he also created it to bring great pleasure.  When he said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone, he added an element of companionship and emotional connection.  He then declared it was good.

After many years of hurt and struggle, my husband and I worked on healing our relationship.  During this time, it was very helpful for me to choose to view sex as created good. When it was difficult to experience it as good, it was because I was experiencing a wound that needed healing or I was believing a lie regarding my value or security.  To get back to being able to experience it as good, I needed to change my perspective.  I have written more on changing a belief system here.

Seeing Sex as Mutual

Getting back to good means sex is mutual.  I’m very sad to write this next paragraph, but in our culture it needs to be said.  I’ve heard the stories from people (both men and women) wondering if what they had or are currently experiencing is what sex should be about.  So, I’m going to be very clear here.  Sex should never hurt!  It should not ever be manipulative, painful, punishing, embarrassing, or forceful.  You should never be pressured, tricked, or suffer.  You can and should have a choice about how you experience it.  You can and should have boundaries. One boundary you could make is if your voice is not heard as to what you like or don’t like, or where or when,  you can and will expand the circle of who knows what is happening in order to get help or you can say no.

Because sex is good and because sex is important, it needs to be mutual.  1 Cor. 7 Paul says that both the husband and wife have authority over the other.  That does not mean we get to do anything we like regardless of the desires of our partner.  It means we respect the desires of our partner.  It’s mutual.  Both people need to have a choice as to what happens.  Both people consider the other.

Because both relationship and sex are mutual, it means both people need to be invested and working on the issues that come up.  One person cannot fix it by themselves.  If both people are not willing to look at their part, it may not be fixable.  That is not to say that all marriage or intimacy issues are both people’s fault.  It’s not about fault finding.  But both people play a part and need to have an active role to get to healthy.

In my next blog post I will be talking about what we bring into intimacy and what it is that we try to get out of intimacy.  

Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality

When sex and relationship are hard, the question becomes, how do we reclaim healthy sexuality after the storm?  

Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

I think you will agree, as a culture we have lost our way as to what healthy sexuality is.  We haven’t just lost where North is, we’ve lost the entire compass.  We don’t even know where to find the answer, but it seems everyone has the answer…for themselves.  So, let me say for the record, I realize I am treading out into shark infested waters.  You will have an opinion about my thoughts on sexuality.  That is o.k.  I don’t believe I have the final answer.  I do believe our culture is over-sexualized which creates all sorts of mixed messages.

I am astounded by the pain that can be generated from something that God created to be within the context of a lifetime commitment that is beautiful, nurturing, and connecting.  It is now blasted through the airwaves and used selfishly as a quick fix to any problem.  The #MeToo campaign has recently shown us that the problems are exponential.  

Men and women have become frozen from the fear of touch.  Marriages are affected by a selfish act decades ago.  Exasperated loneliness enters into marriage because we know sexual intimacy is suppose to be connection, but it’s connecting us into pain.  Countless individuals and marriages are affected. The question becomes, how do we reclaim healthy sexuality after the storm?  

Because there is so much I want to write about on this topic, this will be a series of four blog posts. And of course I won’t even begin scratching the surface.  These are merely the things I find myself encouraging those who come sit in my office.  If you don’t want to miss any you can sign up to have them emailed to you here.  (Check your spam folder to receive the confirmation.)

I will not be speaking from an expert, researched opinion.  I will not even be speaking from a Biblical scholarly opinion.  I will be writing a personal, female opinion about some things I have both learned from others and discovered in 32 years of marriage, having come through my own struggles. I believe in and have practiced Biblical sexuality and I have no regrets doing so. But it also doesn’t solve everything.  I have found that normal sex includes sex that is comforting, passionate, tired, rushed, misunderstood, reconciling, encouraging, planned, spontaneous, quick, thought out, exciting, disappointing, celebratory, and enjoyed.  It’s a reflection of life.

Much of what I am writing on will be directed to ‘happily married’ couples because a lot of ‘happily married’ people struggle in the area of sexuality.  Just because you love someone, doesn’t mean all goes well in this area.  I am addressing this issue because each week I speak to people who struggle in this area. If you are currently struggling, please know that it is possible to get back to good and it doesn’t have to stay this way.  But it takes work, thought, and effort to get back to good…it doesn’t happen on its own.

Baggage

I am blessed to not have created ‘baggage’ of my own in this area, nor do I feel I have been violated.  Even so, I have struggled with damage in my marriage, my own apathy, self-image, and the perverse sexual messages from the culture.  

I have been witness to the sexual wounding and wreckage of others, much like after a hurricane.  Decades later there are still effects.  There’s not just baggage either. There’s cargo.  There are ships of cargo currently lost at sea because the damage of a hurricane has broken the compass.

If you have experienced past abuse, I would encourage you to seek healing for these thoughts and memories. Your current experience will be negatively impacted until you can work through the pain of the abuse. It doesn’t go away on it’s own.

If you are currently experiencing destructive behaviors in your intimate relationship, you will need to deal with this first before you can grow in healthy sexuality. It can’t be ignored.

­­­­Health issues will sometimes be a factor that will affect sexuality. Sensitivity and understanding go a long way here.  It’s important to face the possible embarrassment and address these issues.

If you are struggling, the good news is there can be change. It is hard, but it is possible.  It will look different for different people, but it is worth pursuing.

Sex is Important

Winston Smith writes in Marriage Matters, “Intimacy is made up of at least two critical ingredients: being known and being safe.  We experience intimacy when we feel known and understood as well as safe, accepted, or cared for by our spouse.” (pg. 219)

Sex is a very important facet of marriage, but we sometimes lose sight of this fact in the midst of busyness, conflict, or personal agendas.   If either being known or being safe are not the foundational elements of intimacy in a marriage, then it will affect the sexual relationship.

It’s not important because one spouse is overly zealous.  But it’s not unimportant because one spouse is exhausted, uninterested, or damaged.  It’s important because it’s the connection that is exclusively reserved for marriage.   It’s reserved for a lifetime commitment.   It’s important for the overly zealous spouse to slow down and pursue a deeper relationship.  For the exhausted spouse, it’s important enough to face your fears, pursue healing, set aside time, make connection, and reserve energy for it.

One of the things I believe our culture has completely lost is how precious sexual intimacy truly is.  Today it’s used to sell hamburgers, it’s plastered on every kind of screen, and it has produced a hook-up culture.  But God’s intent was to encircle it within a marriage unit bond.  It should be sacred, but instead it’s become commonplace.

For now, I’d just like to sit on these thoughts:  When sex and relationship are hard, that doesn’t mean you don’t love each other, our culture sends mixed messages to us and the baggage we carry is real. It is so important that we need to work through the struggles we face.  

In my next post I will discuss some of the ways we can get back to healthy sexuality.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4