I come from a dysfunctional family. You know, like 98.3% of you.
Actually, there aren’t that many dysfunctional families, as much as we all joke about it. Every family has its quirks, but some families generally work well. Others truly don’t: The family system isn’t healthy for the people involved. So of course, the answer to that problem is to change the family system, right?
But you can’t.
You are powerless to make everything all better, because it’s a whole system that depends on everyone fulfilling a role. And you’re just one part of that whole.
So what do you do instead?
You change you.
When I hear about married couples faced with major problems in their sexual intimacy, one spouse is usually trying to figure out how to fix everything — to change the whole system that has arisen in their marriage. The marriage has fallen into negative patterns that are emotionally and spiritually devastating, and the only answer seems to be to change the whole thing.
So the spouse who’s figured this out starts talking. Pleading. Ranting. Crying. Begging. Yelling. Anything and everything to get the attention of their spouse, hoping and praying that once you both agree what the problem is, you can fix it together.
I absolutely believe you should begin with honest conversation and vulnerable expression, but some spouses go months and even years trying to effect change and feel they have nothing to show for it but disappointment, regret, and resentment.
God never intended that to be the way marriage goes.
So what can you do?
You change you.
When you finally realize you cannot change your spouse, it can be tempting to think you cannot, therefore, do anything. But you still have influence. Because you are likely doing something, even if you hadn’t realized it, that contributes to the status quo. If you make a change in your part, then the whole changes.
One person changing in a dysfunctional relationship is like throwing a wrench into the cogs of a wheel. The system stops. You’re no longer agreeing to be part of that whole.
Which gives the others involved two options. Before you do something like this, I must warn your spouse does have options. And you may not like one of them. But your husband can either continue doing what he’s doing (adultery, pornography, abuse, etc.) with greater consequences, or he can choose to finally address the issues.
What most spouses do when faced with such an ultimatum is about the same as what would happen if you threw that wrench in — a lot of ear-splitting, grinding noises. They’re likely to throw a fuss and demand in some way or another that you get back in line with the dysfunctional system. Because even though it’s not working well, it is working. And having to rebuild a system or lose a member is an untenable choice to that person.
It takes guts to calmly stick to your guns.
Here are some examples of what I mean by changing your role in the dysfunction of your marital intimacy:
- “If you choose to watch porn tonight, I will not be available to make love.” You don’t have to make a big deal about it or throw a fit, but it’s a clear choice. Your husband now knows he cannot have his cake and eat it too. (Especially since that porn cake is nasty.)
- “I don’t want to be hit during lovemaking. It’s not okay with me. If you insist on that, I will not participate.” There’s been a huge trend toward taking what constitutes physical abuse outside the bedroom and labeling it okay inside the bedroom. But you don’t have to subject yourself to physical harm because your spouse thinks it’s “spicy.” Calmly say no.
- “If you engage in sex of any kind with another woman again, I will leave.” I can’t say for you what happens after that — how lengthy your leaving would or should be. But if you’re dealing with an unapologetic, adulterous husband, you have to put your foot down. Shutting your mouth and staying there for the kids and hoping things will change — I’m so sorry to say — simply keeps that dysfunctional system going. Something’s gotta give. You simply cannot enable that sin.
Is any of this easy? A resounding NO!
Are ultimatums where we should begin? Another NO!
But after you’ve exhausted other avenues, you can’t simply keep screaming about the problem and hoping it will change. It may take decisive action on your part.
I’m not telling anyone to walk out of their marriage. By no means! I believe most failing marriages can be saved, with prayer and work and grace. But far too often, we remain in relationships that look nothing like a real marriage, and more like a train wreck. We might even be enabling our spouse’s sin or becoming steeped in sin ourselves, just trying to preserve the status quo.
Likewise, if your marital bedroom is an ongoing train wreck, stop riding those rails. Calmly step away and deal with the problems the best you can, by changing yourself.
Winner: The winner of last Saturday’s announced giveaway is Okwukwe (a Nigerian follower!). He will receive a copy of my ebook of five marriage stories, Behind Closed Doors.
Giveaway: This week’s giveaway is for Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage. This devotional book walks you through scriptures, insight, and prayer, designed to move you closer and closer each week to healthy, godly sexual intimacy in marriage.
To enter, simply share any of my posts on Pinterest, from now until next Thursday, August 20, 10:00 p.m. I’ll be checking to see who shared and will automatically enter you in the drawing.
Back to my post topic: If you’ve moved past dysfunction in your marriage, specifically sexual intimacy, please share how you made changes. What helped you break free from the bad patterns and sin in your relationship?