I had a daughter who taught me the importance of asking the right questions. When she was a teen, If I asked how she did on an exam, she would say, “Good.” But if I asked her what grade she made on the exam…that was another story! It was important for me to ask the right questions.
It’s true in parenting, but it’s especially true in marriage. If you ask the wrong questions you’ll wind up looking in the wrong places and getting the wrong answers.
What are the Wrong Questions
So often, in marriage counseling, I find that couples are stuck because spouses are asking the wrong questions. Here are some examples of the wrong questions spouses ask:
Why can’t you see what I need you to do?
What keeps you from doing what I need you to do?
Why are you acting that way?
What’s it going to take to get you to see?
When are you going to let it go?
Why can’t you put things where they belong?
Why are you doing it that way?
What’s wrong with you?
Why Are These Questions Wrong?
These questions are not wrong in and of themselves. They can be excellent questions when you and your spouse both feel loved and appreciated. But typically we ask questions like these when we’re upset with our spouse.
If you’ll notice, the questions have one thing in common…the word “you.” These questions are all aimed like arrows at the heart and character of your spouse. And they’re usually delivered with a bit of a bite, frustration, or anger. These questions back your spouse into a corner, leaving them with only two options: fight back or knuckle under. And neither of these responses is good for your marriage.
What Are Some Better Questions?
If you’ve been asking the wrong questions, I want to encourage you to start asking better questions. Rather than focusing your questions on your spouse, focus them on yourself by asking yourself things like:
Why can’t I see what my spouse needs me to do?
What keeps me from doing what I need to do for my spouse?
Why am I acting this way?
What’s it going to take for me to see what I need to see?
When am I going to let some things go?
Why do I need things to be where I think they belong?
Why am I doing things a certain way?
What are the things that are wrong with me?
Why are These Questions Better?
Before we go any further, let me say, I don’t believe you’re the main problem in your marriage. Nor do I think your spouse is the main problem in your marriage. When there’s a problem in marriage, both spouses usually contribute to the problem. It may not be a 50/50 split. Sometimes it may be 60/40 or 80/20. But however it shakes out, you still have some contribution. And your contribution is the only thing you have any direct control over.
I can hear someone thinking, “That’s not fair! They get to keep doing what they’re doing while I’m the one who has to make all the changes?”
Not necessarily. First of all, “fair” is not always a realistic approach to things. I use to tell my children things like, “the world’s not fair,” and “fair is that place with Ferris wheels and cotton candy.” Sometimes in life, to get where you want to be, you have to focus on doing what you need to do, even when things don’t seem fair.
Secondly, when you change yourself, it can indirectly and positively affect your spouse. Maybe in doing what you should do, even when it’s not fair, your spouse will feel more loved, more appreciated, more seen, or more heard. And as a result, it will be easier for them to feel safe, let down their guard, and love your back.
A Final Word…
When you stop asking the wrong questions and start asking the right questions, it can be life-changing for your marriage. Can I guarantee that doing this will turn your marriage around? No. Marriage is a dance between two people, and sometimes your dance partner is too set in their hurtful ways to change. But, if asking the wrong questions is not getting you anywhere, It won’t hurt to try asking better questions.
Often, people in my office tell me about how their spouse said or did something that hurt or offended them. But, when I ask if they said anything to their spouse about it, they typically say, “No.”
And as a result of not saying anything, their hurt and resentment gradually build. The rift between them and their spouse gets bigger. And their hurt begins to leak out into other areas of their marriage.
Why don’t we speak up when we’ve been hurt? What is it that leads us to keep things to ourselves when we’ve been offended?
REASONS WE DON’T SPEAK UP
There can be many reasons we don’t speak up when we’ve been hurt, offended, or angered by our spouse.
We lack self-confidence.
When you lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem, it’s hard to find the ego strength to stand up for yourself. You may doubt your thoughts, feelings, or intentions. Or maybe you don’t speak up for yourself, because you assume you’re wrong or your concerns don’t really matter.
We judge by prior history.
If you’ve tried to speak up for yourself in past relationships but were consistently ignored, told you were wrong, or put on the receiving end of that person’s anger, then you will be hesitant to speak up for yourself now. You just assume history will repeat itself.
We fear our response.
If you have a history of blowing up or saying things you shouldn’t, then you may be afraid of speaking up, because you don’t want to hurt your spouse.
We fear their response.
If you have a history of being on the receiving end of your spouse’s anger when you’ve tried to speak up, then you may find yourself thinking, “I can’t speak up, because it will just make them mad and I don’t want to deal with that.”
REASONS TO SPEAK UP
But despite the reasons we don’t speak up, there are some really good reasons to go ahead and speak up…especially if your spouse has hurt or offended you.
It promotes honesty.
When you speak up, you’re being honest. No marriage can survive, let alone thrive, without honesty. Even difficult honesty helps to breed trust and respect. Honesty is also an important part of setting boundaries in a relationship. It may feel like it’s making things worse at times, but you can’t get to a better place without honesty.
It keeps things from festering.
Speaking up keeps things from building up emotionally. The less you speak up, the more things stack up inside. And this colors your thoughts, emotions, and perceptions in the marriage. Not speaking up is like continuing to walk with a rock in your shoe. If you don’t learn to speak up, the limp will just get worse.
It creates an environment for solutions.
You can’t fix something in a marriage if you can’t talk about it. There has to be mutual honesty and understanding before you can find a solution that will work for both spouses. Not speaking up ensures that the problem will continue…and possibly get worse.
HOW TO SPEAK UP
So we’ve talked about some reasons why we don’t speak up, and we’ve talked about some reasons why we need to speak up. But how can you best speak up; especially if you know it could be difficult?
Here are some steps you can take to best speak up when you’ve been hurt or offended:
Speak when you can control your words. If you’re the type of person who has trouble controlling your words and emotions when you speak up, then don’t speak until you know you can control yourself. And if while you’re speaking you find yourself getting out of control, then table the conversation and come back to it when you’re more in control.
Speak kindly but truthfully. There’s a passage of Scripture (Ephesians 4:15) that tells us to speak the truth in love. You need to do both. Speak lovingly so they can hear you, but speak truthfully so you can address things.
Speak earlier rather than later. The longer you sit on something that’s bothering you, the more you stew on it and the worse it gets. Then when you do bring it up, your emotions are already high. Address things at the moment they occur and the emotional volatility will be low and manageable.
Speak when you can best be heard. Try not to speak up to your spouse when they’re already tired, frustrated, upset, or angry. Chances are neither of you will get anywhere. Instead, pick a time when they’re more calm and open. But, don’t put it off too long, or the issue will go cold in your spouse’s mind.
Speak to your contributions as well as theirs. If you’ve contributed to the issue you want to address, lead the conversation with your contributions to the problem. You may even want to ask your spouse to forgive you for those things. This will set a much better tone and help them be more open to what you have to say.
Speak consistently. What I mean by this is consistently take this approach; even when it seems to be getting you nowhere. Don’t try it for a while and then give up. That just teaches your spouse that if they wait long enough, you’ll eventually drop it and they won’t have to deal with it. Continue to speak up until the two of you can come to some sort of consensus and agreement.
A FINAL WORD…
Or more like a final disclaimer…
Doing these things doesn’t mean the conversations won’t be difficult or that things will go according to your desire. It takes a lot of practice to break old habits. But keep at it. Following these suggestions will give you the best long-term probability of improving things and being heard. So, learn to SPEAK UP!
So, Your spouse comes to you with a problem and you’re really trying to be helpful. But before you know it, the whole situation has gone south and now your spouse is upset with you. Ever had that happen, or is it just me?
If this has happened to you, you know it’s not always easy to know what to do when your spouse comes to you with a problem. It may sound like they want help, but the minute you try to help you are met with either an icy stare or guns blazing.
You Don’t Have to be an Expert.
You don’t have to avoid these situations. And you don’t have to be a trained counselor or have all the answers to help your spouse when they bring you a problem.
Your attentive presence can go a long way to helping your spouse. But how do you do that…without nodding off or getting bored? I’ve got nine suggestions for you to try when your spouse comes to you with a problem. Even one of these will be an improvement on your approach, and the more you can implement, the better off you’ll be.
Nine Simple Suggestions:
1. Listen Longer and Deeper Than Feels Natural.
Too often, we listen just long enough to get the gist of things, and then we wade in with our thoughts and opinions. But you need to listen long. Don’t jump in when they stop talking, because they’re probably not finished. I know this is not what you want to hear, but learn to sit in uncomfortable silence. This will allow them to open up even more. And don’t just listen to what they say. Listen to how they say it. What are the emotions behind their words? Where do they get angry or tear up? Where do they hesitate, or where does their voice trail off. What is their body language telling you? Listen with both your ears and your eyes.
2. Reflect Back What You Hear and See, Rather than what you Think.
Telling your spouse what you think about their problem should be your last response. First, reflect back to them what you’ve heard them say and the emotions you hear in their voice. It will let them know you’re truly listening. This will foster their trust and help them process things for themselves. Sometimes people just need to bounce things off of you so they can hear the echo and work through it themselves.
3. Suspend Judgement…For Now.
This is hard to do because we all tend to jump to conclusions and make quick judgments. But make a decision up front that you’re going to suspend judgment until you’ve heard everything completely through. Make sure you have the complete picture. And chances are, your spouse needs your support more than your judgment…even if your judgment’s right.
4. Empathize As If It Were You.
Mentally put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were in their position? Would you be afraid, embarrassed, angry, worried, depressed? What would be your concerns? Putting yourself in their shoes goes a long way toward helping you connect and understand them.
5. Be a Friend, Not a Fixer.
Sometimes, we jump into fix-it mode because we care about our spouses and genuinely want to help them. But sometimes we quickly jump into fix-it mode because we’re uncomfortable with their hurt, pain, anger, fear, or grief. Often, when we try to fix things for our spouse, we stop listening, oversimplify their issue, and come across as arrogant and impatient. None of these are helpful. More than fixing things, your spouse needs you to listen while they work things out themselves.
6. Point Out Their Strengths, Rather Than Their Mistakes.
Your spouse is probably already painfully aware of where they’ve messed up. Chances are, they’ve already mentally rehearsed their mistake to a fault. What they need is for you to come alongside of them and remind them of their strengths and abilities. This will spur them on to how they can use those to deal with their current problem.
7. Put Off Giving Advice as Long as Possible.
Let’s say your spouse has gotten things off their chest and now they look at you and say, “So what do you think I should do?” Do not bite on that bait! Stall as long as you can before giving advice. Instead, say something like, “Man, that’s a hard spot. What have you thought about doing?” Remember, you’re not trying to fix things for them. You’re trying to help them come to a resolution on their own. Besides, if you tell them what to do, and it doesn’t work, then you’re really in trouble!
8. Wonder Out Loud, Rather Than Give Advice.
If your spouse is tired of talking about it and they’re really pushing you for your advice, Then couch your words in uncertain speculation. For example, you might say something like, “I don’t know, but I wonder if something like ______________ might be helpful.” This makes it easier for your spouse to connect with you because you’re not coming across as an expert who’s telling them what to do. You’re just wondering out loud.
9. Be Patient With Them as They Struggle and Grow.
People are complicated and messy. We’re not machines. We’re more like plants. Seeds must be planted in the soil of difficulty and given time to grow. Then those plants need to be nurtured and cared for as they grow out of their difficulty. So be patient with your spouse. Sooner or later, they will probably figure things out. But your job is not to force growth. It’s to provide the environment for growth.
A FINAL WORD…
Never underestimate the importance of compassionately listening to and walking with your spouse as they voice their struggles and problems. Your caring presence and listening ear have more power to help your spouse than anything you can say or do.
Maybe you’re in one of those rare marriages where sex is not a problem. Maybe you both agree on the when, where, and how of sex. If so, count yourself as fortunate. But most married couples wrestle with sex. (Pun intended!)
WHY IS SEX SUCH A PROBLEM IN MARRIAGE?
You’d think that something as fundamental to our nature as sex would be simple and easy. But it’s not. In fact, sex in marriage is often fraught with disagreements, misunderstandings, wounded egos, and fighting. There are at least three reasons for this…
1. Sex is very personal.
I know that’s an understatement, but it’s true. Sex is personal because it involves…
How we see ourselves.
How we feel about ourselves.
Our fear of rejection.
2. Gender Differences.
When it comes to sex, we tend to act like our spouse should think as we think and want what we want. Yet, we are different…
Anatomically. – The anatomical differences that attract us, also make it difficult to understand each other’s experiences and desires.
Hormonally. – We are driven by predominantly different hormones. It’s as difficult for wives to understand testosterone drives as it is for husbands to understand estrogen drives.
3. Social Messages.
Despite our society’s push to create gender-neutral environments, males and females are different. They are raised differently and given different messages about their gender. For example, if males act out sexually, people say things like, “Boys will be boys.” But if females act out sexually, they are considered loose and immoral. We then carry these cultural messages into marriage, complicating a sexual relationship that should be free and open between spouses.
IMPROVING YOUR SEX LIFE…HOW TO START.
You and your spouse don’t have to resign yourselves to lives of frustration and misunderstanding when it comes to sex. There are 4 simple things that will improve any married couple’s sex life.
It always amazes me how spouses can get naked in front of one another, and go through the various acts and positions of sex…yet have trouble talking about it!
Yes, talking about sex is personal. It requires vulnerability to talk about your likes and desires regarding sex. And your spouse may not have the same sexual wants and desires as you.
But with all the gender differences, and personality differences, and up-bringing differences between you and your spouse…there’s no way to make things better apart from talking about sex. Sex is like finances, raising kids, or any other part of marriage…for it to get better you need to talk about it.
Too many spouses try to hint about sex…when they want it and how they want it. But this is a recipe for frustration and hurt feelings. Let me give you an example…
One night, I was feeling a little amorous and wanted some sexual time with my wife. But instead of telling her what I wanted, I did the following:
I said, “Tonight, don’t worry about the kids. I’m going to give them their baths and put them to be a little early.” My wife said, “That’s great!” And I thought to myself, “Yes! she got the hint!”
After the kids were in bed asleep, I yelled down the stairs to my wife, “The kids are asleep. I’m going to go take my shower.” She said, “Great. I’ll be up in a minute.” So I took a shower, fully expecting to come out of the bathroom and find my wife naked on the bed. But when I opened the bathroom door, she was nowhere to be found. The bed wasn’t even turned down!
A little miffed by this, I yelled downstairs, “I’m out of the shower now!” And she yelled back, “Ok. I’ll be up in a minute.” So I climbed in bed naked, and I waited…and I waited..and I waited…getting madder by the minute!
Finally, I did the cowardly thing. I snuck down the stairs and peeked around the corner, only to find my wife kicked back in the recliner, newspaper in one hand, snacks in the other, and watching TV.
I went back upstairs furious. “How could she stand me up like that?! How could she reject me?!”
After a few days of pouting, I finally told her how upset I was. And her reply was, “If that’s what you wanted, why didn’t you say so!”
She was so right. I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson then, but I still fall into that hinting trap from time to time.
Hinting is not a good idea when it comes to sex, so talk about what you want and when you want it. Talk about what really works for you, as well as what doesn’t. Talk about things you would like to try. And talk about how you might like to change things up.
It may be awkward at first, but this one habit will improve things greatly in your sex life.
Timing involves two different things…
The “when of sex.
This refers to the time and place sex can occur during the day.
Is it always at night or can it be during the day? Can you have sex in the morning, or is that not a good time? Is sex something that can be spontaneous, or does it need to be planned? Can it happen when the mood strikes, or does everyone need to be freshly showered? Is the bedroom the only place for sex, or can it occur in other rooms and places?
The “how often” of sex.
The second part of timing refers to how frequently the couple should have sex.
It’s rare that a husband and wife agree on how frequently they should have sex. Husbands usually want sex more frequently than wives, but there are times when that gender stereotype is flipped and it’s the wife who wants sex more than her husband.
As a side note…if a husband is experiencing a low sex drive, I always encourage seeing their doctor and having their testosterone levels checked. If there are no testosterone or medication issues, then there may be something going on between the couple that needs to be addressed in counseling.
What should you do if you and your spouse have different ideas about sexual frequency? I encourage each spouse to say how often they would like to have sex. Then I have them target the number in the middle. It’s not a perfect solution. It will be more often than one would like, and not as often as the other would like. But it’s a good place to start.
Trust is an absolute necessity for good sex in marriage. Your spouse must fully trust you in the bedroom in order to relax, let go, and totally enjoy the experience. And this is especially true for wives.
But this kind of trust must be earned long before the bedroom. This kind of trust is earned daily by:
Showing you care more about your spouse than yourself.
Keeping your word…even in little things, like taking out the trash or being on time.
Not making fun of your spouse or treating them sarcastically.
Speaking well of them, in front of others, as well as when it’s just the two of you.
Caring about the things they care about.
When your spouse can trust you with the small things, then they can trust you with the big things…like sharing their bodies.
But trust is also built in the bedroom by never pressuring your spouse to do something they’re uncomfortable doing…even if you see nothing wrong with it. This will definitely wreck your trust with your spouse…both in the bedroom and out of the bedroom.
When it comes to sex, trying means 2 things…
Continuing to working on your sex life. Contrary to popular opinion, sex does not come naturally. It requires work, effort, and practice. And just when you think you’ve got it, then things change. Stage of life changes. Demands change. Heath changes. Body shapes change. The relationship changes. And on and on it goes. So you must continually work on your sexual relationship.
Keeping things fresh. This is the other part of trying. Like any other part of life, sex can easily fall into a rut or routine. We wind up having sex the same way, at the same time, and in the same place. No one wants to have the exact same meal over and over again, and the same is true for sex.
So change things up occasionally. Surprise one another. Try a different location, a different time of the day, or a different position. Use candles or music to set a mood. If your spouse is typically the aggressor, you take that role for a change. Extend the foreplay. Throw in an unexpected quickie occasionally.
I know it’s harder to find the time and privacy you need when you have kids in the house. So you’ll have to set aside money for sitters, arrange for your kids to sleep-over with friends, plan some quick get-aways, and even invest in a good sound screen and a good lock on your door.
Do what you have to, but don’t let your sex life grow routine and predictable from a lack of effort and planning. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
A FINAL WORD…
These four things (talking, timing, trust, and trying) are great ways to breathe some new life into sex and make sex better for you and your spouse. And even if your spouse doesn’t seem interested in putting effort into these things, you put the effort into the things you can do. I guarantee it will still make a difference in your sex life and your marriage.
You’ve heard it a million times. “Communication is the key to a good marriage.” This cliché statement has caused many an eye-roll in marriage, but here’s the problem…there’s communication in every marriage. Even when you’re not saying anything, you’re saying something.
It’s not a lack of communication that erodes a marriage. It’s a lack of good communication. (I can almost see your eyes glazing over as your mind begins to drift off to more interesting things, but stick with me for just a minute.)
I want to give you a simple approach to communication that will clear up miscommunication, cut down on conflict, and help keep you out of the doghouse. Interested?
Here it is. To clear up your communication you need UPS.
I’m not saying UPS can deliver a package that will clear up all your communication problems. (If that were so, I would have already placed my order and have my nose pressed up against the window awaiting delivery.)
In communication, the big key is in receiving what your spouse is trying to deliver to you. So we’re going to use the letters U-P-S to help you with receiving your spouse’s messages.
U – Understand.
Any good communication starts with understanding. Too often we jump in to add our 2 cents before we really understand what our spouse is trying to say. If you’ve done that, you have the scars and horror stories to show for it.
To make sure you truly understand what your spouse is telling you, you need to:
Listen. I’m not talking about listening for where they’re wrong. Neither am I talking about listening for an opening so you can jump in. These don’t work…trust me! I’m talking about really listening to what they’re saying, to how they’re saying it, and to the emotions behind their words. This is hard work. You can’t assume and you can’t check out.
Ask. If there’s something you don’t understand or something that’s unclear to you about what your spouse is saying, then kindly ask your spouse for clarification. It’s important to ask for needed clarification because responding to your spouse before you understand them is a sure way to make things worse.
Feedback. Before you respond to your spouse, repeat back to them what you think they’re trying to say to you. Tell them what you’ve heard them say and how you think they are feeling. If you get something wrong, then give them a chance to correct it. This is a good way to ensure you know exactly what they’re trying to say to you before you respond.
Having done all of this, you would think it would now be your time to talk. But not yet! Be patient young Jedi. Next, you need to…
P – Ponder.
Once your spouse has communicated and you’re sure you know what they’re trying to tell you, you need to take a second to ponder what they’ve said. Not ten minutes…just a second. Take a second to ponder:
Their message. – Think about what they’ve said. Could there be some truth to it? Do they have a valid point? How would you feel in their situation? These and similar questions will not only help you empathize and connect with your spouse, but they will also keep you from becoming defensive and formulating an argument too quickly.
Your response. – Once you’ve pondered the validity and importance of their message, then you’re ready to ponder your response. That’s right. You don’t need to jump in and start talking until you’ve thought about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Ask yourself, “How will it come across to my spouse?” “Could it be misread?” “Will it help, or make matters worse?” “Is there a better way to say what I want to say?”
I know all this pondering sounds like it will take a lot of time, but really it only takes a second or two to do, and it will save you hours of misunderstandings and arguments.
And now…finally…it’s your chance to speak. This brings us to the final letter to finish out our UPS communication.
There are two things you must do when you respond to your spouse…
Speak the truth. – Too many times we avoid speaking the truth. Why do we do this? Sometimes, we don’t want to upset our spouse. Other times, we’re trying to avoid conflict. And sometimes, it just seems easier not to say anything. The classic example of this is what happens when a spouse says, “Where do you want to go to eat?” A lack of truth perpetuates mental game-playing and an eventual distance between spouses, so learn to tell each other the truth.
Speak in love. – Yes, we need to be truthful with our spouse, but that does not give us a license to be brutally honest or to use the truth as a scorched-earth policy. If you speak the truth without love, you’re intentionally being hurtful and they won’t be able to hear you. Your spouse may not like what they hear, but if you deliver it with a heart and attitude of love, it will be easier for them to digest. Take some advice from Mary Poppins… “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
When you get to this point in the process, the cycle starts over with your spouse going through the UPS steps. And you continue this until you both reach some sort of resolution.
A FINAL WORD…
Writing all of this out makes it look complicated, but it’s not as complicated as it looks. Trust me. Just remember: you need to UNDERSTAND what your spouse is trying to tell you, then you need to PONDER what they said and what you want to say, and finally, you need to SPEAK truthfully and lovingly.
If you learn to do this, it will be better than having UPS deliver packages to your door!
No one wants them. We try to avoid them. But if you’re married, you can’t avoid them. So we skirt them and try to spend as little time as possible with them.
I am not talking about in-laws. I’m talking about hard conversations.
If you’re married, there are going to be some hard conversations. You can’t avoid them. In fact, the more you try to avoid them, the worse they become.
WHAT MAKES CONVERSATIONS HARD AND WHAT YOU CAN DO
Hard conversations are just that…they’re hard. And there are some good reasons for that. Here are a few things that can make conversations hard…
There are some topics in marriage that are just hard to talk about. Some of the the more common hard topics are:
These types of topics make for hard conversations because they feel personal and they highlight our differences and disagreements.
If a topic is uncomfortable for you, admit that to your spouse, upfront. Let them know why it’s uncomfortable for you, and ask them to be patient with you as you have the conversation.
Our temperaments also make certain conversations hard. We tend to avoid hard conversations if we are:
Have low self-esteem.
These are traits that cause people to avoid, withdraw, or conceed; as well as to aggressively and angrily overpower the other person so as to silence the conversation.
If this is you, and a hard conversation is on the horizon, you need to:
Take a moment to calm yourself. Get comfortable and breathe deeply and slowly until you’re more relaxed.
Remind yourself you’re not adversaries. You’re just normal people who have different views and needs.
Think of all the difficult things you’ve successfully worked through in the past. Tell yourself that this will eventually be another one of those things.
Start the conversation by telling your spouse that you love them. Tell them you are committed to trying to meet their needs and having a marriage you both will enjoy.
Agree to take a break if needed. If the conversation gets bogged down or negative, agree to take a break from it and return to it at a set time.
These steps will help you take control of your temperament.
Many conversations are made more difficult because of poor timing.
Sometimes we choose a poor time to have the conversation. Here are some examples of poor times to start a hard conversation:
At bedtime, or late at night.
When your spouse is busy or focused on something else.
If your spouse is already upset or angry.
When your spouse is exhausted.
You may feel these are the only times you have, but you would be able to find a good time to talk to your kids about something important, and you can do the same for your spouse.
Another problem with timing is that we procrastinate and wait too long to have the conversation.
We put off the conversation. We convince ourselves it’s too small of a thing to deal with. Or we hope it will get better on its own. But when we wait too long to have a hard conversation, two things happen:
First, the problem builds up within us over time and we are too emotional when we finally bring up the subject.
Second, so much time has passed between the incident that called for the conversation and the actual conversation that the other spouse feels blind-sided and wonders where it’s coming from.
Pick a time when things are relatively calm and good. Tell your spouse you would like to talk to them about something, and ask for a good time to do that. This might put them on high alert, but assure them it’s ok. Ask if you could go out for dinner or dessert to talk. If their curiosity can’t take the suspense, give them a very general idea of what you want to talk about, but don’t get into it right then and there.
Your spouse may try to keep putting you off, but stay lovingly persistent.
Here, I’m referring to talking too much or too little.
If you’re someone who handles hard conversations by talking a lot, then you need to talk less and listen more. This will communicate to your spouse that you care about what they think and feel.
If you’re someone who handles hard conversations by withdrawing and not saying anything, you need to open up more, so that your spouse knows what you’re thinking and feeling. When you open up, it keeps your spouse from feeling shut out.
Finally, conversations become hard when we twist what our spouse is trying to say. We do this when we get so defensive and caught up in our own emotions we don’t hear what our spouse is truly saying to us.
To keep from twisting what your spouse is saying, try the following…
Listen without interrupting.
If your spouse is going on and on, and you’re losing track of what they’re saying, then hold up your hand and tell them you really want to follow what they’re saying, but you’re starting to lose track.
Then, tell them what you think they’re trying to say to you at that point.
If your spouse agrees that you’ve heard them correctly, then take a moment to respond to that…and only that. Keep it short and don’t start adding other things to it. Stay on topic.
If the two of you will keep repeating this process, it will help to keep the two of you from twisting each other’s words. It will also make hard conversations less difficult and more productive.
A FINAL WORD
To sum it all up, you can’t avoid having hard conversations in marriage, but you can make those hard conversations a “TAD” easier by remembering the acronym T-A-D. Be careful with your Timing, your Attitude, and your Delivery.
So don’t be afraid of hard conversations, and don’t avoid them. You can do this. And when you do, you and your spouse will grow closer for it.
In the last post, we looked at what can cause your sex drive to run out of gas. We also talked about some things you might be able to do about it.
But what do you do if your spouse is the one with little to no sex drive?
According to an article in the New York Times by Jen Gunter, 15% of married couples are in a sexless relationship. A sexless relationship is defined as spouses who have sex 10 or fewer times in a year.
And if you assume it’s just husbands who are frustrated by their wife’s lack of desire for sex, you would be wrong. While it’s true that roughly 80% of males have sex drives that are higher than their wives, there are still approximately 20% of wives who struggle because their husbands are not as interested in sex as they are.
NOT AN EASY PROBLEM TO ADDRESS.
Unlike where to go on vacation or how to discipline the kids, a spouse with little to no sex drive can be a delicate and difficult issue to address. Few things are as sensitive and personal as one’s sex drive, and trying to address this issue can trigger…
Feelings of inadequacy.
Fears of rejection.
Family of origin issues.
Frustrations with your spouse.
To effectively deal with sexual issues in marriage requires a level of security and vulnerability that can be difficult for spouses…especially spouses with little to no sex drive.
FEW ACCEPTABLE WORKAROUNDS.
So, if you’re the one doing without, what can you do? For most other things in marriage, there are acceptable workarounds…
If they don’t like to cook, you can get take out.
If they’re not into football, you can get a friend to watch the game with you.
If they’re not much of a talker, you can talk to a good friend.
But what are you supposed to do about sex? It’s not like you can just find someone else to have sex with…at least not if you want to keep your marriage. So do you…
Pressure them for sex?
Learn to do without?
Get out of the marriage?
Settle for satisfying your own needs?
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
There are no quick and easy fixes when your spouse has little to no interest in sex. But there are still things you can do to try to address the issue.
Don’t assume this is just the way it is.
Don’t automatically assume there’s nothing that can be done. Such an early surrender will lead you to feel helpless and resentful. It is possible to address and improve this problem if both of you are willing to work at it. So exhaust every avenue before you assume nothing can be done.
Don’t take it personally.
We are created as sexual beings. I believe this is both God’s design and desire for us. So, if your spouse has a low-to-no sex drive, then something is standing in the way. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about you.
Chances are, it’s more about your spouse…their experiences, their emotional state, their physical state, their behaviors, their insecurities, their problems with intimacy, etc.
Don’t immediately assume their lack of sex drive is about you.
Work on your part of the relationship.
Even though your spouse’s lack of sex drive is probably not about you, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to improve your relationship with your spouse. None of us are perfect. We can all do better when it comes to our relationship with our spouse. And working on your part of the non-sexual relationship will help to remove any roadblocks that might be interfering with your sexual relationship.
Communicate your feelings clearly and lovingly.
It can be difficult to talk about your sexual relationship with your spouse. It’s such a personal thing and opening up about it can leave us feeling vulnerable to further hurt. But you must talk about it! You cannot improve something you won’t talk about.
You can speak lovingly and encouragingly, but you must also speak clearly and openly about your feelings, your desires, and your needs. Your spouse cannot read your mind, so don’t leave them to guess at what you want and why you want it.
Be encouraging/insistent that the two of you work on the problem.
Sex drives can certainly vary between spouses, but a low-to-no sex drive is a problem that must be addressed. Encourage/insist that the two of you talk to a physician to rule out any possible physical, hormonal, or medication problems that might exist. If you find nothing on that front, then the two of you should see a counselor for any historical or relational issues that are interfering with your sexual relationship.
Chances are, your spouse will not be excited about taking these steps. They may even resist. But that’s where you need to be lovingly persistent and insistent.
Pursue other forms of sexual engagement with them.
There is more to sex than just intercourse. If intercourse is a problem for some reason, then find other ways for the two of you to engage in sexual closeness. And don’t be so serious and intense about it. Make it playful. (After all, it is called fore-PLAY.)
BUT WHAT IF MY SPOUSE REFUSES TO WORK ON THE ISSUE?
What can you do if you’ve tried all the above, but to no avail? If your spouse refuses to address the problem or do anything about it, it can leave you feeling stuck and powerless. After all, it’s hard to dance with someone who won’t get on the dance floor. And as we said before, there are few acceptable workarounds for this problem.
If your spouse refuses to address the issue, you are left with four alternatives…none of which are ideal.
You could leave the marriage.
You may feel like doing this because your needs aren’t being met and you feel hurt and rejected. But you need to be very careful with this option. It will not fix the problem. It simply replaces one problem with other problems that can actually be bigger and more complicated.
You could learn to accept things as they are.
Again, this is not an ideal or easy alternative. And you need to be careful with this alternative because if all you do is try to ignore the issue and sweep it under the rug, your resentment will eventually build up and leak out in your behavior.
Your resentment could lead you to become angry with your spouse and withdraw from them, or your resentment could lead you to start looking outside the marriage.
If you’re going to pursue this option, you must be able to see your spouse as unable (much as if they had a physical handicap) and determine that your relationship with them is more important than having sex with them.
You could offer up your desires to God and sacrificially commit to this marital norm.
This is different from the previous option of just learning to accept things as they are. Just accepting things as they are is more of a grit-your-teeth-and-put-up-with-it approach. Offering up your desires to God and sacrificially committing to this marital norm is more of a willingness to sacrifice what you want for the good of your spouse and your marriage.
1 Corinthians 7 talks about the need for sexual consistency between a husband and wife. But in that passage, we are also told there can be times when abstaining from sex can used for spiritual purposes.
Theres’ no doubt that this is a difficult option to pursue. But focusing your frustration in the direction of faith, will reduce the resentment and anger that comes from the “grit-your-teeth-and-put-up-with-it approach.” And hopefully this “dry spell” will not be forever.
You could pursue sexual release through self-pleasuring.
If no other option works, you may have to turn to this option. I’m fully aware that this can be a very controversial topic, especially for Christians who are mindful of the Bible’s warnings about lust and looking at others lustfully. And there are distinct dangers to the self-pleasuring option.
Self-pleasuring is always accompanied by fantasy. If the object of your fantasy is someone other than your spouse, it can lead to further dissatisfaction with your spouse…making your frustration even worse. It can also violate the Biblical mandate about not lusting over people other than your spouse.
Self-pleasuring can become a way of getting around the hard work of building sexual intimacy with a real live person…your spouse. This can create a further gap between you and your spouse.
Self-pleasuring can become a habitual form of dealing with stress, anger, or other negative emotions. When this happens, the self-pleasuring becomes an addiction. At that point, it’s no longer serving you. You are serving it.
Self-pleasuring can not only become addictive, but it can lead to turning to pornography for stimulation and fantasy. This not only violates the biblical mandates against lust but will typically be hurtful to the other spouse and lead to an even greater divide between spouses.
So, although there is no specific prohibition in Scripture against this option, you must be careful in seeking sexual release through self-pleasuring. It should be done…
With your spouse’s awareness.
With your spouse’s involvement…if they’re willing.
And only when the accompanying fantasies are about your spouse.
A FINAL WORD…
As you can see, having a spouse who shows little to no interest in sex is a complicated and very personal issue. It is possible to solve this issue if both spouses are willing to honestly communicate and patiently work on the problem. But if the spouse with the low-to-no sex drive stonewalls, it requires great commitment and faith from the other spouse to keep the marriage going.
If this is a problem in your marriage, and you’ve been unable to resolve it, sit down and once again and share your heart with your spouse. Seek help from physicians, counselors, or trusted friends. Lean into your faith and prayer. Don’t give up. Continue to fight the good fight for your sexual relationship.
Maybe you read the title of this post and thought, “I don’t need this post. I know my spouse.”
I’ve thought the same thing. I’ve been married for over forty years, and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on knowing my wife. But there are still times when she will say or do something that makes me think, “Who are you, and do I even know you?!”
Spouses are complex. Their situations, likes, dislikes, emotions, bodies, thoughts, and needs are continually changing. And that means if we want to know our spouse, we have to be on-going learners.
So here are a few tips and reminders (in no specific order) that will help you continue to know your spouse better.
Don’t assume you know them.
Assuming you’re an expert on your spouse is both arrogant and disrespectful. Think about it. You wouldn’t like it if you over-heard your spouse telling someone that they know you completely. Assuming you know your spouse completely will get you in trouble. And I’m telling you, the minute you assume you know them, they’re going to change something just to throw you off!
You don’t know them if you don’t listen to them.
I sit with so many couples who interrupt their spouse, complete their spouse’s sentences, and interpret what they believe their spouse is saying…but never really listen to them. No matter how well you think you know your spouse, there are things on their heart and mind that you will never know if you don’t give them a chance to speak and really listen to what they have to say.
You must listen past their words before you know them.
I have a sign hanging outside my counseling office that says: “No man is truly married until he understands every word his wife is NOT saying.”
If all you do is listen to the words your spouse is saying, you don’t really know what they’re saying. Research tells us that only 7% of what your spouse is telling you is found in their words. 38% of their message is in their tone of voice and 55% is in their nonverbal signals. So listen to more than just the words they are saying.
If they don’t say it, you don’t know it.
I know you know this, but if you’re like me, you probably need to hear it again. You can’t read your spouse’s mind. You may think you can, and you may have been together long enough to make some good educated guesses. But they are still guesses. If they haven’t said it, then you don’t really know it. (By the way…they can’t read your mind either, so don’t make them guess. Tell them clearly and lovingly what you’re thinking and feeling.)
If you don’t know, ask.
Going along with the last tip, if your spouse tells you something, and you’re not quite sure what they mean, don’t guess. Ask for clarification. Your spouse would rather have you ask them for clarification than for you to go off on an assumption that’s wrong.
Just because you know them now doesn’t ensure that you will know them later.
As I said at the beginning of this post…spouses are complex and constantly changing. Just because you know some things about them now, don’t assume those things will be the same a year from now. For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has always wanted to live near the beach. But recently I found out that she now wants to live in the mountains. There was no warning. There was no turn signal. She just changed! This is why you have to keep striving to know your spouse.
Know what they like, but know it will change.
Knowing that your spouse will change later is not an excuse to not know them now. Get to know your spouse as well as you can now. Just know that you’ll have to keep learning and adding to what you know about them.
Finally, if I could wrap all this up in one last reminder, it would be this:
Know that you don’t know all there is to know about your spouse, but know that you can know them better.
I’m going to let you in on one of my many failures in marriage. But, I warn you…it’s not pretty! In fact it’s quite embarrassing! (If my wife is reading this, she’s probably pretty nervous at this point.)
I typically talk about what it means to have a “normal marriage.” But in these days of social distancing, “normal“ has become a thing of the past. We are all operating under a new normal now. And that new normal is…quarantine!
Couples who have typically been franticly busy, running from one obligation too the next, are now forced to shelter in place, under the same roof, 24/7. A sort of forced companionship if you will.
But this forced companionship can be difficult. It can introduce irritations that we were able to avoid, as long as we stayed on the go. But now there’s nowhere to go!
Here are some things that can make the quarantined marriage a challenge:
BIG DIFFERENCES – It’s no news flash that couples are usually very different from one another. We have different personalities, different ways of working, different likes, different approaches to children, different stressors, and different triggers. Being together all day, every day, provides a lot of opportunity for those differences to bump into one another. If you can’t allow for your spouse’s differences without feeling disrespected or inconvenienced, then quarantine is going to be an experience that feels more like water boarding than togetherness.
POOR COMMUNICATION – Again, most couples are use to staying busy enough they have an excuse for not stopping and communicating with one another. Before the quarantine, we could get by on shallow conversations about our day. But during the quarantine, we can’t talk about our day…because we are both there in the middle of it! Quarantine forces us to talk about other things for longer periods of time. And this often reveals that the communication we used to do so phenomenally when we were dating, now needs a little work.
INCREASED ANXIETY – This one is a given. There is much for us to worry about these days. The big worry is whether we and our loved ones will avoid catching the virus. Another big source of anxiety is whether we will have a job and be able to pay our bills. Then, there’s the smaller worries. Before, we had to worry about whether our kids were good students. Now we have to worry about whether we’re good teachers. Before, we had to worry about who was going to the store to get milk. Now we have to worry about whether there will be any milk when we get to the store. These, and a host of other worries, can raise our anxiety, increase our stress, and make marriage more difficult.
LACK OF PURPOSE – This one is not so obvious. Before the quarantine, we were able to confuse taking care of business with having a purpose. It felt like our marriage was here to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, to raise and protect children, to build our careers, etc. But with our ability to do these things now on pause, we have to face the question…why are we married and what’s our real purpose for being married?
As you can see, this quarantine can certainly test your marriage. But you can also use the quarantine as a time to train your marriage. Let me encourage you to use this time to do the following:
Learn that your spouse’s differences are not about you. Their differences are about them. Your spouse is different from you, not because they’re trying to get your goat, but because that’s the way God and life has made them. They are not out to get you, so stop taking their differences so personally. Begin to think of their differences as more tools that can be added to the marriage tool box.
Learn how to talk again. It doesn’t have to be life-changing, gut-wrenching conversations on a Dr. Phil level. Just talk about anything and everything. You use to do this when you were dating. So if you’re having trouble with this, go back and remember those times. The more you talk about little things, the easier it will be to talk about bigger things.
Learn to to calm your anxieties. Anxieties are like the warning lights on the dashboard of your car. They tell you something might need attention, but they don’t tell you to drive your car off a bridge! Note your anxieties, but don’t live by them. Some anxiety is natural and even healthy in times like these. But if you find your anxiety is causing you more problems than solutions, you need to learn How to deal with your anxiety. Find a close friend who can talk you off the roof. Read Scriptures than can calm your heart. Pray. And if you can’t find anything to calm your anxiety, you may need to talk to your physician. But use this time of quarantine to train your anxiety.
Learn to live for something greater then just the immediate. Surely you got married for more than just raising kids and paying bills. What is it about your marriage that con’t be stopped by a quarantine? What is it you want to accomplish in your marriage and with your marriage? Spend some time together tossing that question around and dreaming about that.
When it comes to marriage, you can look at this time of quarantine as a time of testing or a time of training. What will you choose?