Reality vs. Expectations in the Bedroom
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Sex in marriage not as great as you hoped? Author Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta, LPC explore how to heal from past pain affecting present pleasure.
Reality vs. Expectations in the Bedroom
Dave: Let’s get real honest about intimacy in our marriage—
Ann: Oh, no; oh, no
Dave: —especially when we first got married. I mean, this is not something you want to talk about on radio or on a podcast.
Ann: Depending on where you are going.
Dave: Well, I just thought this: “As I think back over 41 years of marriage, I don’t know how long it was/how many years it took me to understand the sexual part of our marriage was not just about me, and my satisfaction, and my happiness, and me getting what Dave wanted.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: As I think back over 41 years of marriage, I think I was very, very selfish; and it was all about one thing—me being satisfied—you didn’t pick that up?
Ann: Yes, I thought it; but I also thought, “I’m going to serve you and love you.” My past was so broken from sexual abuse that I don’t think I thought I deserved anything.
Dave: Yes; and I think a lot of couples are sitting there, going, “I think I’m married to that guy.” I think people are experiencing many of the same things.
We’ve got Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta back in the studio to help us talk about God’s heart and God’s perspective about Married Sex, is the book they’ve written.
Gary and Debra, welcome back.
Debra: Thanks; thanks for having us.
Dave: Let’s go another round on this. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, we’ve been going—
Gary: It’s been fun.
Debra: Real talk.
Dave: —just saying to the parents—“If you’ve got children with you now, we’re trying to do the best we can to talk about this in an honoring way; but we also want to be very honest about it so we’re going to go places that we think are going to help people.” Your book does that; as you dove into married sex, it’s really helpful for couples.
As you listened, even to us talk about that area—especially Gary, I know you’ve written about that—is that pretty common?—the selfish: “It’s all about me,” even in the bedroom.
Gary: It really is one of the myths that we wanted to undercut and demolish. In fact, in Debra’s chapter, “Sexpectations,” that’s one of the first sexpectations: that sex is primarily for the husband.
Here’s what I love about Scripture: 3000 years ago, think about what life for women was like: they weren’t valued; they weren’t appreciated. Yet, God prophetically says—He begins the book on sex, the Song of Songs—the very second verse, it’s the wife who proclaims, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for your love is more delightful than wine [Song of Solomon 1:2].”
Now, in Hebrew, the word, “love,” there is “dod”—D-O-D—it doesn’t refer to romantic love; it’s not the Hallmark® channel love—[Laughter]—it’s talking about physical caressing. She says it is “more delightful to me than wine.” Now, modern wives might not get how strong that is. I want you to go back 3000 years and think about how many pleasures a woman living in the desert didn’t have. She didn’t wake up to caramel macchiato [Laughter]; there was no Starbucks; there wasn’t even Folgers back then; right? There was no air conditioning at noon; there was no dark chocolate in the afternoon.
A lot of women today read that and think: “Well, I like a good novel,” “I’d prefer a walk,” “I’d rather have a good piece of dark chocolate.” But she’s saying to women in her culture—the highest pleasure they could imagine is wine; it was the one pleasure a woman 3000 years ago could truly enjoy—and she says her highest pleasure doesn’t compare to making love to her husband.
Now, modern women may think of other pleasures as greater. The point to take away from this passage is that the Bible begins by saying sex isn’t created just for the husband’s pleasure. God designed it for the woman to enjoy and to bring life and pleasure to her.
Dave: If I think back on those days, early in our marriage—I’ll be real honest—the amount of time we made love was not very long, because there wasn’t time to really take time to love her in a way that Gary just talked about, that she would say, “Man, this is one of the best things in my life.” Is that common?
Debra: When you look at your relationship—you know you guys always invite me on; you know it’s a therapy session when I get invited on—[Laughter]
Ann: I always love it.
Debra: —free therapy. But even just thinking of both of your stories—and how the sexpectations you brought into marriage shaped the outcome of your intimacy—Dave comes in with the expectation: “Hey, I’ve learned that sex is for the man. This is just the conversations that I’ve had; people always talk about it being for the man. I’m coming in with this goal, because this is what I’ve been taught.”
Whereas, Ann, you’re coming in with brokenness and hurt, and all of this past that reinforces that sex is just about the man; and it’s not really for you. All of a sudden, you’re living out of these false narratives/these false expectations that aren’t true/they aren’t healthy; but it’s your default.
A first step for all of us is really taking a look at our expectations, like: “What have I been taught about sex? What do I really believe about it? And how has it been informing my relationship?” Then we take those things and we align them to truth/we align them to Scripture.
This is why what Gary said is so important: when you look at truth, you begin taking your reality and aligning it to truth rather than aligning it to your false expectations. That’s when we can start to change and do things differently/do things better.
Dave: You know, it’s interesting; one of the things I think helped me start to think about Ann instead of me was when she revealed her abuse—which was really—at first, I thought, “Oh, that’s decades ago; it can’t have that big of an impact now.” But as I started to understand—and we were in seminary at the time—we worked through Dan Allender’s Wounded Heart book. He even has a chapter for the spouse of someone that’s been abused. It alerted my senses to: “Oh my goodness, she’s bringing…”—of course, I was bringing perspectives as well—“but she’s bringing that into this area of our marriage. It’s going to be imperative on me to say: ‘Okay, what does this mean?’ and ‘How does this affect our relationship and even our married bed?’”
Ann: I think one of the greatest gifts that you gave me was when you read that book together with me, because I wasn’t even aware of the baggage I was bringing into the relationship. My family wasn’t affectionate; they weren’t verbally affectionate; so the only time I had been touched, growing up, was sexually in abuse.
Then you walk into marriage, and you have Jesus and God in your marriage; and you’re excited about what God can do. But now, all that baggage is at the forefront of my mind; and I don’t know how to get rid of it. I don’t know what to do. Because of the abuse and the shame, of course, I feel like I don’t think I deserve to be pleasured in any way.
How would you guys respond to that? What do you think?
Debra: First and foremost, this is such a normal response and, unfortunately, a common response. A lot of people have things in their past that they don’t even realize are impacting their present. We think that: “Oh yes, I’m just going to let time pass.” Like Dave said, “Oh, it’s been decades and decades.” But the thing is time doesn’t heal all wounds. In fact, when left with time, some wounds will only get worse—they’ll start getting infected—they get worse with time.
This is one of those areas where we’ve got to go backward before we can go forward. We’ve got to deal with the past so that we can be freed from it. In Married Sex, I spent some time outlining what that looks like, based on Ephesians 4, verse 22-24. Simply put—it’s a three-step process according to Ephesians 4—you take off the old; you renew your mind; and then you put on something new.
When we talk about taking off the old, some people haven’t even acknowledged their past; they don’t want to go back there. They’re afraid of going back there, so they just kind of ignore it. But when you think of taking something off, it’s an active process. That’s where I ask many couples to start: “Let’s go back to your past, and let’s talk about your sexual history. Let’s talk about you sexual expectations, your beliefs, your abuse. Acknowledge it, and bring it before the Lord for healing.”
Gary: This points to one of the million things I love about being a follower of Jesus. We’re just so blessed to be His people—I’m not talking about abuse here—but where people bring guilt, because that can be another issue—where people sometimes think, “Because I had my ‘fun’ before I got married, it’s not appropriate for me. I’m going to have frustration in my marriage.”
I can say to him, as a pastor: “Oh, you see, putting up with a sub-par sex life now doesn’t erase your past sins. One thing erases our sins—the death of Jesus Christ on the cross—and we get to receive that freely. So it’s a gift that you can give to your spouse.”
Because I tell wives—apart from the fact that pleasure is great for them, and I want them to receive it just for their own sake—“If your husband is at all healthy, the best gift you can give him is learning to receive sexual pleasure,”—learn to receive and see that as a gift. There’s a chapter of what gets him going to really help wives understand: “This is how your husband’s mind and body works…” And then, guys, you really want this—Debra gives you such a favor—she really helps you understand: “Okay, this is what really gets a woman going…”
But the third chapter is what gets you going, giving women and men the freedom to recognize, “Okay, I have a different brain than my spouse; I have a different body. They can’t possibly guess what’s working.” So moving to make it feel better; figuring out how to help your body to receive sexual pleasure is a good and holy thing to do. Because God designed a woman’s body for sexual pleasure, when she wants to experience it to the fullness/to its completion, all she wants to be is the woman God created her to be. That’s a healthy, it’s a holy, and it’s a sacred thing. You want to act fully in marriage as God designed you to act, and that is to be pleased by your husband so that you would say, “Your love—D-O-D dod—is more delightful than the best pleasure I can think of.”
Debra: One of the first things that women said was: “In order to arouse my body, you have to start by arousing my heart.” So there’s a whole section in there about really taking the time—to build your emotional connection with your spouse; to build your spiritual connection—to make sure that your relationship is where it needs to be.
Then we move into: “What does it look like to arouse her body?” Here’s the interesting thing about that: the majority of couples reported that, in the beginning of their relationship, a lot of times, the men didn’t exactly know what to do/how to touch; because men and women’s bodies are so different. You don’t really get anatomy lessons before you go into marriage. You just assume that the person in front of you is going to respond in the same way that you do, but that is not the case. We’re so different; even the sensitivity of our skin—the parts of our body that feel good—are different.
We kind of unpack, piece by piece, and sometimes in pretty explicit ways:—
Dave: Oh yes, you do.
Debra: —“What does it look like to put your wife as a priority?” “What does it look like to focus on her body and helping her get aroused in the right way?” Because that takes some experience; that takes some understanding; and that takes some conversation and communication as well.
Ann: Dave and I had a conversation, years ago, about—when our kids were little—and we get into bed; and Dave’s like, “Let’s go!”
Dave: I don’t say, “Let’s go!” by the way. [Laughter] Did I ever say, “Let’s go!”?
Ann: Maybe not.
Dave: Maybe that’s my mood.
Ann: Maybe that’s what I heard in my mind: “Let’s go!” [Laughter] But I would say, “My head is still putting the lunches together and wondering if we have enough milk for tomorrow for breakfast.
Ann: “I just need to unwind and let things go, so can you just rub my back? Take five minutes and just rub my back; stay on my back.” Because Dave just couldn’t keep his hands from roaming. [Laughter] So I said, “Just stay on the back for five minutes.” That gave me a chance just to unwind, to let the day go, to take all the things that I’m carrying go.
Is that normal, do you think, for a lot of women?
Debra: It is. Think about this: our brain is such an important sexual organ. There’s so much going on in our brain—we’re multi-tasking: we’re packing the lunches mentally; we’re checking off the list of all the things that need to be done—our mind is not in that space.
Not only that, I found that so many women/they need to shift their perspective about sex in the sense that they assume it’s for the husband—
Ann: Yes, yes.
Debra: —rather than saying, “You know what? This is for me.
Ann: —and “I need this.”
Debra: “This is good for me. I need this. This is pleasuring and relaxing, and this is for me too.” When you see it as an act of receiving, as a woman—not just as an act of giving—it changes your perspective at the end of the day. It can help you get your brain in the right space. Because so much of the work happens in how you think about sex, how you think about your husband, how you think about your own needs.
Dave: I think, even as I listen to you talk about this—maybe I’m not common to every guy—I think I have often defaulted to: “Okay, I want to learn the physical part of how to understand her. The relational part—oh, come on; it’s not that big a deal—and it’s harder. So let’s just move past that quicker; and ‘Okay, teach me that body part.’”
But obviously, what I’ve learned over four decades, is the relational part is the part. The reason I want to avoid it—and you said it earlier, sometimes we use sex almost as an escape to not deal with the real issue—the real issue is, like you said, Debra, “Awaken my heart; build a relationship.” That’s harder for a lot of us. For me, it’s like, “Can we just—we’re good; right?—okay, let’s go.”
Gary: Ann, let me address what you said earlier about just the thoughts—it’s hard when you get in—Dave doesn’t just say, “Let’s go”; but he implies it. [Laughter] We have a whole chapter called “Sacred Simmering.” It’s the practice of therapists that mention this practice of simmering; meaning if you live at ice cold, it’s hard to get to red hot. Simmering is fore-foreplay—it’s making you so you might even be open to foreplay; it’s not foreplay—it’s getting there.
There’s some very practical tips of saying, “If you know this is the day, how do you get that brain in gear?” Remember, Debra said, “Your brain is your most important sexual organ.” So how do you get your brain in gear to do that?
- One woman has this playlist. Music can be very powerful; they have a number of songs that they have literally made love to. She’ll put that playlist on while she’s cooking the kids’ dinner. The kids will think she’s heating up macaroni and cheese. [Laughter] She’s heating up something very different for her husband when he gets home. Because she realizes: “These are the nights it’s usually going to happen. How do I begin to get myself into that place?”
- Some women talked about some things that they’ll wear that day—for them—how it feels for them.
- How to set up your day to get ready? Because, especially if we’re talking to a lot of moms with younger kids, it is hard to go from ice cold to red hot. So how can you simmer?
I’d even say this to the guys—because a lot of times, we’ve got business deadlines; we’ve got a game or something—if we know our wife/if it’s on the table, sometimes, we really have to reserve our minds.
Gary: What surprises me: there’s some long passages in the Song of Songs where the husband is literally meditating on the most sexually desirable parts of his wife. The Bible says that’s not lustful; it’s actually recommending it. It’s your wife, not a disembodied woman. But cherishing your wife to raise your level of desire; in fact, the wife does it for the husband too. There are long passages for both.
For some women, simmering might not be thinking about the physically desirable parts of their husband; it might be: “Man, he’s so good with kids,” or “He’s so successful at this…” One woman—she’s very musical—she says, boy, when her husband plays the piano, she can’t wait to get him upstairs. [Laughter] Every woman is different, but this practice of simmering has really helped a lot of couples; because if sex is never in the background of our mind, it’s just really hard then to make that hard right turn. Simmering just kind of brings it a little bit closer so we can, at least, consider the idea.
Ann: I had this visual, when you said that, Gary, of turning on the crock pot—being intentional—like, “Just turn it on.” Dave, might be a microwave, as you’ve heard before. But as women, I think we need to be intentional—and make this a priority—start thinking about it. I like the music thing; that’s a great idea.
Dave: Oh, I’m getting a playlist already. [Laughter]
I would say this—I know, Debra, add this: “What does that mean to a woman to really”—because now, when I hear the “crockpot,” now I go, “That’s awesome.” I used to go, “What?! Really?” Now, it’s like, “No, no, no; this is my gift to you: is to love you slowly, and tenderly, and gently the way God wants it to be.”
Debra: At the end of the day, I think it really means for us, as women, to just be intentional about what we’re thinking about throughout the day—maybe not just us, as women; you know what you need in your marriage, and you know how you work—maybe you’re the man listening, and you’re more like the crockpot. But I think, at the end of the day, is understanding that simmering means a posture of the heart and a posture of the mind.
I think sometimes we look at the last 24 hours of our marriage—and we base our mood on the last 24 hours rather than the last 24 years/the last 24 months—like: “What has the tone of my marriage been? What does my spouse really mean to me?” “Who are they in my life?” and “How can I reflect my love and intimacy for them, based on that?”—not based on what we have done in the last 24 minutes/the last 24 hours.
Because if we always base it on our interactions within the last day—I mean, sometimes you have an argument; and it just completely wrecks the night—and we kind of fixate on those little moments rather than looking at the long haul of who this person is and what they mean to me.
Gary: Dave, your athletic background really can give a new perspective on this. When a coach—you know, you have a game at a certain time—a football player does. You’ve worked for the Detroit Lions. Players know, when the kickoff starts, “I need to be ready.”
Gary: Is marriage any less worthy of reserving yourself for than a paycheck game? I think it’s just that notion of recognizing: “I want to be there for my spouse when they really need me, because I’m the only one who can.”
Bob: I love hearing Gary Thomas talk there about our being there for one another, in part, because I’ve heard of too many couples today who aren’t there for each other—couples who have sidelined sex in marriage—they’ve just said, “This is too complicated,” or “…too hard,” or “…too hurtful,” or “…too painful.” And they’ve just moved it out of their marriage.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 7, that we’re not to do that; that we are to serve one another in this area. In fact, the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 7 are a good passage for couples to read together. There may be a time when you fast from marital intimacy; but when you’re doing that, it’s to devote yourself to prayer, not to freeze out your spouse, or punish your spouse, or because things have gotten hard.
Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta deal with these issues and so many issues in their book, Married Sex. It’s a great book for couples to go through together. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the book, Married Sex, by Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, and the number to call to order your copy of the book is 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Let me also recommend to you an online course that we put together for couples called the Nearly Complete Guide to Better Married Sex—five sessions. There’s podcasts that are a part of it; projects that couples can do together. Find out more about the online course, The Nearly Complete Guide to Better Married Sex, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
I have to think that this conversation has been helpful—maybe challenging; maybe healing—for many of you this week. I know this subject can be something that is uncomfortable. But hopefully, as you’ve been able to listen privately to this, and think about this, and think about the subject of sex from God’s perspective, God has used these programs to help you in this particular area of your marriage. At FamilyLife, that’s our goal—is to effectively develop godly marriages and families—to keep pointing you back to what the Scriptures teach about relationships, about marriage, about parenting.
We are so grateful for those of you who are, not just listeners to FamilyLife Today, but those of you, who are supporters of this ministry—those of you who pray for us and those of you who regularly provide financial support—so that we can extend the reach of this ministry so that more people can, more often, be impacted by practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family.
If you’re able to help with a donation today, we’d love to express our thanks by sending you a copy of the book, Vertical Marriage, written by Dave and Ann Wilson. It’s a book that talks about the spiritual foundation that must be in place if our marriage is going to be what God has designed it to be. You can request your copy of the book, Vertical Marriage, when you donate to FamilyLife Today online at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call to donate at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, have you ever wondered just what it is that wives are longing for in a marriage relationship? Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson address that subject, looking at what it is every wife is looking for. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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