THE PASSIONLESS MARRIAGE
NOTE: The following article covers adult topics including sexuality.
As a pastoral counselor for sixteen years, I've worked with my fair share of struggling marriages. Almost without fail,
the subject of intimacy comes to the forefront of issues the couple is struggling with. I can see it on their faces
as soon as the topic is broached...one usually rolls their eyes in disgust while the other seems flushed with frustration
Although it may
seem awkward for couples to be discussing their sex life with a relative stranger, a good counselor is able to turn the discussion
into a scientific look at human needs, behaviors and the emotions attached to intimacy. A good counselor should
also be able to help the couple take a disassociated look at sex...its pleasures and its problems, without appearing condemning
or accusatory. This approach is often a "breath of fresh air," since much of what a couple knows about sexuality
is limited to their own knowledge, supposed moral code or personal experience. This approach also allows the couple
to take an honest look at the issues surrounding their sex life without it feeling so raw and personal. This approach
also helps them to see that their struggles are common and what mental, emotional and physical steps can be taken to restore
a healthy, vibrant and endearing intimacy.
THE MORAL DILEMMA OF SEX
all heard the horror stories of sex. Perversions, addictions, lust, diseases, unexpected or unwanted pregnancies and
the moral dilemma that can haunt a person for years who is considered to have been sexually 'immoral' in their past.
With the knowledge of such stories, (or experiences), seared deep within our minds, it's easy to see why some people think
of sex as an ultimately evil part of human nature and therefore detest the feelings within themselves or others. Add
to this the prospect of years of unbalanced preaching, teaching and warnings on the subject and many become convinced that
their own need for intimacy or the needs of others is wrong and fundamentally sinful...yes, even within marriage. It
is even quite common for individuals with unhealthy or inaccurate views of sex to feel guilty when engaging in intimacy, even
within the covenant of marriage. Those feelings are simply not healthy. Since each one of us is directed by a
moral code written within our minds and hearts, it's easy to see why such a frightening belief system can leave some marriages
scarred and unhealthy.
truth however, is that God, Himself created intimacy through sex, not to mention the powerful hormones that inspire
the need for intimacy and assist in the desire for expressing love through sex. So, if you need someone to blame for
human sexuality...look up.
While many believe that God created sex for the sole purpose of reproduction and reproduction
alone, these same people have a hard time explaining why God allows the sex-drive to continue even after child producing years.
Either God made a mistake in this area, (tongue in cheek), or He deliberately put a huge stumbling block into the paths of
people, neither of which seems to hold any truth. At greater issue is...can misinterpretation of God's will regarding
love and the expression of love through intimacy adversely affect marriage and the answer is emphatically "yes."
that this very real dilemma exists, (the moral basis of sex), and is powerful, reveals that many of the problems associated
with sex are mental issues, not sexual or moral.
Although many positions exist concerning the theology of sex and what is appropriate or not, the main point of this portion
of the article is to reassure couples that their experiences of intimacy are not only empowered by God, (through the creation
of their bodies and hormones), but are necessary for keeping the marriage loving, close, happy and healthy. I often
tell couples: "If there's no love in your home, maybe it's because you're not making any."
THE MIND OF INTIMACY
Many...if not most of the problems associated with intimacy are in the mind. When thinking is flawed, emotions become flawed
and then actions become flawed. If the mind is not functioning properly in this regard there will be issues.
This is where good counseling can really make a difference in helping couples overcome their issues. The most powerful
part of human sexuality is the mind and therefore when problems arise, (physical health issues aside); it is usually due
to unhealthy thinking. Although I'd like to say that discovery of a person's mental ‘hang-ups' regarding intimacy
is as easy as a few answered questions...it is not. In fact, it is far from easy.
Because of the raw and
deeply personal nature of a person's thoughts regarding desire and human longing, I often discuss these matters with a couple
individually, (with their corporate approval). This is not done in order to ‘hide or keep secrets' from the other
spouse, but to allow for an environment that feels a bit more secure and safe. It also allows me to discuss issues that
might be hurtful to the other spouse. In short, it's just good technique.
Problems associated with intimacy are vast and can be complicated, because on the surface they might not seem connected, while
others are more apparent. Issues such as: low self-esteem, experiences with incest, molestation, rape, humiliation,
guilt, fear, self-condemnation and so forth, can leave a person feeling emotionally too unstable to easily engage in frequent
intimacy. However, not dealing with these issues through counseling can still have the same negative effect on a marriage.
With that said, much of the counseling I do with couples concerning this topic will involve helping them rearrange their thinking.
When thinking is corrected, emotions are corrected and then actions are corrected.
ROAD-BLOCKS TO INTIMACY
The ROLES get in the way. I'm not talking about the added weight many married people put on after the
honeymoon is over, but that many marriages fall victim to placing greater importance upon the role of HUSBAND/WIFE, MOTHER/FATHER,
than the roles that brought them together in the first place. While many people fall into the rut of fulfilling the
roles of family...we often neglect, to the point of death, the roles of MAN AND WOMAN. You've probably heard the saying:
"Whatever it takes to get them, it takes to keep them."
Before we were a husband or wife, or a mother or father, we were simply a man and a woman. The needs of a man and the
needs of a woman are deeply personal and do not go away simply because we signed a marriage license or gave birth. Take
the time to remember back when you first became attracted to your mate, (assuming you ever where). Flirting was so much
fun, it felt good and met a fundamental need in us; the need to be wanted, desired and known. It also fulfilled the
need to be the center of someone's attention...to be a mate.
Although it is great to be honored on Mother's Day or Father's Day, or even on our wedding anniversary...it does not, nor
cannot replace the need to be honored as a simple man or a woman. It is when these needs become so starved that people
become vulnerable to extra-marital affairs, whether sexual in nature or simply in heart and mind. An example of what
I'm talking about here can be seen in two simple statements: "I'm so glad you are my wife," versus "you
are such a beautiful and incredible woman." The first statement is a statement of ownership and role fulfillment.
It is actually selfish in nature. The second is a statement of raw love and desire that does not give a selfish connotation.
Although there is a proper time for both...neither should go unfulfilled.
Interestingly, when couples have embraced this concept and re-energize their intimacy based upon the role of a man and woman,
the other roles vastly improve, because the first and fundamental needs are being met. Great lovers become great spouses
and great parents.
Another serious road-block to intimacy is past hurts. Every relationship is vulnerable to hurt but none more so than
where intimacy is involved. When couples have experienced issues such as neglect, feelings of abandonment (emotional
or physical), constant ridicule or being placed last in a long list of priorities...hurt results, it is human nature.
Left unchanged or unattended, these hurts turn into bitterness and are expressed through anger, frustration and eventual coldness.
In the worst case scenario, bitterness has remained unchecked so long that the healthy emotions needed to continue a serious
relationship fade immensely and sometimes completely end. When this happens, reconciliation is extremely difficult.
In many cases, intimacy dies and the couple becomes nothing more than bitter roommates instead of lovers. Without deep
and serious forgiveness and reconciliation, marriages in this shape are likely doomed.
The obvious key to this dilemma is prevention. It is much easier to repair a house when the damage is minor, versus
when there is nothing left standing. The main reason bitterness becomes established within a relationship is communication
failure. It's amazing that we can sense when our children are upset about something, yet oftentimes we are oblivious
to the serious issues affecting our most intimate relationship. To say we often take our relationships for granted is
Another serious roadblock to intimacy is manipulation. When intimacy becomes something that is given or withheld, (whether
sexual or emotional intimacy), based upon a certain set of circumstances, danger looms. Intimacy; both emotional and
sexual are deep-seeded needs and withholding them allows serious temptations and bitterness to enter into the relationship,
leaving it fragmented. What we must remember is that withholding our emotions or intimacy is a choice, it's within our
are exceptions to every rule), a woman needs a great deal of emotional intimacy to feel loved, fulfilled and desired within
the marriage. In other words, she needs to talk, hear and be listened to in order to feel valuable and fulfilled.
A man, on the other hand, often expresses his intimate needs through sex. Sadly, when emotional intimacy is withheld,
sexual intimacy is likewise withheld and it becomes a vicious cycle of blame, shame and naming names. It becomes a game
of "give me your heart and I'll give you my body," while the other says, "why would I give you my heart, when
you won't give me your body?"
The answer to manipulation is simple: don't do it. Mature adults should be able to successfully communicate their needs
to their spouse. Expressing true feelings goes a long way in helping another person understand your real desires, versus
expecting them to know how you feel. With that said, once true feelings are communicated, it becomes our ‘choice'
as to what we do about them. Allowing intimate needs to go unmet as a conscious choice of our own will, permits the
relationship to fade further until there is nothing left but the lawyers with no one to blame but our self.
IS THERE HOPE?
At the end of the day, intimacy is a value issue. Is this person worthy of my love? Have I been worthy of his
(her) love? Love begins when two people value each other above everyone and everything else, shy o f God. When
we allow other people, issues, roles, work, play, family or ‘things' to become of greater value to us than our lover,
the value of marriage fades. Although many couples live this way, the empowering dynamic of their relationship has been
reduced greatly and they are usually unhappy.
Human nature is often very selfish, yet an intimate relationship can only thrive in the dual sacrifice of meeting
the others most intimate needs.
So, the question is: "Is there hope?" The frank answer to that question lies within the choices of the man
and woman. Will each one choose to push past the roadblocks of their fractured, intimate relationship and return it
to the high priority it demands? If the answer to that question is "yes," then there is hope. Many people
fail to realize that it is free choice that moved us into an intimate relationship, and free choice that keeps us there.
Sadly, (on most occasions), it is only when the relationship is dead and on the verge of ending for good that one part of
the couple rises up, desperate for help. By then it is often too late because the other part of the couple is too far
removed. There are scientific elements to these behaviors as well, that are coping mechanisms versus character
flaws, so we should not be too quick to judge. For example, feeling abandoned or neglected for long periods
of time causes the mind to deal with this loss by first grieving and then with moving on. Survival is inherent in the
human being. Therefore, some people move on from a neglectful relationship as a result of science...not human weakness.
Copyright by Reydon Stanford 2010