Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Marriage, Men, Pornography, Postmarital, Women

Is It Right to Withhold Sex in Marriage?

Throughout my years of marriage counseling, I often heard the confession that one spouse was unwilling to engage in sexual relations or, for reasons unknown, was withholding sex. With some couples it had been months and for others years had passed since they were intimate. Unfortunately, distraction or dissatisfaction in the sexual realm within marriage is not uncommon.

 

Most couples have seasons of infrequency or loss of the joy of sex or boredom, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way or that a new precedent is being set. For many married folks it is the most difficult subject to bring to the table. It seems that no matter how you approach the subject, one person can be easily offended or hurt.

 

When sex is withheld, most couples can connect it to a temporary issue like a recent fight or a strong disagreement on frequency or stress and sometimes illness. But there is a difference between decreased desire and intentionally using sex as a form of punishment or control.

 

I discovered a long time ago that abuse is always connected to power and control. Anger out of control is a form of control. Financial withholding for basic needs is a form of control and a spouse who feels unsafe, unloved or unappreciated can use sex as a form of control. Sex as a weapon in any form is unacceptable.

 

Most persons do not misuse their sexual side in a relationship but there are those who do.

 

When a woman withholds sex from her husband, it is usually a sign of something deeper going on and not about sexuality. Many women have figured out that their need for sexual release is different than their husband’s and they can use this as a form of control. Perhaps it’s not intentional, but it does happen. The problem, however, is that most women will not receive the results they are desiring. The desire to punish him for his rudeness, for forgetting your anniversary or for exhaustion will not provide for you the positive outcome that you tell yourself it will.

 

When men withhold sex, they are often denying themselves because of a fear of performance. Frequently they are carrying too much stress or are focusing their attentions elsewhere, like on a career. If a man fears rejection from his spouse, he will protect his emotions and his esteem by not asking. Also, men involved in pornography can lose interest in marital sex because their partner is not measuring up to the pictures or videos they’re viewing.

 

Here’s the thing though: if couples do not seek help outside themselves, how will they know what is normal or what is abnormal? We do not customarily enter into these conversations with others very readily so we are not aware of what are common problem issues in the bedroom. As well, we tend to assume the worst about ourselves or our marriage without clear communication.

 

Some places to start to initiate change:

  • Begin by praying about your sexual lives together.
  • Share your heart, listen and work to understand rather than to just air your grievances.
  • Listen for deeper issues that begin outside the bedroom, e.g., pain, stress, memories that surface, anxieties, depression, illness. There are reasons for no or little sexual desire.
  • Give permission to your spouse to say some difficult things without the fear of retribution or taking offense.
  • If there is a record of anger, wrongly spoken words and threats about where your sex lives have gone, then back up, repent and ask one another’s forgiveness.
  • Ask God for a means of re-set, i.e., how do we start over following prayer and communication?
  • Support one another in any way possible. You’re in this together and you’re best friends.
  • Affirm one another and reinitiate affection. Affection, like kissing, enhances sexual desire.
  • Find ways to reduce stress and time commitments outside the bedroom.
  • Maintain sexual purity and do not turn to pornography or lust.

 

Continual rejection hurts our spouse and our marriage. Sex is not a power to be wielded in order to achieve a certain outcome; it is a gift from God. Sex is something we give; it is not something we take. To be sexual within marriage means to be vulnerable. Tolerating the ongoing withholding of sex does not benefit anyone. (See I Corinthians 7:3-5.)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Prayer, Women

The Intimacy of Couple Prayer

While fighting and arguing can be powerful in its disagreement, seeking God together in prayer is far more powerful in its spiritual agreement. You find yourself side-by-side, holding hands and letting your requests be known to your Creator. If you’re being honest, you know God sees your heart and expects vulnerability from both of you. In that openness and vulnerability, you become unveiled before Him. 

 

Before you were married, did anyone advise you that your marriage would need room for failure, forgiveness, loss, brokenness, disagreement, or even sin?  If not, a full and honest disclosure was missed, and you may have entered into marriage a bit naïve or ill-advised.  Marriages fail because we fail God, each other, and ourselves.  We fail to love, we fail to honor, we fail to forgive, and we fail in keeping at bay our own personal struggles with selfishness.

 

Before the Genesis three account of failure, the Bible states that God created us for a world where mankind was first introduced to God’s idea called marriage, and within that world, we would personally walk with God on a daily basis.  Can you imagine as a couple that at the end of each workday, after dinner, you would take a stroll in God’s perfect garden and speak with Him as you would any other person?  How that must have refreshed Adam and Eve, reenergized them, and built them for life together, for family, and for their next day.

 

But can’t God walk with us on a daily basis today?  Can we not have a conversation with Him together about our marriage, family, business, or life questions?  Would we be amiss to entertain for one moment that God has stopped longing to hear from us as His creation, especially the concerns we hold within our marriage and family?

 

You can be sexually intimate with almost anyone, but you cannot pray with just anyone.  In order to really open up our hearts and pray together, we must know we are in a safe place.  We must know we are not being judged for our heartfelt prayer.  And we must know that the one with whom we divulge our heart will maintain confidentiality and that we can trust them with our deepest, most secret sins and needs.  Praying together within marriage is so intimate that if these factors are not present, we will almost always divert ourselves to a same-sex prayer partner for that level of prayer.  At the same time, we will be forfeiting something so intimate, so close and so heartfelt, that a certain dimension will be missing within our marriage relationship.

 

Start small; find five or ten minutes in your day to connect in prayer.  Begin your prayer time by giving God thanks for all of His blessings in your life, including each other.  Move on to praying for one another and then your family, along with any other needs.  Close again with prayers of thanksgiving, because a thankful heart is an encouraged and an encouraging heart.  As this time of prayer becomes a habit, allow it to grow and increase.  The Bible says that when we find a place of prayer, we find a place of power and agreement (Matthew 18:19-20).

 

Some couples do not pray together because of vulnerability (it’s risking too much); others avoid prayer because of feeling inadequate; some use the excuse that they do not have enough time; others simply do not trust their spouse enough. Whatever the reason, all of these reasons keep us from obedience to God, from growing together spiritually, from becoming passionately intimate and from agreement that brings the deepest unity any marriage can encounter.

 

Perhaps you’ve already begun praying together. If not, we encourage you to begin today. If you establish this life-giving habit now, it will continue to flow within your marriage relationship quite naturally. It will build over time and as you experience, in deeper measure, the hand of God and answered prayer, you will find yourselves rejoicing together far more often.

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Challenge, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

When Our Spouse Pushes Our Buttons

We all love to be proven right when there is a conflict. In so many ways we connect with winning. When our buttons are pushed and a disagreement is the result, we want to win. The problem with winning, especially in marriage, means someone loses and I am not sure that’s our ultimate goal.

 

There are times when we simply must allow ourselves not to take the bait and overlook the need to be right. Most times, peace is more important than pursuing the need to prove ourselves or to win. Backing down can be the most loving and powerful thing we can do for our marriage. After all, who wants to be miserable after being proven right, by going to bed angry? The need to be right, if pursued religiously, can bring destruction to our relationship.

 

Consider Proverbs 17:14, “Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.”

 

“So, stop before…” You’re beginning to raise your voice and your heart is beating faster all the while Proverbs says to just stop. How do we do that? Begin by recognizing the inward conversation you’re having with yourself. Conversations like, “You can’t let her get away with that or, go ahead and interrupt him and let him have the facts.”

 

Secondly, do we want to be right or do we want to be in relationship? That is a choice we have to make at times. Recently, I had a false accusation leveled at me. Believe me, I thought of ten ways to respond and to make a defense as to why it wasn’t true. But I also knew that if I responded, the accusations would continue because most likely this person would not back down.

 

Laying down one’s ego is not easy and if it means keeping your mouth closed, it becomes even more difficult. We need not answer every critic and we need not to prove ourselves to anyone. When we do, we’ll find ourselves in an endless trap of words that leads to even more buttons being pushed.

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Challenge, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Pornography, Postmarital, Women

The Pain of an Affairing Spouse

My wife, Mary, and I were on a plane traveling to the Northwest and it was the dead of winter.  We were conducting our first weekend marriage seminar in this frozen, sub-zero state.  We jumped off the plane and onto the small airport tarmac to be greeted by the coldest wind we’ve ever felt.  Our eyes began to water and our noses started to run.

 

As we became acquainted with the pastor of the church who met us at the airport, he informed us that we were going straight to the church building to meet with his two eldership couples that were awaiting our arrival.  I thought, “Wow, he’s not wasting any time putting us to work.”  He then said, “Am I glad you guys are here.  We have a problem that we would like the two of you to address.”  “What’s the issue? “I asked.  He proceeded to say something we had never, ever heard before and haven’t heard since.  “It seems that the husband of our one eldership couple is having an affair with the wife of the other eldership couple,” the pastor cautiously revealed.  “We want you to meet with them.”  I then asked if the “non-affairing” spouses are aware of what had happened and was about to happen.  He told us they were totally unaware of both.

 

I’m not sure who was more nervous and frightened about the meeting, the two of us or the couples we were about to meet.  There we sat with the first couple; a bit stunned as the husband nervously confessed to his wife his ongoing affair.  His eyes were constantly shifting to his spouse, then his pastor and then to us, but more often toward the ground.  We watched as her face began multiple and visibly painful contortions.  Her skin began to flush a bright red color starting from below her neckline and working its way to her forehead.  And then the tears began to flow, nonstop.  Her body slumped lower and lower in her chair.  It was like she was literally shriveling up right there in front of us.

 

Humans seem to have the capacity to endure a lot of pain, both physical and emotional.  We have all experienced traumatic, painful situations in our lives.  How we choose to handle those hurts is important.  We don’t know why one person can maintain composure while another completely falls apart, but we are convinced it has something to do with how we interpret the event and then what we tell ourselves about the past, present, and most importantly, the future.

 

It was in this meeting that we watched someone physically experience human pain: shortness of breath, heart palpitations, hands shaking in uncontrollable fear, and deep sighs that seemed to say, “What now?”  Mary placed her hand on the wife’s arm, but it was of little solace to her in a world that was literally crumbling around her.

 

Having seen the pain that an affair has on a spouse that day, I once again pledged myself to maintaining my marriage vows to my wife and to God – a good thing for you to consider as well.

 

(The above was adapted from our book, Staying Together, Marriage: A Lifelong Affair, Prokopchak, Destiny Image Publishers)

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Challenge, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

When We Should Just “Shut up” in Marriage

Are there times in marriage when we simply should not be communicating or using more words?  I want to propose that there are those times and we should use them wisely.  The book of Ecclesiastes reveals, “…A time to be quiet and a time to speak.”

 

Consider these five times that silence just might be described as golden.

 

  1. When your partner desires some quiet time or some alone time.

 

  1. When a disagreement is getting out of hand, it most likely is a good time for a communication time out.

 

  1. When one partner is feeling a bit snarky, it’s best not to respond.

 

  1. When an ongoing issue keeps surfacing we may need to back off and give it some time, or agree to disagree.

 

  1. When it’s time to close our day and go to sleep.

 

Use your quiet times wisely because sometimes, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Proverbs 17:28

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Challenge, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

Seven Ways to Stop a Drifting Marriage

Drifting is natural, it happens sometimes without giving it much thought.  Add to that our human propensity to get bored with the familiar rather quickly.  Once the romance wanes in our relationships, we can be tempted to drift.  We attempt to convince ourselves and our life mates that we’re not drifting, but we both know we are.

 

My daughter and I were out in a bay once when our boat lost its anchor. She went swimming after it.  We barely noticed how far and how quickly that boat drifted away from us with the outgoing tide.  It was just right there beside us a few minutes earlier.

 

What are the ingredients to a marriage that drifts?  All too often we experience unmet expectations. Our disagreements become more intense and we seem to have conflict more often. Perhaps even old, destructive life patterns reemerge.  Or, maybe we get behind financially and can’t seem to catch up.  We’re working more hours, away from home more hours and unhappy for more hours.  Now we’re feeling unfulfilled and it is so easy for marriage boredom to increase.

 

We didn’t mean for it to happen but life is full with our schedules, our children, yes, even our ministry.  We’re missing one another, we’re not communicating as we should and we left certain disciplines that help to maintain a healthy marriage.  Now we’re both feeling the sting of unmet needs and mumbling under our breath the negative things that bug us about our partner.

 

It can change; there is hope.  We can reverse the effects of drifting.  Here are seven steps we can take.

 

  1. Confess it to God and one other. Confession brings it into the light.  It puts the subject on the table so to speak.

 

  1. Get back to dedicated times of communication about the personal and the nonpersonal. Get back to sharing everything in conversation with feelings and real-life intimacy.

 

  1. Pray while you communicate.  Speak to God about your drifting from each other.  Share your heart with your heavenly Father and ask Him for solutions to the drifting issue.  Expect to hear those answers and then implement them.

 

  1. Get back to spending quality time together. There is no compromise; we need time together to relate, to have fun and to be friends again.

 

  1. Stop waiting on feelings. If you wait on feelings to return, you’ll never act.  Act first because right actions bring about right feelings.

 

  1. Write out your mission statement. If you have one, find it and read over it once again.  If you do not have a couple mission statement then you are missing out on writing down your reasons for marriage, your why.  Get busy and put into writing your marriage mission statement.

 

  1. Dream again about where you desire your marriage to go and to grow.  Vision is a focus for the future for the two of you. That focus runs adrift when we lose sight of us.

 

Rest assured, drifting can occur with each of us.  But it is not our game plan to stay there.  We must take steps to counteract the drifting that has taken place.

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Challenge, Marriage, Postmarital

Are You Running from Your Marriage Weaknesses?

So often marriage is like a mirror and we get to see our real self through the reflections of our life mate.  After all, who knows you better than your spouse?  Who better to reflect back to you the image you are projecting?

 

All too often we become defensive, insecure or are in denial about these areas in our lives.  We can hide them for some time, but eventually they will surface.  When we lose our focus, lose our cool or lose our patience, it can become too much of a temptation to allow the real us to surface. We each have our weaknesses and when they are revealed, we have options.

 

Those options include: to run, hide, make excuses, blame others or face the weaknesses squarely in the eye.  Many marriages separate and spouses run from their exposed weaknesses, but for those who are willing to maturely confess them, remain humble, remain teachable and accountable, there is great hope.

 

What we can do is to use the revelation of our shortcomings to allow God to change that area of our life.  Confession and humility are powerful when it comes to change.  Pride, on the other hand, will take us toward a greater fall.

 

A number of years ago we worked with a couple who struggled with financial agreement.  It seems the wife had created excessive consumer debt.  They asked for our help, humbled themselves, confessed wrongdoing and started on the path of healing their trust issues and then their budget changes.  It could have been far worse if they would have not sought help, not confessed and not humbled themselves toward change.

 

Are you running from your marriage weaknesses?  There is a better way.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

Growing Respect in our Marriages

Someone once shared with me these words, “I’ll respect him when he starts respecting me.” Still another said, “When she starts acting respectable, I’ll show her respect.”  Really? Since when is respect conditional upon another respecting you?

 

Do you show respect to your boss even when they are not in some way earning that respect?  Do you respect out of a desire to obey God, regardless of what you feel the other is or is not doing?  Were you aware of the fact that there are respect clauses in the Scripture?  Peter wrote that we were to “…treat them [wives] with respect,” and Paul wrote “…the wife must respect her husband.”  (I Peter 3:7; Ephesians 5:33) There were no additional words that stated if the husband or wife also showed respect.  Then again, there are no words that state we can demand respect — that’s not how it works.

 

Judas did a lot of disrespectful things as a disciple of Christ and yet Jesus still washed his feet along with the others.  The woman caught in adultery was not the most respectable and neither was the woman at the well and our Savior showed much respect and forgiveness toward them.  Perhaps your wife or your husband has not always shown you respect, but that does not give you license to return the same.

 

I love how author Gary Thomas weighs in on this very subject, “As our partners and their weaknesses become more familiar to us, respect often becomes harder to give.  But this failure to show respect is more a sign of spiritual immaturity than it is an inevitable pathway of marriage.”  He also notes, “When there is mutual respect in marriage, selflessness becomes contagious…. If you want to obsess about them [weaknesses], they’ll grow, but you won’t!”

 

How is respect growing in your relationships, especially within your marriage?

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Challenge, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Premarital, Women

Marriage Minefields and Hidden Memories

Marriage minefields are fields where we have buried or hidden devices (memories) just below the surface.  We actually move forward in life by frequently looking backward.  Most day-to-day life is not filled with new revelation but memory. Memory helps us to find our way home after work.  Memory is used daily in order to live life.  Life without the ability to recall even the slightest, most mundane details or important ones would be disastrous.

 

When we have an issue in marriage, we quickly go to our memory bank and pull up a pleasant experience, a neutral experience or a negative experience.  If we find ourselves connecting to a pain-filled memory, we can begin to sweat, experience an increased heart rate and be inundated with a flood of negative emotions. When this happens, we know we have connected to a memory minefield.

 

Some of our memories contain lies or misbeliefs and still others are inaccurate. It was not uncommon for John and Elizabeth (not their real names) to experience knock-down, drag-out arguments. In sheer frustration late one evening, John looked at Elizabeth and said, “That’s it; I’m out of here!” Immediately, Elizabeth went silent and fell to the floor in a fetal position, where she sobbed uncontrollably. Even though John ran immediately to his wife, knelt beside her, and desperately tried to console her, it was as if he had left. Elizabeth didn’t or couldn’t hear his voice or acknowledge his presence. John later discovered that when his wife was six years old, she overheard her parents fighting. Her father’s words rang out as he screamed, “That’s it; I’m out of here!” Elizabeth never saw her father again

 

John was not her father; he was her dedicated husband. However, when Elizabeth heard that same phrase, she immediately associated the words with her father’s words from her childhood. That former experience was automatically connected to the present experience. The characters were different, but in her mind the outcome would be the same. The deep, wrenching pain of loss she once associated with her father’s abandonment returned as if it was programmed for this exact moment. Everything in her being was telling her, “Now my husband is leaving me too.” The pain was unbearable, and those same feelings of abandonment returned with a vengeance.

 

Elizabeth was no longer fighting with John; she was wrestling with pain-filled memories planted in a minefield just below the surface. Was it the argument they needed to resolve, or was it Elizabeth’s past hurts that needed to be healed? From many stories like this one, I have come to believe that most relationship issues in the present have a connection to the past; therefore, what seem like marital issues are often individual issues. I am convinced that when Jesus heals our individual issues, sins, hurts, and disappointments, marriage relationship issues can also be healed. *

*Adapted from Staying Together, Marriage: A Lifelong Affair by Steve and Mary Prokopchak

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