My husband, Jason, and I have a complicated history with sexual intimacy – betrayal on his part and an eating disorder on mine. Oftentimes, I feel like we are stumbling along in this area. It’s true – there are still times when we don’t want to be seen naked by the other person or we hit teeth or go weeks or months (yep, I said months) without it and, well, you get the picture.
I believe for most wives, we are taught through cultural influences that sex is the vehicle to connect with our husbands. If we feel disconnected – have sex. If we want to feel heard or understood – have sex. If we’ve had a bad day – just have sex! We are also taught that in order to have a healthy sex life we must adhere to some sort of schedule. Almost like keeping up with the Joneses in the sex department. It seems sex is about quantity, not quality. In many cases, sex has been deduced to loving one another with our bodies only.
But what if this isn’t how God intended sex to be? What if quality is more important than quantity, and what if using sex as the only means for connection is leaving us less fulfilled than ever in our marriages? What if sexual intimacy is more than just loving each other’s bodies? What if it’s also loving each other’s mind, heart and soul?
Jason will readily admit that early on in our marriage, sex was the only vehicle for him to feel loved. So, if I didn’t want to have sex, he instantly felt rejected and unloved by me. Thus, each time I said “no,” sex became a weapon he used against me by distancing himself and resenting and blaming me.
On the other hand, I felt completely confused by the matter. I wondered why I didn’t want to have sex with him and why I felt so inadequate in this area. When we did engage sexually, I didn’t enjoy it and I always felt empty afterward – like an object in the bedroom. I didn’t feel loved; I felt used. Jason didn’t feel loved either; he felt rejected.
The type of sex we were engaging in wasn’t the love Jesus intended for us. Sex, for us, was a physical act of confusion. We’ve sought to take out the confusion and put sex in its rightful place. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way:
Don’t degrade sexual intimacy to an action item on your to-do list. Take it right off the calendar. In lieu of scheduling time for sex, schedule time to connect through emotional intimacy (understanding one another’s feelings), or recreational intimacy (finding something you like to do together). Allow yourselves to build a foundation of intimacy in other areas before engaging sexually.
Use sex as a celebration for connecting in other ways versus the only way for connecting. This gets tricky with littles under foot, jobs to maintain, errands to run – well, it’s no wonder that sex is downgraded to a couple’s only avenue of connection. We regularly ask ourselves before engaging sexually, “Are we about to use sex as our only means of connection or rather as a celebration because we feel so connected in other areas – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually?”
If you aren’t feeling like engaging in sexual intimacy, try to be honest and talk about it. This one is hard for me. Because of our story of betrayal, there is still this tiny part of me that thinks I better always say yes to sex. Yet, we realized that if either one of us isn’t in the mood, we’re probably going to end up feeling empty and disappointed. No reason to fake something that’s not there. When we get honest and vulnerable about why one of us isn’t feeling like connecting sexually, more often than not, this is the very thing that connects us emotionally and propels us closer toward sexual intimacy.
If you struggle with a sexual integrity issue like pornography, more sex is not the answer. I believed that Jason’s struggles with pornography and affairs were because I didn’t engage sexually with him at a frequency that was acceptable. It’s true, our sexual intimacy was lacking, but turning into a “sexy wife” did NOT fix the problem. I tried it and it only led to more emptiness and more pain for me, and heaps of shame for Jason.
Give yourself permission for sex to be wonky. We have had to literally wipe the slate clean when it comes to sex. It might just take a lifetime to figure out how we can use it as an expression of our love and connection. We’re OK with this. We’re willing to take our time and laugh (a lot) along the way.
What would it look like if you engaged in sexual intimacy with new eyes – to not view sex as the only means of connection, but rather to use it as a celebration of the full love you share in marriage? Instead of sex being deduced to loving one another with bodies only, strive for it to be a true and whole expression of love connecting heart, mind and soul. Sexual intimacy with your husband can be the reflection of love that Jesus desires for your marriage, you need only to be open to a new perspective.
Shelley Martinkus has a special place in her heart for women with stories similar to her own. Her first book, Rescued, is a guide to help women survive after sexual betrayal. She is also the national speaker for the Restore Workshop. She lives in Denver with her husband and their three young boys. Connect with Shelley at rlforwomen.com.
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