Monthly Archives: March 2016

What I Truly Believe About Men

I talk a lot here about perceptions we have about sexuality that affect our the marital intimacy we experience. I’ve come to understand that we are also hampered at times by what we believe about the opposite sex. Wives often have a perspective about men generally that makes it difficult to trust their own husband.

Wives often have a perspective about men generally that makes it difficult to trust their own husband. Click To Tweet

You know the sort of assumptions I’m talking about, because we’ve all heard them:

Men are pigs.
Men are jerks.
Men are perverts.
Men only want one thing.
Men are idiots.
Men are porn addicts.
Men are selfish.
Men are clueless.

You could probably keep going with Men are phrases you’ve heard in female circles. But let’s move on to what I truly believe about men. Because I don’t believe a single one of those things is inherently true.

What I Truly Believe about Men

What I believe about men colors how I view their approach to sex in marriage. Let’s get started with truths that I’ve observed, heard, studied, and talked to guys directly about.

Men want love. They’re just like us in this regard. Most men desire a long-lasting, committed relationship with a single woman they choose to invest in day after day. Even if he “sowed wild oats” in his premarital days, his deep longing is for a companion with whom he can share life and love. It’s why over two-thirds of adult men are married, and half of single adults say they want to eventually marry. (I suspect a few of those “don’t want to marry” types will change their mind in the future.)  I couldn’t find exact statistics, but doing a bit of head math based on what I found, I think between 80-90% of men get married at some point in their lives.

What distinguishes men and women is that love might look a little different to each. She might define it by a great romance, while he might be content with familiar companionship. She might consider expression of love to include hours of conversational intimacy, while he wants her to go with him on fishing trips. He might think that he said “I love you” last week and that still stands unless he says otherwise (my husband’s inclination), while she wants him to express ongoing appreciation and desire.

When the way you show love differs, you can start doubting that he loves you. Or that the male species in general even wants love. After all, it seems like what he really wants is good cooking, time with the TV remote, and lots of sex (assuming he’s the higher-drive spouse, which he may not be). How can that possibly be love?! I suggest you ask him what love looks like to him.

The Five Love Languages can also help you interpret your husband’s strange priorities. Just because it looks a little different to him doesn’t mean that his love doesn’t run deep and long.

Just because it looks a little different to him doesn't mean that his love doesn't run deep and long. Click To Tweet

Most husbands can easily answer yes to “Would you take a bullet for your wife?” We don’t think that way, but they do. And it means something — just ask another guy.

Men struggle with lust. Your husband is a “red-blooded male,” which means that he’s got eyes, an imagination, functioning body parts, and he ain’t dead yet. God actually created him to be a sexual being who — when everything is firing the way it should — desires physical intimacy. If you and he were living alone like Eve and Adam, I doubt sexual lust would be such an issue. They didn’t have Internet porn, Victoria’s Secret posters, or other women in the Garden of Eden. In the way God intended, Adam’s visual appetite and sexual longing were met by the one woman he knew and loved — Eve.

Sounds nice, right? But it didn’t last. They had another kind of lust — a lust for power — and that led to sin entering the world. When that happened, the world broke, and now we have numerous obstacles to living the life God wants us to have. But let’s not get cynical here. Because God, being GOD, provided for our redemption and equips us to have victory.

That’s why godly married men struggle with lust. Godless men don’t struggle. They give in. So even when I hear terrible statistics about the number of Christian men who have been exposed to or sought out porn, I don’t lose hope. Because a large percentage of them are racked with guilt and know that God wants something better.

As strong as men can be, many of them are in the fight of their lives against the real enemy, Satan, who wants nothing more than for men to give up and our marriages to crumble.

It’s a struggle, not a foregone conclusion. Men aren’t pigs or perverts or porn addicts, just by virtue of being men. Satan is doing his usual: he takes what God gave as a gift (sexual desire) and twists it into something horrible (lust outside of marriage). If a man is struggling to stay out of the quicksand, I’m not going to yell obscenities at him; I’m going to throw the poor guy a rope. And I believe every wife, every church, and the Church in general should be clear about this struggle and poised to bring people out of sin.

Men need tangibles. I truly dislike that getting my guys to clean the house involves me writing a list of to-dos they can work from. I simply don’t understand how they can’t scan the house, like I do, and see everything that would be involved in the simple phrase clean house. But after many discussions with them, and sharing notes with other wives and moms, I’ve stopped fighting biology and accepted that men work better with tangibles.

I think this is so true in marriage too. If you tell a husband you want to be more romantic, what does that mean? What does that look like? Most guys want to know. They might be willing to do what you want, if only they knew what you want. If you tell a hubby that you want to be more affectionate, he might appreciate you telling him that means holding hands while you’re taking a walk, kissing when you part and when you come back together, and having long hugs without overt groping. Now he knows what it looks like.

Many men even take abstract concepts and define them with concrete things: What’s romantic? Flowers. What’s sexy? Lingerie. What’s intimacy? Sex. Breaking it down into aspects they can see in their heads helps them know what to expect and what to do. Men tend to be more task-focused, so translating desires into tangible actions gives him something to work on. But nebulous complaints? What’s a husband to do with that?

Men don’t understand women. Some men do, but they’re a minority. I’m not saying men are idiots or men are clueless. Rather, we ladies aren’t really easier for them to understand than they are for us to understand. Our gender differences run deep, past the exterior distinctions down to our brain structure and chemistry.

I’ve often had to explain to my husband how a woman’s brain works or how women would likely react to a situation that’s different from men. And having two teenage sons, I know this isn’t a singular experience. I live with three men, and none of them understand women. Not really.

Which I why I think it’s really silly to fault guys for not doing things that we ladies think are obvious. Is it really obvious to him? One of my personal pet peeves is the line of thinking that culminates in such statements as: He should know what I’m thinking. He should know what’s wrong. Why doesn’t he know how I feel? Husbands aren’t psychics.

Husbands aren't psychics. Click To Tweet

Moreover, your heart and mind probably work very differently from his. So of course he doesn’t understand you! Which is one of the reasons God gave us language.

Give the guy a break and explain to him what you — a woman, and a unique woman — are thinking, feeling, and wanting. He doesn’t “get” you, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to listen and try.

Okay, guys, it’s time to shoot holes in my assumptions. Or you wives can add to my list! What would you put on your Man Manifesto — meaning what do you truly believe about men?

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your Spouse’s Old Flames

I’m back from The Great Hard Drive Replacement of 2016 that sapped my work productivity for about a week. But I got everything back up and running with no loss of data!

In the meantime, the world did not stop turning, and readers did not stop sending questions. So let’s tackle another reader question today.

My wife and I have a wonderful marriage (10 yrs) and greatly enjoy each other intimately. My wonderful wife’s history is similar to yours and we have grown together through our baggage of sexual history and are still cultivating a beautiful marriage. We are blessed with a wonderful family and a spirit filled life.

The one hang up I still have is when I run into her old flames. I still get the there’s the “old dog in my territory feel.” Is there any advice you and your husband would share on how you moved past the “past” rearing its ugly head bringing old memories and hurt feelings back to the surface?

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your Spouse's Old Flames

I think jealousy gets a bad rap. Most believe that jealousy is a wrong emotional reaction that displays a lack of trust. Not always, my friends. First look at the four definitions of jealous from the Oxford Dictionaries:

  1. Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.
  2. Feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship.
  3. Fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.
  4. (Of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.

We tend to think of definitions #1 or #2, but maybe #3 is more the case in marriage. I know the words rights and possessions makes some of you comfortable, but don’t we have some rights to one another in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) and a deep belonging expressed as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)? Consider Song of Songs 8:6: “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” Jealousy in this context seems inevitable and good.

In fact, there are more positive uses of the word jealous than negative in the Bible — mostly speaking of God’s rightful claim on His people. For example, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). Yes, of course, there are negative references — e.g., “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him” (Acts 13:45) — but those relate to coveting what belongs to someone else.

All of this to say that I’m not one bit surprised that you, hubby, have that “old dog in my territory” feel whenever one of your wife’s exes comes around. Hey, that’s your wife and your love for her is “stronger than death” and its jealousy “unyielding as the grave.”

Of course, there’s a difference between a twinge of jealousy for your spouse and the compulsion of jealousy against those exes. Jealousy can certainly rise to the level of distrust of your spouse, unreasonable demands, and obsessive rumination about the past. None of that is positive for your marriage.

So let’s talk about keeping jealousy in check, at the level of unyielding, not sabotaging.

As for me and my husband, we’ve run to an old flame from each other’s past once. I suppose that’s a benefit of moving to a city where neither of us had lived before. Plus, our area is well-populated (Houston’s the 4th largest city in the U.S.), so you don’t typically bump into people willy-nilly.

I have written about the one time I ran into my ex in a store. That interaction consisted of him saying, “Hi, J__.” And me responding with a very shaky, “Hi.” My husband was standing beside me. When my ex walked away, I let hubby know who that was. He didn’t overreact, though I don’t know what was going on inside him. But I suspect him seeing that my response was entirely shock and not at all interest or nostalgia helped him feel secure.

Yet we have taken steps through the years to prevent jealousy of old flames.

Don’t hang out with your exes. If you have a choice, don’t hang out with old flames. That means not having lunch with previous lovers, befriending exes on Facebook, or emailing to “catch up” more than, say, once — if that. You’ve moved on from that old relationship, so move on. The explanation, “But we’re still friends,” really holds no sway with me. There’s a plethora of people you can be friends with, and it’s common courtesy not to remain unnecessary linked to an ex who makes your mate profoundly uncomfortable.

Of course, this isn’t possible for some — for instance, if you have children with an ex or live in an area where rubbing elbows happens no matter what you do. Even then, you don’t have to socialize with an ex. You can be courteous, personable, and gracious without “hanging out.”

Talk to your spouse about what you need. It’s perfectly fine to express how being around your wife’s exes makes you feel. But keep the focus on how you wish there had never been any others because you want to belong entirely to her and her to you. Do not cast doubt on her and her faithfulness simply because her exes come around sometimes. Rather, tell her what you need in those instances.

Would a quick squeeze of your hand reassure you? Would you prefer to be arm-in-arm when she’s chatting with an ex? Do you need her to express outright, more than once, that she chose and loves only you? It can feel a little silly to ask for these extra reassurances, but if that’s what would help, why not ask for what you need? I suspect you won’t need those for the course of your marriage. Over time, I’ve found myself more and more secure that my husband wants only me, so I feel way less uncertain when he’s around other women (some of whom, I’m sure, have flirted with him).

Be in the business of reassuring yourself. Our self-talk can make or break us. If you let your mind wander and dwell in her past, you’ll find yourself feeling more and more jealous — to the point of damaging your self-confidence and your relationship. Instead, when a stray thought pops up, remind yourself how much she loves you and you love her. Make it a habit to reassure yourself mentally that her past is a done deal. It’s forgiven and doesn’t define her, you, or your marriage in any way. God is in the business of redemption, and we can be in the business of reassuring ourselves that we are new creations (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

I always find comfort in reciting theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Pray for serenity about the past. You can’t change it. But you can courageously change your present and future to God’s glory.

As with much of what I advise on my blog, things improve with practice. If you can practice setting appropriate boundaries with exes, asking for what you need, and reassuring yourself, I think that can go a long way to easing your mind.

I almost never think about mine or my husband’s exes. After 20+ years and learning to have a happy marriage, I’m simply more secure in my marriage than I used to be.

That’s not to say that I think jealousy ever goes away entirely. My husband recently told me a story about a girl who planted a kiss on him when they were 13 years old. My claws came out, and I thought, How dare she touch my man! Silly, I know. But I laughed off my reaction and said something that reassured him and me of our one-flesh love — which sure beats anything either of us had before.

Real Life Check-in

I’m behind two posts: Saturday with a marriage memory verse and today with a Q&A with J. But honestly, my hard drive is dying, so I’ve had to shift my priorities while I attempt to save all my data before my laptop goes kaput.

Not to say that y’all are not a huge priority. You are!

But I won’t be able to write posts for even longer if I end up fighting to retrieve data for the next month. In the meantime:

And take my Personal Lubricant Survey! I’m currently at 468 responses. If we reach 500 before the survey closes at the end of the month, I promise to give away a book (maybe a couple of books) in the follow-up post I write about personal lubricant recommendations.

What Are You Thinking During Sex?

I am a recovering perfectionist. I hate getting things wrong, but I’ve learned through the years quite a bit about my fallibility and my need for humility. Thus, it should be no surprise that I might have messed up with Monday’s post, Q&A with J: “He’s Going Into His ‘Spank Bank.’ “

The querying wife explained that her husband closed his eyes during sex and was “going into his spank bank” for past porn images to maintain his erection. My answer addressed him doing just that. When there was another possibility: that he was closing his eyes for reasons that had nothing to do with past porn use.

Honestly, my automatic acceptance of the wife’s explanation was influenced by how damaging ongoing pornography use can be to an individual and a marriage. But I might have had this situation wrong, and it’s unfair to draw firm conclusions without more information.

Indeed, I often encourage spouses to give their mate the benefit of the doubt and extend grace wherever possible. It’s a bad idea to assume what your spouse is thinking, feeling, wanting — even if you believe you know them so well after umpteen years of marriage. We just can’t know everything going on in between each other’s ears.

The comments to Monday’s post revealed that we could be thinking all kinds of things during sex. Which brings me to my question: What are you thinking during sex? Does it even matter?

I think it does.

What Are You Thinking During Sex?

What wife wants her husband thinking about some other woman, even if she’s orgasming off the charts? What husband wants his wife picturing her latest book boyfriend while he’s pleasuring her? Or even from a non-third-party perspective . . . What wife wants her husband solely thinking about his own climax and not her pleasure? What husband wants his wife mentally sorting through her to-do list rather than paying attention to their intimate time together?

Of course, the entirety of our sex lives together is not comprised of I’m all about you thinking. Stray thoughts zoom in, and some overstay their welcome. It could take a while to shut down all of the mental activity of the day to focus on what’s happening with your bodies. You could be going and blowing with some fabulous foreplay, and suddenly you remember that your son’s science project is due tomorrow and do you still have poster-board in the house? You might be midway through a rockin’ good time, and all of a sudden your leg cramps and your only thought is Ooowww! Real life intrudes into our minds. Constantly.

But we can train our minds to focus in the right direction. That’s a biblical principle, you know. (See Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8). What is the “right direction” in the marriage bed?

It’s a little easier to define the wrong direction. Because I think we have a pretty wide range of acceptable thoughts when making love with our mate. You might be thinking about any of these:

Practical concerns

  • How your body looks and feels
  • How his/her body looks and feels
  • What you want to do or don’t want to do
  • Whether you’ll reach orgasm and how to get there

Fantasy-type thoughts

  • Picturing yourselves in an exotic locale
  • Remembering the first time he/she touched you this way
  • Considering all the possible activities and positions you can try
  • Imagining what actions or words can stimulate your lover even more

Pleasure-focused matters

  • How attracted you are to your spouse
  • What’s turning you on at the moment
  • How the physical sensations feel to your body
  • The effect your body and actions have on your mate’s pleasure
  • What you can do to increase your pleasure and his/hers

Deeper meaning feelings

  • How grateful you are for this unique connection to your spouse
  • The depth of your love for him/her
  • God’s approval of this unity of your lovemaking
  • How amazing it feels to be “one flesh” with your beloved
  • Why sex binds you so closely together

Sometimes we think about small stuff, sometimes big stuff; sometimes solely about our beloved, and other times our own pleasure. Our minds can go all kinds of places that keep us committed to healthy, godly sexuality.

But while you know what you are thinking during sex, you don’t know what your spouse is thinking. Unless he/she tells you.

Of course, you can ask. Just like with any other moment in your marriage, isn’t it a valid question to say, “What’s going through your mind right now?” They might share or might not, but it’s an innocent enough question in the right context and with the right attitude. I’ve asked during sex, and the answers my husband has given are always interesting. I’m happy to share what I’m thinking too.

You can volunteer what you’re thinking to your spouse. Tell them how turned on you are, how good something feels, or how meaningful this experience is to you. Or hey, inform your spouse that something doesn’t feel all that good and you’d like to try something different. Communication can be key in creating a mutually satisfying sexual experience.

If your spouse honestly has difficulty concentrating — because their work day was horrible and they’re still stressed, or whatever — maybe it’s good to know that and help them get their head back in the game. For myself, even if the answer was “I’m struggling with old images popping in my head, although I really want to be here only for you because you are the one I love,” I’d be okay knowing because then I could walk alongside my husband and help him find ways to be wholly and thoroughly in the moment. I believe that his battle is our battle.

Must you share what’s going through your minds? Of course not. My hubby and I usually don’t — although I pretty much assume it’s good stuff — because we’re kind of busy doing other things. (Also, sometimes I can’t entirely form words, but I’m pretty sure he knows what I’m thinking in those particular moments.)

Sometimes, when we do share, it’s not sex-focused. It’s some stray thought out of nowhere, and these days that usually makes us laugh. “What? You had a thought about the Republican debate?” *laugh* “Well, I’ll get your mind off that right now.” And then, we do! Because we know we’re ultimately focused on one another and this precious time together.

What do you think about during sex? Is it different from what your spouse might expect? Do you struggle focusing on what’s happening in your marriage bed? What has helped you get your “head in the game”?

Q&A with J: “He’s Going Into His ‘Spank Bank’ “

Today’s question is a frustrating one. Yet another example of the terrible effects pornography can have on how we view sex and our ability to enjoy it in marriage the way God intended. Please say a prayer for this wife today. Here’s her question:

I get incredibly shy in bed with my husband. When I am on top, unless I have had like a bottle of wine, I get so much anxiety. I forget how to even be on top and it feels awkward.

I know I don’t have to feel embarrassed to tell you this. My husband has had a past with porn and we are still in the process of dealing with it. Because of the porn, he can’t stay hard sometimes, and I can see him closing his eyes and going into his ‘spank bank’ to try and get hard again. This is traumatizing to me and makes getting on top even more anxiety ridden. Do you have any advice for me?

 

Q&A with J: "He's Going into His 'Spank Bank' "

I see four issues in this short question.

1. Anxiety about being on top. I don’t know exactly why this wife feels shy about the on-top position. Maybe it’s the full view her husband’s getting of her, and she struggles with body issues. Maybe it’s the feeling that she’s in the dominant sexual position, and she feels uncomfortable being “in charge.” Maybe it’s a lack of experience and not feeling like she knows what she’s doing. Maybe it’s just physically hard to make things happen (it can wear on a gal’s knees).

Whatever the issue, some things are awkward when you first do them in the marriage bed. The first time, the second time . . . even the fifth time. But if you continue doing something with positive results, it gets easier and easier. Your comfort level increases.

To relax about any position, just pay attention to your breathing, making sure it’s steady and soothing. Lean into the pleasure you feel in that moment. Ask for feedback from your husband about what he enjoys of what he’s seeing and experiencing.

Remember that all sex is a little awkward. You never just suddenly find yourself in that position with your legs apart and hiked up or sprawling over your husband’s lap. You’re aiming for the pleasure that you get from pushing a little outside that comfort zone and connecting with one another in a way you don’t with anyone else, ever. But over time, that intimacy can become the most comfortable thing in the world.

2. Dealing with anxiety by grabbing the wine. I’m personally not opposed to a glass of wine. But I have concerns about dealing with anxiety in the marital bedroom by grabbing alcohol. Julie Sibert of Intimacy in Marriage had an excellent post about this topic called Need a Few Drinks to Get in the Mood for Sex?

By using wine to deal with the anxiety, you’re likely evading the process of getting comfortable with being on top. You’re priming your brain and body to feel okay about it only when alcohol is involved. Remove the alcohol, and the anxiety is back.

Rather, trust that you can find ways to enjoy the experience without relying on alcohol or any other crutch.

3. Her husband’s porn past. Once again, porn rears its ugly head. You can also label this Satan, because he is all too happy to steal healthy intimacy in marriage by tempting people with a twisted version of sexuality. Remember who your real enemy is.

I’m so glad that you’re dealing with this porn past. That should include taking tangible steps to keep the temptation out of your home and off his phone and him getting support from others through accountability partners or ministry groups. Very few people who used porn much in the past simply say, “Not using porn anymore,” and stop altogether. You need a more involved strategy to conquer this evil.

However, it has obviously affected his ability to get aroused. Unfortunately, more young men now struggle with maintaining an erection because of the prevalence of porn. Viewing those images distorts how our brains register arousal and satisfaction. Sex becomes a two-dimensional, self-serving act, rather than the face-to-face, we-focused intimacy God intended.

The way to overcome this challenge is to unlearn bad habits and learn good ones instead. Not only does he need to throw off the porn, but you should both accept that he needs to awaken the arousal that comes from being with a real person — you. It may take some time for his body to change how it views stimulation, but with time and patience you can figure it out. God created his body to respond that way.

4. He’s going into his ‘spank bank.’ For those who don’t know what a “spank bank” is, that’s a colloquialism for a collection of mental images you can access to become sexually stimulated or to heighten arousal. In this case, it’s stored memories of pornographic pictures.

First off, that’s sin. Just to be clear here: There’s no justification for lusting after other people while making love to your spouse. Or at any other time. (See Matthew 5:28, Hebrews 13:4, Job 31:1, Proverbs 6:25.) Your sexual energy should be focused entirely on your covenant mate. It matters what happens not only with our bodies, but in our minds and in our hearts. (See Jeremiah 17:10.) Part of getting over this porn past is your husband retraining his mind. And you can help.

Explain to your husband that those images are another obstacle to your sexual intimacy — that they are prolonging the problems by maintaining that brain connection of two-dimensional images and sexual arousal. I get that it’s frustrating for him to have erection difficulties (not that I know what that’s like, but I can imagine); however, the long-term answer is to establish your one-on-one connection.

Be willing to set some boundaries. You can tell him, “If I see you going into your ‘spank bank,’ I cannot continue making love. It just doesn’t feel like you’re making love to me, but to those images. So if you go there, I’m going to ask you to stop and refocus on me. If you don’t stop, I’ll have to discontinue our sexual encounter until you can pay attention to me.” Reiterate that you’re not trying to punish him, but rather help him. You are on his side. But you also aren’t going to settle when you know that God has loving sexual intimacy awaiting you both for your marriage. You want your husband to be fully involved with you, and you want to be fully involved with him.

You may need to reassure him many times of your support and your love, because this is a difficult struggle. Yet you have every right to expect his respect in the bedroom — meaning he doesn’t get to bring other women in there. In reality or mentally.

[I wanted to add a great point that commenters have called me on. Rightly so. I’m not infallible, and I missed the very real possibility that this husband isn’t recalling past porn images at all. When he closes his eyes and concentrates, he could be regaining his focus on the moment with his wife. Rather than assuming you know what’s going on in your husband’s mind, ask. We should extend grace and believe the best about our spouses, rather than choosing the worst possible assumption. Anyway, I apologize if I got this one wrong. If he accessing past images, my advice stands. But, if not,…]

Your issues aren’t likely going to be settled in a week or even a month. But step-by-step, with intentionality and love, I am confident you two can move toward far more fulfilling sexual experiences. One or two years down the road, you might be amazed by the beauty and pleasure you’ve discovered in the marriage bed.