Daily Archives: June 2, 2016

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your Baggage

I feel like I’ve been answering a high percentage of questions lately from newlyweds. But I’m happy to do it, and I’m sure today’s question applies to plenty of wives in various stages of their marriage. Read on:

I’ve so enjoyed your blog thus far and am grateful for your spiritual guidance. I am a newlywed and want desperately to have a deep sexual relationship with my husband. I’ve found it so difficult to be in the mood though for a number of reasons: 1. My body image is a mess. This is the worst I’ve felt about my body in a long time and I hate being aware of it. How can I be naked and let someone touch me when I hate my body so much? 2. I had an abusive ex that still haunts me and creeps into my thoughts. 3. I was raised really devout Catholic and I still feel guilty for the “dirty” parts of sex. For some reason I can’t get out of this juvenile mind set.

All of this combines to make me not in the mood. Like ever.

I love my husband so much and I want our marriage to be a successful one. Any advice to work through my baggage I would very much appreciate. And so would he.

Other wives, did you see yourself in there somewhere? This reader did a great job of separating out the topics, so I’m going to deal with them in that order.

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your BaggageMy body image is a mess. This is the question so many wives ask themselves: “How can I be naked and let someone touch me when I hate my body so much?” I’ve tried to answer this question in so many ways and enlisted other wise wives to help:

Don’t Touch Me: I’m Ugly!
Facts and Figures
3 Practical Tips for a Sexier You
Husbands, Help Us Feel & Be Beautiful
Feeling Beautiful: A Wife’s Goal for 2015
Feeling Beautiful: From His Perspective
Feel Beautiful in 2015: Fight The Frump!
Feel Beautiful: Dust Off Your Exercise Shoes!
Feeling Beautiful: 8 Things I Learned While Shopping
How Do You Feel Beautiful? with Sheila Wray Gregoire
Put Your Body to Work to Help You Feel Beautiful with Gaye Groover Christmus
Feeling Beautiful Beneath the Sheets with Julie Sibert
Feeling Beautiful Starts in the Mind with Keelie Reason
Permission to Feel Beautiful with Bonny Logsdon Burns
4 Ways to Feel Beautiful When You’re Not Really Feeling It with Jolene Engle

I also deal with this issue several times in my devotional book, Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriagewith scriptures and focused prayer.

But today as I leaned back in my office chair wondering if there was anything else I could add, I paused to listen to the background music coming through my earphones. Was it a coincidence that Casting Crowns’ “Voice of Truth” was playing? Maybe, maybe not. But here’s the conclusion of the chorus:

Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe
The voice of truth

I encourage you to go through those posts and my book, which include wisdom and tips about feeling beautiful. But Casting Crowns is right: It’s ultimately about training our minds to agree with God’s perspective of us. It won’t happen overnight. But we can choose to listen, we can choose to believe, we can choose to rehearse the truth in our heads: You are “remarkably and wonderfully made“! (Psalm 139:14 HCSB).

I had an abusive ex. I’m not clear on what type of abuse this entailed: verbal, physical, or sexual. Or even all three. But I’ve seen the damage that domestic abuse causes, the open wounds it leaves in the victims, the pain they have to heal from. Domestic abuse can be caused by a woman or a man, but statistically it is more often the male — and I believe this is Satan at work. As usual, the accuser creates nothing, only twists what God created.

Overall, God made men biologically better equipped to be a physical protector. Man’s physical strength should be used to keep others safe, but Satan turns that on its head and convinces some men to use their might to abuse others instead. It’s a horrible thing, and if you’re being abused, you need to get out and get out now. Your situation is extremely unlikely to change, and will likely get worse, unless and until you break the cycle by pulling away.

Thankfully, this reader is out of that situation and now in a marriage where abuse is not occurring. God be praised! So what about the baggage left over from that awful experience? Once again, it’s about retraining. That was then, this is now. So here are some straightforward tips on getting past the bad memories:

  • Remind yourself that your husband is not that guy. Over and over and over. As many times as you need to. To protect ourselves, our bodies learn which stimuli signal danger and react accordingly. For abuse victims, this can mean that male hand touching you can cause you to tense up, even if it’s a different hand than the one that struck you. You’ll need to do some self-talk to distinguish this stimulus from that one. It will take some time to decouple the stimulus-response, but you can make it happen.
  • Let your husband know what triggers your fear. Communicate clearly which activities cause the bad memories to leap to the forefront of your mind. Explain how he can best touch and arouse you in ways that won’t cause you emotional pain. And look, if there are certain things that need to be off-limits, at least for the time being, tell him. For example, if a young girl was forced to give a man oral sex, she can take that off the sexual menu with her husband, because it’s just too close to the original event. Over time, her comfort in the marriage bed could improve enough that they can revisit that topic, but it’s not reasonable to push optional activities that send you reeling.
  • Have the agreement that you can pause and regroup as needed. If you’re in the middle of lovemaking, and something happens that evokes your fear response, you can call for a momentary break. Just say something like, “Hold on, I need to breathe for a moment.” Then take deep breaths, do your self-talk, and guide your husband on what you need, whether it’s slowing down, touching you elsewhere, or reminding you how much he loves you and will protect you.

Don’t stop being intimate. Because what eventually happens with bad baggage versus our marriage bed experiences is the scales tip. If you put baggage on one side, and your marriage on the other, you can eventually get so many positive experiences of sexual intimacy with your husband that you reach a tipping point. And then sex truly feels like a positive thing. Not that you don’t remember what happened to you, but it no longer defines your view of yourself, men, relationships, and sexuality like it did before.

I still feel guilty for the “dirty” parts of sex. I’m not sure what the “dirty parts” are, but it sounds like maybe it’s the whole kit-and-caboodle. Church tradition really did a number on our perspective of God’s gift of sex. It’s a shame really, but I do see many Christian voices — both in the Protestant and Catholic communities — now trying to correct the fallacies.

I keep coming back to Satan, but really I think that’s where this thing comes from: the effort of Evil to convince us that bad things are good and good things are bad. But read Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.

Sexual immorality is evil. Sexual intimacy in marriage is good. Let’s not confuse the two.

Sexual immorality is evil. Sexual intimacy in marriage is good. Let's not confuse the two. Click To Tweet

Much of what I said earlier about self-talk, listening to the voice of truth, and tipping the scales applies here. But I’d also suggest that you do an exercise of listing what you believe about sex, then searching for the biblical truth about that subject and the real conclusion. For instance, you might write:

Good girls don’t have sex. Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love. Song of Songs 2:3-4 Good wives delight in sex with their husbands.
Good girls don’t initiate sex. Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. Song of Songs 4:16 Good wives invite their husbands to have sex.

Once again, Intimacy Revealed is an excellent resource for helping you view sex the way God designed it to be — as an intimate expression of love between husband and wife.

But if you don’t know what’s okay and what’s not, talk that out with each other, remembering the consent that matters most is your Heavenly Father’s. And He smiles on husband and wife sharing the intimacy and pleasure He gifted to marriage.

You have a process to go through, but your mind and your experience can be turned around. Take one small step today, another tomorrow, and so on and so on. Together, you can grow your marriage bed into a beautiful place you both anticipate with delight!