Ask me what I think about how we’ve all handled the coronavirus pandemic, and I could keep your ears busy for the next forty-five minutes. But since this blog is not my personal soapbox, I’m focusing today on a few things I’ve noted and how we can all learn something from them to apply to our own marriage. And our marriage bed.
When push comes to shove, we retreat to what’s natural.
Are you naturally anxious? Combative? Avoidant? Sarcastic? Even if you’ve made huge strides in moderating your attitude and behavior, you may find yourself retreating back to those instinctive ways of handling stress and conflict. In times of difficulty, it takes extra effort to engage in positive relationship practices. (See the entire Book of Job.)
Speak honestly with your spouse about how you feel and then help each other with your feelings. Mind you, helping someone with their feelings is not telling them they shouldn’t feel that way. Feelings just happen, and if you want to change them, you have to work on the beliefs, attitudes, and actions that underlie the emotion.
Remind each other gently that you want to do better, be better, and then feel better—together.
Stress increases some sex drives and lowers others.
“Sex is a stress reliever!” says one spouse. “I’m so stressed, I can’t even think about sex right now!” says another. Both are understandable responses.
When we’re stressed, our muscles tense up, our blood pressure rises, cortisol flows through our system, our minds go on overdrive. All that can get in the way of sexual interest, or it can nudge us to seek release. Frustration can occur when the husband goes one way, the wife goes another, and they struggle to work through the difference.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to in the last few weeks has experienced additional stress. It’s likely impacting sexual interest in your home. Since you’re married—and get all the other fantastic benefits of that arrangement—you should probably compromise on this one. If the can’t-think-about-it spouse will engage sometimes anyway, they may discover a decrease in tension and an increase in intimacy. Meanwhile, if the sex-relieves-stress spouse will look for other ways to ease their spouse’s stress, they may find their reluctant spouse able to engage more frequently or fully.
It’s easier to be against something than for something.
The surest way for me to get a lot of feedback is to write on a controversial subject: #MeToo, politics, yoga pants. Even when I thought I wrote about those topics in ways that weren’t divisive, it turned out that people were eager to share where they thought I’d gone wrong. Believe me, I know the temptation, as I have written at least 10 over-the-top Facebook posts about our current pandemic responses…and then deleted them.
Guess what? It’s tempting to do that in marriage too. If asked what upsets you about your current sex life, many of you could write the equivalent of 10 Facebook posts explaining your feelings.
What if we talked less about what’s wrong and more about what we desire? What if we were less against our spouse and more for helping them understand their own sexuality? What if we focused on what we’re for in our marriage beds?What if we were less against our spouse and more for helping them understand their own sexuality? What if we focused on what we're FOR in our #marriage beds? via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
We shouldn’t assume others’ motives.
We tend to make assumptions about why others have responded the way they have during this pandemic, casting positive motives to those who agree with us and negative or vicious motives to those who disagree. Yet we often misunderstand or mischaracterize why people behave the way they do.
We do that with our spouse too. We think we know why they do X, Y, Z and attribute certain motives to them, when we could be wrong or have only a piece of the puzzle.
For the most part, we should let people explain themselves. We should ask questions to clarify our understanding. We should challenge what seems incorrect, but with kindness and patience. We should give grace.
Your spouse may not be doing what they’re doing for the reasons you think. Make it your goal to learn more about your spouse and appreciate this person you pledged to love for life.
Our words and actions should work in tandem.
Being a man of few words, my husband likes to cite the proverb, “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s taken a long time for me to realize why I dislike that saying. To a language-lover, words are actions—verbal actions that convey a person’s beliefs, intentions, and desires. So while the God’s Word sometimes advises us to stay silent, it also says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24) and “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Both words and actions are important.
Fighting the spread of COVID-19 has involved the use of words and actions, and communities with successful outcomes usually have both working in tandem.
In our marriages, words and actions should work in tandem too. Are you saying what your spouse longs to hear? Are you expressing your desire for sexual intimacy well? Are you backing it up with action that matches the messages you’ve conveyed? Where do you need to get your words and actions working better together?
We should be willing to adapt to new information.
In case you hadn’t heard, this is a novel coronavirus, meaning this version was new and we didn’t know a lot about it at first. We’ve learned a lot since the beginning of the year, but that means some of our initial theories were wrong and new conclusions were reached.
What does this have to do with marriage or the marriage bed? Let’s take one example. What if you both expected the husband to have a higher drive than the wife, but it turned out to be the opposite? Well, of course this couple should toss out the erroneous theories, look at the new data, and adjust expectations and behaviors accordingly.
Except it’s not that easy. What often happens instead is we double-down on our erroneous expectations. We feel hurt or get angry at the response or lack of response we receive. We point to the marriage book or sermon that told us it would be X and not Y. We cite the stereotype and wonder why our spouse can’t be that way.
That’s hardly the only example, because it could be in the area of what gets your spouse aroused, or what physiological challenges you have to face, or what sexual acts are off the table for your beloved, or even the “promise” from the Purity Movement that if you just held out until marriage, everything would go perfectly.
What we believe about the sexual intimacy in our marriage should always be growing, not only because we learn new things but because we ourselves change. What worked two decades ago may not work with the bodies you have now. Be willing to accept new information and adapt.
It takes time to see the results of your efforts.
I quote Galatians 6:9 all the time: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” But just because I see the truth in it doesn’t mean I like it. I’m an impatient person. So are most of us. Regardless of what you think about shutdowns, we all became weary of them at some point, right? We longed to just move on already.
Okay, now stop thinking (or ranting) about your views on the shutdowns and focus on what this means for marriage. I cannot tell you how many times someone has written to say that “I tried that” to a quality suggestion they received about their sex life, but a quick conversation reveals they tried it a few times or a few weeks and that was that. They quickly grew weary and wanted to move on already.
I get it. I truly do. It’s exhausting to continue to pour into someone and not see the benefits of your efforts. Except that it really does take time for (1) you to form the habit, (2) your spouse to believe the change is real, (3) your spouse to form a new habit, (4) the relationship to feel the positive effects. Of course there are no guarantees, but perseverance in love is your best bet.*
*If you’re in an abusive marriage, perseverance is likely not your best bet. Read here for more on that: Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage?
Our loved ones matter.
Whether you’ve been stuck at home with them for weeks, separated due to one of you being in healthcare or “essential” work, or going about life somewhat normally, we all have this sense that the people who matter most are those we’ve become family with. That could mean our family of origin, our sister-circle or brotherhood of friends, and/or our church family, but it definitely means the spouse with whom we formed a family.
Appreciation or frustration with your marriage may have heightened. But that loved one matters, a lot. Now may be the time to remember why you fell in love, to recognize where your relationship weaknesses are, to foster your friendship and spark your sexual interest, to be grateful for the opportunity you have to “do life” with your beloved. Make it count.