My wife (her comments in purple) and I host a small group in our house, and we’re currently studying Intimacy Ignited with 4 other Christian couples. It’s been an interesting experience, talking so openly about sex in person with people who we know. In fact, we know some of these people very well and have for years, but we were still surprised by some of the discussions. One thing in particular: how stuck people are on their own mindset of what they want out of marriage, and that their spouse needs to change in order to suit their needs. In our group (which is not large enough to show a typical division of sex drives), the men all have higher sex drives and the women all have lower sex drives (both relative to their spouse). And what do you think comes out in the discussions?
Who needs to change?
The men want an increase in the physical relationship, the women want an increase in the emotional relationship. Now, that’s not surprising, really. I mean, that is the statistically likely scenario. But what surprises me, and it shouldn’t after all these years, is the spouses generally are seemingly unwilling to see their spouses point of view. Now, I’ve known that this happens in marriage. I saw it in my own in the past, and I see it in many of the comments on this blog, in the emails I get, on The Marriage Bed Forums and basically everywhere I turn. But, I had always assumed, for some reason or another, that one outgrows this, that one matures at some point, to at least be able to accept that their spouses’ view on the subject is, in the very least, reality for them, even if you disagree with their view. Furthermore, I had assumed that of the 5 couples in our group (of which we are the youngest) would be more mature than us, and so we would learn much from them. Instead, I find my wife and I will flip sides and argue for whichever side is losing the discussion in a given night. We will both tell the men they need to be more emotionally invested, and then turn and tell the women they need to be more physically invested in the marriage.
The “you need to change” merry-go-round
Here’s how it usually happens. The book will bring up a point of discussion. Perhaps it’s giving your body as a gift, perhaps it’s “sex starts in the kitchen”. The topic really doesn’t matter, what matters is that it’s obviously more weighted towards the desires of one gender (on average) than the other. Of course the very next statement (from on of the “offended” gender) will be a something like “well, if [women/men] did more “x”, then we’d do more “y””. Before you know it, we’re stuck in a merry-go-round of “if you had sex more, we’d be more emotionally available” and “if you were more emotionally available, we’d have sex more”, and round and round we go, each gender ganging up to defend their own turf. And generally my wife and I flipping from one to the other to try to put the brakes on this amusement ride. We were trying to get them to see that they have to focus on themselves rather than point the finger at their spouse.
It’s all done very civilly, but you can sense the underlying tension in the marriages. And you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of two kids fighting:
Kid 1 has toy A, and wants toy B
Kid 2 has toy B and wants toy A
So, who really needs to change?
If only they could realize that by exchanging toys, they would both be happy. But instead, neither kids wants to give up the toy they have…because what if they get neither?
I have tried to teach our kids to trade. Say, for example, Sam wants something Joey has, but he isn’t willing to share at that moment, then Sam needs to go find something that Joey would love to play with and offer a trade. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least they are trying, and Sam is learning to look for what Joey would like to have, instead of just focusing on what he wants and what he’s missing out on. If you could apply this to your marriage, what could you look for that you have that you could offer to your spouse? We are adults, so it might not an immediate trade, think of it as an investment. You’re filling their love tank.
But spouses aren’t children. Marriages should be founded on trust, and even without trust, on sacrificial love. In most cases (yes, I know, there are exceptions), either spouse could realize that by “gifting” their spouse with what they want, they raise their chances of getting what they want to, but generally they won’t. They’d rather fight over their “toy”, waiting for the other spouse to give theirs up, before making the trade.
So, it spirals, and it can start from either side: Wife rejects husband for sex because she feels emotionally starved. Husband feels emotionally starved due to lack of sex and stops communicating. Wife continues to reject husband because she feels emotionally starved, and around and around it goes.
The book we are studying has these little blurbs at the end of each chapter about the attitude of a selfish lover vs a selfless lover. And really I think that is the game changer in how to deal with this merry-go-round argument. When you think of your marriage, and how you would look at it from a bird’s eye view, are you each thinking of the other person and what you can do for them, or are you waiting for them to do something for you, because they should be doing something for you. In our early years of marriage, I was always thinking that Jay should be doing this or that for me. Almost like I was treating him like a servant, in my mind. I never really thought about what I could do for him, or how I could be a servant lover towards him. I’ll admit I was a very selfish lover/person in those days. (Thank goodness not anymore!)
The spouse that notices something needs to change should change first!
And what would it take for the cycle to reverse? In many cases, just one spouse deciding to be selfless. For example: the husband could reach out and start a conversation, without doing it because he wants more sex. Just because he wants to reconnect. That’s it, seems simple, and so many wives would be over the moon about it (I know, not all of them).It was a little more involved then that for us, there was a lot of different things going on that needed to be addressed and that in itself is a novel. (There are more than a novel worth of posts on this blog as a result…)
Instead of focusing on our spouses’ weaknesses, growth areas, selfishness, or whatever you want to call it, we should focus instead on our own.
One week we were talking about praying for our spouse and for our marriages and what type of things to pray for, it was really interesting! The book suggested that we ask God how we can delight our spouse in the bedroom, and one of the other women said that she prays for her marriage in general, not for anything specific, she just couldn’t see herself doing that. But I mentioned that if you ask God a vague question, you may only get a vague answer. I think it is really important to ask God what needs to change in yourself and be willing to hear the answer, even if it’s not something you wanted to hear. You can’t change your spouse, you can only work on YOURSELF. So ask God specifically what you can do to make your marriage better, to end the battle of needing that emotional connection first or needing a physical connection before giving your emotional side to your spouse. This will change how you see everything in your marriage!
Do you see this dynamic in your own marriage? Is it an attitude that you need to change?