Monthly Archives: November 2016

Q&A with J: Surviving Childhood Rape & Building Sexual Intimacy

Whenever I hear or read stories of children sexually abused, I often tear up, sometimes cry, and now and then sob for the horrible wrongness of such an act. I can think of little that it is more evil than sexually violating the most vulnerable among us.

But these trauma survivors should know they are often the strongest among us. Because you went through hell and came out the other side. Now, the struggle is to put together the life God wants you to have, despite your terrible past. Here’s today’s reader question:

I am a childhood rape survivor. This caused many problems throughout my childhood and teenage years, and because I didn’t know what to do with that situation, I suppressed it. After almost 10 years of marriage, I confessed to my husband what had happened to me . . . He often wants to fondle me, or “just look” and I get annoyed by it. I feel it is very degrading and vulnerable. So then he often asks, how come in a world where so many live topless or it is socially acceptable to be topless — you struggle with me wanting to look at you or touch you — even if you know it will lead to nothing else. My response is sometimes — they are just boobs — get over it! So he responds with — well if i went to a Hooters and those same “boobs” were flaunted in front of my face, you would get upset at me for looking. So how come if you won’t let me look/touch yours, you would get upset if i looked or touched someone else’s. He has said the same thing about sex in the past. If you don’t want to have it as often as I do — then explain to me why you would have a problem with me getting it elsewhere! I feel numb and void and unable to process how this makes me feel as I am still working through my own issues around rape and how it made me feel. and to be quite honest — he often makes me feel like a victim with his comments and behaviors — even if he doesn’t mean to.

I simply don’t know how to explain my position to him! Can you help shed some light? Am I wrong? Do I just need to get over it and let him look/touch?Q&A with J: Surviving Childhood Rape and Building Sexual Intimacy w/teal ribbon for sexual assault awareness

We look at life through our own prisms. I can almost imagine sitting with each of these spouses in a room and hearing their stories. She would tell me how she’d been sexually assaulted, how she carried around such wounds and scars, how she’s still fearful at times, and how she needs her husband to give her compassion and even distance. He would tell me how he feels neglected and rejected, how he aches for her sexual touch and intimacy, how he would never do to his wife what some horrible man before did to her, and how he just wants things to be okay now.

Of course I don’t know exactly what they’d say, but what first hit me was how this wife and this husband struggle to get past their own lenses. And, in her case especially, that’s understandable.

Now I absolutely believe the husband needs to show more grace and generosity, given what she went through. However, I’m going to talk to the wife. Because she’s the one who wrote, and — as I hope you know by now — you can’t force your spouse to change. So let’s talk about where she can go from here.

First, you haven’t healed completely. What you went through was truly awful, and you have residual pain that you carried on your own for far too long. I urge you to seek help to work through the issues that remain. Children don’t go through sexual assault without adopting some coping mechanisms that may have served you well at the time, but don’t work well for adult life and in marriage. So you need to adjust your lens and learn healthier ways to view yourself and your sexuality.

Find a childhood survivor support group, a trauma counselor, a trusted pastor, and/or a fellow-survivor mentor. And while I still have yet to read this book, The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender has been recommended on this topic so many times by trusted friends and colleagues, I feel confident mentioning and recommending it here. Seek out resources that will help you finally and fully address what you went through and how you can move from surviving to thriving.

Second, you need to sit your husband down and talk about “triggers.” I looked up several definitions of trigger, but I like this one best: “A trigger in psychology is a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma” (from GoodTherapy.org). When your husband ogles or fondles you, particularly without warning or express consent, it can trigger the feelings you experienced during childhood sexual assault — loss of control, personal violation, objectification, and more.

Also, his statements about Hooters and getting it elsewhere come across like a man only interested in using you for sex. I don’t think that’s true about your husband — I think he’s just frustrated and lashing out — but it still triggers the tapes already running through your head that men can be sexual predators who want to use you. You have to tell your husband, calmly but firmly, “When you say X, it subconsciously triggers all these feelings. And I’m even less likely to feel safe enough to be sexually vulnerable with you.”

If and when he says or does something that’s a trigger for you, it’s perfectly reasonable to tell him in the moment. Something like: “I need you to stop, because that’s making me feel unsafe.” When you consistently and calmly set boundaries, you can establish new scripts between you. And you’ll feel more in control of the situation, and thus more likely to relax and consider following through on my next point.

Finally, God intended you two to have wonderful sexual intimacy in your marriage. That’s part of the deal of saying I do. It’s perfectly normal for a husband to want to enjoy the physical beauty, even nakedness, of his wife and to want to touch her. So that’s going to be a goal for you — figuring out how to get to the point that he can view and touch you without you being triggered. And, more importantly, you need to set as a goal learning to awaken your own sexual desire and pleasure, because God made sex for wives too.

Now notice what I said and didn’t say. I said learn and figuring out how, but I didn’t say get over it. Because this isn’t about you sucking it up, ignoring your pain, and letting him do whatever. By no means! Tell your husband that being sexually open and excited is a huge challenge for you, given your past, but that you want become more sexually engaged. It will take some time, it will take some effort, and it will take some trial-and-error. But you can do this.

From here, it’s really about baby steps. You need to figure out which of your husband’s touches feel good and which ones feel threatening, then ask for the former and discourage the latter. (Your husband might benefit from reading my post on wives being sexually harassed.) You need to be in more control of the sexual act than he is, for the time being, so that you can break the lingering association of sex with powerlessness. You need to take steps to awaken your sensuality, learning through trial-and-error with your husband what provides you physical pleasure.

Here are a couple other posts that might help:

Q&A with J: How Can I View Sex as “Hot and Holy”?
Sexual Mistreatment Should Have Never Happened to You!

It breaks my heart that someone would misuse you as a child, and I know it breaks God’s heart as well. I’m praying that you pursue a healthy and healed view of sexuality in your marriage. Not just for your husband, but absolutely for you. You deserve to know and experience what sexual intimacy truly is, and with patient persistence, I believe you can get there.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

READERS, DON’T FORGET MY NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY. CLICK THE BANNER BELOW, AND SCROLL DOWN THE POST TO FIND OUT WHAT’S HAPPENING!

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Do You Personalize Sexual Rejection?

To those who get sexually rejected by your husband: Hearing no hurts.

I get it. Some of you hear a no now and again, and some of you hear it a lot. But either way, you experience a strong desire to be physically and emotionally connected to your beloved, you approach your spouse with high hopes, and you get brushed off — your longings left unfulfilled.

But something often happens next. You ask yourself why.Do You Personalize Rejection?

Why does your hubby not respond to your sexual advances? Why do other husbands seem to want their wives but your husband doesn’t? Why isn’t your beauty the kind that stops traffic, or at least makes your husband look up from his TV show? Why does he say he’s too tired or too busy or too fill-in-the-blank? Is that really the reason, or could it be something else?

Given how quickly our female minds jump from one thing to another, it could be mere moments before you settle in on what you’re sure must be the truth: He just doesn’t want you.

Not only this time, but generally speaking. You believe there’s something wrong with you or your relationship or your beauty or your worthiness or … And the list goes on. We personalize the rejection.

I’ve talked before about the many reasons why a lower-drive husband might not be as interested in sex as you (and sometimes he) would like him to be. They include such issues as low testosterone, depression, sexual baggage, porn habits — even from his past — that make it hard to respond properly to in-person arousal, and the heavy burden of stress. Just getting older can also decrease a man’s sense of urgency for sexual interaction; believe it or not, some older men might choose sleep over sex from time to time.

But when we personalize that rejection, we don’t see those factors. A wife ends up feeling like her husband isn’t saying no merely to sex, but to her. And not because of some issue within him, but because he’s rejecting her personally. When that’s probably not what’s going on.

Why do we do this? Maybe for one of the following reasons.

Women are relationship problem-solvers. Men are often seen as the problem-solvers — the ones who, when you explain a problem, skip right over sympathy or commiseration to “how can this be fixed?” That stereotype holds some truth, especially when the problem is well-defined.

However, when it comes to relationships, I think women are more likely to be problem-solvers. When we see something amiss, we jump in to assuage hurt feelings, correct misunderstandings, resolve differences, and mend the cracks. We don’t like cracks in our relational bonds, and we try to putty over those as fast as possible.

Being rejected sexually feels like a relationship crack. And if we can’t fix our husband, the immediate place we go to is fixing ourselves. Clearly — a wife thinks — I must be the problem, and if only I can fix that… Fixing ourselves is within our sphere of control.

So we try to do better, look better, be better. And, while I believe in becoming your best self, this can veer off into becoming someone who isn’t you. That is, you minimize your value, your desires, your beauty — trying to become someone you think your husband wants.

When most of the time, his lack of drive isn’t about that. And he already has who he wants — you.

Women are constant comparers. If I had a nickel for every time a woman in my midst compared herself to another woman’s homemaking, mothering, or appearance, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now — I’d be sipping a paper-umbrella-decorated drink on the beach of my private island. Wives are constantly measuring how we’re doing by checking in on how other women are doing, and then drawing (often erroneous) conclusions.

So what happens when you hear how often other wives are getting “hit on” by their husbands? When the messages you’re getting are that “all husbands want is sex,” but that’s not your experience? When it feels like all other husbands are raring to go at the snap of a bra opening, and that’s not happening in your marital bedroom?

You look at those wives … you look at yourself … and you decide there’s something wrong with you. What else could be happening? Well, a lot of things actually. But it’s easy to ignore all the other reasons for a difference in sex drives and personalize that rejection. You can end up thinking if all those husbands are chasing after their wives, then your husband must simply be unhappy with the wife he chose.

But that’s rarely the issue. More often, it’s something going on inside him. And playing the comparison game isn’t helping your situation.

Men are bad communicators. Okay, not all of you guys. I promise I’m not trying to be mean here. But from the female perspective, you guys can be hard to figure out because you often don’t tell us what’s going on inside you!

Now I live a house of three men. Typical answers to “how are you feeling?” include hungry, tired, stressed. To me, those aren’t feelings. Feelings are discouraged, grieving, depressed, sullen, heartsick — and those all just describe sad. If you listen long enough, I can also give you full description of where I feel this sadness in my body, why I think it’s there, and metaphors or similes to describe what I’m feeling (“It’s like I’m tethered to the ground”). Look, I know some of that is because I’m a writer, but some of it is because I’m a woman. We express our thoughts and feelings!

Sure, plenty of marriages contradict this pattern, but it’s not uncommon for a guy to keep his feelings close to his chest, or even be unable to define or describe what’s happening inside him. So when he doesn’t have a high sex drive, what’s he supposed to say? He likely says as little as possible, because most guys don’t like to talk about their bad emotions.

So wives fill in the gaps, imagining what he’s really thinking. Even figuring the only reason he isn’t saying something is because it’s bad and about us. So yeah, it’s not just poor communication of some husbands, but also the overactive imagination of some wives.

But what if the explanation “I’m tired” or “I need to finish this job for work” really is the reason? What if you’ve complicated the whole thing because, as a woman, you wouldn’t have communicated it that way?

Honestly, ladies, men are fairly simple. If he says, “I think you’re sexy, but I’m not up for it tonight,” what he probably means is, “I think you’re sexy, but I’m not up for it tonight.” No, really. I didn’t believe it at first either, but further investigation has led me to conclude that men are not lying. They really can say in 15 words or less everything they’re actually thinking. And if they’re feeling more than that, they need time to process and figure out how to express it.

So if the rejection isn’t personal, how can you stop believing that a no to sex indicates some flaw in you?

Ask yourself some questions and really think about your answers. It’s easy to react with your default settings, but consider an alternative perspective.

  1. What if the reason he gives me really is the reason? To fix a problem, you have to diagnose it correctly. If you expend a lot of effort thinking the problem is you, you’re expending effort in the wrong area. Instead, you could be helping to resolve the actual issue.
  2. Would he behave this way if he was married to someone else? I’m not trying to get you to imagine him married to someone else, but this one helped me with other issues in my marriage that I once thought were personal. Instead, I realized he’d be doing what he was doing no matter who he lived with, so it clearly wasn’t personal.
  3. What if he’s frustrated too? One reason you don’t hear more from low-drive husbands is that they’re often frustrated that they aren’t like those other husbands they hear about too. They wonder what’s wrong with them, and might even feel bad for not being able to sexually satisfy their wives. A little compassion for a husband in this situation can help you both deal with the real issues at hand.
  4. How would I feel if he took personally those times when I did something he didn’t like that wasn’t about him? You can personalize almost anything in marriage, like believing that him leaving the toilet seat up is an intentional disregard for your health and safety. (It’s not.) Most of us can remember a time when we were just in a bad mood that had to do with work, kids, hormones, whatever … and he thought it was a slight against him. But it wasn’t. Remember how that irritated you more? Don’t do that to your man regarding his sex drive.
  5. What could I do to be more positive and encouraging of sexual intimacy in our marriage? Hint: Personalizing rejection isn’t positive or encouraging. Being a safe place to talk, addressing real issues in your marriage, and seeking help when you need it is positive and encouraging. Remind yourself that yes, he is tired, stressed, and/or dealing with physical issues. Choose to believe him when he says that he still finds you attractive and loves you. Look for more conducive times and ways to approach him with sexual advances.

This is one instance when “it’s not you, it’s me” is usually true. But in marriage, me becomes we. So instead of spending your time personalizing the rejection, try to identify the real issue and tackle it together. Many couples with mismatched sex drives have figured it out, but only by being one another’s support.

Stop Competing & Envying (and a Bit of a Rant)

Saturday is the day I share a Bible verse passage that we can apply to our marriages. I’ve been encouraging y’all, as well as myself, to memorize more scripture and apply it to our daily lives.

Today, I have a scripture to share for your marriage, but it’s also part of a plea I want to make to my commenters. Here it goes:

“Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26, NRSV).

Stop Competing & Envying: Galatians 5:26

Merriam-Webster defines conceited as “having or showing an excessively high opinion of oneself.” And let’s face it, we’re all prone to being self-centered. We see our day, our community, our universe in terms of how everything affects us.

We also see our marriages in terms of how we’re getting our own needs met. It’s our set-point that we have to reach beyond, learning how to love as Christ did — with a humble, other-focused, sacrificial love.

That’s not to say we let ourselves be doormats. By no means! But we should look at our marriages in terms of how we are doing, not just me.

We should look at our marriages in terms of how we are doing, not just me. Click To Tweet

Yet I see so many spouses doing what this scripture says not to do: competing against each other and envying one another. How? We constantly complain that we are the ones being mistreated in our marriage, that our spouse has it better than we do, that we are victims while they are villains.

I’ve done it in the past. I have years of prior marital unhappiness to demonstrate what a bad idea that is. At the height of my troubled marriage, I’d have said that I was the spouse who suffered the greater hardship. But now, with a clearer perspective, I recognize how deeply my husband was hurting. Back then, I discounted his pain because I was so focused on mine.

I wish I could do that over again. But I can’t. All I can do is remember what I’ve learned and share it with you: It doesn’t matter who has it worse. You’re one-flesh now, so if one of you is hurting, both of you are hurting.

You're one-flesh now, so if one of you is hurting, both of you are hurting. #marriage Click To Tweet

For example, if your spouse isn’t giving you the sex you should get, you’re missing what God desires you to have. But — whether they understand or not — your wife or husband is missing that too. If your spouse is watching porn, you’re being denied the exclusivity of sexual focus you should have in marriage. But your porn-addicted spouse is being injured as well. As a pastor I know often said, a self-inflicted wound still hurts.

People all around us are hurting, including our spouses, in ways we don’t understand. And one spouse being worse off, whoever it is, affects the whole. A good marriage isn’t preoccupied with being conceited, envying, or competing.

Nor should our lives reflect that attitude …

There have been several comments lately in which readers want to argue the point of my post by essentially saying, “Yeah, what you describe is bad, but isn’t my situation way, way worse?”

Honestly, it’s often not worse. And even if it is, how does it help you to compete against others and envy their presumably better situation? For the love of God, can I please get across how destructive this attitude can be! That way madness lies! (King Lear)

You can get so caught up justifying the comparisons, the competition, the envy that you waste precious time and effort that could be spent on changing what really matters. You could be working on yourself, becoming the person God wants you to be. You’re far more likely to see positive outcomes by moving away from selfishness and into humility, as modeled by Jesus Christ, and working on your own issues.

Truth is, I’ve gotten caught up with you, arguing a point far too long — back and forth, back and forth — in an effort to get through. Frankly, wasting time that could be better spent writing and speaking about godly sexual intimacy in marriage. This past week, God reminded me that is mission.

Thus, my Comments Policy might be getting an addition soon — something about how discussions of I have it bad … no, I have it worse … no, I have it way worse are fruitless and destructive. Because by allowing those conversations to continue ad infinitum, I feel like I’m enabling what this verse says not to do. When all our time would be better spent in prayer with God, in conversation with our spouse, or in flat-out fixing ourselves.

Yes, I know some of my readers have been through hell and back, and I do not take that lightly. I want this blog to be a place where we can share our real struggles and find compassion, encouragement, and answers. Such comments will be approved, and we can hopefully hammer out some ideas on how to help you where you are.

But those who want to set up imaginary scenarios, use bad statistics, or give a detailed account of their own woe-is-me moments so that they feel justified calling themselves victims, I don’t see the benefit of that. As we look across the world or across history, we always find someone who has it better. And someone who has it worse. The comparisons don’t change where we are or what we need to do to embrace a better life — the beauty God has stored for us.

Let’s stop competing and envying. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. And let’s pursue health, holiness, and happiness in our own lives and for those in our sphere of influence.

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Why Are You Leaking After Sex?

Sex can be messy.

Some wives complain about the messiness of sex. You can put a towel underneath yourselves while you’re making love, keep wipes handy at your bedside, take a shower or bath after sex, or even use a condom if you really want to cut down on fluids.

But I like to think of the sexual experience more like art. Have you ever seen an artist’s studio? Or a preschool room where children have been finger-painting? It takes a bit of mess to create a masterpiece. You can always clean up later.

However, we wives can’t escape the law of physics: What comes up must come down.

Why Are You Leaking After Sex? - water drop

So when your husband showers his ejaculate into your vagina, gravity demands that some will spill back out later. Even if you’re trying to get pregnant, only about 5% of his ejaculate is sperm while the other 95% is strictly semen.

Leakage can happen right after sex, when you head to the restroom to urinate and a glob of stuff comes out as well. But it can also happen the next day as you’re standing in front of a room of coworkers making a passionate presentation and you feel a sudden wetness in your undies. Seriously, could the timing be any worse?

I’m just letting you know that (1) this is completely normal, and (2) if the mess irritates you, find ways to minimize the likelihood of leakage:

  • You can avoid so much coming out later if you let gravity do its thing by using the restroom and/or showering after sex.
  • You can place a thin mini-pad in your panties for several hours after making love. The amount of leakage is unlikely to soak through a pad, so a small one should be sufficient.
  • You can wear a menstrual cup that catches fluids. That could help if you’re needing to stand up for a while and don’t want to mess with pads.

Some of the leakage immediately after sex could also be from you. Some women have been known to ejaculate, or as some crassly call it “squirt,” during sex. I’ve written about the shejaculation experience here. But your fluids aren’t likely to comprise much of the leakage, since most of what a woman puts out comes all the way out.

One last thought, ladies: If you think this sounds supremely unfair, many men experience semen dribble after sex. It’s a bit like when you turn off the water hose and several drops plop out before the flow stops completely.

Like I said, sex can be messy.

But it’s nothing a towel, a shower, a pad, etc. can’t take care of. And you shouldn’t leak more than 24 hours after intercourse. Usually, it happens within a few hours of sex.

Do you have any of your own tips for handling leakage after sex?

What the Bible Says about This Election (and Every Other One)

I’ve been voting for about 30 years, and I have never, ever seen an election cycle in the United States as crazy as this one.

That said, I also hold a history degree, so I know that all of our talk about things never having been so contentious doesn’t hold up to what I’ve studied. For instance, you really can’t get more contentious than one region of the country shooting at the other and vice versa (American Civil War, 1861-65).

What the Bible Says about This Election graphic

I’ve noted on this blog that an election can cause stress in marriages. Despite their love for one another, spouses don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to voting. If you want proof, take a look at the maps from FiveThirtyEight.com that show the difference between if only men voted and if only women voted. I have to believe that contrast means plenty of couples disagree this year.

But as Election Day approaches (next Tuesday here in the U.S.), let me offer a biblical perspective. Vote for whomever you want — honor your conscience — but remember God’s focus is not on who runs the country but who reigns in your life.

God's focus is not on who runs the country but who reigns in your life. Click To Tweet

Psalm 146 says:

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Pulling out those two highlighted verses, we get to the crux of the matter: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

That’s something God wants us to know about this election and every other one. Humans will fail us, God will not.

You can see this throughout the Bible with its kings — Saul, David, Solomon. Yes, we want great leaders, but God is ultimately concerned with being on the throne in our hearts.

And in our marriages.

That same passage applies to our marriages: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

  • Your husband, a human being, isn’t responsible for making your life good or happy. Trust God to bring you meaning and joy.
  • When your spouse fails you, and they will, recognize they’re flawed, give grace, and put your faith in God to restore what was broken.
  • When it comes to the marriage bed, don’t look for answers among those who focus only on the human flesh, the physical side of sex. Seek out wisdom that starts with God’s design for intimacy in marriage — those who know that help and hope come from Him.
  • And remember that no matter what great advice I give, I can’t save your marriage. That’s a job for you and God.

Sometimes we put too much trust in the people around us and not enough in our Heavenly Father. Let me assure you that whatever the result of this election, those of us who worship God can have confidence that we’re fine. We have a true Savior.

Lean on that Savior not only this election season, but in your daily life and in your marriage. Remember who is really in charge: God Almighty.

Now give your spouse a kiss and go vote.