Monthly Archives: September 2011

Touch Me: I’m Here

It’s funny (peculiar, not ha-ha) how often being available or being present makes a positive difference to someone.

After you race through a store and select items, someone must be available at the check-out counter to ring up your purchases, and stores that do well in being there at the right time and in the right way keep you coming back.

When you phone a company for assistance, do you enjoy spending twenty minutes talking to a robotic voice and pushing buttons to get to the right department? Or does it make a difference when a friendly person answers the phone?

From your young child saying, “Mom, look!” right before demonstrating a pirouette to a teenager needing you to hold her as she cries after her first break-up, being there makes a difference.

We expect teachers at school to be available to our children when they have questions. We expect the postal service to be there at our mailboxes to deliver letters and packages. We expect the television show we anticipate throughout the week to be there when we turn it on.

Day in and day out, it makes a difference to be there. Woody Allen famously said that “eighty percent of success is showing up.” Allen’s not my go-to guy for advice, but this quote is pretty good.

When people are not there and we need them — why is our favorite show always the one preempted? — we are understandably disappointed.

I’ve been talking about reasons why spouses sometimes are not available for sexual intimacy with their spouse. In fact, there are times when the very thought of your beloved touching you makes you cringe. You do not want to engage in sex, foreplay, affection, and possibly even eye contact with this person.

Perhaps you are so tired that you can’t prop your eyes open or move your limbs: Don’t Touch Me: I’m Exhausted!

Or you’re particularly frustrated with your spouse: Don’t Touch Me: I’m Angry!

Maybe you have way too much to do to add physical intimacy to the list: Don’t Touch Me: I’m Busy!

And some of you don’t want to show up sexually because you have to get naked and you don’t feel good about your appearance: Don’t Touch Me: I’m Ugly!

But if it’s important for the barista at the Starbucks Drive-Through to be there when you need a venti cup of coffee to make it through your day, how much more important is it to be there when our spouse needs a small cup ‘o lovin’?

(Okay, c’mon. One of you out there is thinking it! I know, I know: “I’ll take my cup o’ lovin’ with whipped cream, please.” Whew. Got that out of the way.)

My prior posts addressed tackling some ongoing, nagging obstacles to being present sexually in our marriage. Of course, there are bigger issues for plenty of couples out there (e.g., sexual history, pornography), but a lot of marriages could improve their sexual health by clearing out the excuse bin and putting sexual intimacy near the top of the to-do pile.

Couple face-to-face

Photo credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

Deal with anger, exhaustion, busyness, and body image issues so that you can turn to your sweetheart tonight or tomorrow night or sometime very soon and say, “Touch me, I’m here.”

I’m asking readers to share their own advice below. What daily distractions or issues have you overcome to make sexual intimacy a priority in your marriage? How important has it been to you to have your spouse emotionally and physically available to you? How do you think we can foster that sense of true presence with our spouses and still work our jobs, feed the kids, and do the laundry? What thoughts do you want to add to the Don’t Touch Me ideas I’ve shared?

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Sleeping with the Enemy?

Laura & Rob Petrie from The Dick Van Dyke Show

Laura & Rob Petrie

Recently, a reader recommended The Dick van Dyke Show as a positive television show which “illustrates respect and love in marriage.” I enjoyed that series and its family values, but the comment got me to thinking about that era of film and television. Married couples were shown sleeping separately in twin beds. Respectful perhaps, but not the show of intimate lovin’ we typically expect from the wedded.

I have also read quite a few books written at times in history when an affluent husband and wife had separate rooms — his and hers chambers.

Pre-marriage, these arrangements struck me as preposterous. Who wouldn’t want to sleep every night in the welcoming arms of their beloved?

Yet anyone who’s been married for a while knows that there are moments when kicking your otherwise-delightful spouse out of the sleep nest is an attractive proposition. Perhaps he is always hot while she’s continuously cold, or she needs a fan running while he eschews air blowing onto his side. It’s not always easy to share your snooze space with another human being night after night, especially when their sleep habits don’t exactly match yours.

Perhaps you can relate to the descriptions below. See if you or your spouse make an appearance here.

The Thief. A Thief takes something that doesn’t belong to them – as in sheets, covers, pillows, etc. If you are married to a Thief, you wake up in the middle of the night to find yourself lying on a bare mattress with all your covering and cushions wrapped tightly around your bedmate. The Bible says that thieves should repay more than they took. Thus, the best way to deal with a Thief might be to roll over, yank as hard as possible, and wrap those covers around yourself instead. It’s not revenge; it’s recompense.

The Mover and Shaker. Whether twitching, tossing and turning, or flip-flopping all night long, this person cannot keep still. Apparently, no one informed her that sleeping was a largely inert activity. Sleeping with a spouse who moves and shakes all night long can make the bed feel more like a trampoline. And who can sleep through a series of seat drops and somersaults?

The Noisemaker. Ranging from heavy breathing to gurgling to buzzsaw snoring, the racket of the Noisemaker rattles your nerves and sometimes the rafters. When first married, you attempt sweetly tapping your spouse and informing him that he is snoring and should roll over. Several years in, you’re reduced to pinching his nose, shoving him, and contemplating how long you would need to hold the pillow to smother the snores but not the breathing.

The Stockpiler. This spouse treats the bed like her own work or play space, bringing in every conceivable item that might be needed as she works, reads, grooms, eats, plays, etc. This may include a laptop and piles of paper for work; nail tools, polishes, lotions, and more for a pedicure; a stash of dishes, cups, food, and drinks for snack time; or even the family pet collection of three dogs and four cats. Whatever your Stockpiler has managed to bring to the bed, there isn’t much room left for you to slip in and get some sleep, not to mention that a mass of the dog hairs and crumbs don’t invite visions of wild lovemaking in that space.

The Grabber. Primarily a male category, the Grabber reaches over to his spouse at any time of night to touch, grasp, pinch, or squeeze whichever body part seems particularly appealing at the moment. This can mean that you are delightfully snoozing and are suddenly greeted at 2:00 in the morning with a honk of your breast. Does the Grabber actually believe this will result in the kind of invitation he desires? At the very least, the Grabber may wish to ease into it through light touches, strokes, kisses, and whispers of love before clamping down on the goodies.

The Brainstormer. Of course, no one is opposed to brainstorming, but a Brainstormer here is the person whose flashes of brilliance occur at the very hours that you are attempting to hang onto sanity with a dab of sleep. The Brainstormer awakens at 3:00 a.m. with a list of to-dos, a headful of worries, a great idea for a new ministry or work project, or a need to talk something out at length . . . with you. It seems that your spouse cannot process through the honey-do list or emotional conversation during waking hours, but Einsteinian ideas or Freudian feelings rear their head at the very moment that your own head is fogged up with notions of sleep, blessed sleep.

The Sprawler. The Sprawler stretches out on the bed at odd geometrical angles, managing to consume the majority of bed space. Little by little, you find yourself edged into a sliver of inches in which to sleep. You wonder if perhaps your spouse is really that elastic guy from the Fantastic Four because you didn’t remember his limbs being that long and invasive. Your only hope is to learn to sleep in the fetal position, with your chin tucked to your knees and possibly even sucking your thumb.

The Silent Killer. I suppose the flatulent could also be named under the Noisemaker category, but nothing is worse than those silent-but-deadly ones that your beloved can render at times. There you lie, trying to enter dreamland after a long day, and all of a sudden your nostrils are viciously attacked by an odor that cannot be described (or at least I refuse to describe it here). Had there been noise, there might have been adequate warning. But in this case, all you can hope for is that moving to your edge of the bed, fanning the sheets, and turning on the ceiling fan will dissipate the smell. Unfortunately, however, not the memory.

I won’t admit to which one I am or which one my spouse is. But I will say that it isn’t always like sleeping with the enemy. Most of the time, it’s a beautiful thing to share your bed with your spouse. Like other parts of marriage, it involves give and take, live and learn, joke and laugh. In fact, I want to add one more category which describes both me and my husband:

The Cuddler. The Cuddler spends some of that time in bed, before and/or while asleep, getting cozy with her spouse. She enjoys touching, holding, snuggling, and spooning as affectionate expressions of love and intimacy. The Cuddler might notice when her spouse has left the bed to use the bathroom, get a snack, or for a bout of insomnia because she misses his body lying next to her. Now that’s nice.

What are the best and worst things about sharing sleep space with your spouse? Do you have your own category to add?

Don’t Touch Me: I’m Ugly!

It’s that time of month, you are bloated, and you feel like a sperm whale.

Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale (the bigger one)
Archibald Thorburn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You have inexplicably gained 15 pounds in the last month and no longer see your feet past the muffin top surrounding your belly.

You are broken out like an pizza-consuming, oily-faced teenager and the only thought that comes to mind when you see your face in the mirror is zit.

You have just experienced childbirth, a mastectomy, chemotherapy, or another medical procedure that has made your body not what it once was.

In a word, you feel ugly.

And then your sweet spouse cozies up to you and signals a desire to mate like whales (not really, they mate differently). But you can’t imagine how anyone could find you attractive at that moment. You don’t want to be stroked or even looked at. Tears gathered at the corners of your eyes, and all you can think in your mind is, “Don’t touch me, I’m ugly!”

What a wife feels about her body can be a HUGE factor in her ability to open up sexually to her husband. And all too often, we gals don’t feel like a Vogue cover model. But since none of us looks like Helen of Troy all of the time, we must move beyond this somehow. We must learn how to feel beautiful enough to enjoy lovemaking with our husband.

Tips for Wives

Stop Comparisons to Unrealistic Ideals. Whenever you see those stunning models on the covers of magazines or billboards, remind yourself that they have been dressed, styled, and touched-up. They are not real. In fact, I read an interview with an actress about her body image struggle because she could never measure up to her own self as presented in professional photos! Our self-talk either reinforces negative or positive concepts of ourselves. Give yourself a break and learn to appreciate God’s handiwork in you.

Make an effort to prettify yourself. Do not get hung up on achieving a perfect appearance. Such women are never satisfied and miss that God is immensely more concerned with inner beauty (“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight,” 1 Peter 3:3-4.) Yet, although Peter describes Sarah as a woman adorned by her hope in God, she was also physically beautiful (1 Peter 3:5-6; Genesis 12:14). One can reasonably assume that Sarah took care of her appearance to make such an impression.

So think about what would make you feel beautiful: Skin care products to deal with problem areas? An exercise program to get in shape? Some new clothes that flatter your figure? Extend a little effort to feel better about yourself, so that you can walk into that bedroom with confidence and let your husband enjoy your beauty.

Let Your Husband Define Beauty. I have warned that some husbands are unfortunately critical of their wife’s appearance; if that is your situation, ignore this section and refer him to Slap-worthy Practices. Yet a friend of mine attended a marriage conference at which surveys revealed that 100% of the wives had issues with their own bodies and 100% of the husbands had no issues with their wives’ bodies. That discrepancy can only mean one thing: Plenty of husbands think their wives are pretty even the wives don’t feel it. If your husband says he loves the way you look, trust it. Believe that you are indeed beautiful to him.

Deal with Extreme Body Image Issues. If no matter what you do or what anyone tells you, you feel fat, ugly, disgusting, etc., perhaps you are struggling beyond what you and your husband can handle. If past history has played a part in making you feel inadequate, you need to heal from those wounds. A Christian counselor might be able to help sort out your feelings. Don’t sacrifice your marital intimacy; consider seeking help.

Tips for Husbands

Tell Her She’s Beautiful. Wives want to know that they are beautiful to their husbands. Expressing that can help many women move beyond concerns about their appearance. However, BE SPECIFIC. If you tell an insecure woman that she is the most gorgeous woman in the world, get ready for her to roll her eyes to the back of her head. She won’t believe it. However, if you state that you love the color of her eyes or the curve of her thigh or the way her hair falls on her shoulders, she’ll get that. Such statements will begin to build confidence in her. In fact, in the Song of Songs, the lover was very particular about telling his beloved exactly what he liked about her:

“How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.”

(Song of Songs 4.) And he goes on.

Support Her Pursuit of Beauty. Your wife’s desire for beauty should be supported inasmuch as it is reasonable. For instance, if she needs your encouragement to complete an exercise program, cheer her on. If a trip to the salon would help, allow for it in the family budget. If a mole has been bugging her for as long as you’ve known her, perhaps you two should visit a dermatologist. Of course, the desire to take care of our bodies and present ourselves well should not become an egotistical pursuit. 1 Samuel 16:7 says that “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Yet exerting some effort to feel beautiful for one’s spouse and good about oneself is within God’s plan.

Get Her More Help if NeededAs important as it is for a husband to compliment and support his wife regarding her beauty, his reassurance alone may be insufficient to overcome personal insecurities. If you tell your wife over and over that she is gorgeous, but she sees U-G-L-Y every time she looks in the mirror, she may have body image issues that need to be dealt with outside of the marriage. If her body image problems relate to eating disorders or depression, tell her how much you love her, how concerned you are about her, and suggest that she see a counselor.

Most of us gals, though, will simply have times when we feel less than stellar in our presentation — more like meat loaf than a steak dinner for the hubby. Thankfully, most men like both! Wives may need to merely bury those inhibitions, that negative self-talk, and that Spanx back into the drawer, and focus on beautiful lovemaking with their husbands.

After the lovin’, you may find that your view of your body has changed a bit. You may not be able to walk the runway for the next Mrs. America pageant, but if you score a 10 on your husband’s judge card, you’re a winner. And there is nothing more beautiful than a husband and wife in love and expressing it with God’s pleasure smiling upon them.

Talking to Your Kids about Sex: No More One & Done

So it’s like my parents said to me once . . .

Wait, I don’t remember anything they said to me once.

I do remember “A thing worth doing is worth doing well” and “Keep your room clean” and “Be home by 10:00 p.m.!” because my parents said those over and over. I remember John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world . . .”) because I read it, heard it, and said it again and again. I remember “Breathe from your diaphragm!” when I sing because the director repeated it every day in high school choir.

So why do parents think a single sex talk is going to do the trick for our kids? If you can’t convince your child of the upside of broccoli after 34 creative presentations and comments about its inherent goodness, why do you think one “sex belongs in marriage” conversation is going to convict a hormonally charged teen to keep his hands where they belong? There are moments in one’s teens and young adult years when waiting for God’s timing of sex within marriage feels like staring down an ominous vegetable on our plate.

But what parents know that kids don’t is that healthy food can be delicious. And God has the most amazing dessert prepared for those who eat all of their veggies. Godly sex in a healthy marriage is like this:

Chocolate dessert

By Flickr user: Edward Russell, aka Flickr user “meshmar2,” via Wikimedia Commons

Back to talking to kids about sex, one talk about the birds and bees is not going cut it. You must have an ongoing conversation with your children about sex with factual information, values commentary, and God’s plan laid out. Be willing to discuss the subject whenever it naturally arises or whenever you need to bring it up. Expect to have several discussions on this topic if you want to pass a godly view of sexuality on to your children.

So how do you have an ongoing discussion with your kids about sex? Do you bring it up at the dinner table, as in “Hey, John and Jane, while you eat your chicken and green beans, let’s go over female anatomy and erogenous zones”? Awkward. Here are a few tips instead:

Become your child’s sexpert. Establish yourself as the go-to person when your children have questions. Be ready to answer with knowledge and confidence. If you don’t demonstrate that you know the deal about sex, children assume that other resources are more reliable.

That is, if you are silent or clumsy about the subject of sexuality, they might figure it’s because you don’t know anything about it. The person who has nothing to say about the war in Afghanistan probably doesn’t know anything about it. That does not mean that everyone who has something to say knows something; plenty of people spout off ignorantly on various topics. But if you say nothing to counter wrong messages and your kid hears them day in and day out, who do you think they will listen to?

Look for opportunities. If you’re watching a television show or movie that conveys sexuality or relationships in a way that doesn’t fully agree with your standards, say so. You don’t have to make a huge deal about it. However, if a couple is sleeping together before marriage, pipe in with something like, “That’s not a good way to start a relationship.” If there is a scantily dressed female oozing sensuality on the screen, ask “Why do you think she’s dressed like that?” Listen to what your kids say, and then talk about modesty. If a song has questionable lyrics, inquire what your child thinks the song means. Discuss underlying assumptions that the world makes about sexuality with your child and whether this is God’s plan.

Admit that you have sex with your spouse. Please do not draw a diagram or reveal details, but it’s healthy for children to understand that mommy and daddy having sex within marriage is a blessing from God. Telling your children that you have sex will not encourage them to do it prematurely. When children perceive a healthy representation of sex in their own home — a committed, married couple engaging in godly intimacy — they are more likely to want such a relationship for themselves. One way you can share that you are physically intimate without sharing TMI is to stress that you and your spouse need alone time in your bedroom. As they age, children will figure out what some of that entails and won’t inquire further. But they will be aware, and that positive influence remains.

Ask questions. Believe me, your kid does not want to hear you rant on and on for 45 minutes about the pitfalls of premarital sex. If every sex talk feels like a college hall lecture, your child may be nodding as you speak, but he’s mentally plotting his strategy for conquering the next level of Call of Duty while you discuss the perils of STDs. You need to have a conversation, which means two people talking (or more if other family members are involved). Ask what your children know and what they want to know. Ask what they think about the world’s approach to sexuality. Ask what strategies they have to stay sexually pure until marriage. Listen and then respond.

Avail yourself of quality resources. There are some great resources for teaching your children about sex. If you need or want additional tools, check out a local or online Christian bookstore. Kevin Leman has a book called A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids about Sex. I haven’t read this particular one, but Dr. Leman is an excellent marriage and family expert whom I trust. One of my favorite bloggers (whom I’ve mentioned before!) is Julie Sibert of Intimacy for Marriage. She has two excellent posts on talking to kids about sex — 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make When Talking to Your Kids About Sex, Part 1; 10 Worst Mistakes, Part 2 — in which she recommends resources.

You don’t have to look them in the eye. As kids get older and experience intense sexual feelings, they may want to talk but are embarrassed. Shoulder-to-shoulder, or no eye contact, conversation can be easier. You can text back and forth. You can chat in the car on the way to school while your eyes are on the road and not available to glare at your child. You can shoot baskets, play Wii games, or do crafts at the table and have great talks with your kids. This is one of those times when “Look me in the eye” may not apply. Your child might be better able to absorb the message if eye contact is not required on this subject.

Relax. You don’t have to get everything right to be a godly influence to your kids. You don’t have to know everything; you can offer to look things up together. You don’t have to defend your less-than-perfect history; you can explain, “I didn’t do it right, but I sure wish I had. I want the best for you.” You can blush when you say “penis” and “vagina”; you still get credit for teaching your kids the right names. Thank God that parenthood doesn’t demand perfection! Being present is far more important to kids than being perfect. So relax. Do your best. Then pray and let God do His part.

If you aren’t sure why premarital sex isn’t a good idea, I laid out my thoughts on this topic in two guest posts at a great website from Heather and Eric Viets called Preengaged.com. Maybe these posts can help you consider what to teach your children: Sex Before Marriage, Part 1 and Sex Before Marriage, Part 2.

How do you talk to your kids about sex? Do you have any other tips? Have you found some terrific resources? How has it gone so far?

Don’t Touch Me: I’m Busy!

You finally started work on that big project you’ve been aching to accomplish. You’re in the middle of the best novel you’ve read in the last year and just reached the point where the detective is about to reveal the killer. You’re giving yourself a pedicure, complete with flowers and sparkly nail polish. You’re engrossed in a television show about housewives, celebrity wannabes, or a single person willing to date 20 people at a time to find a mate. You’re completely engaged in whatever you’re doing, and do not want to be distracted or thrown off by your honey approaching you with that look in his eye.

Really? Is this the only time he could suggest sex? you wonder. Can’t we do this later? Maybe you’re feeling generous and you toss the novel, having decided that your own climax is far more important than the book’s. Maybe you’re trying to figure out how you can oblige your hubby and still watch the TV show over his shoulder (Who will get the rose?). Maybe as he reaches over to stroke your arm and kiss your neck, instead you respond with irritation, “Don’t touch me, I’m busy.”

Let me share with you my guilty moment, which you might get a kick out of. A few times, I’ve been too busy writing a sex blog to go have sex with my husband! It hasn’t happened often, and I try to make up for it later. But when my love appears in the doorway and says, “Let’s go to bed,” and I stare at my screen, tap-tap on my keyboard, and respond lazily, “Be there in a minute,” what am I thinking? Well, I’m thinking that I’m too busy with my own stuff to engage in physical intimacy as a couple.

In our fast-paced world, we all get too busy at times, and intimacy with our spouse can suffer from being #14 on our to-do list after “clean out the fridge” and “look for a new hairdo.” So what’s the answer?

If you’ve been at HHH before, you know I’m a practical gal. I’m not going to gush about putting your honey at #1 every night no matter what! That isn’t realistic. Sometimes, your kid needs your help to finish his school assignment, and it doesn’t matter how badly your spouse wants some nooky, you must get this kid through elementary so he can go through the rest of school, move away from home, and you can finally have lots of nooky! Sometimes, you have a work project that you must present at an early morning meeting the next day, and your livelihood must trump your hubby’s lucky-hood.

In those instances, you have a few choices: (1) reschedule by telling your honey when a better time would be, make it sometime in the near future, and keep to your commitment; (2) shove the work aside for a few minutes and grab a quickie; (3) forgo some sleep or other typically necessary activities to get it all done.

More often, however, it is self-induced busy-ness that prevents us from engaging in physical intimacy in our marriages. We keep to a to-do list that we alone have concocted and don’t recognize that we are the only ones who care if we don’t vacuum under the couch for a few more days or if we scrapbook another five years into our family album. Our husbands would rather have us than an organized closet or embroidered pillows. We also do not need to sign up for each and every committee, service opportunity, task, and event at church. It’s okay now and then to say no at church so that you can have a pursue a healthy relationship with your husband at home.

Maybe you can relate to Sandra Boynton’s song Busy, Busy, Busy sung by Kevin Kline. (This is really just an excuse for me to share one of my favorite kid songs with you!)

We can also place our own personal recreation and relaxation ahead of the recreation that would bring us closer to our spouse. As a writer and voracious reader, I can assure you that you will never read every book you want to nor will you ever run out of things to read. You can put that book down, and the plot will wait for you while you engage in sexual intimacy with your beloved. You can record your favorite show or watch it online later. You can get the sports highlights from ESPN or the Internet. You can pause your MP3 player or movie and push play after you and your honey push each other’s happy buttons for a while.

Consider whether your busy-ness is a temporary fact of life, a self-inflicted problem, or an inability to prioritize. Address it accordingly.

We all have the same 24 hours. If you don’t make time for sexual intimacy in your marriage, you may lose other kinds of intimacy in your marriage. If you want to be busy, go get busy with your spouse in the bedroom!