Monthly Archives: May 2019

How to Read a Marriage Book

We live at a great time when so many resources exist to help marriages with a variety of challenges, including the sexual arena, and it’s worthwhile to put “Read a Marriage Book” on your to-do list.

That said, there’s a good way and a bad way to read marriage books. If you go in with the wrong expectations or without an attitude of discernment, you could come away disappointed or learn something counterproductive. So let’s talk about about how to read a marriage book.

Recognize there is no magic bullet.

A magic bullet is “something providing an effective solution to a difficult or previously unsolvable problem” (Merriam-Webster). And oh, how we wish there was a magic bullet to resolve all of our marital conflicts, misunderstandings, and challenges. But there isn’t.

Hey, I could increase my blog traffic and book sales substantially if I chose topic titles like “10 Surefire Ways to Take Your Sex Life from Boring to Breathtaking!” or “Resolve Your Sexless Marriage in Three Easy Steps!” Except I don’t want to lie to you.

Even when the solution is simple and straightforward, putting it into practice can be difficult. You have to overcome bad habits, establish new routines, stick it out during that time between planting and harvesting (which can feel like forever), and pray your spouse responds they way they should.

You should know you’re running a marathon and not just around the block, so you can prepare yourself accordingly. Mind you, it’s well worth the run! But it’s not easy.

Thus, any resource that guarantees following a system will produce the exact result you want is like that diet that says you can lose 10 pounds in one week and never feel hungry. Yeah, right. That doesn’t mean the diet, or marriage program, is a bad idea. It might yield good results, but recognize it’s unlikely to cure all of your marital woes by next Tuesday.

Don’t discard the mostly good for the little bad.

Too often, readers take an all-or-nothing approach to marriage resources. Once they discover something they disagree with, they write off the whole thing or read the remainder through a negative or suspicious lens.

Is there any marriage resource with which I’ve agreed 100% of the time? That would be a big no. Even my own stuff written years ago, I’d probably write differently today. Meaning the only resource I don’t disagree with is the Bible!

Or wait—I do disagree with the Bible. I simply decide in that case I must be wrong and need to adjust my thinking, not the other way around.

But if you get a marriage book in which 80-90% of the advice is good, it’s a wonderful resource. Ignore the 10-20% and focus on how much good stuff you’re getting, some of which you can put into practice and reap the benefits.

Read for what you can do to improve your marriage.

You know what marriage book would be a fun read? One that talked about what a terrific wife you are and then recounted all the problems your husband is bringing to the marriage—basically concluding, “It’s not me. It’s you.”

“It’s not you, it’s me” — Seinfeld

But hey, even if your husband is 90% the problem, you have 10% to fix. And the reality is that you cannot change your spouse. You can only influence them through what actions you take.

So when you read a marriage book, look for what messages you need to hear that help you improve your relationship. Take ownership for your part. And where you recognize your spouse is indeed the problem, figure out how to influence the issue rather than solely laying blame on them.

Remember that marriage books largely assume good will.

Most marriage resources presume two good-willed spouses who love each other—even if they don’t currently like each other all that much—and want a better relationship. This is not to say that they haven’t said and done things that are hurtful and undermine their ultimate goal.

My husband and I said terrible things to one another when our marriage was bad, many years ago. We wish I could take those things back, but we were both coming from places of deep emotional pain and lashing out carelessly. That said, we were both good-willed people who loved each other and wanted a better marriage. We just didn’t know how to get there.

If you have a good-willed spouse, a marriage book could help you achieve an important breakthrough, improve a struggling relationship, or simply add greater intimacy to an already good marriage.

But if you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! Get professional help. Leave immediately if your safety is at risk. Find resources not about marriage but abuse in marriage. And if you’re not sure about your situation, check out Family Life’s Are You in an Abusive Relationship? list of questions.

If you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Understand that gender doesn’t explain everything.

A number of resources say “men are like this, and women are like this,” and yeah, there’s some truth to that, generally speaking. But it’s an oversimplification that ignores other factors like personality, talents, background, values, and more.

If just the words “man” or “woman” explained everything, then all women would be alike and all men would be alike, and how boring would that be! I suspect your chose your husband because he was a particular kind of man, and you like his unique aspects. (Okay, mostly. You could do without the way he picks his teeth after supper.)

We can misjudge our own husband if we presume a statement about male stereotypes applies to him when it doesn’t. And he can misread you by presuming every female stereotype applies to you.

How do you avoid getting the wrong impression? Ask your spouse.

When you read a statement you’re not sure about, open up a conversation with your beloved like, “Hey, I was reading about how men are ____________, and I’m wondering if you feel like that’s accurate for you.”

I’ve been surprised by the answers I’ve gotten from my husband with this approach. Sometimes, he confirms the statement, and I learn something new I hadn’t recognized before. Other times, he says it doesn’t describe him at all. And then there are times when it’s kinda-yes but with clarification. Regardless, by the end of the conversation, I understand my husband better. And isn’t that a good goal?

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You may be thinking by now: With all these potential land mines, what’s the point of reading marriage books or even blog posts?!

Because they often have great advice that can sincerely help your marriage.

I have personally benefited from numerous books and blog posts, as well as podcast episodes, video courses, and devotional products. Various marriage authors have illuminated areas I need to attend to, information about my spouse he had difficulty explaining, and actions that can improve our relationship.

And hey, Hot, Holy & Humorous and my books have a long history of helping married couples in their bedrooms, with many emails to prove it! I know firsthand that marriage resources can make a difference.

But approaching marriage resources wisely will make a real difference in what you get out of them.

What other advice would you add for how to read a marriage book or other resource?

Wives, Your Voice Matters (in the Bedroom & Beyond)

Last week, I asked wives to answer a simple question: Why don’t you comment more often? The answers I received were enlightening. And a little surprising.

The Results of My Survey

Among the reasons were lack of time, agreeing with what was said and having nothing to add, and a few issues with some male commenters. But what caught me off guard was how many women said they did not comment because they didn’t know who would want to hear what they had to say.

Consider these examples:

  • I often write a comment … and then don’t post it because I figure I’m not an expert so I doubt my two cents is actually worth anything.
  • I generally feel that my words could come across wrong or are not useful as I often speak bluntly.
  • I tend to not comment because I always catch myself with “why would my opinion matter?
  • Much like [another commenter] I often wonder why my opinion would even matter, which I know is a little weird considering I don’t have that thought about the comments of others.

While I don’t believe gender differences completely explain this viewpoint, research has shown women are less likely to exhibit boldness than men.

What the Research Shows

According to a commonly cited internal report from Hewlett Packard from the 2010s: “Women…applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.” Further studies showed that women didn’t lack confidence in themselves as much as confidence in the system being willing to hire them if they didn’t meet every qualification.

Men have also been shown to be bolder in dating apps, initiating more contacts than women, not by double but four times the number of messages. Certainly some of this is cultural, in that men tend to initiate relationships more often, but it still indicates a bias toward men just going for what they want.

And then there’s the study showing that at meetings where both men and women attend, women speak 25% less than men. Moreover: “Participants who held the floor for a greater percentage of the group’s deliberation were more likely to be seen as influential by the other members of the group. Thus the active use of voice translates into greater perceived influence, as we expected.” Even more discouraging, perhaps, was the researchers’ conclusion that women fare better in homogeneous groups, meaning all women.

So are we ladies really supposed to exist in a world where we only express ourselves fully when in the company of women?

What Are We Missing?

Look, I’m a big fan of gathering into all-female groups at times. I co-host a podcast with that framework, Sex Chat for Christian Wives. I also have a higher-drive wife group on Facebook, comprised exclusively of women whose libidos are higher than their husbands. And when I speak, I primarily teach women’s groups.

However, I’m really bothered that some of us gals don’t feel like our opinions, our beliefs, our desires are worth expressing, even in mixed company.

And I’ve seen this play out with wives in the bedroom, who have sadly absorbed the message that their sexuality and/or sexual pleasure doesn’t matter as much as their husbands’. When nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet, we have promoted this belief in our culture, both Christian and secular, by talking much more often about the male sex drive, by telling wives their role is to meet their husband’s sexual needs, by presuming that male sex arousal is the sexual cycle for all people (see our “Women’s Sexual Response” episode), and by using scriptures about the mutuality of sexual intimacy to argue that a wife can never say no.

Instead, I want to say unequivocally right now to all of you wives out there: You matter.

The Importance of Women and Their Words

What you feel, what you think, what you believe … is important. What you want, what you need, what you dream about … is valuable. Who you are … is precious.

Just ponder these verses:

  • Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26
  • See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:16a
  • Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7
  • So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

And in a society that discounted a woman’s testimony as unreliable in court, our Lord Jesus appeared first to women, making them the initial eyewitnesses to His resurrection (Mark 16:1-8). What a message about how He values the words of women!

What This Means about Your Bedroom

I often feel in my ministry as if I’m balancing two disparate concepts I want wives to understand about their sexual intimacy:

  1. We must lovingly care for our spouse’s sexuality.
  2. We must speak up for what we need and desire.

Some might say it’s a weaving selflessness and selfishness in the marriage bed. But I think of it as other-focus and self-awareness—an approach that values both of you as equally worthwhile partners in intimacy.

Do you discount your sexual desires? Do you tend to believe his pleasure or climax matters more than your own? Do you hesitate to speak up for yourself and what you want? Do you lack boldness in your bedroom?

Maybe it’s time, or well past time, to value your opinions, express yourself, and create more mutual conversation and sexual intimacy in your marriage.

And hey, comment more here! I’d love to hear what you gals think.

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Sources: Harvard Business Review – Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified; Forbes – Act Now To Shrink The Confidence Gap; Forbes – The Confidence Gap In Men And Women: Why It Matters And How To Overcome It; The Daily Free Press – Men’s online dating habits more bold than women’s, study finds; Enterpreneur – Head Into Your Next Male-Dominated Meeting Ready to Contribute by Following These Tips; American Political Science Review – Gender Inequality in Deliberative Participation

Wives, Why Aren’t You Commenting?

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in my comments section—more men, fewer women. By a rather substantial ratio.

When I began this blog in December 2010, I intended to reach wives who wanted more information and guidance about sex in marriage from a Christian perspective. But I’ve also posted plenty of times with husbands and couples in mind. Still, my readership reflects about a 60/40 split of women to men, so the majority of readers are still wives.

So why aren’t wives commenting as much anymore?

I genuinely want to know. Because I’d like to hear more from wives, to take in and consider their perspective, to speak to their concerns, and to involve them fully in conversations about intimacy in marriage.

Rather than write a post on sex today, I’m asking you to write to me. Wives, please tell me why you don’t comment or why you stopped commenting.

And gentlemen, please let this comment thread be dedicated to the ladies. Today is our day to simply listen, and I suspect you could learn as well from what these wives say.

What is my comments policy?

And in case you’re wondering, not long ago I updated my comments policy, and it’s reprinted below.

Hot, Holy, and Humorous was started as a site geared toward wives, though I have written many posts for couples and husbands as well. While I welcome all readers, I prioritize wives, so my comment policy reflects that focus.

All comments are reviewed by the administrator before they are posted. Some common reasons a comment may not appear:

Too revealing, graphic, or inappropriate.

I’m pretty liberal here, given the subject matter, but examples of TMI might be crass terminology or detailed descriptions of sexual acts.

Personal attacks.

Feel free to agree, disagree, or add your own knowledge, opinions, and insight to the subject matter. However, refrain from personal insults. They don’t further the conversation or persuade anyone.

Continuing the discussion past its usefulness.

So you disagreed with me, I responded, you replied, I answered, and so on. And really, 3-4 comments into that discussion, if you’re still trying to make your point or have the last word, I may just move on. Both of us would be better served to use our time elsewhere.

Monopolizing the conversation.

This may sound stereotypical, but I’ve had eight years running this blog to know that some men will comment in such a way that monopolizes the conversation, dismisses women wanting to add their say, and generally takes over the comment thread. After years of trying to smoothly manage that, I will be using the delete button more. Because ultimately, this is a site I want geared toward wives. (And yes, if a woman monopolizes the conversation, of course I’ll treat that the same.)

A question or comment that has nothing to do with the subject of the post.

So I wrote about oral sex, and you asked about positions. Or maybe I dealt with ways wives can be more engaged, and you think I should have covered how men should be more engaged. I get it: You want your situation addressed, maybe even need your situation addressed. But that’s not the point of the post, and I have over 850 posts you can search, one of which might have your answer. If you want to suggest a post topic, head over to my contact page.

Links to other sites.

While I regularly recommend resources and products I am familiar with and trust, Hot, Holy, and Humorous is not an aggregator of sites or links related to sex in marriage. If a commenter adds a link to a comment that I’m not familiar with, I may delete the comment rather than investigate, since detouring to check out those links takes away time I’d rather spend writing blog posts and books. Also, if a link goes to a site I strongly disagree with, obviously that will end up in the discard pile.

Sales promotions.

This blog will not facilitate sales for other sites. From time to time, I may suggest a book or product, and there may be an affiliate link on my site; such recommendations are my own discretion. But vendors should use their own sites to promote their products.

False/dangerous teaching.

Not all Christians interpret every verse in the Bible the same way. I am absolutely open to healthy, respectful debate. However, teachings that could cause harm to my readers may be passed over, as I have some responsibility for what appears on my site.

My comments policy can be summed up by Luke 6:31 (NASB): Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

Commenter Identity.

You may comment using your name, a nickname, or Anonymous. (Anonymous is by far my most frequent commenter. *smile*)

I read all comments and reply to as many as I can; yet time is limited. Please know that I appreciate your feedback, whether I am able to respond or not. If you ask me a question in your comments, I try to answer within a day or two. If I take longer, it’s usually because I’m praying and deeply considering my answer to your scenario. I appreciate your patience.

I welcome input. I enjoy conversation. I appreciate all readers.

May God bless your marriage and your sex life!

Let the feedback begin!

Have You Received Bad Marriage Counseling?

Back when our marriage was firmly planted in a pit of despair, we sought counseling. We tried marriage counseling three different times—not a single appointment, but an extended effort.

Likewise, I’ve often encouraged people to seek Christian counseling for their marriages or themselves, but I admit to worrying sometimes what they’ll get. Because our experience was a mixed bag, and some things said were sadly unhelpful.

None of our counselors was uncaring or incompetent or ungodly. Rather, our poor experiences simply weren’t what we needed, so our marriage didn’t improve and I sank further into despair. I thought: If we’re giving our marriage everything we’ve got, including Christian counseling, and it still isn’t working … maybe we should just call it quits.

With no disrespect to those people who tried to help our marriage, I want to share some “bad marriage counseling” approaches and give tips on how to recognize a good counselor for your marriage.

1. “I know what your problem is.”

Counselors see a lot of the same circumstances again and again. It’s true that for most people who have shared sexual problems with me on this blog or through email, someone else has shared a similar problem. So I can see how that would happen. It’s an easy stretch then to have a counselor spend an hour with a couple and think, “I’ve got this.” They announce, “I know what your problem is,” then describe the issues and prescribe a solution.

More than once, we had a counselor announce what our problem was—and they were off-base. They ascribed stereotypical gender roles or family back stories or internal motives that didn’t apply.

You wouldn’t trust a physician to diagnose strep without a throat culture, would you? Or cancer without a biopsy? Likewise, a good counselor needs to gather information about what you two are actually facing to be able to diagnose the problem and give specific solutions.

Look for someone who asks more questions than gives answers in the first few sessions. That’s not to say a good counselor won’t have insight and good advice—in fact, it’s a great idea for them to give you some obvious tips to get a few “quick wins”—but they should also take time seeing how your issues match common scenarios and how your relationship is different.

2. “Just work the program.” 

Two of our three counselors preferred a specific program to helping marriages. One used a particular book, which we were asked to purchase and read, and the other had his own canned approach. The message both gave was clear: You work the program, and your marriage will work.

I’m not knocking the books or programs people promote to help marriages. I’ve benefited a lot from specific perspectives like Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and Emerson Eggerichs’s Love and Respect. But I grow concerned when we treat such programs like these, and His Needs, Her Needs by Willard T. Harley, as magic bullets for whatever ails your marriage. What if you work the program and the marriage still doesn’t work? If it’s not the fault of the program, it must be your marriage. Right?

Not right.

On my blog, I try to address specific sexual intimacy issues while returning again and again to principles that apply across marriages (like 3 G-Words to Improve Your Marriage and The Gospel in the Bedroom). Look, I don’t have a magic bullet, and change is hard. Your marriage has its own specific problems, and while the ultimate answer is Jesus, how Jesus works in your marriage is specific to your situation.

Your marriage has its own specific problems, and while the ultimate answer is Jesus, how Jesus works in your marriage is specific to your situation. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Marriage counseling should be tailored to where a specific couple is and what they’re dealing with. Principles from programs can be helpful, but the program shouldn’t be the focus of healing the relationship. Just open up the Gospel and tell me if Jesus dealt with every person He encountered in the same way. Of course not! Are there principles He followed? Absolutely. But He tailored His approach to the specific person.

3. “It’s all his/her fault.”

Actually, the problem is a counselor letting a spouse get away with this attitude. I’d venture a guess that in 90% of counseling cases, one spouse thinks all the problems would go away if the other one would just change already. And some of those times, a counselor agrees.

Sure, there are situations in which one spouse is largely to blame—like with a serial adulterer, an ongoing addict, or an abuser. But the majority of marriages are two-to-tango in their dysfunction. Even if one person started the mess, something the other did enabled or escalated problems. Our reactions to our spouse’s bad behaviors make a real difference in whether it’s a blip in the marriage or a dynamic that takes hold.

Our reactions to our spouse's bad behaviors make a real difference in whether it's a blip in the marriage or a dynamic that takes hold. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

On the other hand, one of our counselors had a different message that seemed just as destructive to me: It’s all your fault if you let your spouse’s bad behavior affect you. This is the notion that you’re to blame for your reactions, so if you feel negative about something your spouse has done, that’s on you.

Whoa, wait a minute. So if my husband cheats on me, and I’m mad about it, I chose that emotion so it’s my fault? Um, no! There are reasonable reactions to certain behaviors in marriage, and we should not beat up a spouse for having those emotions. If your spouse woos the heck out of you, you’ll probably be happy about that. If your spouse pooh-poohs all your date plans for the night, you’ll probably be unhappy about that. That’s called caring about your relationship.

If you’re in couples counseling, your counselor should address where each of you can improve. They should intervene when one starts blaming the other too much or tries to shut down reasonable negative reactions to bad behavior. This is really just the application of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

4. “That’s not important.” 

When you bring up something that matters to you in a couples counseling session, and the counselor says, “That doesn’t matter,” it feels like they just said that you don’t matter. Maybe they don’t say it quite that way; rather, they might try to steer the conversation away with something like, “Well, that’s a small thing, and we need to tackle the bigger issues here.” That sounds great, but if you brought up the way he refolds his clothes after you already did it, I’m guessing that issue stands for something bigger in the relationship.

This hasn’t happened to us much, but I’ve heard it from readers quite a bit—especially when it comes to sexual intimacy. The scenario is often this one: The higher-drive spouse brings up a lack of sex in the marriage, and the counselor dismisses that as a physical need that isn’t as important as “high-minded” issues like emotional connection and communication. Well, hello! God created sex to be one form of emotional connection and communication in a marriage.

If your core issues are not being addressed, find another counselor who will listen. Again, this would be like going to a doctor and saying, “My knee hurts every time I bend it”; if they said, “Well, that doesn’t matter. I just want to look at your throat,” you’d be annoyed that they didn’t care about your health. If your marital ache is your husband never doing a chore in the house, or your wife rolling her eyes when you talk, or your spouse neglecting sexual intimacy, find a counselor who’ll address it. Along with your spouse’s concerns, which also matter.

But how do you find a good Christian counselor?

You can Google search for a counselor in your area, and you can look into local churches. Larger churches often have a counselor on site or support a counseling practice in your area. But one of the best ways is word-of-mouth. For that, don’t just look for that person who goes to counseling all the time, but the one who has shown improvement. Who do you know that used to struggle with X and is doing much better now? Who did they see?

At your first appointment, ask questions about what kind of approach they take. They should be interviewing you about your situation, but this is also your opportunity to interview them to see if your goals and personalities will work together. Be open-minded and willing to hear tough stuff—that’s part of counseling—but look for someone who listens, gets along with both of you, and seems to be for your marriage.

And be willing to try more than one counselor if the first one or two aren’t a good fit. It’s okay to move on from someone who isn’t helping you to someone you might be able to. Seriously, you’d do that much for a car that the first mechanic wasn’t able to fix, so why wouldn’t you do it for your marriage?

Have you ever been to marriage counseling, and if so, what was your experience? What advice would you give for finding a good Christian counselor?

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