Untangle Your Mess


Is sexual intimacy tangled up with other issues in your life?

I had a tangled mess on my hands. I’d gathered empty hangers from our bedroom closets and had carefully placed them in a laundry basket to carry to the laundry room in the basement—which I then did carelessly, thereby messing up my hangers that had been neatly lined up.

In my laundry room, I pulled the shirts out of the dryer, thinking that I had just one task: hanging up shirts.

But then I grabbed a hanger out of the laundry basket. I didn’t get just one hanger, of course; I got a whole tangled mess of hangers. Hangers being what they are, the hooks (both the hook that hangs over the closet rod and the hooks that keep the shoulders from falling off) all grabbed onto each other. The hangers that had been all neatly lined up in my laundry basket were now a jumbled tangled mess.

At first I looked to see if there was just one hanger that seemed to be connecting the whole mess. I figured if I removed just that one hanger, everything else would fall back in line. No such luck. Every hanger was tangled up with several other hangers.

Then I decided that I would just shake the whole mess and see if that loosened it up a bit. It did! Two hangers went flying across the basement and another hit me on the nose. And I still had a tangled mess in my hands. I realized that I had to set aside the shirts I wanted to hang up in order to put the hangers in order so I could use them.

After taking a good look to see which hanger appeared to be the least tangled, I reached for that hanger and gently maneuvered it out of the mess—only I didn’t. Right as it was sliding out, a hook from another hanger snagged it.

I wasn’t able to remove it one hanger at a time. I had to work on it one hook at a time, taking a hanger and tracing it with my eyes to the place where it was stuck. I would undo a few places where the hangers hooked together, then move to a different section of the mess and unhook those areas, and back and forth. Every so often, I would loosen a hanger enough to pull it free of the mess. Every time I pulled a hanger out, I had to reevaluate the mess I still had to figure out where to work next.

It was a longer process than I expected, but I’d created the mess (unintentionally), and I had to undo it. So I kept at it, one hook at a time.

It got easier as I went along. Each time a hanger came free, the rest of the mess was less cluttered and was a bit easier to see. Removing a hanger removed three hooks from the equation, so it became less and less complicated to work on. Still, there were times when I just took a break and hung up a shirt or two. I was making progress on my original goal and on my mess on the same time.

As I made my way through the mess, I picked up momentum—and after a while, my hangers were all back in order and I could get back to just hanging up the shirts.


When I was a teenager, I thought I had everything lined up in my life. I thought I knew how everything was supposed to be. Unfortunately, my carelessness and my issues being what they were, I ended up with a tangled mess not too different from the mess of hangers.

My issues were plentiful: low self-esteem, promiscuity in early adulthood, lessons I’d learned about men, minimal teaching about God’s design for sex, a tendency toward emotional responses that would drive my actions, bad teaching about God’s rebuke without God’s grace, habits of thought and behavior that became ingrained in my  marriage, and a heart that was closed off to my husband and to God.

When I began to work on sexual intimacy, I thought I had just one issue to deal with: sex.

It turned out that this was like hanging up my shirts. I thought it would be fairly straightforward: say yes/don’t say no/fully participate. But as I reached out to begin my work, I encountered a whole mess of stuff I needed to untangle.

At first I just tried to give one big shake-up and work on my actions. This helped loosen things up, but I still had a mess on my hands.

So I got to work. I tried to work on just one of my issues at a time—but every time I tugged at one thing, I discovered that it was hung up on something else. My habit of no was caught on lessons about men, which was hung up on promiscuity, which was hung up on low self-esteem and a belief that God’s grace didn’t apply to me.

Since I couldn’t work on one whole issue at a time, I began a journey of baby steps. I would work on just one tangle at a time.

When I stumbled or got stuck, I worked on just that thing: a memory, an emotion, a small action, or a negative thought. I would think, pray, and journal about it until I traced it back to where I was stuck. Then, gently, I would coax myself out of that part of the mess.

Every time I’d worked through one small thing, I would take another look and re-evaluate the mess.

It got easier as I moved along. The stubborn stuff that didn’t seem to want to unhook from everything else was difficult. However, as my other issues got out of the way, I began to see what was left more clearly.

After the bulk of the mess had been addressed, I resumed working on sex for a while. I needed a break, and I wanted to keep that momentum going.

I would inevitably get stuck again, so I’d turn my attention back to my tangled mess.

It is a process that continues in me. I still have some issues where I struggle, and when I face a challenge in any of my interactions with Big Guy (not just in the bedroom), I use it as an opportunity to work on another hook that has me stuck.

Recently we’ve had some interactions where negative thoughts have popped into my head. I know that these thoughts point me to places where my heart needs some untangling, so I’ve been digging in to work on those areas.


Many women begin to work on sex only to discover that every issue they have with sex is tangled up with a whole lot of other issues: post trauma, feelings brought on by a husband’s past or present sin, negative patterns established in childhood, resentment, body image, and more.

As much as you may want to just fix it all at once, sometimes it helps to approach it as you would a tangled mess of hangers—just one snag at a time.

When a snag presents itself, do what you need to do to work through it: pray, seek support, journal, talk, draw, or read. If you don’t make much headway, give yourself permission to back off and work on something else for a while. The stubborn issue may become easier to untangle once you get some other things out of the way.

It is possible to work through your issues enough that real change happens—in sexual intimacy and in your heart. Or, you can at least get to a place where you can more clearly see what work is needed in order to move forward. Even in those areas where your husband’s words or actions are a significant stumbling block, you may be able to better understand why you respond as you do and get to a place where it is easier for you to communicate with your husband in a way that can lead to change (you know, dealing with the log in your eye before working on the speck in your husband’s).

If you, too, have a tangled mess on your hands, get started untangling that mess, one small tangle at a time.

Is sexual intimacy tangled up with other issues in your life?

Image credit | Chris Taylor

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6 Comments on “Untangle Your Mess”

  1. What an excellent post and oh so true. I have had a hard time with “God’s rebuke” vs. “God’s grace”. Even though God’s grace is “taught/preached” at church too often it isn’t lived out at church. We learn to put our “everything’s fine” face on and don’t show our true selves. Thanks for your honesty and time you put into this site. It’s much appreciated and so often rings so true.

  2. Rebuke = God’s grace. It’s His mercy on us. It’s Him letting you know that the choices you are making, your behaviors, your attitudes, etc. are leading you down a path of destruction — of relationships, or your health, or your financial state, etc. He’s giving you a chance to change course and head down a healthy path.

    It’s our pride and selfishness that doesn’t like rebuke. Because we all want to do “what-we-want-to-do”, without consequence. And we only want people to have high opinions of us.

    That being said, there is a kind, gentle, loving way to deliver a rebuke, and there are many cruel, judgmental, prideful ways to deliver a rebuke.

    Always consider the source of any rebuke. Is it coming from someone who genuinely cares about you and your well-being, who is investing in your life, who speaks words of encouragement into you the rest of the time, is willing to help you change your ways, will cheer you on and hold you accountable? Of is it someone who enjoys judging others and likes to feel superior?

    1. You have wise words. The specific rebuke that was so difficult for me was when I was 18, from a Sunday School teacher at my friend’s church. Despite my pride, I accepted the rebuke. In some ways, I wanted it–because I wanted words that helped explain why I was feeling so wrong about my decision. That could have been such a powerful positive moment in my faith development. Instead, it was a message that went only halfway. There was nothing about repentance or forgiveness at all.

  3. Truth, when given in love, is very powerful. I’m sorry that wasn’t exactly your experience. BUT God! He is faithful to use all things for our good. Look what an amazing woman he is growing you into — and using you to bless many with your kind, gentle, loving “corrections”. 🙂

  4. The importance of this post is huge!

    I think there are two large areas addressed: 1) prior perceptions (especially the persistent ones), and 2) faithful determination to heal, endure, and make it a good marriage.

    Prior perceptions go beyond what has already been discussed on this blog. What is a rebuke? What is it for? Do I know what is good in the present rebuke? Do I know how to make corrections? There is a lot to know that even *Christian* culture doesn’t really teach us consistently. (Culture isn’t a good source of wisdom anyway.) Many Christians don’t think of rebukes as being loving, but only hear judgement. Proverbs teaches that the wise receive rebuke (and I don’t think that is a blanket statement that all rebukes are righteous). Lev. 19:17 tells us that if we don’t rebuke our brother, then we hate him in our heart. If a person has been abused, then inaccurare perceptions and emotional responses may very well pose an obstacle to healing.

    The determination is so very important. It is the fulfillment of the “for worse” part of the vow. Some people (even christians) don’t take their vows in good faith… they do it with a slew of assumptions and an emotional fog at best. Some expect to be allowed to control all of what is alowed in marriage. This is not controlling all the actions like the stereotype of the controlling spouse. It is more like gatekeeping in all of the issues. As a man, it feels like being kept in a corral and contempt.

    In my situation, the good will and good faith that might motivate a change doesn’t seem to exist at all. Any attempts I make to escape control, and find intimacy are blocked or punished — often by inspiring others to “correct” me, even with false accusations.

    Church relationships have been destroyed along with my spirit. I am an easy target now because the common outcome of this kind of long-term emotional abuse is PTSD/CPTSD. It has affected me enormously, and finding a good job has been extremely difficult (I am working). Churches and others are not very kind to men in my position. They generally accept the wife’s accusations out of hand, or they demand automatic forgiveness while the abuse and cause of pain go unaddressed.

    The determination to do good and endure is loving. The persistent commitment to pursue being in love is extremely important (often dismissed in church, or assumed, in churches, such that it is seldom stated explicitly). Please, ladies, don’t let go of your determination. It is the difference between love that can heal and bless, and the misery that men talk about in the post about the husbands’ pain.

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