Tuesday, August 2, 2016

12 Principles That Can Make or Break the Marriage Relationship: No. 3 – Sex

The remarkable thing to me is that sex in marriage can remain interesting—even 25 years later. It’s remarkable because life goes on around us. And most of what’s going on is not sexy.
Unsexy stuff in marriage
1. Bedhead and morning breath - Seems silly now that my No. 1 fear going into marriage was that my husband would see my crazy hair in the morning—our morning breath is far worse.
2. Sickness - Marriage puts the “ick” in “sick.” If you’re married long enough you see things that would nauseate the most professional of healthcare workers.
3. Babies and small children - We once had a toddler throw up in the middle of our bed.
4. Teenagers and young adults - Sometimes our rule about coming in and telling us when you get home, no matter what time it is, can be awkward.
5. Physical changes as we get older - We’re just not as sexy now.
6. The constant battering of life – The stress of wedding planning, college tuition payments, kids being difficult, work stress, cars and appliances breaking down, politics, dogs who need to be walked at 4 a.m., terrorism, the years when we don’t win the Super Bowl, weather catastrophes, and emotional disasters are not sexy.
Yet, we continue to find one another physically and to draw strength from the way that we come together sexually. Even in the midst of all this unsexiness—especially then really, sex still seems interesting.
Sex At First and Sex Later
When you first get married sex feels different; it feels like a thrilling adventure. Later, it feels more like a way to remember that all is right with the world—despite all the evidence to the contrary. For those brief moments together that is all there is—just you, him, physical intimacy, and none of that other stuff is as important. It’s like a refreshing glass of ice water after mowing the lawn. 

​Married sex, especially after years of married sex, is more often about comfort and peace than excitement and adventure. We know that when we reach over to the other side of the bed we will be there and we’ll comfort one another with our touch. We took a vow to that effect. We wrote our own vows in our wedding and included a verse from the Song of Solomon—which if you didn’t know is the sexy book of the Bible. Chapter 2, verse 6, was an image we wanted to vow: “His left hand is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” And verse 16: “My love is mine and I am his;”The physical pleasure of sex is essential. But it’s combined with an intense emotional tenderness in marriage that makes it constantly something to seek after. This is challenging because of the hard wiring that men and women seem to find within themselves that makes them so at odds with each other in sexual and emotional intimacy. Yet, since the two are so inextricably linked, and so ultimately desirable, you keep trying. You aim for intense pleasure and emotional oneness. Sometimes you hit the mark; sometimes you miss. Either way, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work—if you know what I mean.
Our friend, clinical psychologist Dr. Val Farmer, links sex and affection as the combination necessary to avoid a sort of physical intimacy that isn’t much more than a mechanical body slam devoid of feeling. Early on in marriage when libidos are running high as a spring river the sex act alone can seem attractive. However, turns out that sex without affection and emotional connection makes people feel weird. No matter how much you want sex—you want to still feel human, and loved, and relational, too.
The thing I didn’t clue into until later in my marriage was how important and powerful sex is. It acts as a sort of glue for your relationship. Also, it works to revitalize a man like nothing else—a great haircut, finding a parking spot downtown, or even food—all pale in comparison to the reassurance sex offers for a man that his wife really digs him and that things are going to be okay. It’s like the way you feel after exercising, or after drinking a really strong cup of coffee.
That brings us to the idea that in marriage men and women rarely line up equally in their desire for sex. I remember feeling reticent to show affection at all to my new husband for fear that his voracious sexual appetite would overtake me any time I did touch his knee or hold his hand. By the way, it’s okay to turn him down. He understands that you won’t always be “in the mood.” But, it’s also okay to have sex even when you’re not in the mood. Those encounters often turn out to be surprisingly good. What’s really good in general for a marriage is frequent sex. Every couple is going to define frequent their own way. But don’t think that you can go months or years without sex and have a good marriage.
After almost 25 years I’ve learned to be realistic. When life is sexy and when it’s not, sex should still happen frequently. Giving and taking the physical and emotional comfort that brings to the both of you is marriage.

Rebecca Barnes is the director of curriculum for Summit Kids Ministry at Flatirons. She’s been married to Ron Barnes almost 25 years and has three daughters. Her oldest daughter will be getting married this year, so she’s been thinking a lot about marriage lately.

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