Standard of Beauty:

Marriage books come and go.  While there are great marriage books out there (including the one we’re looking to study in depth this Fall), stepping back to look at much older literature often helps us to see things about the  marriage relationship that authors today may not naturally pick up on.  For example, the Bible shares immense wisdom in the realm of marriage.  It includes wisdom on how to be loving, the excitement of the sexual relationship and oh, so much more.  But there’s another piece of wisdom that’s sometimes overlooked, and it’s one that ought to be of great significance, even in today’s culture.

After God creates everything in existence and continually deems everything to be “good” or even “very good”, something in the script changes.  In Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  Afterwards, God creates Eve, and when Adam sees her for the very first time he says a phrase that is the first piece of poetry ever spoken:

This one, at last, is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called “woman,”
for she was taken from man.

It goes on say that both the man and his wife (terminology indicated they were indeed married) were naked, and felt no shame.

Now, there’s a lot going on here.  We could write about how they were naked and felt no shame and the significance of this in their sexual relationship.  But there’s something else going on here as well.  Adam was the first man.  Eve was the first woman.  There were no other human beings on the planet at this time.  Therefore, Eve was the standard of beauty for Adam.  And Adam was the standard of beauty for Eve.

Adam wasn’t tempted to look at other women.  Eve wasn’t tempted to look at other men.  All they knew was that they could look at each other and feel no shame.  He didn’t have to feel like she was comparing his body to anybody else, and she didn’t have to feel like he was comparing her body to anybody else.  Visually, emotionally, spiritually, they each defined one another’s standard of beauty.

Indeed the world has changed a lot since then.  Today, there are over 7 billion people in the world.  Men see scantily clad women in advertisements dozens of times a day.  And sadly, men today are often shown in one of two extremes, either as strong and sexually attractive, or as unintelligent, unattractive oaf’s who don’t know how to lead their family.  Given this onslaught of attention our culture gives to sexual appeal, we would do well to remember our own standard of beauty – our spouse.

As Adam looked at Eve and broke out in poetry, so today should men be able to look at their wives and see her for who she is.  Not comparing her to anybody else.  His standard of what’s attractive, what’s beautiful, what’s alluring ought to come from his wife, and only from his wife.  The same goes for women.  Women ought not see attractive men in advertisements and visually compare them to her husband.  Instead, her standard of beauty comes from her husband.  He ought to be encouraged about his looks just as she should, and he ought to be encouraged about how he can lead and not be ridiculed because another man may be a different type of leader.

Looking at our spouse as our standard of beauty will change the way we view other relationships as well.  Indeed, other friendships outside of marriage will come and go through the years, but our relationship with our spouse will surpass them all.  They are our standard of beauty in all areas of life.  They are the one with whom we can share everything.  They are one with whom we can be vulnerable in all areas of life, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Truly, it is with them and them alone that we may be naked and unashamed.

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In what ways does your spouse define your standard of beauty?  What precautions do you and your spouse keep in place to ensure you remain one another’s standard of beauty?

Messy Equations:

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.  Our self deprecating and self sabotaging ways often cause needless conflict in our lives.  We try hard to make our relationships with others something really special but there are times when we derail ourselves.  Our desire is for a wonderful marriage filled with passion, tenderness, fun and lasting commitment, however, our own selfish tendencies often lead us down roads we never intended to take.

What oftentimes happens is this: we  sense some struggle within our own marriage relationship and we understand that change is necessary for our marriage to improve.  However, we sometimes set out to “improve” the marriage in own self determined ways of effecting change.  The plan mostly involves changing our spouse to be the person we think they should be.

Criticism and comparison are two of the first techniques we try.  They are among the worst offenders and become fast friends when we allow them to fester and take root in our marriage.  Being married to someone who is entirely different than you easily sheds light on their faults, flaws and peculiar habits.  (Of course it’s also true that it sheds light on ours as well but we can brush that off with a simple, “I wasn’t like this before.”)   It is easy to become critical about annoying habits and perceived character flaws, regularly making mention of them.  Criticize, scoff, nag, reprove – take your pick from the ugly line-up of  human ways of effecting change.  The criticism is made even worse when comparison is added to the mix.  Thoughts about so-and-so who never does such-and-such leaves room for nasty discrimination towards our spouse who obviously has “issues”.

When criticism and comparison team up it leads to a disastrous and messy equation.  Criticism + Comparison = Condemnation & Contempt

Maybe for you the first part of the equation looks different.  Feel free to fill in any number of different negative behaviors that affect marriage.

Complaining + Withdraw =Condemnation & Contempt

Busyness + Over scheduling = Condemnation & Contempt

Selfishness + Unmet expectations = Condemnation & Contempt

Whatever the equation is for you, it is messy.  Marriage in our own efforts is filled with contempt and stands condemned.  The outcome is messy and chaotic and we are shaken by it. Despite our best efforts to ensure a healthy marriage we will fail countless times, with trials and problems one day becoming the norm.   So, if our marriage stands condemned is there anything we can do about it?

Yes.  Marriage is designed to be an expression of grace and unconditional love.  Condemnation and contempt are far easier to come by naturally and they do so as a result of our own self efforts.  But it does not need to be this way.  When we walk in our own strength and our own effort, marriage is chaotic, unfulfilling and miserable.  But the God who gave the gift of marriage knows a thing or two about chaos.  He knows how to make something out of nothing.  He knows how to transform something that is ugly into something that is  truly beautiful.  He knows how to breathe life into that which  is dead.  He makes beautiful things out of dust.  This we would be wise to remember.

All marriages encounter messy equations, times when our own efforts only serve to fill our lives with contempt and condemnation.  It is at these times that we need to turn in our marriage.  Trade it in for a new one.  Not a new spouse but a new marriage with that spouse.  A marriage that is led by The One who can bring order to chaos, the One who can breathe new life into any situation.  When we do this, our marriage will no longer stand condemned but be a reflection of a magnificent Creator.

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Linking to: Women Living Well, To Love Honor and Vacuum

“How many!?! How long!?! Why not me!?!” and other sex related thoughts

So, you are reading a blog that openly talks about sex.  In fact, this probably isn’t the only blog you’ve ever read about the subject.  And chances are, in the time you’ve spent reading about sex you’ve come across some tip, personal story or discussion that makes you say to yourself, “Why doesn’t that happen to me?”  or “Wow, really!?! How many? How long?” and the biggest doozie, “Is there something wrong with me? Am I normal?” Don’t worry, those same questions have bounced around in our heads too at some time or another.

As marriage and sex bloggers, we read lots of different articles and resources and have conversations regularly with people who have very different experiences with sex than us.  This is to be expected.  We are all unique individuals who have different personalities and life experiences.  We each view life in a way that makes sense to us and that works for us.  When it comes to sex,  we are not all going to respond and react the same way.  We need to learn that great sex is not about achieving something.  Great sex comes from the overflow of a great marriage.  It is about the giving and receiving of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual oneness in marriage.

While there are several ways to process information about sex and marriage, here are a few things that will [hopefully] keep your frustrations questions at bay.

1) Don’t set unrealistic sex goals

Everybody reads about a 30-day “challenge” now and then.  Sometimes it’s a diet.  Sometimes it’s exercise.  Sometimes it’s reading.  And sometimes it’s “have sex every day for 30 days”.  Whatever the challenge, we all set ourselves up for them all the time, and we always fail.  Shortly afterwards, returning thoughts come in such as, “This time, I’m really going to see this through.”  But failure comes again, and again, and again.

When it comes to sex, we think it’s great to challenge yourself.  To try to find new exciting ways to please one another.  To see if multiple orgasms are possible.  But these challenges can’t be made if you’re only going to experience failure.  Sex should be a highlight of the marriage, not a fleeting thought.  Stretch your sex life. Make it fun.  Make it frisky.  Try something new.  But keep it realistic.  Enough realistic steps in the right direction, and you’re more likely to surpass whatever “unrealistic” goals you originally had anyway.

2) Don’t focus on the symptoms, find the root

I once had an ailment and the doctor couldn’t tell me what my root problem was.  He prescribed medicine but was honest enough to tell me it would only treat the symptoms.  I refused.  “Why treat the symptoms if the root problem will continue?” I asked him.

Sadly, I believe the majority of people in the world often think the same way the doctor does.  Let’s try to treat the symptoms.  Orgasm doesn’t come easily, or comes too easily?  Let’s treat that symptom.  Penetration is difficult?  Let’s treat that symptom.  When it comes to sex, there are literally dozens of symptoms that people can experience that leaves them (or their partner) feeling sexually inadequate.  But these are often symptoms.  The root problem is often something much more difficult.  It may be something so traumatic that the individual doesn’t want to deal with it.  A sexual past or even sexual abuse will cause “symptoms” within this area of a marriage.  Other “symptoms” may come from a very treatable root cause (i.e. thinking about work – not sex; focusing on your pleasure – not your spouses; self entertainment through reading, books, games; pornography…the list goes on).

If you’re really wanting to experience mind-blowing sex, don’t focus on what minor symptoms you’re seeing on a regular basis.  Dive deep.  Find the root.  It may even require some type of counseling.  It may prove painful.  But the results may yield a much improved sex life.

3) Stop comparing your sex life to others

Jamie was a happily married woman who was quite content with her sex life.  About 8 years into marriage she talked with a friend about intimacy only to discover that her friend regularly experienced multiple orgasms.  Jamie had never experienced this.  She and her husband thoroughly enjoyed sex and she always came out satisfied.  But now she wondered what was wrong with her.

Sound familiar? (Guys, if you’re reading – there may be something familiar about this story for you as well.)  Something happens when we compare our sex lives to others.  We either 1) feel proud (in a bad way) about our sex lives/marriage or 2) feel like we’re not measuring up.  In one way, we’ve got a great sex life and we look lowly on other couples who don’t experience the same.  In the other way, we feel inferior.  Both are a terrible way to live life.

The only relationship we ought to compare our sex life is to ourselves.  If a husband and wife are both sexually satisfied in one another, that’s great!  And that’s all that should matter.  If you’re not fully satisfied, go back and read #1 above.  Talk with your spouse, set some realistic goals, and go get naked.

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Linking with: Women Living Well and To Love Honor and Vacuum

Comparisons:

Comparison occurs within our lives and our marriages more often than we may care to admit.  And while nobody intentionally sets out to bring comparison into their marriage, it still seems to arrive in ways one would never expect.  Here is a personal example:

A couple years ago Justin made a comment after visiting a friend’s house about how clean it was.  Everything had a place and there didn’t seem to be anything out of order.  He in no way meant this as a slight against my housekeeping skills but I certainly took it that way.  I immediately thought of what I could/should do to improve the organization in our house.  After a few minutes of mental calisthenics and a longer than necessary to do list I took the chance to slow down and think about the situation.  I wholeheartedly knew Justin was not being critical of me. I also understood the reasons our home is not picture perfect and I knew comparison in this instance would do nothing more than create unnecessary stress and tension.  Even a comparison as miniscule as this could have harmed my marriage because it would have changed the way I felt about myself, and this would have affected how I responded in my marriage.

In this example, I was comparing myself and my organizational skills with somebody else.  But comparisons don’t always reflect solely in our individual lives.  There are occasions when we may compare our spouse to someone else.  There may be a quality or characteristic in them that we would love to see in our spouse.  In the end, we try to bring about a new “positive change” in our spouse, but only out of our own selfish, personal desire.  The most common ways we “encourage” these changes is by incorporating criticism, complaints, anger, neglect, bitterness, rejection, and extended bouts of silence in the marriage. Withholding of sex or other positive marital stimuli may be options as well. Obviously, none of these are healthy. And if we continue to compare our spouse against somebody else, we are not loving them.  We are setting ourselves up for discontentment, disappointment and disaster.

Please take note, when the simplest of comparisons morph into desires to change your spouse, you must understand that you are the one who is hindering marital growth.  Marriages are not meant for the individual but for the couple.  The spouse you are trying to change is part of that couple.  Your spouse is a part of you.

So how can we safeguard our marriages from destructive comparison?  Here are a few important application steps.

1.  Accept your spouse.  Accept your spouse as they are right now by not trying to change them.  Allowing them to be who they are rather than who you think they should be is showing them love.

2.  Openly communicate your needs.  There are times in every marriage when confrontation is necessary.  Sometimes our spouse is truly unaware of what our needs are it’s OK to let them know.  There are also instances when our spouse may be unknowingly hurting us and we need to be able to openly communicate about such things.

3.  Focus on your spouses positive traits.  Remind yourself of the reasons why you married him/her.  Time is never wasted when you are thinking about the good things about your spouse.

 

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Linking up with: WLW and WW