Change the Dysfunction in Your Marital Intimacy

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:

  1. “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.)
  2. “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.
  3. “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?

6 thoughts on “Change the Dysfunction in Your Marital Intimacy

  1. refused and hurt

    I can totally see this approach being a good one and the examples you give are excellent. However, as a refused husband, is there any similar approach that would be acceptable? It sounds a lot lot demanding sex and, as usual, there being no real consequences for the refuser.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
  2. Christianne McCall

    The dysfunction in my marriage comes from my husband’s lack of interest in sex. It’s so hurtful to my ego and self esteem. He’s only interested after he’s been drinking. How do I address that? I’ve screamed, cried, begged and pleaded… Nothing changes. I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed… How do I change myself to accept this?

    Reply
    1. happywife

      Christianne,
      Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like it, or embrace it, it just means you come to an understanding that a situation is what it is, and out of your control.
      Yes, I’d say the conversation about your husbands lack of interest in sex needs to happen, but how about setting the conversation aside for a while and take time to surrender control of the situation first. You can’t change your husband. You can’t force intimacy. You don’t have to like it, but you can decide that you’re going to recognize that you have no control, and thus come to an acceptance that this is what it is for today. “Today my husband is not interested in sex. I can’t change him. I’m going to love him in his brokenness and not try to fix this today” Repeat this every day for 30 days and then look back and see if you’ve changed at all. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at what changes in you.

      Reply
  3. IntimacySeeker

    Excellent post, J. I was thinking you were giving fine examples of boundaries, and was caught off guard by the use of the term “ultimatum.” Some would say boundaries express standards for how we expect to be treated and ultimatums are given in exasperation as a result of not having set boundaries early on. I think ultimatums tend to be given when we are in a state of high anxiety or panic. Boundaries are expectations we communicate that facilitate our sense of health and wellbeing, whereas ultimatums can be more about punishing the other person. Some fine lines there, to be sure. But you are spot on about changing ourselves because trying to change, cure, or control another person is fruitless and we waste immeasurable energy doing so.

    Reply
  4. Keelie Reason

    I completely agree with you here. No one can change the other person, we can only change ourselves. Then we have to make our decisions based off of what we think will honor God. There are so many tough things that we deal with in marriage. There is absolutely no easy answer to these problems. We have to pray for God to guide us, do the best we can, and then let the almighty Father do the work in our lives that He desires.

    Reply

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