Monthly Archives: February 2012

Intimacy After an Affair

Broken heart

Photo credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

I have been asked how a wife can be open and giving in the bedroom after her husband has cheated on her. Honestly, I don’t know exactly how to answer.

My heart sinks when I hear of the damage caused by extramarital affairs. This scenario is not one I’ve been through, and my gut wrenches to even think of how I would react to my husband being intimate with another woman.

What I come up with when I receive the question of re-establishing sexual intimacy after an affair is primarily a huge dose of sympathy and prayer for the couple involved. There are two pieces of advice I have heard over and over for recovering from an affair. (One resource for the following is the Homeword with Jim Burns radio show, on which Dr. Burns has interviewed numerous authors and speakers on this and other-marriage related topics).

The offending spouse must be willing to be accountable. The person who had the affair will have to report on where he is going, where he has been, when he will return home, whom he has been in contact with, etc. His cell phone and computer are open to being checked by the spouse or an accountability partner. He must avoid contact with the affair partner, even changing jobs or gyms or whatever to ensure that.

Sometimes an offending spouse wants to just be done with the affair and move on. They want to confess, be forgiven, and have their reassurances that the affair is over result in trust. But it doesn’t work that way. If you break the covenant and the trust that came with it, you must work to regain it. I believe marriage is worth that effort.

The couple must address issues in their own relationship. Of course a spouse should never cheat. However, an affair usually (not always) occurs when needs are going unmet in the marriage. Like or it not, that’s an us problem, not a him problem. If only those problem areas had been addressed before the affair . . .

But you are where you are, and those who commit to improving their marriage often report experiencing the very best years of their relationship after the affair. Communicate, seek counseling, find good marriage resources, and discover together what will make you feel loved, secure, and intimate in your marriage.

Additionally, I suggest that all couples should talk about appropriate boundaries. I discussed my own boundaries in The Rule.

With regard to sexual intimacy, I suspect it’s like every other distraction, albeit a huge one. A wife may get to the bedroom with her husband, and her brain wanders to thoughts about him cheating. The hurt, resentment, and distrust cause her to tense and a wall to form. The best way to fight doubt and fear is to replace it with truth and love. If your spouse is doing what he should to reestablish trust and work on your relationship, you can remind yourself over and over that he chose you, that he wants you. Your truth will be that you are not sleeping with the guy with whom you had a bad marriage, the one who cheated on you. This is a new beginning, a new man, a new marriage — renewed by God. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones takes time, but it can be done.

Now I’m going to send you to a fabulous article on the website of fellow blogger, Julie Sibert at Intimacy in Marriage. One of her readers posted the story of how her marriage survived infidelity. At the end of the post, Julie provides links to stories and resources for those who have gone or are going through infidelity in a marriage.

If you have your own wisdom for getting past an affair, please share for others in the comments. You may help other marriages with your story of hardship or healing.

My prayers do indeed go out to those of you who have been hit with the pain of an affair. Thankfully, there are many couples who have recovered, and a couple committed to God can go on to experience their best years of marriage yet.

(Note: I used the husband cheating example here; I believe a majority of my readers are women and I typically aim my posts at them. I do appreciate my male readers. So if it was a wife who cheated, the pronouns can be changed.)

At the end of the post, Julie provides links to stories and resources for those who have gone or are going through infidelity in a marriage.

Man vs. Woman: The Differences

Come here, reader. I have something very important to share with you. A secret that a lot of people don’t know. A timeless truth that has been forgotten in recent years. A revelation that will change the way you view your spouse. Lean in close now. Here it is:

Psst. Men and women are different.

Man and woman icons holding hands

by AnonMoos via Wikimedia Commons

Yep, that’s it! This obvious fact has indeed been denied by plenty of feminists, psychologists, and academics. They admit that we have differing private parts, but some have argued that the concepts of maleness and femaleness are largely social constructs taught as stereotypes to children.

Yet science has recently shown that having a penis/testicles or a vagina/ovaries is hardly the only difference between man and woman. When God took a little dust and molded it like Play-doh into man and then grabbed a rib bone and crafted it like a pipe cleaner into woman, he didn’t go for outer variations only. He made us female or male through and through.

Here are some of the amazing differences that we now know exist between men and women. (Of course, these are generalizations, and specifics may vary.)

  • Men are 10-15% larger than women and 30% stronger on average.
  • Men exhibit greater upper body strength.
  • Men have better vision and depth perception; women blink twice as often as men.
  • Women have a higher percentage of body fat.
  • Men have greater muscle mass to body mass ratio and more slow twitch muscle fibers (for greater endurance).
  • Men have stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Men have longer canine teeth.
  • Men have larger vocal chords; thus, the “Adam’s apple.”
  • The skull shape of men and women is different.
  • Women have a larger and broader pelvis.
  • Men have 56% greater lung volume per body mass.
  • Men’s hearts are larger than women’s.
  • Men have thicker skin, literally.
  • Men have more body hair; women are smoother.
  • Men have a greater tendency to lose hair; i.e., balding and thinning.
  • Women are generally lighter-skinned.
  • Women have more language processing areas in the brain.
  • Women have more blood flow to their brain. (Insert jokes here.)
  • Women have a more sensitive sense of smell.
  • Women have more pain receptors.
  • Women exhibit lower blood pressure overall.
  • Women experience a faster heartbeat.
  • Men have more red blood cells; women have more white blood cells.
  • Men produce androgen hormones (one of which is testosterone); women produce estrogen hormones.
  • Men are taller.
  • Men are able to sire children well into old age; women have a decrease in fertility after 35 years of age.
  • Women reach puberty approximately two years earlier.
  • Men can parallel park better than women, but women can listen to three conversations at once and men struggle to follow one. Just kidding. That’s not scientifically proven (yet); call it the J Theory.

Can you believe that list is so long? There are other differences as well, but I’m not writing a dissertation, just a blog post.

The differences between men and women begin with outer appearance, but run down into bones and muscle, to chemicals, to brain structure, and into the cellular level.

So other than throwing out some interesting facts, what is my point? Well, it’s challenging to have a fabulous sexual relationship with someone so completely different from you! Yes, we are human, and that makes us immensely more like one another than not. But all these physical, brain, and hormonal differences mean that we approach sex differently. And God designed us that way!

When your husband or wife approaches the bedroom differently from you, some of that is due to gender differences.

So perhaps her better language centers mean that she can juggle several trains of thought and communicate during lovemaking, whereas he can grunt.

The hubby’s better distance vision and depth perception may help to explain why he is so visually oriented, whereas the lack of body hair and more pain receptors link to why she is more sensitive to touch.

And then there is her sensitivity to smell. Do I really have to spell out what that means, guys?

His greater lung volume and muscle mass may explain why God designed men to typically have more work for the sexual act itself, while her lessened blood flow could be related to why it takes longer for the wife to become sexually aroused.

If we weren’t different from one another, there wouldn’t be such an attraction between male and female. But at the same time, you have to understand that the spouse in your bedroom isn’t exactly like you. Your sexual partner is different all the way down to their core.

I have come to believe that it is God’s brilliant design to make mutual sexual satisfaction something you must work toward together. You must recognize those differences, appreciate them, and play to them. As many have said before me: Viva La Difference!

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27

Soul Mate or Sole Mate?

Entwined hearts

By Eds 07 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t believe in soul mates.

It’s a popular notion in western culture that there is someone out there perfectly designed for you — a soul mate. This belief is actually rooted in Greek mythology.

According to the myth, the world was once populated by beings who were both male and female. As they became faster and stronger, the gods feared that these humans would challenge them and take over the world. Zeus had a great idea. He severed the beings into male and female counterparts. By doing so, he limited their power, doubled the number of humans available to worship the gods, and introduced a new way of reproduction. In the wake of Zeus’s actions, the humans now search long and hard to find their natural mate, the one who is their specific counterpart, their “soul mate.”

Of course, we no longer belief that Zeus was involved, but the concept of soul mates remains. Author Richard Bach said, “A soul mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys to fit our locks.” There is the ever-popular love scene from the movie Jerry Maguire in which Tom Cruise’s character appeals to Rene Zelwegger’s by saying, “I love you. You complete me.”

I admit to being attracted to the notion of my “other half,” especially when we Christians talk about two becoming one. One divided makes one-half, right? And having my hubby say something along the lines of “you complete me” or “you’re my soul mate” can weaken my knees a little.

But I don’t really believe it.

I’m not sure others do at their core. In fact, Tom Cruise has been married three times, Renee Zelwegger married and divorced once, and Richard Bach was married three times — divorcing his wife whom he had described as his “soul mate” after 22 years of marriage. Despite what these people said in books or movie parts, they haven’t experienced it themselves. I can find plenty of other examples of people claiming to have found a soul mate only to break up years later.

Instead, I believe in Sole Mates.

Of course, you want to choose someone with whom you have a special connection and a shared direction in life. But if you want a really great marriage and wonderful intimacy within that marriage, you’d do far better to adopt the biblical notion of sole mate.

Throughout the Bible, marriages come about in various ways. Fathers gifted their daughters as wives to worthy men, parents arranged marriages, kings selected wives, and men and women fell in love. The Bible’s one direction in this regard is to marry within our faith.

After that, the focus is entirely on how you treat one another in marriage. Presumably, however you get your spouse, if you are both committed to God and His commands and to one another, you can have a great marriage. It isn’t about finding your soul mate, but about committing to your sole mate.

Lori Lowe of Marriage Gems recently reported on a long-term study by UCLA psychologists looking at commitment in marriage. Fewer marital problems and reduced divorced rates were associated with the type of commitment that says:

“I’m committed to this relationship, but it’s not going very well — I need to have some resolve, make some sacrifices and take the steps I need to take to keep this relationship moving forward.” In other words, the partner is willing to take active steps to maintain the relationship, even if sacrifices are needed. He or she says, “I’m committed to making this relationship work.”

This shouldn’t be surprising, since this is the very kind of commitment described by agape love in the New Testament. It goes beyond friendship love (philia), familial love (storge), and romantic love (eros). Those are all significant forms of love. But agape is a selfless, sacrificial love, committed to the well-being of the other. It says, “I value you, my sole mate, and our relationship above myself. I will seek out our good each and every day for the rest of my life.”

Indeed, if you take that attitude, your souls will feel closer. You will have a spiritual connection, as well as an emotional and practical one. Taking this approach to the bedroom, you will experience an intense physical connection as well, as your bodies become “one flesh.”

However you snagged your honey — whether it was a beautiful romance and engagement worthy of its own film depiction or you got knocked up in high school and married the dad in a shotgun wedding — God can mold this into a marriage worthy of heavenly applause. Your Father is rooting for you. He isn’t concerned that you missed your perfect soul mate and instead landed your sole mate. Don’t mistake God for Zeus. The LORD knows that if you do things His way, you can find joy and intimacy in your relationship.

Embrace your sole mate. Make sure he knows that he has your attention, your commitment, your whole self. Start tonight.

Finding a Good Gynecologist

When I was a little girl, I thought the most embarrassing and uncomfortable experience at the doctor’s office was when the nurse pulled down my pants and shoved a needle into my puny butt cheek. And then I became a woman.

No woman enjoys the gynecologist (although I do prefer it to the dentist, which is a whole other story). What fun stuff happens at the gynecologist? Oh yeah, great stuff like:

  • Wearing a tissue-thin paper gown shaped like a rectangle.
  • Getting yourself into a lie-down/squat position and stretching your knees from east to west.
  • Having a speculum inserted into your private area and twisted like a car jack.
  • Attempting to carry on casual conversation with the doctor who is peeking, poking, and prodding all of your girly parts.

[Insert super-sarcastic tone]: Yeah, great stuff.

Yet maturity involves choosing a bit of discomfort now for the best results in the future, so we adults go to the doctor to have our health checked and physical symptoms resolved. In fact, we are blessed to live in an era in which treatment and healing are available for illnesses and difficulties which caused significant pain or death in the past.

I have one of those childbirth stories that ends with “Thank goodness for modern medicine.”Woman doctor illustration

Doctor

Photo credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

So your gynecologist is important. This person will help you maintain your feminine health and, if you birth children, will deliver your babies. You need someone whose medical expertise you can fully trust.

You also need a gynecologist with whom you can discuss your sex life. Throughout your married life, you may face physical challenges that interfere with healthy sexual intimacy. They could range from minor yeast infections to hormonal changes affecting your sex drive to more severe issues like vaginismus. If at some point you face an illness or surgery, you want to be able to discuss, for instance, not only the mastectomy but how it is impacting intimacy with your husband. You need a doctor who will listen to you, show compassion, and pursue solutions when difficulties arise.

Here are some questions for choosing a gynecologist:

Am I comfortable in their presence? You need to be comfortable in their office. You will be talking about your body’s issues, exposing your private areas, and relying on their medical advice. A lot of women believe they will be more comfortable with a female doctor. (However, I have had several female gynecologists and one male. Hands down, the male doctor was the most compassionate; if he hadn’t retired, I’d be with him still.) You indeed may find that you speak more easily to someone in your age group or with similar life circumstances. You may prefer a parental type. But whatever your preference is, make sure you are comfortable in that exam room — as much as you can be in a paper gown — and can open up.

Do they listen to my concerns? Does your appointment feel rushed, allowing you little time to converse about your health? Are you given an opportunity to ask questions and present concerns? When you describe what you’re experiencing, does your doctor restate the issue to ensure understanding and ask follow-up questions? Does he or she believe what you describe? For instance, if you report severe menstrual cramping or pain in sexual intercourse, is that report taken seriously or dismissed as “normal”? Do you feel like your doctor wants to know how you’re doing? Your doctor needs to listen carefully to your concerns. You want to make sure that he does not overlook health issues that can be addressed and treated.

What health model do they use? Two issues in particular are that they have reasons for doing what they do and that their beliefs regarding medical intervention align with your own. Your doctor needs to be able to adequately explain her approach, reasoning, and course of action. As to belief systems aligning, some people are comfortable with a traditional medical model in which a condition is diagnosed and an accompanying treatment is prescribed. Others desire “alternative health” treatments, including herbal supplements, chiropractic manipulation, and other approaches. Some want their doctor to address dietary choices in detail; others do not. Ultimately, this is your body and your health. I won’t tell you which track I take, but you need to be convinced of the path you and your doctor are taking.

This can be especially important with childbirth. There are a number of choices available now — with home births, midwives, obstetricians, hospitals, Lamaze, C-sections, etc. Study the options thoroughly and choose a doctor who supports your approach.

(This one is hard for me to leave alone, given my experience. I advise that if you choose a nontraditional route, be sure that emergency care is readily available if needed.)

Do they stay updated on medical and health issues? There are medical researchers all across the nation and around the world. Health and medicine are areas in which we make new discoveries all the time. Breast cancer used to be an automatic killer; it’s not now. Women with placenta abruptia or previa in childbirth used to die of hemorrhaging; they rarely do now. Better screenings, medicines, treatments, etc. have increased our ability to address many feminine issues.

You want your doctor to be up-to-date on the state of their medical field. Even if you have chosen an alternative route, there are studies and health journals in those fields as well. You don’t want to miss out on an effective treatment only because it is recent and your doctor didn’t keep up.

How thorough are the examinations? Your total health should be part of the exam. You should be asked questions about medical history, family of origin background, presenting problems, medicines taken, and lifestyle. You should have regular urine and blood work testing. Pap smears can detect cervical cancer, and mammograms can detect breast cancer. Your breasts, pelvis, vagina, cervix, uterus, and rectum should be examined by a doctor. The gynecologist will often also check vital signs, lungs, and heart for overall health. You don’t want anything missed.

Do they recognize the importance of sex in marriage? I’ll tell a personal story here. After one of my children was born, I experienced very low estrogen. TWICE I told my gynecologist that sex was painful for me. Her response? “Well, it’s not going to feel great after having a baby. It just takes a while.” After another night of my husband trying to penetrate my vagina, it feeling like a two-edged sword was entering me, crying buckets, and him stopping and consoling me in his arms, I decided to trust my own belief that something was wrong. Thank goodness that my doctor was unavailable when I called, and I got to see her nurse practitioner instead. This angelic woman looked at me, immediately diagnosed low estrogen, and prescribed vaginal cream. Within a week or so, I was fine. Needless to say, I changed doctors for the next baby.

This doctor did not give the proper weight to intimacy. She never asked how my sex life was post-childbirth, and when I shared my concerns, she dismissed them. I don’t deal with that anymore. I have found a doctor with whom I can discuss my sex life. If you have a low sex drive or difficulty during intimacy, you need to be able to discuss this honestly with your doctor. You may have a medical problem. If so, you want a doctor willing to pursue treatments to assist you. You should not have to sacrifice intimacy with your husband because of a change in hormones or physical issues. There often are answers. Your doctor should be supportive of your quest for marital intimacy.

These are my recommendations. I am blessed to have had several wonderful doctors care for me — the obstetrician who delivered my baby in less-than-ideal circumstances, the gynecologist who performed my endometrial ablation, and my current physician with whom I can discuss anything. God bless ’em.

What are your tips for finding a good gynecologist? What have you learned along the way? What do you look for in a gynecologist?

How Important Is Technique?

I admit to being nervous about publishing my Oral Sex: How To post last Thursday, which you can read HERE. However, I was blown away by the number of comments I received. Some wrote to thank me for tackling this issue head on, others to offer tips, some to share their positive story of fun fellatio, and yet others to ask really good questions, which I tried my best to answer.

I have concluded that (A) we Christians are interested in better sexual technique to improve our marital intimacy, and (B) we don’t have many resources available for learning these things.

Although Cosmopolitan magazine sits on the magazine stand at the grocery store promising “10 Creative Ways to Please Your Man” or “The Newest and Best Sexual Techniques,” plenty of us are not looking for advice from secular sources to give us the low-down on these issues. Whenever I do pick up such a magazine, turn to the story, and start reading, the article seems to focus not on finding ways to increase intimacy in marriage but on the reader getting a temporary sexual high.

I’m actually not that big on technique. Given my promiscuous, premarital sexual history (which I regret — see A Letter to a Former Lover), I can honestly say that some guys knew what they were doing more than others. Yet among those, the best sexual experience was with the guy who was a virgin when we had sex (I was a “technical virgin”). We figured it out somehow.

And trumping that experience by about a thousand percent is the sexual intimacy I have with the man with whom I have taken marriage vows, built a home, raised children, weathered ups and downs, and learned every inch of one another’s bodies over the years.

Why?

Chalkboard w/SEX 101

By Andrzej 22, via Wikimedia Commons (blackboard image altered)

Because technique can be learned. Given the apparent desire for more such posts, I will be addressing other issues of technique in the next few months. However, setting the stage for good technique is far more important.

How’s your relationship? No matter how good a lover someone is, if you don’t have any other closeness with them, it won’t matter. It might be great sex, but it won’t be sexual intimacy. For most women in particular, you need to have trust, openness, communication, and attraction to get in the mood for sexual activity. The relationship you have with your lover is important.

How’s your attitude? If you don’t care about sexual intimacy in marriage or you have past issues clouding your ability to let go and enjoy God’s gift of sexuality, no technique tips are going to help. You must start with a willingness to seek out mutual pleasure and intimacy in the act of sex. Dealing with past hurts and misperceptions and adopting a godly perspective of sex will go a long way toward having the right attitude to engage with your spouse.

Where’s your focus? If you are just looking for a sexual high for yourself, you aren’t engaging in the intimacy God desires. Maybe you can give a great “blow job” or have a nice wave of orgasms all in row. However, the focus should be US, not simply me, in the bedroom. The purpose of doing it well is to increase the pleasure you experience together, which bonds you in those shared moments of ecstasy.

With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my favorite lines from the comments section of last week’s post. The post was basically about how to give a “blow job,” but check these out:

Danielle: it makes me feel sexy to turn my hubby on so much, and give him pleasure without expecting anything in return.

Anonymous: I LOVE to love my wife sexually. She’ll frequently ask during oral why I enjoy giving it. Isn’t it truly better to give than receive? YES!! I can’t explain it, I just love it. She is totally open to me and I am giving her incredible pleasure. I could do this several times a week – freely giving it away simply because it makes my love feel so very good.

Megan of Do Not Disturb Blog: While we are young we can learn exactly what gets our man going and this will help us with a lifetime of great lovemaking. I look forward to many years of a satisfying sex life and will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

Anonymous: We’ve been married 31 years and have always enjoyed a robust sex life (very blessed). . . . She is so sweet and understanding. . . . As far as swallowing, it’s no big deal. I don’t want her doing anything she’s uncomfortable with.

Anonymous: I spent time prior to “us time” . . . asking God to help me view this the way He intended it to be. . . . I asked God to open my mind and my heart to loving my husband in this way, and it helped a great deal that my husband never pushed me to do this.

All of these speak to making sexual technique a part of loving intimacy in marriage. That’s where the magic begins! That is why God designed sex to happen in marriage — a covenant relationship before God which can bring about personal growth, family building, and emotional and spiritual intimacy.

Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People come to mind. One of them is simply “First Things First,” meaning to make sure you properly prioritize. For heaven’s sake, let’s learn some great sexual techniques! However, all of that fabulous-lover knowledge must go toward building a complete sex life that fosters intimacy.

Get your groove on, for sure, but remember that God wrote the tune and it takes two-made-one to tango.