Last year I was trying to knit with a new kind of yarn, so I watched an instructional video. It made perfect sense in my head what I needed to do, so I turned the video off and tried to knit with the yarn. I got all tangled up. What had made mental sense while watching the video didn’t translate to the experience of “live” yarn on my needles.
What finally worked was to load the needles with yarn and follow along with the video. I could immediately apply what I was learning to what was in my hands, and trying to figure out how to hold the yarn made me pay attention to video details I hadn’t noticed before.
I did a lot of pausing and rewinding as I tried to figure things out, but I got through it and was successful with the scarf I wanted to make.
I’m like that with a lot of things. I want to get everything figured out first, and only then do I want to actually try things. While figuring it out in advance can help, it isn’t until I am actually trying that things click and I make any progress. What I want to do isn’t necessarily the thing that actually works.
Is a break okay?
I was like that with our marriage, too. I wanted to fix the relationship before trying to figure out how to make sex work.
That’s the approach a lot of us try when it comes to working on the sexual intimacy in our marriages. We may recognize that sex is a problem in our marriages, and our solution is to figure things out ahead of time—all why taking a complete hiatus from sex.
A sex hiatus may sometimes be good. Even the Bible says it’s okay:
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. 1 Corinthians 7:5
When we face fundamental problems such as past sexual trauma or one spouse’s sin against the other, taking a break so we can devote ourselves to prayer, healing, and growth makes sense. It can take time for us to heal to the point of being able to be vulnerable with our husbands.
What’s the problem?
We are not always honest about our reasons for wanting to take a break from sex. Sometimes, we may just want a vacation from having to deal with any of the issues in our marriages. When sex is a constant tension, it is understandable to want a break from that stress. Unfortunately, taking that break can end up working against us if we are not careful.
- Learning happens best in context. If we need to learn new habits and thoughts, no matter how much we figure out ahead of time, it isn’t until we do the actual work that it will click. Thinking about our struggles and bad habits is just theoretical until we follow along with our actions.
- The longer we go without sex, the harder it can be to get back into the habit. Many women find that the more they have sex, the more they want sex—and the less they have sex, the less they want it. Avoiding sex for weeks on end usually does not make it easier for us to resume the activity. It makes it harder.
- It is too easy to keep putting off. At first we may find it odd to not have sex. Maybe it’s even a relief to not have a husband asking for sex. The problem is that we get used to it—and when we get used to not having sex, it becomes our new normal.
- Not only does a new normal make it easy to put off, it can encourage us to actively avoid anything that would lead to sex. We did take short breaks from sex from time to time, and while my intentions were good at the start each time, I became so comfortable that I began looking for reasons to avoid resuming sex.
- A sex hiatus deprives of us an important connection in our marriage. Even if we aren’t yet feeling a connection from sex, if our husbands feel connected through sex, then we are depriving them—and that isn’t good.
- Just like knitting along with the instructional video helped me see things I needed to work on, maintaining sexual intimacy while we are trying to work through issues can bring important things into the light so we can work on them. If you are on a sex hiatus to work through something, remember that the only way to bring certain things into the light so you can address them is to do the hands-on practice—in other words, to have sex.
All these things can work against the growth in your marriage. If you want to take a sex break so you can avoid dealing with the problems of sexual intimacy, then a break may be exactly what you don’t need.
However, you may want to take a break from sex because it provides you with the best opportunity to work on issues—making it therapeutic and necessary. In that case, talk with your husband and prayerfully consider how to proceed. If you are working with a counselor, seek guidance there as well.
How can you keep a hiatus from being harmful?
If you and your husband agree to take a break from sex, go into it with prayer and thought. In order to ensure that the hiatus supports healing and growth, discuss the following with your husband:
- If there are things you need to figure out and work through, be sure you use the break to do just that so you are prepared to apply what you’ve learned as you resume sexual activity. Discuss how you will make it a therapeutic break that works for you rather than against you.
- Plan ahead for how to maintain or resume your desire for sex when it is time.
- The Bible specifies “for a time”—so decide in advance how much time that will be. A loose “when I figure it all out” may not be what is best for you or for your marriage. If you know that it takes about three weeks for you to get used to something new then consider that a sex break should be less than three weeks so you don’t get used to it.
- Set calendar reminders every few days to reflect on how things are going. If you are looking for reasons to avoid resuming sex and push back the end date, your hiatus may beworking against you.
- Make a point of connecting with your husband in other ways that will help you maintain intimacy. Agree ahead of time how this will happen. What conversations will you try to build into this time in order to maintain some emotional connection? Will there be daily cuddling or massages so you can both have some physical contact? How will you deal with it if your husband gets an erection during a backrub? If the hiatus is related to your own sexual response rather than to something about the relationship itself, are you willing to stimulate your husband manually or orally?
- Once you resume sex, when you recognize something you need to work on, consider how you and your husband can plan for pauses then. Taking breaks of a week here and there as new things come to the surface may be much more effective than taking a three-month sex break.
A therapeutic sex hiatus that is part of a larger plan to heal the sexual intimacy in your marriage can be a good thing if you are careful.
Whether you take a healing hiatus or not, maintaining sexual intimacy while you are working through the challenges may be the only approach that ultimately works.
And if your marriage comes out stronger, you can consider that a success!
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