Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Self Unsteem

I have a wish, a wish that I am very passionate about!  It's a big factor in why I'm writing this blog and why I am attempting to be so completely vulnerable.  I wish that women would see how amazing, valuable, inspiring and beautiful they are!  I wish they could see themselves the way their husband and kids saw them!  I wish there was a camera filter (NOT PHOTOSHOP) that allowed us to truly see ourselves the way others see us.  That filter would exemplify all our positive characteristics, erase the little lumps and line (that only we see anyway) and inform everyone of our talents, skills and fantastic personalities.  It would show how giving we are, that we would jump into a den of ravenous lions to save someone we love and above all, how gigantic our hearts are.  Wouldn't it be great if we could walk down the street and hear someone catcalling us, "Ooooooh weeee, look at the size of the heart on that chick!"

Unfortunately, instead of seeing ourselves in a positive light we are instead bombarded with the idea that we are not good enough.  We can never be thin enough, pretty enough or sexy enough.  Not only that, but there is conflicting messages about what those things look like.  Sometimes we are told to dress revealing, other times we should be refined.  Sometime we are supposed to be super skinny, others we should have muscular definition.  One thing is for sure though, we are supposed to be at the end of our journey of self betterment.  We are already supposed to be flawless. 

I know, we have heard all the same things over and over before about how no one is perfect.  Even the ideal woman we strive to be had been worked over by and entire team of professionals and then airbrushed on top of that.  That doesn't make us any more accepting of our own flaws.

Even when our self esteem is abominable many of us never really bother to work on it.  We assume that there really isn't anything that can be seriously done to fix it and we don't know how to change the way we think.  Even if you have someone complimenting you constantly, that still won't necessarily change your perception of yourself.  We also tend to believe that it doesn't really matter if we have bad self esteem.  We don't think it affects anyone but us and so we see no reason to do the hard work of actually fixing it.  It's also possible that we COULD think that having slightly poor self esteem is a good thing.  I mean, we aren't supposed to be proud and we are supposed to be constantly trying to improve ourselves, so couldn't a bit of bad self esteem keep us from getting too proud and give us a project to work on?  It's really amazing the justifications we can come up with for avoiding a problem.   

The problem is, our bad self esteem DOES effect others.  I'm sure you're first going to jump to the conclusion that I am speaking here to mothers of young daughters.  Though that is definitely one relationship where our self esteem matters, it is not the only one.  Our self esteem also can be a detrimental factor in our relationship with our sons, family, friends and husbands, too. 

When we think negatively about ourselves, even when we attempt to hide it, the changes in our attitude towards ourselves can have an impact on how we interact with people.  In friendships, we might shy away from developing a closer friendship because we might not feel like we are as "good" as that other person.  We might also not participate in certain activities or do things we enjoy with these people, out of fear of how we look.  For example, we may never go swimming out of fear of being seen in a bathing suit. 

If you have ever opted out of an activity because you were nervous about wearing the specialized clothing for it, or out of fear of being photographed during, your self esteem does affect your quality of life.  If something is preventing you from living your happiest life, then it is definitely time to work on it!

As far as our relationship with our children goes, we know that our relationship with them will be one of the most influential in forming who they are.  If we don't think that much of ourselves they will see that and it will become a part of how they think about themselves.  Our daughter sees us putting tinny portions on our own plate and saying, "I just want to loose a few pounds", and they hear, "it doesn't matter if I'm hungry or healthy, what matters is my size."  Little girls hear everything we say and it becomes part of who they are.  A sigh when we look in the mirror might not seem like a big deal to us but for our formative daughters that might encourage them to start looking for the faults in their own face.  We need to remember that our kids understand that half of who they are comes from us.  If we aren't happy with ourselves, that gives them the impression that we aren't happy with half of who they are either.  If you also are having troubles with their father and show some type of dislike for him, your kids will be less confident in who they are.  We would NEVER want our kids to feel that way, so it's time to start treating ourselves (and our husbands) with respect so our kids see they are worthy of respect too!

Have you ever thought about what having bad self esteem tells your husband?  It shows him we don't trust his judgment.  After all, if we think so negatively about ourselves, what does that say about the intelligence of someone who would choose to be with us?  Every time we complain about something that is "wrong" with us we are subtly telling him that there is a better choice out there.  Too much complaining might just be open his eyes to the other options available.  I'm sure that's not what I want!

A few years ago I went through a really low period of poor self esteem.  I was being exceptionally hard on myself and I complained about it a lot.  Weight has always been a delicate subject for me and at that point in time I was at the high end of my spectrum.  My husband eventually got sick of it said something to me that really made me think twice.  He told me that when I complain about something all the time, eventually it's all that he can see.  That really freaked me out!  It might not have been the nicest thing to say and it did make me think that he agreed with me about how I was fat and unattractive, but I have since seen the caution in what he said (plus we have resolved a lot of our issues since then and I have learned that he wasn't trying to be hurtful). 

I had a habit that might seem very strange but it's possible I'm not the only one that has used this type of reasoning.  I used to use my little snide remarks about my looks to fish for compliments.  I thought that, by saying bad things about myself, I was giving my husband an opportunity to disagree with me and tell me how great I actually was.  Something tells me that I'm not the only one that does this, otherwise the phrase "does this make my butt look big" wouldn't be a standing joke.  Even if that technique were to work, it's a dangerous game.  Each negative word we say about our looks is like holding a magnifying glass in front of a flaw and saying, "Hey, do you see this?".  Eventually that's all they will see.

If you do have poor self esteem there is most likely another portion of your life that is hindered by it, your sex life.  It's really, really difficult to be comfortable and confident in the bedroom if you are not comfortable and confident in your own skin.  It's possible you are attempting to spend a little time as possible being intimate with your husband just to avoid him seeing your "flaws".  You might not allow him to have the lights on so that he can never REALLY see you naked.  I also bet that you think about your appearance while you are making love and that keeps you from enjoying the act as much as you could. 

This is not your best life!  You could be having so much more fun and being so much more positive!  I know you didn't just wake up one morning and think, I don't like the way I look anymore, I think I'll have bad self esteem now.  I totally get that a negative outlook is something that has been instilled in you over years and years of negative input.  I also understand that there are events that have happened in your life or people that you have trusted that have torn you down and caused you to feel worthless and unappreciated.  You can't change that those things happened to you, but you can stop them from ruining your happiness now. 

We all have had hurts and rejections.  We have all had people in our lives that attempt to tear us down (maybe in an attempt to use us to boost them up).  We all have things we don't like about ourselves.  Some of us have been abused, either physically or emotionally.  Allowing our negative self esteem to run rampant only allows those people to win.  They go on hurting us even after they might have even forgotten all about us.  It gives them power to rule our emotions.  Enough is enough, we need to make it stop! 

So how do we do that?  How do we let go of things that have cut us so deeply we feel we were formed around them?  I have found the answer to be forgiveness but during the time when I was suffering with self loathing and crying out for attention, forgiveness sounded like a cruel joke.  It seemed like a slap in the face to expect me to just let those people that hurt me "off the hook" so easily.  I felt I could never give up on seeking retribution from those who weren't even sorry for what they had done to me.  It just didn't seem fair! 

The truth is, it isn't fair, but it's also not fair to yourself to hold onto that pain and allow them to continue to hurt you.  The best retribution you could have is to live your best life IN SPITE of the hurt you have suffered.  To show that person that they no longer have power over you by not dwelling on the damage they caused.  Sadly, they may not even care if they have hurt you in the past and they quite possibly are NOT sorry for what they did but, staying angry at them is like hitting yourself over and over and over again, and expecting it to hurt them.  You're giving them the power to rule your emotions. 

Forgiveness is hard though!  Saying it is one thing, but actually letting go of our hurt and moving on is quite another.  It seems impossible to just, force your mind to think differently about yourself.  I found this to be the most difficult part of my recovery (though I'm still on that journey).  I had to ACTIVELY work at forgiveness.  If you're wondering how on earth you forgive actively, you aren't alone.  I wondered about this a lot too. 

I came up with a few steps and I will walk through a small event from my past, so you can understand the process better.  I guess it's sort of like my 5 step program for forgiveness. 

1.  Think back to an event or something that was said that hurt you. 
One instance for me was, a girl from school mocked me and called me fat.
2.  Figure out what it was about that event that was so hurtful. 
What hurt me about this was that it made me feel like I wasn't accepted for who I was and it caused me to feel unattractive and excluded from that group of friends. 
3.  Try to think of a reason why that person would have acted in the way they did. 
I believe this girl struggled with her own self esteem issues and was hoping to make herself look better by bringing me down. 
4.  Actually say the words, I forgive you.
The reason I think about this instance as an example was because it was also one that sort of showcases my bravery.  A day or two after the incident I actually called this girl and confronted her about what she said.  Though she denied that what she said was an insult (there really wasn't any other way to take it) I still believe it might have made a difference in how she might have reacted in the future.  My hope is that it might have helped her change her mean ways.  That being said, even though I confronted her it still didn't change the fact that it was hurtful and it became a small part of how I saw myself.  Years later, when I had finally forgiven her, I didn't contact her again to let her know.  I just said it to myself, and that was good enough to give me closure.  
5.  When you think about that event again in the future remind yourself that you have forgiven the person and that continuing to be angry doesn't help in any way.
For this instance, when I think back to the event I actually feel sort of sorry for this girl.  I can see that she was trying so hard to fit in and be the center of attention she alienated so many people that would have been her friends.  I also have seen her in more recent years and I can't say she seems very happy with herself or about her life.  

There will be many instances where the damage done was far more profound than my mean girl story.  If you have been physically abused the forgiveness will be more involved and difficult.  There were two people in particular in my past that made substantial scars in my self esteem.  When it came to forgiving them I moved through the same steps but it took a lot longer to work on step number 4.  For those two people I actually wrote out a letter to them.  I told them what they did that hurt me and why I felt the way I did.  I went over a number of specific incidents and why they were the wrong things to say or do.  I also let them know I was trying to understand why they would have done what they did.  This might seem like making excuses for their bad behavior to you, but I have found that all it does is make it easier for me to understand them as a person and why they might have acted the way they did.  The reasoning doesn't make what they have done more acceptable but it did help me to be able to let go of it more easily and move on more freely. 

One of the people I wrote to no longer has a place in my life.  I don't have any contact with anymore and I haven't seen him in years.  In that case I felt that the act of writing the letter for my eyes only, was enough.  I also thought that if I contacted that man after such a long time and letting him know that he had made such a profound impact on my life would not have been any more helpful.  I believe that, in that case, it would have only served to cause him to feel more powerful for his profound effect on me and could have opened up an opportunity for him to say more hurtful things in his defense. 

The second letter I wrote was to a family member that I do interact with on a regular basis.  My husband had noted my defensiveness whenever I was around this person.  I was "called out" on the anger and aggression I would surround myself with whenever I was around this person.  My husband eventually told me that enough was enough.  I had to deal with what was going on or he was no longer going to come with me to functions where I would be around this person.  At first I felt very betrayed by my husband's "ultimatum", like he wasn't supporting me when I was in need.  But, eventually I realized that I had needed the push to confront my feelings and resolve my anger.  I was only hurting myself by harbouring this resentment and I was holding back from trusting the people that truly did want the best for me.  I needed to deliver this second letter.  Since this relationship was still a factor in my current life I needed to takes steps to resolve the issues more directly.  I was incredibly scared when I handed this person the letter that I had written him.  It seemed like I was handing them power over me.  Like I was allowing them to see into my heart so they would know how they could hurt me even more.  The next time I saw him I was so unsure of what was going to happen.  I was worried about what he might say about the letter and terrified that he would deny all the instances that I spoke about.  He actually surprised me.  He didn't have much to say at all.  In fact at first I thought he wasn't going to acknowledge it at all.  Eventually he did tell me that he had read it and shockingly, he said that I was right.  He admitted that if he were in my shoes he would have actually been more angry than I was.  That's all he said, about two sentences to answer for my 3 pages of writing.  It also wasn't even exactly an apology (that would have been the best outcome) but it was as close as I was going to get....and it was enough.  Sure, it would have been fantastic if he would have fallen on his knees, admitted to all of his wrong and sworn to spend the rest of his days making it up to me, but that would have been a fairy tail.  That sort of thing doesn't happen in real life, or at least not very often.  Things also could have gone the other way.  It was very possible that he would have been angry and defensive in response to my accusations.  That is a possibility that you need to prepare for.  If that is the result you get try to keep in mind that it doesn't change the damage that has already been done.  They know the truth and they are unable to handle the strength and courage you have shown by confronting them, so they take the cowardly way out by denying it.   

It's been about a year since I gave the letter to my family member and guess what, I feel so much better!  Not only am I less angry and on edge, I feel more confident about who I am.  I have been able to let go of the negative words he said about me, see them as a lie and rediscover the truth about who I really am.  Even though his response to my letter was minimal, that didn't matter.  It's MY choices that matter.  It's MY forgiveness that made the difference.  I had the power to change how I felt and I took back my self esteem.  I can now see myself as valuable, even though that one influential person in my life didn't value me. 

I will state here that this person never sexually abused me.  If that is something that you have experienced and you have never reported it or told anyone then I would encourage you to speak up.  If someone physically abused you they might also have done it to someone else or could still be hurting more people today.  Your courage to stand up to them might be the thing that someone else needs to speak up as well and you might even prevent some future victims.  What they did is not okay and they need to face the consequences for it.  Please speak to someone you trust that can help. 

I also want to tell everyone that forgiveness does not mean that you must remain in relationship with the person that has hurt you.  Forgiving them doesn't mean you should allow them to abuse you, over and over again.  It is perfectly acceptable, maybe even necessary, to cut that person out of your life or drastically limit the time you spend with them.   

I'm sure that you have heard it before but, forgiveness is not something you do for the person that wronged you.  It really is something you do to give yourself freedom.  I didn't realize that I was letting these people hold me back so much until I was able to cut the cords that I had been dragging around behind me for years.

I now know I am worth forgiveness. 

You are worth forgiveness too.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Initiation Situation

I wonder if there are any marriages where initiating sex is never an issue.  I know in my marriage it's been a bit of a hurdle to overcome and there are a lot of times when it still causes problems, big problems!  Neither one of us really wants to be the one that initiates sex.  We have different reasons for it but they both amount to the same thing, less intimacy, or even none at all.

Who's the one that does the majority (or all) the initiating in your marriage?  I'm guessing it's the one with the higher libido.  Since that is more often the man then my guess would be the husband, however we women aren't entirely off the hook.  In the research for Sheila Gregoire's book "The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex" she interviewed thousands of men and women and discovered that in 30% of marriages, it's the woman that has the higher drive.  You won't believe how relieved I was to hear this information!  If you are one of those 3 in 10 women out there like me I'm sure this is a reassurance to you too.  It really helps you to feel like less of a freak.  I even made me feel more confident in myself, my attributes and improved my self esteem a little.  In a society where men are expected to have an almost insatiable drive, it feels unfeminine to be more eager than your husband.

For some obvious reasons the person with the higher drive will be the one who does more of the initiating.  After all, if you want it more, you're going to ask more.  If you are the one with the lower drive you might think, what's the problem?  If they want it, it's their job to ask, right?  Though this IS logical and for the most part works decently well, having a marriage where one partner never initiates can be very hard on the relationship! 

I was chatting with a married friend of mine a while ago and we somehow got on the topic of our intimate relationships (maybe because I was sending out feelers to see if I was the only woman with a higher drive than my husband).  We spoke about being busy and how having kids can put a kink in how often you are intimate with your spouse but one thing she mentioned was that her husband's desire for her was a large factor in her confidence in herself.  I don't know if enough women (since self esteem problems are so rampant these days) really internalize this idea.  Having a husband that loves and wants you should make you feel better about yourself and more confident in who you are.  I tell you one thing, we 30% of women with the higher drive would love to be in your shoes so please don't take it for granted.   

When you are led to believe that men have the monopoly on sexual desire but your man isn't as interested as you it can make you feel less feminine.  Doing the majority of the sexual initiation stripped me of my confidence and caused me to doubt my attractiveness.  My chain of logic went something like this:
 I want sex more often than my husband -> He doesn't initiate sex with me -> He isn't interested in sleeping with me -> There is something wrong with me.
Though this line of thinking might be a lot more common for women with the higher libido, I don't, for one second think men are exempt.  When someone desires you and express that desire for you, it gives you a boost.  You feel more accepted, not just physically either.  Your sexual desirability doesn't just affect things in the bedroom.  It can have huge consequences in our everyday life.  You might not realize this, but, being pursued by our partner isn't just about confidence in our appearance. 

Have you ever met someone that you initially thought was quite attractive, then as you got to know them better you started to realize they weren't a very nice person.  The more you get to know their personality, the less and less attractive you find them.  The same works in reverse.  You meet a guy (or girl), They're decent looking but nothing to write home about, then you get to know them a bit better and discover they're actually a fantastic person.  Kind, considerate, generous, a good listener, funny, easygoing, interested in the same things as you, anything that floats your boat, and gradually they start to look more and more physically attractive to you too.  Taking this logic one step further, if your partner never initiates or seems interested in being intimate with you, it can give you the impression that they don't think that highly of you as a person either.  Guys know that women don't tend to be quite as visually stimulated as they are, (though the sexual objectification of men does seem to be on the rise as well) so they are relying on their personality and their attributes to make them sexually appealing to their wives.  If there spouse doesn't seem to be interested in them "in that way" it is very easy for them to take that as a knock to their value as a person. 

I understand that a lot of women can feel like it's not our "job" to initiate.  We feel that we are the ones that are to be pursued and desired.  Even though I am the one with the higher drive in my relationship, it didn't make me exempt from this type of thinking.  This has led me to be very reluctant to initiate because that meant I wasn't being pursued.  Since my husband is also reluctant to initiate that caused some pretty long "dry spells" between sexual encounters.  It wasn't until we had a good conversation about this topic that we started to get things sorted out (although I think this will always be a bit of a sore spot in our marriage).  After years of marriage my husband finally opened up a little more about his reluctance.  He confessed that he felt that when you initiated sex it came with an expectation.  That expectation was that it was going to go well for you.  For someone that struggles sometimes with maintaining an erection he thought it would be a huge let down for me if he started something he couldn't finish.  Although women don't have the same physical restriction to participating, even if they aren't in the mood, I do believe some of the reasoning still applies.  Women might feel that if they initiate there is a pressure to perform, literally.  They might feel that they then need to be completely uninhibited and have to create a really spectacular time.  The truth is, not every encounter is going to be magical, with fireworks and total bliss.  Sometimes it just doesn't work as well as other times and this is coming from the one that initiates most in my relationship.  Yes, sometimes it is toe curlingly amazing, but sometimes it's more about being close to one another.  I don't climax every encounter but sometimes I will have multiple, and that doesn't correlate with if I have initiated or not (cause it's pretty likely that I did). 

If this type of thinking has been a drawback to your willingness to initiate with your partner, I challenge you to set it aside and break out of your comfort zone a bit.  You might be surprised at what a difference it could make to your partner.  Besides boosting their self esteem, give them confidence in your esteem for them and building your partnership, you might find that they are more willing meet you half way on things you would like their assistance with.

Another thing that could be hindering your willingness to initiate is your own self esteem.  If you aren't confident in how you look then it's a lot more difficult to present yourself to your spouse.  Initiating is definitely the more vulnerable position to be in so some confidence issues could be a huge deterrent.  I have struggled a lot with my self image and I know that it, for sure, held me back from being as intimate with my husband as I could have been.  Looking back on all the issues both of us had, it's no wonder we weren't making love very often.  My negative self image spiraled almost out of control in the first few years of marriage and it made me desperate for male attention.  My desire to feel accepted (something that was lacking in my marriage) got so bad that I was terribly vulnerable.  If you think you're self esteem is just something that you deal with and doesn't effect your relationship, let me tell you, you're wrong.  Your self worth has a big impact on the strength of your marriage and undervaluing yourself will undermine your relationship.  It will take a lot of time and introspection and be very painful to deal with but you can't be confident in your partnership if you don't feel like a valuable partner. 

I will be sharing with you some of the steps and process I took to actively improve my self esteem.  Even though I have issues I would still like to see improvement in (I don't think anyone is ever 100% happy with how they look), I am more confident now than I have been at any other point in my life, even though there have been times when I have been much closer to my "ideal".  I promise that, if you work on feeling better about yourself, it WILL translate into feeling better about your marriage.  Taking time for you is not a selfish endeavour, but a relationship builder.

Creating a more even distribution in the number of times one partner initiates sex might not seem like a big deal to you, especially if you are already being "pestered" more than you would like, but I'm sure your willingness to set your own limitations and drawbacks aside will be greatly appreciated by your partner.  You might not even think that it bothers them to be the one setting the sex schedule but, take a little initiative and it could knock their socks off and make them feel so much more appreciated than the times when they are hounding you.  Also, if you have made it a habit to turn them down regularly when they approach you, their confidence could be pretty shaken (I know mine was) so it might take quite a number of attempts on your part to build that trust and confidence of your acceptance back up. 

It also wouldn't hurt to talk to your partner about the issues that prevent you from engaging in that way.  I know I felt so much better about my husbands lack of initiation when I understood it wasn't about my attractiveness but the pressure he felt initiation implied.  You might just find, like I did, that there is a simple explanation for something that seems like a huge hurtle. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Anatomy of an Affair

This is my most difficult post to write.  It is the most personal and the most vulnerable topic for me.  It's also where I made the most mistakes and where I hope to help other couples avoid the trap that I fell into.  I hope to turn what the enemy meant for evil in my life into something good by starting the healing in so many hurting couples out there.  Please read the following post as a cautionary tail for your own life. 

We hear rumours sometimes about someone cheating on their spouse.  Occasionally, an affair will tear apart a family.  I have known families in shambles because of an unfaithful husband.  I have had friends brokenhearted over cheating boyfriends.  I used to hear these stories and be so angry.  I would wonder how someone could betray their partner in that way.  When an affair happens in a marriage, even when it's suspected, it tends to polarise people's opinions of the couple.  One spouse appears pitiable and blameless and the other, the one that acted out, becomes a villain.  I used to feel this same way.  That is, until I found myself on the brink of my own affair.

Now I get it.  I understand the desperation, loneliness and powerlessness that drives someone into the arms of another.  I realise that affairs aren't what tear apart a family.  That fabric was ripping before the affair began.  The indiscretion is simply the final thread that makes it all fall apart.  I see now that cheating is a symptom of an already broken and bleeding marriage.  As someone who came very close to an affair myself I want to shed some light on why they happen. 

When I speak of an affair I mean being physically intimate with someone other than my husband.  If I were speaking emotionally then I would have to admit that, yes, I did cheat on my husband.  I was emotionally intimate with someone other than my spouse.  Even when I speak of physical intimacy I am not completely innocent.  Though I never had intercourse with this other man I feel that's just arguing over semantics.  We did speak to one another sexually and I did allow him to see my body.  I'm not trying to let myself off the hook by minimising what I have done.  Nor am I trying to gain approval for "restraining" myself from going all the way.  If circumstances had have been only slightly different I truly believe I would have left my husband.  Now, when I hear of a couple split apart by an affair, I think, "there go I, but for the grace of God."  And I know it to be true.  I am also not trying to excuse my actions.  I know what I did was wrong and it is a regret that will be with me my entire life.  The effects of this "almost affair" will be lasting.   

It all started so innocently.  I think they all do.  I was introduced to this guy.  He was a friend of a friend and we spent time together as a group.  I would run into him once in a while and we would chat.  He was friendly, kind, interesting and he had some very determined opinions about some things.  We would have debates about things like politics, racism, sexism and religion.  He was (I guess I should say is, it's not like he died) a Christian guy and I found it intellectually stimulating to chat with him.  At the point we met I was only working part time and mostly home with my oldest child so I didn't feel I was getting a whole lot of adult input.  I started to talk with him more and more.  He was a good listener.  He would even let me call him late when I was up with a crying baby and he would keep me company when I was up all night... while my husband slept.  Slowly I started to feel more supported by this other man than my husband. 

I had been frustrated with my married life for a while before this other guy came into the picture.  My husband and I had troubles in the bedroom from the beginning.  None of that was created by this new friendship but this new man then became someone I could talk to about my problems.  He was my confidant, my shoulder to cry on.  One day he said, "you shouldn't be here talking with me.  You should be giving your husband a good time."  His alluding to sex, at a point where we were experiencing almost a sexless marriage, was a breaking point for me. 

Most often in a relationship it is the husband that has the affair.  I believe this is in part due to them being, most often, the ones with the higher libido.  That doesn't mean that I think having a higher sex drive makes you weak willed and powerless and I'm not telling women that if they don't give in enough it's their fault if they get cheated on.  There is a lot more to it than that.  So much has to do with feeling valued, wanted, desired and appreciated.  It's about power and appreciation.  I would even argue that when most affairs begin they aren't really about sex at all.  

Let me explain.  When you have the higher libido in the relationship (for my relationship that's me) it can be a somewhat powerless feeling.  Your partner has you at a disadvantage since not being intimate doesn't have as great an effect on them.  They have the power to deny you your wants and needs.  You may laugh at my use of the word need in that sentence.  I think there are many people out there that don't think of intimacy as a need in marriage.  They think of it as something base and unnecessary.  They can even think that it is a virtue to deny themselves those "carnal desires" and that sex is sinful.  My calling it a need may not just seem laughable to you, it might seem downright wrong.  To that I would say that I do not believe that sex is sinful.  Outside of a marriage, yes, but in the context of marriage, where it was created for, it is anything but.  It was designed to foster and build intimacy and bonding in a marriage.  If you disagree with this assessment then I would encourage you to email me.  I have some material I would point you to that would explain why I say what I do.  I would also encourage you to read the Song of Songs, a story of love, longing and desire.  To address the idea of a physical need for sex, I believe there is one.  Men will experience wet dreams if they haven't ejaculated in more than a few days.  Their bodies will release extra built up sperm whether they like it or not.  As a woman with a high libido I would even go so far as to say that I have a need for intimacy as well.  If I haven't had sex in a while I start to experience strange sex dreams, I have trouble sleeping, I'm easily distracted, it become harder to focus on anything for to long and I can't stop thinking about sex.  This doesn't mean having an affair is justified though.  I used masturbation a lot to pacify that need and I believe that there are many, many marriages where that happens.  I even thought it was a good thing.  I figured if I was taking care of my desires myself then I wouldn't have to rely on my spouse for them.  I wouldn't feel like a duty, or a chore.  I wouldn't have to keep asking and being turned down.  I thought I could get some of the "power" back. 

My husband held all the power in our relationship.  I felt like a pawn to his whims.  It wasn't just the physical desire portion that had me powerless, it was that I felt unnecessary.  I wasn't desired, I wasn't needed, I wasn't valued, or appreciated.  I was a roommate and I was miserable.  My self esteem was plummeting.  After all, how disgusting must I be if men are supposed to want it all the time and my husband wanted nothing to do with me?  Enter, other man. 

My heart was breaking at this point and I would have done anything to just feel wanted, valued or even just to be accepted.  Then this other man tells me I should be "giving my husband a good time."  That was it!  I believe my response was something like, "Yeah right.  He doesn't even want it."  This, of course, brought out a lot of curious questions from this friend, after all, men are supposed to think about sex constantly, right?  I had had enough and it all came pouring out.  I told him about our troubles in the bedroom and my frustrations.  I told him about how I was feeling.  I told him all the hurts my husband had heaped on me and I cried.  This man listened to me, he was attentive and caring and he gave me advice.  He explained to me what might be going on in a man's head and he instructed me on the best ways to approach the situation.  He wasn't a predator waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting an vulnerable woman.  He legitimately cared for me and wanted to help me make my marriage right. 

As time when on, nothing really helped my relationship with my husband and the other man and I remained friends for a few years.  We talked a lot and my husband knew about him.  I'm not sure if he knew how dangerous this friendship was or if he would have even cared at that point if it was dangerous but he never had any issue with my friendship with this man.  Still nothing really changed in my relationship with my husband.  How could it when there was someone else saying and doing all the "right" things to compare my husband to.  He would always come up short.  I continued to talk with the other man and gradually.... I don't think there is any other way for me to put this, I fell in love with him.  It was such a complicated relationship as you can understand.  In one sentence he would be telling me how beautiful I was and how much he wanted me and in the next he would tell me what I could try to improve my marriage. 

This man had his own demons and his own struggles but he was rational enough to know that a relationship between the two of us wouldn't have been workable or right.  However, he didn't have kids and he wasn't attached.  If I hadn't been already married when I had met him I believe we would have had our very own tumultuous and rocky love story but I was married and he recognised the sinfulness of a relationship between us.  He knew it wouldn't have been right and he knew he wouldn't have been right for me.  However, that didn't make us want to be with one another any less.  We started speaking to each other sexually.  When I was feeling so broken down, undesirable, unattractive and unlovable it was so good to hear someone say I was beautiful and wanted.  I felt like I was being seen for the first time.  Then it would break my heart over an over again when he would say the words I so longed to hear from my husband. 

We tried to break contact between us.  He would tell me we needed to stop and it would last for a few weeks, tops.  I would say I needed to stop and I would run back to him the very next time I was hurt or needed a boost.  He was like an addiction.  I would get my fix from him to feel high for just a few moments then come crashing back down to the reality of my broken marriage.  Then my husband found out.  I had left my email open by mistake and even though I had deleted the messages the other man had sent to me I hadn't realised they were stored in my sent mail.  When I returned to the computer later the file was opened and I KNEW my husband had read all the inappropriate things we had said.  He had also read some hurtful things I had said about him.  Fear gripped me at that point.  I expected him to rage at me.  I thought he might even throw me out.  I figured that was the end of my marriage.  Then he said nothing.  My husband didn't even mention it to me.  He carried on like nothing had changed for days and didn't confront me at all. 

I couldn't understand it.  In fact I was someone hurt and disappointed by his lack of reaction.  Part of me wanted him to be angry and fight with me because at least then it would have meant that he cared.  It would have showed some type of passion and willingness to fight for me.  When he didn't acknowledge that anything had happened I didn't know what to do.  A few days after the incident I wrote him a letter.  I poured out my heart to him explaining what was going on with me, why I was hurt and what I was feeling.  I asked him many questions too.  I wanted to know what he wanted, why he was reacting how he was, how he thought we could move forward and I begged his forgiveness. 

I think part of the reason why my husband didn't get angry with me and why he was willing to forgive was because he recognised some of the reasoning behind my actions and he felt responsible for how I was feeling about myself.  He also knew that our relationship had intimacy issues that preexisted the friendship with this other man.  I think he internalised a lot of that.  He also knew I was lonely and as such he didn't feel he had the right to take away the closest friend I had at the time.  He knew that would only make me resent him if he forced me to break ties with this man even though the relationship was inappropriate.  I respect him deeply for that and I am grateful for his trust and forgiveness (that I didn't deserve). 

At that point I had another conversation with the other man.  We both decided it was better that we didn't see each other any longer, we said our goodbyes and he told me he loved me one last time.  That was around two years ago. 

I know some of you won't understand why I would stay with a husband I had so many troubles with, when I was so unhappy and give up a relationship that made me feel accepted, appreciated, desired and loved.  There were times when I didn't understand it either.  I loved that man too.  Part of me always will.  There was a time that I deeply loved my husband though.  I loved him enough to marry him.  I loved him enough to have children with him.  Just because I fell in love with someone else doesn't mean that new trumps old!  Every relationship eventually has problems.  I wouldn't have just run off with him and had a happily ever after, fairy tail life.  Plus, leaving someone doesn't erase the issues.  You still have to deal with them even if you aren't together.  I knew my best chance, and my kids best chance, at a good life was to work things out with my husband and CREATE the kind of marriage we wanted.  Once I said goodbye to the distraction that was magnifying my dissatisfaction with the relationship I was in we were able to move forward in fixing the brokenness that existed for us.

We began working to create more and better love between us.  We went to therapy together, my husband saw her on his own to work out some of his issues that predated me and I began to purposely work on fixing my own self esteem (something I will talk about later). 

So I've seen the road that is taken that draws someone away from their marriage.  I understand the anatomy of an affair.  It is true that happy people don't cheat and I know the danger that comes from a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, even if it is totally innocent to start with.

It was a different kind of heartbreak to cut ties with the other man of my life.  A part of me does still miss that relationship and that friendship we had.  I still wonder how he is doing and hope that he has found his own happiness.  Sometimes I miss the way he made me feel about myself but I am getting better at teaching my husband how to help me feel that way too.

I don't know how many relationships stray as far away from each other as my husband and I did and come back from it.  I have no idea how many partners would be as forgiving of their spouses immense indiscretions.  My prayer, with this entire blog, is that I will be able to give others the tools to avoid getting to the point my marriage did.  I hope that you can see the caution in my tail enough to heed it.  Please, be careful about who you speak to and how about the issues in your relationship.  I don't want you to experience the pain and heartache that we did.  The best way to avoid that is to takes steps to fix the problems you have before they grow too big.  Don't multiply your problems by bringing someone else between you.  This is the reason I caution you not to talk to someone of the opposite sex about the problems in your marriage.  It's a dangerous road to take and one that I have seen destroy a few marriages. 

Lastly, if you were the partner that has been cheated on, I hope you are able to see some of the reasoning and issues that would have drawn your partner towards that.  Please, do not think that I am in any way blaming you either if you were the one cheated on.  No one forces someone to have an affair.  We made our own choices, though they were poor ones but I do pray that you are able to understand things a little better from your partners perspective and possibly forgive them too.  I would like to give you hope, that with forgiveness you will be able to overcome, even so great a betrayal as an affair.  My husband and I have been able to grow to love one another again.  Our relationship is improving steadily and we now have much better communication and intimacy.  We are happily healing and falling in love again. 

I believe you can too. 

The Relationship Equation

There can be times in a marriage where your relationship starts to feel less like a partnership and more like an accounting ledger.  You feel like you are looking at a chart of checks and balances saying, "I don't know.  You are correct about us being low in the sex column but I feel we must tackle the dishes and laundry deficit before we can make a deposit."  We look at all the things going on in life and want to get the details taken care of before we think about creating love.

Sometimes our spouse can be left feeling like another item to check off on your to do list rather than a partner with you in life.  Our relationship becomes more about what our spouse can do for us instead of what we can accomplish together. 

I get it though, life is hectic.  Schedules become filled in the blink of an eye and we can feel like we just don't have time for affection.  It's also harder to make time for someone that we perceive isn't doing the same for us.  We can become resentful of our spouses "lack of support" and withhold some of the things they want.  This idea of not giving unless we have received can derail a relationship pretty quickly.  Our love becomes conditional. 

I know it's hard to see it that way when you are in the situation.  We don't think about how our refusals to participate are affecting out spouse.  We only see things from our side.  We are hurt by our spouse and retaliate with a hurt of our own.  In our eyes it was justified.  After all, we wouldn't have done it if they hadn't _________.  The cycle of rejection and retaliation begins.  Often when things get messy we still don't see our responsibility in making it that way.  When there are so many reasons behind our actions it's always easier to shift the blame to someone else.  Then it becomes their responsibility to fix it.  We withhold love hoping it will motivate our partner to change their ways.

Let's take a quick look at a different type of relationship, the one we have with our children.  (If you don't have kids then you could maybe think of a pet or another close relationship.)  If your child were to not do their chores would you refuse to feed them?  If they broke, say, your favorite mug would you not speak to them for a week?  If they yelled at you and called you a name would you leave and never come back?  You wouldn't think of it.  You would still love them, still take care of them and still try to help them be the best they can be.  You would, for sure, be frustrated, maybe angry but it wouldn't prevent you from acting in their best interest.  That's unconditional love.  No matter what, they know we will be there for them.  This is exactly the kind of love we are all hoping to be able to receive.  We know we aren't perfect (at least I hope we do) but we still expect our spouse to overlook our imperfections.  So why is it so hard to look over theirs? 

What would you think is the easiest way to inspire unconditional love in someone?  I believe it's to give them love unconditionally.  This can be very, very hard to do!  There can be a lot of hurt and resentment built up in a marriage.  There might be years of neglect, distance and anger between you!  You might not want to let go of that and act in a loving manner towards your spouse but how can we expect our partners to give us something we are unwilling to offer them?

Let's take a look at what we would want our relationship to be like.  I'm guessing you want to feel supported.  You would like more fun and happiness in your life.  You most likely want to be in a partnership with someone you can trust and lean on in hard times.  I'm betting this is what you thought you would get when you signed up for this marriage thing.  I'm also guessing you already feel you are doing more than your share and it's really your partners fault things aren't going according to plan.  That would definitely make things easier, right?  Then it would be their responsibility to fix all their shortcomings, make up for all the hurts and right all the wrongs. 

The problem is you can't MAKE anyone change and we can't control what our spouse does or doesn't do.  You could spend your entire life miserable, waiting for your spouse to do all the changing to make you happy and it just might never happen.  After all, it's possible they are thinking the same thing and waiting for you to do the changing.  Someone has to make the first move.  Why shouldn't it be you? 

Once you are in a bad cycle in your marriage it can be very difficult to create change.  After all, the more negative things that happen, the further you get away from the good times, the easier it is to forget what you loved about this person in the first place.  So many couples get divorced because they get to a point where they, "don't love each other anymore".  I'm going to go out on a limb and get a lot of people angry with me right now but I am just going to say it anyway.  That's a cop out!  Love isn't just a feeling that comes and goes at whim.  If that were true there would be a lot of abandoned kids out there who's parents, "didn't love them anymore" either.  Love is something we chose to do.  It is more than what we feel at any given moment.  Love is also something that is very active and it CAN be created. 

Have you heard the phrase, "fake it 'till you make it".  I think that best describes what I'm talking about here.  Don't get me wrong, this is not something easy that I'm asking you to do.  I do know what I'm talking about from experience though. 

In my marriage there was a time when I did not love my husband.  In fact I despised him.  I was angry at him, hurt by him and depressed by the state of my life.  I didn't stay with him because I thought it was the right thing to do.  I didn't stay with him because of the kids.  I didn't even stay with him because I knew that divorce was not God's best plan for my life.  To be completely honest with you the only reason I stayed was out of fear.  I was afraid of what I would do on my own.  I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make ends meet and I was afraid that no one else would want me.

I know the desperation someone feels in a failing marriage.  I know the anguish of a soul that feels unloved and unlovable.  I understand the heartbreak a person feels when they see that the person that knows them best in the world doesn't really like them.  Something needed to change and only you can change it!

The difficulty in any relationship is that you only control half of it.  As much as we would like the people in our lives to live by our rules, they make their own decisions.  There is no way you can force change.  If you have ever dealt with someone who has an addiction you will understand this.  As much as you see their addiction destroying them and even they know how harmful it is, you just can't MAKE them stop.  In a marriage it's much the same way.  You can feel how something your spouse does hurts you.  You can see how your marriage is suffering but you can't force your spouse to change.  The only person in your relationship you can control is yourself, so if you want things to change you're going to have to create it yourself.  You might have been holding back from doing kind or loving things for your spouse because you were hurt but it's possible they are doing the same thing with you.  If you act loving, even when you don't feel loving it will help to break the negative cycle and start you on your way to a more positive one.  This might take a long time.  You might even be met with resistance from your spouse at first.  They might be suspicious of kindness from you depending on how bad things have gotten. 

So, let's go back to the idea of an accounting ledger.  The further you are "in debt" the longer it will take to get out.  In time your spouse will see your kindness and your loving actions and that will start to create better feelings towards you.  They might not respond right away with kindness and love of their own.  It might take time and there will most likely need to be a conversation as some point about what you would like from your spouse, what is important to you and what is, in turn, important to them so you can start better meeting each others needs.  It might be best though, to wait until you have built some better favor and greater trust to have that conversation.  Just so your spouse is a little more receptive to what you have to say. 

Giving that unconditional love can mean sacrifice on our part.  It will mean we might need to wait longer to have our needs met but it does give us the best chance of achieving success.  By success I don't just mean a civil arrangement where you simply tolerate one another.  Success to me, means happy, loving and thriving.  My relationship might still have a few big bumps to iron out (relationships aren't ever wrinkle free) but we have come a long way and we are definitely working together now instead of against each other.  That what I always hoped for. 

I don't know that there is any marriage where one spouse is totally happy and the other feels empty.  After you have build up a little positivity towards you a conversation with your spouse will be fairly necessary.  It would be good to tell them that you know neither one of you is happy at the moment but that you don't want things to be continue this way and ask them how they think you could both work to improve your relationship.  This shows that you are not blaming them.  It puts you in the same boat together and will start to create a better partnership.  Also, for the most part, guys tend to be fixers.  If his wife comes with him with a problem that she needs his help in fixing, that might give him the confidence and ego boost he needs to throw himself into solving the issues in your marriage.  It will build your companionship, trust and partnership.

When you talk to your spouse about your relationship, be prepared to hear things that they would like you to change.  They aren't going to say things like, "I can be more supportive, I can help you more around the house, I can take on more responsibility with the kids, I can compliment you daily and bring you flowers once a month."  I'm pretty sure their responses will be about the things that YOU can change.  They won't come right out and offer to change all the things that upset you.  Try to be patient with that.  When they tell you things that are bothering them, do your best to change without complaint.  That will be the best way to build up trust with them so they are more willing to negotiate the points that are issues for you.  It will be a sacrifice at first and it might be a hard season for you but it is your best chance of building a mutually supportive relationship and repairing the damage that has already been done.

If you want your relationship to work, you're going to have to do the work.  If you aren't willing to put in at least a little effort then you have no chance for success.  So you might as well give something new a try.  After all, what you have been doing isn't working for you and what else have you got to loose? 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Surviving a Sexless Marriage

Living in a sexless marriage is a gut-wrenching, painful experience.  Part of that pain comes from living with the embarrassment and shame that keep you quiet and cause you to feel so isolated and alone.  We have now reached one of the main reasons I wanted to start this blog (and also one of the reasons it must be anonymous).  I know the agony, the desperation and the desire for escape that you feel.  I know how hard it can be to break out of that cycle and I know how often it leads to mistakes, regrets and divorce.  I also understand how pointless it all is.  There is no reason to have a sexless marriage!  We just one day realize we are in one and we have no idea how to fix it.  Most often the "fix" is divorce.  Believe me, I understand the desire to get out.  I felt it, oh so powerfully!  I believe the ONLY reason I did not go down that road was that I had no idea how I would care for my children.  Only because of them did I not walk away.  I even had Christian people that were near and dear to me, that I was able to confide in tell me that they wished they could tell me to get out.  Even to them my situation looked so desperate, bleak and difficult to resolve.  But they could not tell me to leave my husband and there is a good reason for that.  It would not have been the right thing to do and I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. 

Telling you to stay with your partner and just live in a shell of a marriage is not what I'm saying though.  I am not condemning you to a life of misery and loneliness.  I would not tell you to stay if I did not truly believe that your issues can be resolved and resolving them is the right thing to do.  Whatever your situation is, it can be fixed.  You do not have to have a sexless marriage because you can get your intimacy back!  I'm not saying it won't be hard and that it won't take a lot of work but I do know that it is worth the extra work and difficulty.  I also want you to know that you don't have to do it alone!  God designed us for a fulfilling, intimate and sexual marriage.  He believes in your marriage, He wants it to work and He will walk along side you and lead you to a place of healing.  In fact, He might have begun that work already by leading you here.   These words might be ones He wants you to hear.

Of course, every relationship is different and there are as many different scenarios of how you have reached this particular point in your marriage but know that my marriage was about as desperate as it can get.  It seemed like our issues were about as insurmountable as possible but we were able to overcome. 

The first topic is withholding sex.  This can be either spouse.  This can sometimes be an attempt to control or hold power over your partner.  Most often this tactic is taken by the wife but it can be the other way around as well, it was in my marriage.  When you know your partner wants something and you have the ability to deny them that thing, yes, it is a position of power but it's also a dangerous game.  I will also point out that it is sinful.  God does not want to you have a rulership over your spouse.  He wants you to have a partnership that lifts each other up, supports one another and mirrors His relationship to the Church.  God loved his people so much He sacrificed his only son for us.  Does that sound like an ultimatum to you?  I will also point you to 1 Corinthians 7:4 " The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife."  This might seem harsh for me to say but you agreed to marry this person your relationship will be stronger if you are being intimate.  You are only hurting yourself in the long run if you are withholding sex from your partner.  

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that if the relationship was healthy in the first place that someone would feel the need to withhold sex.  I believe it is a byproduct of a broken marriage.  Withholding sex will not fix the problem though.  It will only lead to resentment, separation and quite possibly an affair.  Sex is a very integral part of a marriage relationship.  It brings you close, both physically and emotionally.  It also makes you feel good and consequently, feel better about each other.  It is quite possible though, that sex doesn't feel good for you.  There are quite a few women that have trouble reaching orgasm, that don't feel comfortable with the sex act in general or are dealing with some sexual trauma they have experienced.  If this is the case for you then you need healing.  Sex was created to feel enjoyable, to be a release and to create a deeper intimacy between a married couple.  If you feel you are unable to enjoy yourself then you need some help.  The first thing I would suggest in this case is that you get yourself a book called The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Gregoire.  This book is a great read for anyone who would like to improve upon their sex life but especially if you find you do not enjoy sex it would be an excellent resource for your healing and moving forward in your marriage.  In all likelihood you should speak with a councilor as well.  I would recommend finding a Christian one that understands the importance of your relationship to God.

For a long portion in my marriage I was denied sex.  I know there were quite a number of reasons for that but I want to share with you some of the effect that had on me and on my marriage.  Though I understand now more of why my husband was not intimate with me, when you desire your spouse that they hold back from you it can cause you to feel resentful of them.  It can seem like they are being selfish and spiteful.  When you attempt to initiate and are rejected it causes feelings of anger, disappointment, fear and loneliness.  I also (like so many other women) came into my marriage with self esteem issues.  These issues did predate my husband but that doesn't mean he didn't effect them too.  Being rejected by my husband enforced all those negative things I would say about myself.  I felt ugly, fat and downright repulsive.  I didn't feel I was worthy of my husband attention and I blamed my appearance for his lack of interest in sex.  Every time he was unable or unwilling to have sex with me was another knock to my self esteem.

I became very depressed, lonely, vulnerable and angry.  I wasn't just angry at my husband either.  I was angry at God.  I felt cheated by this relationship that I felt he had let me to and I started to regret even the good decisions I had made. 

You see, I had done what I was supposed to.  I had waited for marriage to have sex and I felt that "sacrifice" on my part should have been rewarded with a fulfilling sex life once I was married.  When things fell apart spent many tearful nights wishing that I had actually had sex with a former boyfriend.  I saw my future as very bleak and I actually wished that my husband would just leave me if he wasn't interested in me.  Now that things have turned around I am once again, glad that I did wait.  Having a different sexual relationship to compare with the one I had with my husband would have made staying in my marriage even more difficult. 

I wasn't sleeping well and I started to put on extra weight that I would then complain about to my husband.  One day he confronted me about this.  He told me he was sick of me complaining about my weight and not doing anything about it and that my complaining brought his attention to it so that was all he started to see.  This brought on a fit of tears, (of course) but my answer to him was something that I don't even know if I realized until it came out of my mouth.  I told him that part of me needed that weight.  That if I was slimmer and more attractive I didn't know what would happen if some other man were to hit on me.  I had become far to vulnerable.  I craved the attention of men but I was frightened by what would happen if another man did look my way. 

Thankfully, when things did get to this point we started to attend some counselling and I am grateful that my husband was willing to take that step with me.  He had many issues that he was dealing with as well and it really helped for us to be able to meet with someone to sort those things out both individually and as a couple. 

Once you get to the point where your marriage has become a sexless one there are only two ways it can go.  You will either resolve the issues behind your abstinence or you will split up.  The situation can't go on indefinitely.  I know that it is awkward to confront your partner about it but saving your marriage is worth a little awkwardness! 

If you are the one being denied sex you need to set aside a time to talk to your partner about why things are the way they are.  You need to tell them how it makes you feel and reassure them that you want to find a way to make things better and enjoyable for both of you.  Tell them you will do whatever they need to help them through what they are dealing with and make them as comfortable as possible.  Most of all, mean what you say!  When you tell them you will help them, do it.  When they bring up issues with you, do your best to fix them.  If they want you to go to counselling with them, go.  Your partner needs your support and you have committed to them so your job is to make them a priority, even if you feel you are the one being mistreated.  Even though you are hurting as well you need to focus on them.  If you attack them or try to turn things around so they are about you your partner will shut down and you'll get nowhere.  There is a reason why they aren't being intimate with you and if you need to work on fixing that issue with them.  It is very possible that your partner doesn't feel you are safe to talk to about this.  They could feel judged, pressured and mistreated by you.  You need to take a close look at your actions and your manner and  most likely do a lot of apologizing before your partner can feel like you are a safe place for them to fall. 

There is a possibility that your partner will think you are only trying to help so you can get what you want.  So it might be a long time still before they trust you enough to open up to you in an intimate manner.  I know that it feels like you have already been patient for so long but you will need to be extra patient at this time and take things slowly and in steps so that they build up their trust in you.

If you are the partner that is withholding sex then you need to take a good look at the reasons why you are doing so.  The reasons you started might not be the same reasons that you maintain to this day and you really need to sort out what is holding you back.  Once you know why you need to talk to your partner about it.  This will take a lot of trust since you are going to have to be very truthful and vulnerable with them.  If you are not honest and open about what is holding you back you are also denying your partner the opportunity to be loving and supporting of you.  Letting them in on your thoughts, feelings and fears is a different kind of intimacy that can hold a lot of fear in and of itself but your partner has signed on to be with you for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.  Don't deny them the opportunity to stand with you during the worse, poorer and sickness.  It's often during these times that leaning on each other will build and create a stronger and more powerful marriage.  If you are frightened that your issues are to much for them, then keep in mind that if they were to reject you (and I'm pretty sure they won't) because of something you struggle with, they are the ones that are sinning and in the wrong.  God requires your partner to support you.  If they don't hold up their end of the bargain they have Him to deal with. 

I can understand the desire to escape from the awkwardness, fear and uncertainty of confronting your spouse about these issues.  I know I was terrified.  However, doing nothing will certainly end badly and you really have nothing else to loose.  One thing that might ease some of this discomfort could be writing it all out in a letter for your spouse.  This is a method I have used quite successfully.  I find it helps me make sure I remember all the point I wanted to make, it allows me to think out of the kindest and most reassuring way to say what I feel needs saying and I eliminate the risk of saying something in the heat of the moment that I will regret.  I know I have a tendency to get tongue tied in person and you also run the risk of getting off on a tangent that never gets back to some of the points you want covered.  Writing a letter also allows my husband to think over, in a more calm environment, the concerns that I have and come back to me (after using his problem solving brain) with some more clear methods of moving forward.  If you and your spouse are not having sex then I would bet you are also not communicating well.  In that case a letter might be your best option for making yourself heard and breaking the ice.  I find it far less intimidating, for both parties.   

My prayer for you is that you are able to open up more with each other.  That you will begin to learn hot to lean on one another instead of searching outside your marriage and I pray that both of you will not give up!  As long as you are both willing to work at your relationship then there is nothing you can not overcome!  I mean it, NOTHING! 

It's Better To Give Than Recieve

Having a partner that is unable to reach orgasm with you is a difficult knock for the ego to handle.  For the majority of cases it is the woman who has trouble experiencing an orgasm but there are cases, such as when a man is experiencing some ED, when the difficulty is with the man.  Though the situation is a little different the steps you take to improve the situation are very similar.  For this reason today's post will work to help both men and women improve their sex life with their partner.  If your partner has difficulty reaching orgasm try to understand that it is not an indicator of your self worth.  There may be something you are doing that just isn't working for your partner but there is no way for you to know that unless there is better communication between you. 

When my husband and I were first married sex was extremely infrequent and my husband was unable to reach orgasm with me or even maintain an erection long enough for us to be intimate a lot of the time.  I must admit, I got a bit angry with God at this point.  I mean, I was a woman with a very high sex drive.  When I was in my teens I did not fantasize about my wedding and marriage.  Instead I dreamt about how my husband and I would be having sex every day.  When this dream instead turned into a nightmare I blamed God.  I would cry out to Him with things like, "Why would you give me such a high drive and bring me a husband that is unable to meet my needs?"  I just didn't understand and the whole thing seemed so ironic and unfair.  It took a lot of time, recovery and hard work before I realized that if I hadn't had the drive I do and if intimacy wasn't something I really desired then I wouldn't have had any motivation to fix our issues.  I wouldn't have worked at it.  I would have just let our marriage remain sexless, distant and eventually it would have shrivelled and died.  My libido was the fuel that moved us forward. 

This experience has also given me, what I feel is a unique perspective on the sexual relationship of a marriage.  It helps me understand how a husband is effected when his wife is disinterested in sex and unable to reach orgasm.  It also allows me to speak to husbands that are struggling to know how to help their wives.  My hope is that I can turn, what I once saw as a deal breaker for my relationship, into a tool that draws other couples out of their own unintimate marriages into a thriving and joyful, complete union. 

Most often, if a partner is unable to reach orgasm it is the female.  Since she is still able to have intercourse, even without an orgasm, she may decide it just doesn't matter.  She may even give up on experiencing that climax and fall into the trap of thinking that sex is just for her husband.  This line of thinking will most likely lead to her only wanting to participate grudgingly and infrequently.  After all, if she isn't "getting anything out of it" why bother, right? 

I want to talk about two aspects of this.  What this type of thinking will do to your marriage and how it affects your husband.  If you are disinterested in sex and only participate grudgingly, your husband knows.  He knows you don't enjoy it, he knows you don't want to and it will make him less likely to initiate.  This might sound like a win for you right?  If you don't enjoy it you might be hoping he'll just stop pestering you.  In the short term this may seem like a good thing but as time goes buy your husband will grow more and more frustrated.  He will feel like a failure for his lack of ability to bring you to climax, he will feel guilty for wanting to be intimate with you, he will doubt his masculinity and he will feel like a roommate instead of a partner.  You will drift further and further apart until you are simply sharing a house, not sharing a life.  He will begin to resent you and since he does have a physical need to orgasm in order to relieve the pressure that builds up (if he doesn't do it himself his body will do it for him with wet dreams) he will start to seek out other means of stimulation.  This will most likely lead to either watching porn, or having an affair.  Neither option is one you want. 

It does make sense that when someone doesn't find sex very enjoyable they aren't going to want to do it very much.  If it is a source pressure and stress for them, they will really want to avoid it.  This can sometimes be the trap that a marriage falls into.  You start out your marriage and your partner isn't able to orgasm.  The two of you then "try harder" but still nothing happens.  The partner that is able to orgasm starts trying to come up with different tricks and techniques to satisfy their partner.  When those things fail they get more and more frustrated with the situation.  They could feel guilty about their wants and desires.  They might feel poorly about themselves.  It is definitely hard on their self esteem.  I know I questioned everything about myself.  I felt unattractive, incompetent and selfish. 

How does it affect the partner that is unable to orgasm?  I can't speak entirely to this issue but I can imagine it is even more frustrating for them.  From speaking with my husband I know they feel like they are letting you down, like their body is betraying them (especially for men who are constantly told how sex crazed and virile they are "supposed" to be) and that they are powerless to change.  It is frustrating, confusing and a source of a lot of stress.  I know many people might wonder how sex could be stressful.  After all, isn't it supposed to relieve stress?  Yes, but if you are unable to relax and enjoy the experience then instead every time they are intimate they are filled with increasing anxiety over their inability to "perform" and dealing with greater and great pressure from their spouse.

You might not think that you are putting pressure on your spouse at all but even your desire to be intimate with comes with a lot of stress and expectation.  They know you want them to enjoy themselves, the see the disappointment when things don't go as you planned.  They don't want to let you down so quite often they just would rather avoid the situation entirely. 

There is one added difficulty if you are dealing with ED in a relationship.  After all, a woman can still have sex without having an orgasm but if the male is unable to maintain an erection there really isn't much that can be done by way of penetrative sex.  Let me assure you that this can be corrected and although it might be a long road you CAN get you're sex life back and it CAN be a fulfilling one for both of you.

If you are a woman that has difficulty reaching orgasm, I am going to go over some steps you and your husband can take to assist you but I would also recommend reading "The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex" by Sheila Gregoire.  There are some good tips, information and encouragement in there that will greatly benefit your relationship. 

I don't think I have ever come across a situation where avoiding the problem has made it go away.  I'll let you know if I ever do, but until then how can we break out of the cycle and start moving toward a more fulfilling sexual experience for both partners unless we just try? 

I have already mentioned in previous posts that my husband and I attended some sex therapy early in our marriage.  Thankfully the therapist did not recommend that we watch porn together.  This is apparently something that many sex therapist believe will improve a couples sex life but that I believe to be harmful instead for many, many reasons that I will perhaps cover at a later date.  Just for the time being though, watching porn will not help you.  It will only cause you to doubt yourselves even more and transfer your desire to the actors rather than each other.  The sex therapist we saw did give us some good tips and tricks to get our sex life onto a good track.  However, she strangely didn't talk much if at all about emotional or mental causes of my husband's ED.  This is not a step you want to skip!  After all, enjoying sex is mostly mental.  Have you ever heard that the brain is the most important sex organ?  It is so true!  If you brain isn't in the game it's just not happening and if your brain is not only out of the game, it's playing against you, then there is no way you will ever win.  If you have been abused, have big self esteem issues or have never been able to climax you will need to resolve the mental blocks before tackling the physical ones. 

If you are living in a sexless marriage it can be extremely intimidating to break out of the routine of avoidance.  In my opinion that is one of the biggest hurtles to restoring your marital intimacy.  You have gotten into a pattern of no communication.  You may talk about everything else.  You might still feel like best friends.  You're relationship, from the outside, might look perfect but there is a big hole that you have been walking around for so long you can't even imagine what it would take to start filling it in.  It seems much easier to just go around it, so you do, year after year, until someone gets tired of it or slips and falls in.  It is so incredibly sad to me to hear of couples that are missing out on the intimacy of marriage when they could be so much happier, more connected and less stressed out.

Once you are ready to start working on a more fulfilling sex life the first step is going to have to be opening up conversation.  You're going to have to be willing to talk about what the setbacks are and be honest about what isn't working.  The next step is going to seem very strange.  Stop trying (if you're in a sexless marriage, I guess you've got this step down pat).  I know what the partners that are able to orgasm are thinking here.  It goes along the lines of "WHAT!?!?!?!"  It might seem counter intuitive to you.  You might wonder how you are supposed to improve your sex life without trying to have sex.  Those are valid concerns but here is why this is a good plan.  I am not saying not to be sexual, I'm saying to take a small break from intercourse.  Remember how I talked about all the pressure intercourse places on your spouse?  Taking a break removes that pressure and it helps them to no longer feel like a failure every time they are unable to orgasm.  What you should do instead of penetration is just make out.  Explore each others body, do lots of kissing, spoon naked and touch one another.  Quite often, when a person is unable to climax they aren't really sure what feels good to them.  This is their time to find out.  Talk a lot during this process.  Ask them what feels good and don't take offence if there is something they don't like.  Every person is different.  There are different parts of their body that will be more sensitive than others.  There will even be different times during a sexual encounter that will change how things feel.  Don't be demanding of your partner during this time and try to be patient and take things slow.  They may have no idea what even feels good for them so go slow and try to make it as much fun as possible.  In short, just try and relax and have fun!  

When my husband and I started with this step I soon discovered that part of the issue we had was he needed a lot of intense stimulation.  During his teen years he had drawn out the masturbation process to get as much good feeling as possible.  He had trained his penis to need heavy stimulation in order to climax.  At the start I was simply not physically strong enough to be able to bring him to orgasm.  This was almost a despairing moment for me.  If I wasn't strong enough to bring him to climax with my hand then how would he ever be able to orgasm during intercourse?  Though it seemed hopeless to me I realized that if you can train something to act a certain way then you can untrain it too.  It took lots of time and work for us but by taking things step by step we were eventually able to increase his sensitivity to the point where he is now able to reach orgasm through intercourse the vast majority of the time.

What are these steps that lead to orgasm through intercourse?  It starts with knowing what touch they like.  Get your partner to guide your hand.  If they are able to touch themselves with your hand over theirs you can start to understand how they like to be touched.  Pay attention to how hard they press, where exactly they touch and how fast or slowly they move.  Once you (and maybe they) are more familiar with what they like you can attempt to bring them to orgasm with your hand or your mouth.  If they are able to orgasm that way then that will show them they are capable (let me assure you, you are capable) and that will help build their confidence so they can relax more.

Sometimes women don't believe they are capable of orgasm so they don't even bother to try anymore.  I believe this is a mistake for many reasons.  First of all, sex was created by God to be a enjoyable and fulfilling experience.  If he didn't want women to enjoy it then why would he have created the clitoris, a body part with no function other than pleasure?  Women also have the G-spot, a patch of skin inside the vagina with extra nerve endings that can produce orgasm as well.  There have been studies done on the G-spot that show a correlation between the thickness of the wall of the vagina and the ability to experience a G-spot orgasm but regardless of weather you will ever be able to climax that way or not it is still an extra spot that feels pretty good to rub.  All of this is to say that you were made to enjoy sex and sex was created for marriage.  You don't have to feel guilty about enjoying your husband.

Try to relax, speak up about what doesn't feel right and try to enjoy each other.  Don't worry if it doesn't happen right away.   It may take a long time and it will take trust but you can get there.  The road that you take will only increase the intimacy and partnership you experience with your spouse.  It will only make your marriage stronger and avoiding it will tear you apart.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Overcoming ED

In my post entitled Is My Husband Impotent I talked about how there can be two causes of erectile dysfunction (ED).  One is medical and the other is emotional.  I spoke of how your husband will need to rule out or take care of the medical causes of the ED.  That is the first step.  However I didn't really talk about the second cause or how to get your sex life back on track.

At the beginning of our marriage when we were experiencing a lot of trouble with our sexual relationship I hoped that a medical cause would be found.  My husband did a few physicals and blood tests and each time we would wait for the results I would actually hope that something would be wrong.  This might sound so terrible but to me that seemed like the far easier option to fix things and, in my opinion, it was a whole lot less about me.  After all, (in my head) if the cause of the ED was emotional then it was all my fault.  It seemed like that cause meant I was unattractive, frightening, unapproachable and a downright terrible wife.  Right? 


When all the tests came back fine (he even had a higher than average testosterone level) it was time to face the facts.  There was some mental block to our intimacy and I was going to find it!  I wanted answers.  I must admit I became a bit of a pest.  I would ask him questions incessantly.  I would ask if anything happened to him in his childhood, if he thought it was possible that he was abused, if I was just not attractive enough (I didn't tend to believe him either when he said I was) and I asked for details about any sexual contact he had ever had.  I even (now I don't recommend this at all) asked him if he thought he might be gay.  I know, bad idea!  But I was desperate and frustrated, both sexually and emotionally because I felt like he was holding back with me and leaving out that one important detail that would explain everything.

If a man has been abused or is struggling with his sexual identity that will definitely be obstacles to your relationship.  Though it is something that you should know about him, you might not need to know every gritty detail.  For his own sake as well as that of your relationship he needs to speak with a Christian counselor.  There could be some parts of his past or what he's feeling that he might fear would change the way you see him.  His image and ego are very important to him and he might not open up to you out of the concern that you would look at him differently.  If there is something that the counselor feels that you should know they will encourage him to talk to you about that.

Men aren't exactly known for their love of opening up and talking about their feelings.  I know you might think that there is no way you will be able to convince your husband to see a counselor.  If he is having trouble with ED though, and medical causes have been ruled out, that only leaves emotional issues as the cause.  He might find that faced with the prospect of indefinite ED, seeing a counselor for a while might be a good option.  I for one, was quite shocked at my uncommunicative and reserved husband's willingness to see someone. 

There were actually a few times in our marriage that we attended counseling.  We saw a marriage counselor (who wasn't very good) for a while, we saw a sex therapist (who was somewhat helpful but glossed over some very important aspects of our sexual relationship), we saw a much better counselor a few years later in our relationship and my husband also saw her one on one for a while.  If you ignore issues in your marriage and don't make efforts to fix them then your relationship will continue to grow more and more distant.  I was lucky that my husband was willing to see someone and that he showed immense patience and understanding for my hounding and pestering him about our relationship.  You can't force anyone to do these things against their will but you can communicate to them how important it is to your future that you work on your relationship and the way to do it is through dealing with issues head on. 

When you know that the blockage he is facing is an emotional one it can create some extra stress for you too and all that worry you have about how much of his issues pertain to you might just come bubbling up and spilling over in a big outburst that has a lot of potential for making the situation worse.  His ED is a symptom of his inability to dispose of all his mental baggage, so heaping your insecurities, accusations and anger on him will only serve in making his pile bigger.  I know how terrifying it might seem to talk with your husband about what might be going on with him!  My fear was that he would confirm all my deepest insecurities.  I worried that he would rage at me and blame me for the ED even just to escape the accusations.  Thankfully my fears were never realized in that way but he very well could have reacted much more poorly than he did.  There was the potential for things to have gone very, very badly when the conversation was opened up.  The one way I was able to keep some safety and distance for myself while still attempting to open conversation with my husband was to write it in a letter.  To some this might seem like a bit of a cop out and not conversation at all but there are a number of reasons I believe this to be the best option.

For starters, a letter allows you to not get sidetracked by any number of different arguments.  It makes sure you make all your points.  Secondly, you can word things properly.  Speaking to someone, off the cuff, about sensitive and emotional subjects has the potential for going terribly wrong.  Conversation can very quickly get heated and hurtful.  With an emotional issue, the last thing you want to do is add more emotional pain.  In a letter you can take care to word your concerns in a kind and sensitive way that has a much better chance of being received favorably.  Thirdly, when you write a letter, you know that you have been heard.  With some people, (there are a few in my life) I know that almost every time we have a discussion they aren't really listening to what I'm saying.  Many people have a tendency to hear the first few words of what you are saying, invent in their head what they think the rest of your point is, and spend the rest of the time you are talking to them thinking about how they will respond instead of really listening to you.  In short, they miss the point.  Letters are less easy to ignore and they can spend as much time as they like going over it and thinking about how to respond without the pressure of you standing right there waiting for an answer.  You can then come to them at a later time to discuss what you wrote and their response to it.  Do your best to be kind, considerate and try to give them the chance to be heard by truly listening to them. 

I will cover some of the physical steps to recovering your sexual relationship in a follow up post but overcoming ED is a step by step process that takes time and patience.  The first step was eliminating the physical causes, step two is emotional recovery.  This is the most delicate portion that takes the most patience and where the most can go wrong.  Try not to rush it and force faster healing.  Your husband will need to be the guide during this portion of recovery since only he knows what is holding him back.  Though it is frustrating to have so little control over a situation that effects you so much, your patience and understanding will be appreciated and are your best tool for helping your husband recover.  If you need to vent at all, remember to do it with a safe person.  My rule for finding a safe person is that they be very trustworthy and, if at all possible, outside the situation.  This means that they don't know your husband (in that case I would be very willing to hear your venting).  The most important rule I have is that the person you vent to must NOT be of the opposite sex!  This is a must!  I did not stick to this rule and it very nearly ruined my marriage and potentially my life.  I promise to talk more about this later.

Best of luck and I pray that you are able to help aid your husband in his healing.