How do you deal with trespasses in your marriage?

Big Guy and I recently traveled to a planning retreat for the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association. (Thank you, Tom and Debi, for welcoming us into your home and provide such thoughtful hospitality!)

We drove from Wisconsin to North Carolina so we could enjoy the beautiful scenery and have some time to ourselves. As a woman who grew up in the Midwest and still lives there, I’ve found great beauty in the flat landscape—but I was still excited that I would see mountains. Read More →

Take a step toward confession and repentance.

 

Note: If your husband is in unrepentant and on-going sin against you, if you are in an intentional season of healing that requires you to be able to say no to sex, or if you are experiencing medical issues that interfere with sexual intimacy, this post is not for you.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Psalm 51:3

I’ve said before that when it comes to sexual intimacy, it isn’t always wrong to say no—but it IS wrong to always say no.

Sex is an important part of God’s design for marriage. Sex provides us a unique—and totally awesome—pleasure. It helps us develop intimacy and oneness with each other. It provides a means of connection unlike any other. When sexual intimacy is lacking in our marriages, we miss out on one of God’s most amazing gifts to us. Read More →

Are you afraid your past sin has put God’s love off limits?

Although plenty of us carry around emotional and sexual baggage, some of us have baggage that is especially heavy.

Sometimes our own sins are so big that they weigh us down. Read More →

Does it help to understand why we say no to sex?

Dandelions are lovely little flowers, all full of sunshine and happiness—until they turn to seed. Then they become eyesores. They are considered weeds by quite a few folks, despite some medicinal and nutritional value.

My grandfather used to come visit us for long stretches of time during my childhood. He always took on the job of rooting out the dandelions. I would count all the dandelions to see how many we had to do. Then, my grandfather would sit on the grass next to me with a dandelion digger, roll up his sleeves, and tell me, “If you don’t get the whole taproot out, the dandelion will just grow back. Dig all the way down until you see the end of the root—and when you pull the plant out, take a look at the root and make sure you got it all. If you didn’t, you need to keep digging until the root is gone.” Read More →

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Most of my marriage was pretty stormy. My husband and I would snipe at each other. We would lash out. We would yell. We would point fingers at what the other was doing wrong. It wasn’t like that all the time, but a storm could brew with very little warning at all. I just wanted peace, tranquility, serenity. I thought, If only he would change, things would be so much better.

Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 7 instruct husbands and wives in their marriages. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Husbands are to love their wives. Neither is to sexually deprive each other except when they both agree and for the purpose of prayer.

A Wife’s Sexual Refusal

I frequently hear from husbands who suffer from their wives’ sexual refusal or gate-keeping. I typically respond with the following:

  • You can change only yourself; you can’t change your wife.
  • Work on your own walk with Christ and do what God calls you to do.
  • Pray for and support your wife’s relationship with Christ.
  • Be married to the wife you have, not to the wife you wish you had.

I suppose that for some men, what they hope to hear is confirmation that what their wives are doing (or, more accurately, not doing) is sin. I wonder if these men sometimes think that if they go to their wives and are able to prove, using the Bible and impeccable logic, that sexual deprivation is sin, their wives will say, “Oh, I had no idea! Silly me. My bad. Honey, let’s go have sex right this second.”  And then, voilà, the problem is over. While pointing out the sinfulness of sexual deprivation may be sufficient in some marriages, in most marriages with a gate-keeping or refusing wife, that doesn’t even make a dent.

For me, in those rare moments when I would catch a glimpse of what God wanted from me in my marriage, my response was usually something like, “Well, if I’m sexually refusing him, then he’s emotionally refusing me. He started it.” Basically, I immaturely blamed my husband for everything and wouldn’t look at what I was contributing to the problem. I wasn’t going to budge until he made some changes.

A Husband’s Emotional Refusal

As much as my husband was experiencing sexual deprivation, I was experiencing emotional deprivation. When my husband would point out that it was a sin to deprive him, I would point out that it was just as much a sin for him not to love me and sacrifice for me.

Back and forth we would go. I felt emotionally deprived and therefore couldn’t bring myself to be vulnerable sexually with my husband. My husband was sexually deprived (and, as this is the means of emotional connection for most men, he was emotionally deprived as well), so he couldn’t bring himself to be vulnerable emotionally with me. It was a cycle of refusal and deprivation on both our parts.

Ending sexual refusal sounds so simple in some respects. After all, how long does sex really take? How difficult can it be to give an hour over a one-week period so your husband can be content? I sometimes liked sex once we got into it, so what’s the big deal with avoiding it so much? My husband would ask me this, and it sounded so easy when he would put it that way. But in order for me to have sex (not to mention be fully engaged and enjoy it), I had to have an emotional connection. I couldn’t concoct one all by myself. Because I didn’t feel that emotional bond outside the bedroom, as part of the daily fabric of our married life, I didn’t have that to draw on inside the bedroom.

I suffered, just as my husband did–and I know this is true for many other wives as well. For these women, suffering from their husbands’ emotional refusal or gate-keeping, I offer the same advice as I do to men.

  • You can change only yourself; you can’t change your husband. Yes, your husband should be more loving to you in a way that matters to you–but you can’t make him act or feel any differently. You can only change your own behavior and your responses to his words and actions. This is such a hard thing to do. I heard someone joke once that a man marries a woman hoping she’ll never change, and a woman marries a man sure she can change him. While it was intended as a joke, it was one of those hits-too-close-to-home-to-really-be-funny jokes for us. A student once told me that girls like bad boys because, “They’re a project. It’s like scrap-booking!” Sometimes, I thought of my efforts to make my husband act differently as an extension of my nurturing tendency–but when I’m completely honest with myself, I know it was about me trying to have control over the things (and people) who affect me most. Accepting that I cannot change my husband has been a real challenge for me.
  • Work on your own walk with Christ and do what God calls you to do. We are called to do what we are called to do, regardless of someone else’s sin. Yes, my husband was depriving me emotionally (not intentionally, as it came from his own hurt). While that made it harder for me to be with him sexually, it did not justify the sexual deprivation that I visited on him. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to one of my kids, “You are responsible for your own behavior, no matter what someone else has done. It doesn’t matter who started it. You can choose to stop it.” I had to learn how to be the best wife I could be in response to God’s call to me, not in response to my husband’s quality as a husband. Once I realized that I needed to stop refusing and gate-keeping, my husband’s habits of interaction with me continued for months. I was giving a lot, but I was not getting back what I needed and wanted. And I had to become okay with this. My responsibility as a wife is not contingent on his behavior as a husband. I still struggle with this sometimes. As I have grown in my own Christian walk, though, it continues to be easier for me to recognize when this is a problem and rely on God to help me do the right thing at those times–and to genuinely repent and ask for forgiveness when I mess up, which I do, a lot.
  • Pray for and support your husband’s relationship with Christ. For far too long, I considered my husband my enemy at times. He and I were at odds sexually and emotionally. As our marriage changed, I realized that I was becoming my husband’s advocate and cheerleader in a way I hadn’t been before. In intentionally supporting my husband’s relationship with Christ, I help our marriage be more Christ-centered. I am only human, so when my husband does things that hurt me, I feel upset. I feel ignored and rejected. I cry. I sometimes say things I shouldn’t. I allow myself to have my feelings–but I look for the cross again, and everything snaps back into place. As I encourage my husband’s growth, it becomes less about how it will affect me and more about what his own heart needs.
  • Be married to the husband you have, not to the husband you wish you had. It’s easy to daydream about how nice it would be if your husband were just . . . sensitive, strong, handy, kinder, firmer, more mature, a better Christian, or whatever he isn’t that you always thought you would have in a husband. Your husband is about as perfect as you are. He’s going to make mistakes. He may have his own baggage. His Christian teaching (or lack of it) is bound to affect what he believes and how he responds to you. Extend some grace. Show the love of Christ. Accept your husband as the child of God that he is.

God, Grant Me Serenity

A wife whose husband says she is sexually refusing or gate-keeping can be made to feel rotten. My husband would tell me it was about more than sex. He would tell me what the Bible said about marriage. He would even be vulnerable at times. I always felt he deserved the deprivation, because he hadn’t yet proven to me that he was emotionally “there” enough for me, but I felt guilty at times. I didn’t think what I was doing was wrong, but I did recognize that my actions were hurting him. I had my own problems and issues, and every time my husband would talk about his experiences in a sexless marriage, his words would just add to the emotional burden I was already carrying.

My feelings of being emotionally refused made it hard to be the one to go first and make the first changes. It’s so much easier to sit and point fingers at another person’s sin, especially when we are suffering from that sin.

Once I accepted the things that I could not change and found the courage to change myself, my marriage changed from one of frequent storms to one that fills me with joy and serenity most of the time.

What are you struggling to accept in your marriage? And what are you willing to work on within yourself in order to make your marriage a better one? What is your next step in transforming your marriage?

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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I recently wrote that how you see your husband may be shaped by what you learned about men during childhood. We carry other negative lessons into our marriages as well. Sadly, our own sin is what sometimes teaches us those lessons.

This post is written for women who engaged in consensual premarital sex. Dragging around baggage that we ourselves created is an odd burden.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my husband and I had sex before marriage and that I had sex with other men before I did with him. My premarital sexual experiences shaped my sense of self as well as my views about marriage. My own sin created some of the baggage I dragged into my marriage with me.

I used my sexuality casually, in premarital relationships and in encounters that I guess would be called hookups now. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but even then I knew that what I got wasn’t it.

Confession

A New York Times article, “In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns,” reminds me of some difficult truths. It reminds me of the illusions I created in order to convince myself that I was becoming empowered rather than bedraggled by premarital sex. It reminds me of a time in my life when negative patterns were laid down that shaped my marriage and my sense of self for years.

When my children were very small, my husband connected me with a women’s prayer and support group at church. Most of the other women were pillars in the church. I would find myself praying earnestly for them while thinking, If they only knew the real me, they wouldn’t want to be in my presence. They are so good, so holy. They know the Bible better than me. They talk about applying it in their lives without even blinking an eye.

I don’t remember now what triggered it, although I have a vague recollection that it was guilt about sullying them simply by being near them. I told them I had to make a confession. I just knew these women would look down on me, but I felt like I was lying to them by not sharing who I was. So I told them about my sexual past. I didn’t tell them everything, but I hit the highlights lowlights.

I sobbed and sobbed, and those lovely ladies surrounded me with their own tears and hugs. One woman put her hands on my cheeks and said, “God has forgiven you. Now you need to forgive yourself. You need to accept God’s forgiveness to do that.”

She was so right. Unfortunately, by then, we’d been married for four years, and I had already unpacked my premarital baggage and made it part of my home. The damage had already begun.

Lessons

My previous sexual encounters had taught me many things about sex.

  • Sex is about power.
  • Sex is about control.
  • Sex is ordinary.
  • Sex is about a man’s orgasm.
  • Sex is a physical experience.
  • Sex is just two ships passing in the night.
  • Sex is quick.

These lessons about sex were laid on me before my husband and I even met. Our shared premarital sexual encounters complicated these lessons a bit, but the sandy foundation of sexual lies was already in place.

When we married, I knew sex would be part of that. However, because of those premarital lessons, I also believed wrong things about my husband’s interest in sex.

  • His sexual interest gave me power in our marriage.
  • His comments that sex was important were an attempt to control me.
  • Sex was just sex and was not making love.
  • Sex was about my husband having an orgasm.
  • Sex was what our bodies did and did not involve our hearts.
  • Because all these negative things were true about sex and sex was part of marriage, all these negative things were true of marriage as well.
  • There was no point in taking our time.

Illusions of Intimacy

My casual use of my sexuality before marriage taught me other lessons as well. These lessons were ones I learned about myself. They shaped my self-esteem, my sense of worth, and my ability to experience sexual or emotional intimacy.

  • My sexual prowess (the ability to provide a man with a satisfying orgasm) gave me more satisfaction than my own sexual response did.
  • The thrill and spontaneity of casual sex was quite arousing–but with no orgasm and no resolution of that arousal, it always led to frustration.
  • When I engaged in casual sex, I experienced no orgasms, no man devoted to figuring out what pleased me, and a sense that my value was only in providing orgasms for a man.
  • The article says, “[M]ore than sex, hookups are often much more about two people giving each other the sense of intimacy, however brief, they need to get through the week.” Hookups allow people to create an illusion of intimacy, with no substance at all. Every time I added another layer to this illusion, I drew myself even further away from a sense of what true intimacy was.
  • Premarital sex within the context of a relationship created an illusion as well. It was make-believe. The relationship was real, but the sex was added on. It was not in a shared space, or in a shared life. Even with the man who would be my husband, the sex we experienced before we married was an illusion of what sex can and should be. (Additionally, it taught me some lessons about my husband.)

Is it any wonder that it took me so long to understand that sex is for me, too, not just for my husband? I didn’t understand that sex served a uniting and pair-strengthening purpose in marriage.

New Lessons

It took me a long time to recognize that my premarital sexual activity had any effect on my marriage at all. How is your marriage affected by your own premarital activity?

Did you learn negative lessons about sex, or about yourself, as a result of your own sin? Have you confessed this sin and accepted God’s forgiveness? It is far too easy to let our own negative lessons get in the way of intimacy with our husbands.

For years, when I experienced any difficulty with sexual intimacy in our marriage, my internal response was something along the lines of, This is my punishment. I deserve it. Because I hadn’t accepted God’s forgiveness, I was still stuck in a cycle where the sin defined everything that happened to me.

Many times, I would think back to the notion of accepting God’s forgiveness. It took me a long time to even be able to call what I did “sin.” I said that I made mistakes. I did. I said that I was a stupid 19-year-old. I was. Until I was able to name my mistakes and stupidity as sin, I was not able to accept forgiveness for that sin.

There is great freedom in accepting forgiveness for premarital sexual sin. When the women in my prayer group surrounded me, holding me, recognizing my pain while reminding me that I was forgiven, a piece of my heart began to heal. It took me a long time, but that was the moment it began.

The process of forgiving myself required me to lay my sin down at the foot of the cross and accept the forgiveness I’d been given long ago. Only when I had accepted that forgiveness was I able to begin to step away from the negative lessons I’d learned about sex.

These negative lessons about sex have now been replaced by good lessons about married sex as God designed it.

  • Sex is about power sharing.
  • Sex is about control connection.
  • Sex is ordinary special.
  • Sex is about a man’s orgasm mutual pleasure.
  • Sex is a physical experience AND an emotional or spiritual one.
  • Sex is just two ships passing in the night one ship on a life-long journey.
  • Sex is quick worth spending time doing.

Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. Psalm 32:1

Images courtesy of sippakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Although we went to church and my parents were basically good people with solid values, they somehow never got around to encouraging me to think about sexual values. And I never decided what I wanted for myself in terms of sex, either. I gave my virginity away to my first boyfriend at 18. I remember thinking, “Oh, wow. I can’t take that back. I’ve ruined my life.” And for a few years, it really seemed like I did. I made a series of bad choices and got a point where I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror.

One day, I went to my friend’s church for  a youth event. I sat in the back while her pastor preached about sexual purity, and all I could think was that no good man would ever want me and Jesus probably didn’t really love me, either. It was years before I could sit in a church without thinking about my sexual sin and feeling like I was contaminating all the good people in the sanctuary with me.

I will always regret that I came to my husband with sexual experience. I did not feel I deserved a good relationship with a good man. My husband and I had premarital sex, and part of that was because I’d never developed the skills and strength needed to resist sexual temptation.

Sometimes I wonder if my sexual background contributed to my years of refusing. After several years of feeling safe and loved in my marriage, was I finally feeling a sense of the ability to control my sexual life after having felt out of control for years before? I will never know. And looking back, I wonder if I resented my husband for not cherishing me enough to wait. My sexual sin before marriage planted doubt in my mind that took decades to root out.

The fact that we are still married is a testament to a good man and a good God. Getting used to living with another person and learning to cleave to each other rather than my parents were hard enough. Instead of just being able to focus on the work at hand, I was busy dragging all my baggage along with me for years.

At 19, I thought the consequences of my sins would all be spiritual. I thought God might not love me enough to take me into heaven after all. As I settled into a life as a wife and mother and we became part of first one church community and then another, I finally realized that I was truly forgiven. And I learned to forgive myself for my past.

Despite forgiveness, sin has consequences. I had experiences that shamed me and hurt me. I didn’t know how to develop a good relationship with a decent young man.  I contracted HPV, which led to a couple cancer scares in my 40’s. I will always have my shameful memories. I will always know that I was not strong enough to do something important.

Part of God’s wonderful gift to me is that He has found ways to use my experiences for His greater good as I talk with young women and support them through confronting their own mistakes. More important, He has used this as an object lesson to me that no one is beyond redemption and value.

We are all greater than our deepest sins. We are children of God.