I’ll be honest: I’m sitting here on the Sunday after the United States inauguration and feeling sick and tired of the news, my Facebook feed, and people I know and love from both sides of the aisle being at constant odds with each other. In our politically charged atmosphere, some have become so hypersensitive that you can barely say anything without being misinterpreted, challenged, and even maligned. And yes, from both sides of political opinion. Seeing such large-scale conflict is rankling and stressful.
But you can turn off the TV, stay off Facebook, pop in a movie or a TV show, read a book, take a bubble bath, etc. to get away from all that rancor for a while. You can’t do that with the conflict in your marriage over sexual intimacy.
When it comes to the subject of sex, some marriages reside in an emotionally charged atmosphere where one or both of you are so hypersensitive that the other can barely say anything without being misinterpreted, challenged, and even maligned. On this smaller scale, the conflict reaches beyond stressful. It’s painful.
And you can’t escape. Because the sexuality in your marriage is an important piece that deserves attention, resolution, and nurturing. So you keep bringing up the subject and facing the same issues again and again and again.
Maybe the current stalemates in our political arena could illuminate some thoughts about resolving conflict regarding your marriage bed. Because you know what’s often missing from those political conversations I’ve seen? Listening.
Open-eared, open-minded, open-hearted listening.
Dr. Gary Smalley, a marriage counselor and author, wrote about the importance of creating a safe environment for communication: “When your spouse feels safe, he is naturally inclined to relax and open his heart.” (See this Focus on the Family article.) When we’re dealing with a contentious issue, we anticipate getting criticized or stonewalled so we’re far less likely to speak honestly and find ways to move forward. It’s only when we feel safe to express our thoughts, feelings, and concerns that we can open up fully.
Whatever the issues surrounding your marriage bed, finding out what they actually are would surely be an important step. You can badger your reluctant spouse from now until the era of Buck Rogers to have more sex, demand less sex, pay attention to your orgasm, fulfill your fantasy, etc., and you’ll likely make little progress unless you find out why they don’t want to do what you think is such a great idea.
Very often, there is history, baggage, a deeper story behind your spouse’s resistance. Until you dig deeper and fix the underlying problems, you’ll still be in conflict.
Why not try listening?
Like really listening.
No, like shut up and listen.
No, shut up your brain, not just your mouth, and listen.
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. You might not agree with what your spouse says, but wouldn’t it be a great idea to better understand where he’s coming from? To at least get a sense of how he started at A and arrived at B?
You might even find out that you agree more than you thought.
How do you start these conversations? The ones where you actually let your spouse have a bit of monologue?
Don’t preach. Don’t explain. Don’t demand. Don’t push.
Ask a question. Listen to the answer. Ask a follow-up question. Listen to the answer. Ask another question. Listen to the answer. Ask for clarification. Listen to the answer.
Go away and mull it over.
Is this near impossible? For people like me, and many of you, yeah. It’s tough. Dare I say painful? You might have to burrow your teeth into your tongue so deep you leave gouges. But you were already in pain about your sex life anyway, so better to have a few tongue wounds and some progress in the bedroom.
Is this a single conversation? Probably not. It took years to mess up your sex life. No, really. Maybe it didn’t even happen with you there, but rather something that happened to your husband or wife before you even met them. But the deep-seated perspectives and approaches took a while to establish, so they won’t loosen up in a day.
Is this really the remedy? It’s part of the cure. If you two can’t communicate about sex at all, how are supposed to have fabulous sexual intimacy? I know couples who improved their sex lives a lot by one person taking positive steps, but I don’t know of a single couple who ended up with a fulfilling sex life that doesn’t communicate about it. At some point, they started talking honestly about their sexual intimacy.
We’re often eager to share with our spouse what we think about our sexual intimacy. But you might well need to change your approach and become more eager to understand what your beloved thinks about your sexual intimacy. Which means you need to ask the question: Am I listening to what my spouse says about sex?
If you aren’t, take the emotional earplugs out and create a safe environment for your spouse to say what they need to say. It may not be pleasant at first, but it will hopefully help you figure out where to go from here.
And be sure to pray for your unity.