Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs Shame

Daniel: “I’m not really even sure how to explain it.  I just feel like I had some relationships before my marriage that got kind of wild.”

Friend: “Wild?”

Daniel: “You know…intimately.”

Friend: “You mean you had sex with somebody else before you married Jacqui?”

Daniel: “No, of course not.  I mean…well, sort of.”

Friend: “Sort of?”

Daniel: “Well, there was this one relationship I had, and like I said, things got pretty wild.  We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other.  We never really went ‘all the way’, but we did engage in some oral delights – if you know what I mean?”

Friend: “I think I get the picture.  And for the record, ‘oral delights’ is very much like going ‘all the way’.

Daniel: “Yes, yes.  I get that now.  But I didn’t then.”

Friend: “What do you mean you get that now?”

Daniel: “I mean I have a whole lot of regrets from that relationship.  Memories I wish I didn’t have.  Like I cheated on Jacqui, even though I hadn’t even met her yet.  Anyway, the other day Jacqui asked me how I felt about oral sex.  And the truth is, I can’t bring myself to do it.  Too much baggage from that ‘other’ relationship I had, you know?”

Friend: “Daniel, that was years ago!”

Daniel:  “I know, I know it was.  I just can’t shake this feeling.  I know what I did in that other relationship was wrong, and I don’t want to do anything now to bring those memories to the surface.  I feel so guilty.”

Friend: “You mean ashamed?”

Daniel:  “No, I mean guilty.  Or maybe it is ashamed.  Honestly, I don’t even know.”

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Guilt vs. Shame.  It’s kind of difficult to differentiate between them isn’t it?

Many people wrestle through feelings of guilt.

Maybe they didn’t believe what the Bible says about sex.

Maybe they didn’t believe their pastor.

Maybe they didn’t grow up in church.

Maybe they went too far in a past relationship.

Maybe many past relationships.

Maybe they didn’t fully understand sex.

Maybe they didn’t believe sex would have long-term consequences.

Whatever the reason, today they struggle deeply with decisions from their past.  The guilt overwhelms them.  It’s so powerful that they will do everything possible to not drudge up those memories from their past.

If any of this resonates with you at all, there’s something very important you need to understand.  Guilt and shame are different.  Very different.  Let’s take a brief look at the two and see what the Bible has to say.  If you’re not much into the Bible, we would like to encourage you to keep reading anyway.  Maybe, just maybe the conclusion will help you with any struggles you may have in this area.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes about specific people who will not inherit the kingdom of God.  It’s pretty hard-hitting stuff.  First on the list, sexual immorality.  Our guess is that people like Daniel read verses such as this one and remember a college relationship or a one night stand.  Whatever it is, the guilt may seem overwhelming at times.

But if you keep reading, verse 11 reads: “And some of you used to be like this.  But you were washed, you were sanctified,  you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

For all who are Christians, there are 3 key words in this passage.

1)  Washed.

2) Sanctified.

3) Justified.

For the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus only on #3, justified.

This simple, nine letter word has a whole lot of meaning in the Christian life.  When reading through the Bible, some may see this word and know it must be important, but brush it off as ‘churchy’.  Don’t get us wrong, it is a ‘churchy’ word, but it’s one that is vital to understand.

“Justified” is sometimes defined as “Just as if I’d never sinned.”  See the correlation there?  Justified = Just as if I’d never sinned.

But it can also be understood a little bit differently.  It could also be defined as “not guilty.”  Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we?

Let’s look at this way.  You’ve done something wrong in the past.  Like we wrote above, maybe you went too far in a relationship a long, long time ago.  Whatever it was, you’ve been feeling guilty about it.  But here, right in the Bible, it says you’ve been declared not guilty.  It says Jesus has set you free from that sin.  It says that he’s done all the work.  It says that He has been crucified. He has died.  He has been raised. He has set you free. He has declared you not guilty.

So what is it that you’ve been feeling?  It’s not guilt, it’s shame.  And there’s one major difference between the two.  Guilt brings you back to God.  Guilt brings you back to grace.  Guilt brings you back to right relationship with Him.

Shame, on the other hand, shame leads you away from God.  Shame leads you to hide from Him.

We see an example of this in the Bible as well.  During Creation, God commands Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  What do they do?  They eat it.  Shortly afterward, they discover that they’re naked.  Not only that, but they see nakedness as a bad thing.  They know they’ve done something wrong.  But they don’t necessarily feel guilty, they feel ashamed.  So what do they do?  They hide from God.

Genesis 3:8-10 – Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze,  and they hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

And he said, “I heard You  in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

Shame always leads to hiding from God.  Always.  And hiding from God means you don’t regularly experience His grace.  Hiding from God means you don’t regularly experience His love.  And if you’re not experiencing His love, you can’t love others, or your spouse they way He loves you.

In the marriage relationship, you have an opportunity to love your spouse the same way Jesus loves the church.  You have an opportunity to love your spouse in the same way “love” is defined in 1 Corinthians 13.  But in order to live this out, you have to drop any shame.  You have to stop hiding from God.  You have to accept and receive His love.

His love is patient.

His love is kind.

His love does not envy.

His love does not act improperly.

His love does not keep a record of wrongs.

Did you catch that?  He’s declared you ‘not guilty’.  He’s not keeping a record of wrongs.  If anybody’s keeping a record, it’s you.

Understanding the difference between guilt and shame can radically transform every part of your life.  It doesn’t just impact your marriage, it will impact all areas of life.  With that said, let’s think about how this can impact your marriage.

You may be experiencing tremendous shame from something you’ve done in the past.  Maybe it was sexual.  Maybe it wasn’t.  Whatever it was, this shame is having a negative impact on your marriage.  It’s impacting your intimacy.  It’s impacting your communication.  And most of all, your shame is impacting your ability to fully love your spouse.

We know your greatest desire is to love your spouse to the fullest.  So, take the opportunity to evaluate your life.  Is there any shame, any shame at all that may be hindering your marriage?  Are you ashamed of anything from your past?  Are you ashamed of your spouse or their past in any way?

After identifying these areas, take the opportunity to openly communicate to God.

Talk with Him.

Let Him know your desire is to stop hiding.

Experience His love.

And start living the life He has called you to live.

    Now these three remain:
faith, hope,  and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

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This is part 5 in a series on Unmet Expectations.  Read through the rest of the series here:

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs. Shame

Unmet Expectations: Quality Time

Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Unmet Expectations: Friends Outside of Marriage

 

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Nadia: “…No you’re not understanding what I’m saying.”

Friend: “Then, help me understand.”

Nadia: “It’s just that, well…

Friend: “Well…?”

Nadia: “Oh, alright.  I’ll tell you.  But promise not to tell anybody else, OK?”

Friend: “Of course I won’t tell anybody.”

Nadia:  “My sex life…it kinda sucks.  It’s nothing like what I experienced before marriage.”

Friend: “Nadia, you’re married to a great guy.  He’s…”

Nadia: “I know he’s great!  He’s amazing in just about every area.  But he’s not a good lover.  *pauses*  Well, maybe he is, I don’t know.  He’s just not as good as what I experienced back in college.”

Friend: “I’m not really sure what to say.”

Nadia:  “Of course you don’t.  *sighs*  I feel so awkward just thinking about this, let alone talking about it out loud.  I just don’t want to compare my husband to other guys I’ve been with.”

Friend: “Then don’t compare.”

Nadia:  “I’m not sure how not to.”

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Nadia isn’t alone.  Past sexual experiences bleed into marriage.  Maybe there was a time before marriage when sex…

It felt right.

It felt simple.

It felt sexy.

It felt consequence free.

But 5, 10, maybe even 30 years later, those memories of the ‘good-old-days’ linger.  These memories may not be fully based on reality, but the emotions penetrate into your marriage.  They may be innocent enough at first, but they spread like a cancer, leaving more and more unmet expectations in their wake.

Sexual baggage usually shows up in one of two ways.  One is through comparison of your spouse to past sexual partners.  Another area is through shame and guilt about past sexual experiences.

(Note: In this post, we’re going to keep our attention on the former – comparing past sexual experiences to the present.  While we recognize that not all of our readers have past sexual experiences outside of marriage, we’re fairly confident that most or all will know other couples who do.)

Comparing past sexual experiences to your current sex life will likely lead to feelings of unmet expectations.  Though it may be improper to compare your spouse with past partner(s), it happens.  Rationally, you know your spouse is a different person than your past lover.  In fact, you may daily spend time convincing yourself of just that.  Still, there may be a sinking feeling that your spouse is just not living up to the best of what you’ve experienced.

The anticipation.

The foreplay.

The passion.

The excitement.

Even the “results”.

None of it seems to compare.  It almost seems unfair.  How could sex with your spouse not be BETTER than your best sexual experience before you were married?

Though there may be several reasons, we want to point to one in particular.  Are you ready?

Imprint.

Sexual encounters leave an imprint on our minds, bodies and souls.  While there are many dangers of engaging in sex outside of marriage, the greatest is that we imprint ourselves outside the context of commitment.  The illicit nature of sex outside of marriage adds a level of  intrigue, mystery, excitement and stimulation.  All of these make the experience unforgettable and may even heighten the desire to do it again.  When sex within marriage fails to live up to the imprints of the past, it serves what can seem a crushing blow to your marriage.

The good new is that there is hope.

Below are a few tips as to how you can deal with these thoughts of comparison.  Included are a few things you need to understand as well as advice what you can do with that understanding.

Understand: If you remain dissatisfied with your spouse and/or sex life, you’re likely to exaggerate sexual attributes from past lovers.  Not only that, but you may even experience a certain nostalgia and longing for a time when things were easier, or at least different.  These thoughts are most likely to emerge when you come to the realization that marriage requires hard work.  Understand that these past relationships weren’t any better (they ended, didn’t they?).  Also, understand that a great sex life takes work, and it’s much better to work on your current sex life than reminisce about a short fling from college.

Do: Make a mountain out of a molehill with your spouse.  Write out a list of all the attributes you enjoy about your spouse. Include personality traits, physical attributes and sexual characteristics.  Understand that the sum of these is why you married them.  Take time to remind yourself of your commitment and promise to spend your life with him/her.  When thoughts about your previous partner creep into your mind (and they will!) replace those thoughts with the ones you just compiled of your spouse. Take control of your thoughts and use them to your advantage.

Understand: Your spouse is a unique individual and it’s not OK to expect them to be like anyone else.  Learning how to please and how to receive pleasure is not automatic. Maybe your past partner loved sex as much as you do, but you have discovered (or at least you think you have) that your spouse really doesn’t seem to care.  Or maybe it seems difficult to please or find pleasure with your spouse as opposed to your previous partner.  Understand that great sex does not come automatically.  Not only that, but the process of making sex more enjoyable for you both is ultimately better for your marriage than the final product.

Do: Make sex and communication about sex a priority.  If you’re sexually frustrated you may be tempted to stray or escape through fantasy, but that won’t actually help your marriage – in fact, it will make it worse!  Choose to be present with your spouse. Take your time.  Communicate often.  Enjoy making sex better, together.  Months, maybe just weeks later, you’ll discover that sex with your spouse really is better than the best from your past.  The good-old-days will be the days ahead of you, not the days behind you.

Understand:  How you think about your spouse and your sex life will determine how much you enjoy it.  If you continually think that they’re not meeting your expectations, you may need to reevaluate your expectations.  Are they being faithful?  Available?  Teachable?  Are they showing up?  Do they desire to serve you?  If so, maybe you have some unrealistic expectations.

Do: Take time to connect relationally with your spouse. Make the effort to have difficult conversations. Renew your mind with positive thoughts about your spouse. Remember that marriage requires something of you, not just your spouse.  In the end, you may want to openly discuss your expectations with one another.  If they’re completely satisfied, suggest something a little different that may bring you a little more excitement.

And don’t forget, sex isn’t a ‘product’, it’s a ‘process’.  No matter what happens, enjoy the process.  That’s the greatest expectation of all.

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This is part 4 in a series on Unmet Expectations.  We’ll cover the subject of guilt and shame from past sexual experiences in our next post.  Until then…

1) Your sexual relationship is a process, not a product.  What are 3 ways this changes how you think about sex?

2) Do you believe it’s possible to have unrealistic expectations in the bedroom?  Why or why not?

3) Discuss with your spouse: How does sex leave an imprint on your mind?  Body?  Soul?  What can I do to leave a lasting imprint on all 3 right now!?!?

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs. Shame

Unmet Expectations: Quality Time

Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Unmet Expectations: Friends Outside of Marriage

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

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Man” *thinking to himself* “We’ve been at this for a long time.  She seems to be enjoying it.  Maybe this is going to be the night!”

Woman *thinking to herself* “This is ridiculous.  I can’t keep stringing him along forever.”

Woman: “Oooooohhhhh!”

Man:  *thinking to himself* “I knew it!  This is it!”

Man: “That’s it, my love.  Let it out!”

Woman: “Sorry, dear.  Not happening.  Again.”

Man and Woman: *sigh*

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Orgasm.

This word can only be defined in one way – the epitome of a satisfying sexual encounter.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that many women struggle to achieve orgasm regularly.  Her failure to orgasm often leaves both the man and the woman feeling cheated, frustrated and dissatisfied.  A man feels less like a man if he isn’t able to please his wife.  A woman feels like she isn’t ‘normal’ because she can’t seem to climax through penetration alone.

Her inability to orgasm shouldn’t hinder their relationship or cause contention in their marriage.  But is happens.  Give it enough time, and this situation may lead to a type of performance anxiety for both the husband and wife.

A husband may begin to over-perform, continually looking for a way to evoke rapturous shouts of ecstasy.  Temptation to bring out the ‘big guns’ – touching, massaging, even kissing or licking every piece of her flesh in sight – reveals his desire to please his wife, but his overzealous desire often turns a time of close intimacy into a moment of disaster.  His heart is in the right place, but his moves turn to a missed opportunity.  Connection turns to contention.  After enough of these experiences, a man who feels he is unable to please his wife may begin to doubt himself, or even worse, spite his wife.  “Her inability to climax must be a sign that she isn’t as ‘into me’ as I believed,” he thinks to himself.  Over-performance turns to under-performance.  Why bother, right?

Meanwhile, a wife may believe her inability to ‘perform’ proves there is something wrong with her.  After not experiencing sexual release, she may begin to avoid sex altogether. While she considers taking opportunities to be a willing and even enthusiastic participant, her husband’s continual breathing down her neck about why she hasn’t “had one yet” turns her off.  No matter how many times she tells her husband that orgasm isn’t necessary for her to enjoy their lovemaking, he cannot be dissuaded from his quest. Feelings of inadequacy, hurt and resentment invade what should be a wonderfully bonding experience.

When a husband and a wife are dealing with unmet expectations regarding orgasm regularity, tension builds, sexual satisfaction wanes and intimacy erodes.  It affects not only their sex lives, but every other aspect of their marriage as well.  But orgasmic conflict does not need to hinder the sexual experience.  Positive changes can occur when a couple broadens their definitions of a satisfying sexual encounter.

It’s essential for a couple with these struggles to understand that great sex is not simply an orgasmic experience, it’s an emotional and spiritual experience as well.  Sex is designed to bond, connect and cement a couple together.  Don’t get us wrong, orgasm is great.  But, bodies, souls and minds becoming one flesh in a moment of affection, closeness and partnership is better.  Learning to truly understand sex, building marital friendship and working towards common goals will benefit the entire marriage and enhance the sexual relationship.

Once a couple with these struggles begins to understand sex, their expectations will change.  Contention will return to connection.  Their desire to better ‘know’ one another is what begins to drive them.  His desire is for her, not for her orgasm.  Her desire is for him, not his ability to please her.  So, lest you think that orgasm can never be a goal, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Men:

Don’t pressure her!  Understand that the more pressure she feels to ‘perform’ the less likely she is to enjoy the moment and feel freedom to try other pleasures.  Understand that there are many women do not orgasm through intercourse alone.  They need direct clitoral stimulation.  Try different positions, use your fingers and take your time to figure out what feels most pleasurable to her.  Help her to understand you are willing to do what it takes to help her climax, but also understand that there may be times when she just doesn’t want to.  She’s perfectly content availing herself to you, still giving you opportunities to know her in the most intimate ways.  Though it may be difficult for you to fully comprehend at first, her satisfaction can be complete without orgasm.

Women:

There is nothing wrong with you!  You are not alone if you don’t easily achieve orgasm every time.  Many women don’t.   Feeling isolated and abnormal will only increase your anxiety rather than help you understand what is really going on.  Take some time to familiarize yourself with female anatomy and the physical realities of your body. Intercourse often does not provide the clitoral stimulation necessary for orgasm.  That simple fact may open your eyes (and your husband’s) to a completely different understanding of  how your love life could be better.

Take opportunities to communicate with your husband that when you feel pressured to orgasm, you lose the sense of intimacy (or as others call it, “into me see”). Let him know if you want to keep trying but also help him to know that there are times when you are ‘all in’ for his pleasure alone.  Learn what arouses, excites and send you over the edge, but reassure your man that if you choose not to orgasm it has nothing to do with his ability or prowess.

Both:

Remember that sex isn’t about your spouse being ‘into you’.  It’s about both of you being ‘into us’.  It’s about connection.  As such, your time together will create a deep bond.  A bond of love.  Friendship.  Dependency.  Intimacy.  It’s a bond that should not be broken.  Could not be broken.  Will not be broken.

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This is part 3 in a series on Unmet Expectations.  Other posts may be found here:

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs. Shame

Unmet Expectations: Quality Time

Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Unmet Expectations: Friends Outside of Marriage

 

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Jennifer: “…excuse me, Pastor.  But when are we going to get to the good stuff?”

Pastor: “The good stuff?

Michael: “You know, the good stuff.  As a part of our premarital counseling, we’ve discussed finances, parenting, and all other things marriage.  When are we going to talk about sex?  You know, the good stuff?”

Pastor: “Oh, we’re going to get there.  I usually save the hardest topics for last.”

Jennifer and Michael: *laughing*

Jennifer: “What’s so hard about sex?  Honestly, we can’t wait!”

Pastor: “Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be everything you thought it would be, and more.  It’s also going to be everything you never expected it to be.  It’s going to be hard.  I’ve talked with dozens of couples through the years who…”

Michael: *interrupts* “We’re not like ‘other’ couples, you know.  We can’t imagine anything ever going wrong in our sex lives.”

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We’ve been married for twelve years.  Twelve.  In the grand scheme of things, we’re still in the adolescent phase of our marriage.  Because of this, we don’t claim to be “experts” in the field of marriage by any stretch of the imagination.  But when it comes to the subjects of marriage and sex, we’ve talked with enough couples to know that before they got married, many of them honestly believed they would always be on the same page when it came to their future sex life.  They didn’t discuss their desires or expectations at length, because, well…they saw sex as the “good stuff”.  They couldn’t imagine this part of their marriage being “off”.  Deep down, they knew the honeymoon wouldn’t last forever.  Still, they couldn’t imagine that one of them would have a desire for sex, and the other wouldn’t.

Nobody told them they may have differing views.

Nobody told them sex wouldn’t always be orgasmic.

Nobody told them this area of their marriage was so emotional.

Nobody told them it would be hard.

In full transparency, we don’t remember much about our premarital counseling 12 1/2 years ago.  But we do remember that when the conversation finally turned to sex, we, too thought we were finally getting to the “good stuff”.  We had talked about the subjects of divorce, finances, yadda yadda yadda.  And now we were finally going to talk about sex.

We were excited!

We were smiling!

We were ready!

And then our pastor said something that neither of us have forgotten.  Unlike the pastor above, ours didn’t mention anything about this part of marriage being hard.  He didn’t warn us that we would both have different desires.  He didn’t have us discuss any of our personal thoughts on the subject.  He didn’t have us share our expectations.  He simply looked at us, gave a thin smile, and then said, “You’ll figure it out.  Now, let’s talk about ____________.”

He was right about one thing…we figured it out.  We didn’t need to have a 9th Grade Health Education textbook on our honeymoon to explain the process.  We were able to “figure out” how to have sex.  All by ourselves.  We even lit candles.  Geniuses, weren’t we?

But within months we discovered that there was a lot more to “figure out” than simply the physical.  Orgasm didn’t always happen.  And the real shocker:

Sexual desire wasn’t always mutual.

Over a period of weeks, and then months, it finally clicked.  We realized that sex really was everything we thought it would be.  But it was also everything we never expected it to be.  We realized we had a lot more to “figure out”.

We know that we’re not alone.  We know that many couples believe sex is always, and only, the “good stuff”.  And to be honest, it can be!  But far too often, it becomes something not so good.  Once the honeymoon high is over, conversations about sex become shorter, not sincere. Sex itself may feel forced, not focused.

While some couples dig-in and choose to “figure it out”, others remain silent.  Those who go the latter route, often experience some pretty harsh consequences.

If the male has a higher sex drive, he’ll become discouraged.  He may begin doubting himself, wondering why he doesn’t turn-on his wife like he thought he did.  Maybe he’ll masturbate, or find some other way to fulfill his sexual urges.  This will ultimately produce feelings of shame, all of which can be traced back to his wife.  To avoid those feelings, he’ll begin avoiding her.  Longer shifts at work.  Perhaps a new hobby.  Finally, when she notices some things seem a little off in their marriage, he’ll give the typical, “I think we’re doing fine,” response.  He doesn’t really know how to tell her she isn’t fulfilling him, so he remains silent.

If the female has a higher sex drive, she’ll begin to doubt her beauty.  To counter, she may go so far as to throw out little hints of flirtation to other men she sees on a regular basis.  She has no real intention of wooing them, she just wants to know that she’s still “got it”.  When one begins to flirt back, she’ll stop, reminding herself of her husband.  Maybe she’ll throw out some sexual hints to her hubby that evening.  Maybe he’ll respond that evening, but unknowingly reject her the next two.  Doubts linger.

The sad truth is that this situation can happen to any couple.

Whether they’ve been married 6 months.

10 years.

30 years.

It can happen.

How can a couple work together to be on the same page?  How can a couple “figure it out”?

Well, here’s one idea…

Take some time to think about the ideal marriage and sex life.  Refrain from thinking of ‘perfection’ (such a dangerous word), and just focus on what would be ideal.  You don’t have to get too specific, just specific enough so that your spouse understands your desires.

How much time would you get to spend together every week?  How often would you have sex?  How long would those encounters last?  Does he recite poetry?  Does she do a strip tease?  What is the lighting like?  The temperature?  Foreplay?  Think through as many of your marital and sexual expectations as possible.

Now, write down your ideas in the form of a story.  Simply title your story, “My Ideal Marriage and Sex Life Would Be…” and write it out.  Keep it short.  Under 1,000 words.

Take as long as you want to work on it.  Maybe a day.  Maybe a week.  The more you think through what you really desire in your marriage and sex life, the more ideal it will be.

Just remember, your spouse is going to be doing this activity as well.  Then, when you’re both ready, come together and discuss your thoughts.  Maybe you’ll both have very similar ideas.  Maybe you’ll be way off!  Either way, focus your conversation around one simple question: “What changes can we make so that these stories are a reality for our marriage?”

As you discuss it, you’re going to write a new story.  One you both agree on.  The story of YOU gets set aside.  The story of US begins to be written.  Not only do you write it down, you begin to live it out.  Sex becomes exotic, not exhausting.  Experiences together become magical, not mundane. Expectations become more than normal, they’re natural.  As you live this out you’ll begin to know and be intimate with your spouse in ways deeper than you imagined.  Continue this story long enough, and you may one day realize you were right, you aren’t anything like ‘other’ couples.

Your story may change from time to time.

It may need to be refined.

In some seasons, rewritten.

But it’s your story, and you’re writing it together.

You’re living it together.

You’re experiencing it together.

Most of all, you’re enjoying it.

Together.
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This is part 2 in a series on Unmet Expectations.  Read the rest of the series:

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs. Shame

Unmet Expectations: Quality Time

Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Unmet Expectations: Friends Outside of Marriage

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

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Derek and Samantha are just 2 weeks from their wedding day.  They’ve had some pretty good premarital counseling.  They’ve discussed finances.  Children.  Their childhood.  Their hopes and dreams for their future family.  They’ve even discussed their hopes for their sexual relationship.  But even though they’ve talked through all of these things, they both have very different ideas as to how all of these things will play out, especially their sex lives.

Derek is thinking, “Samantha is a terrific and beautiful woman.  She can’t wait to connect with me, and I’m sure she’s going to be an amazing sexual partner.  Not only that, but I’m sure we’ll always ‘just know’ when it’s time to have sex.  It’s going to be amazing.”

Meanwhile, Samantha is thinking, “Derek is such a gentle, sweet man.  I can’t wait to connect with him, but I’m sure he’s going to take things nice and slow.  I’m sure he’ll only want to have sex when I truly feel ready.  Not only that, but I’m certain it’s going to feel amazing every single time.”

Unfortunately, their preconceived ideas couldn’t have been further from reality.  Over the first few months of marriage, Samantha felt awkward about their sexual relationship.  It felt good, at least some of the times.  But it also hurt a little bit, and orgasm never came easily.  She wondered why TV and Movies made this look so amazing, because she never really felt amazed by this part of their  relationship.  After just a few months, she desired sex much less frequently than Derek.  She quietly began to take up some hobbies, and spent much time wrestling through what was wrong with her.

As Samantha began wrestling through these doubts, Derek was left feeling very frustrated as well.  He enjoyed sex every time, but he knew something felt off.  He knew she wasn’t nearly as pleased and excited as he was.  After these first few months, he was feeling much less like a man, because he wasn’t able to please his wife like he thought he would.  Before marriage, he thought they would both ‘just know’ when it was time to have sex.  Now, he’s beginning to question not only their sex lives, but their entire relationship.  He never shares these doubts, but facts are facts, and their sex life wasn’t going anywhere.  Not only that, but it’s slowly beginning to impact other parts of their relationship as well.

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Whether we’re willing to admit it to our spouse or not, we all have some preconceived ideas as to what our sex lives will be like. Sometimes we have these ideas before marriage, and like Derek and Samantha, we think it’s always going to be some earth-shattering experience.  But we soon discover that not only is it not earth-shattering, but it’s difficult, frustrating, and doesn’t really even feel very good all the time.

Other times we get married and have a great sex life!  Both of us want it all the time.  Orgasm comes pretty naturally.  Pleasing one another is fun.  But then children come along…or career changes, or something else.  And over a period of 3 months, or even 3 years, one spouse has a dramatic change in libido.  Maybe it’s for a medical reason.  Maybe it’s because there’s a lack of trust in the relationship.  Maybe it’s for some other reason.  Whatever it is, sex becomes something neither spouse ever expected it to be.

Before things get too far out of hand, one spouse comes up with a master plan.  Out of nowhere, they begin a dinner conversation:

“My love, I want the best for our sex life.  What can we do to make it more fulfilling and enjoyable for both of us?”

Nah.  Let’s be honest.  There was no master plan.  Conversations like this are too confrontational.  Who wants to hear something is wrong with their sex life?  What does happen, more often than naught, is that the couple goes on thinking this is normal.  They remain silent, or at best, they find friends who are in a similar situation.  In the end they’re both left thinking to themselves, “This is just the way marriage is.”  They begin to lie to themselves, admitting their preconceived notions of sex and marriage must have been wrong.  They never really discuss it, because if they do it turns into an argument.  So, instead of pointing fingers, they point the remote toward the television.  Or maybe they focus their energy on important things, like children.  Sex fades away.  Eye contact fades away.  In essence, hopes and dreams of a great marriage, everything, it all fades away.  They appear “fine” to their friends and family, but on the inside, they’re slowing dying a painful death.

If your experience in marriage is different, then good for you!  Unfortunately, our experience shows us that many couples choose to NOT talk about their sex lives.  And when their sex life sucks or is not what they expected, it often results in emotional shutdown, withdrawal, frustration, anger and pain.  Problems that occur within the sexual relationship often linger and cause a rift to occur in what would otherwise be a wonderful marriage.  Days turn into weeks.  Weeks to months.  Months to years.  Laughs occur when sharing stories of their children, but never stories of their marriage.  There may be sexual excitement once or twice a year, but that’s normal, right?

This may not describe your marriage to a T.  But, if there’s any reality in any of this within your marriage, we want to tell you that it’s not the way God created marriage.  Your relationship with your spouse was meant to be something special.  And sex was designed to be a crucial aspect of your marriage!

Sex connects.

Cements.

Reveals.

Avails.

Serves.

Pleases.

Unites.

Answers your doubts.

Rids your fears.

Sex makes a couple close.  When sex isn’t good….it affects every area of the relationship.  When it is good…it affects every area of the relationship.  It’s just the way God designed it to be.

Over the next few posts we want to address the most typical unmet expectations that occur within the sexual relationship.

Maybe you will see your own marriage in some of these areas.

Maybe as you read through this series, you will stop placing blame on your spouse.

Maybe you will stop feeling shame.

Maybe you will stop feeling guilt.

Maybe you will stop thinking your marriage is ‘normal’.

Maybe you will begin to change your perspective about sex.

Maybe you will be willing to discuss it, not dismiss it.

Maybe you will begin to put your spouse’s desires ahead of yours.

Maybe you will begin to put your marriage ahead of your children.

Maybe you will begin to serve your spouse instead of yourself.

Maybe your marriage will go to the next level.

Maybe higher.

Maybe this will be hard.

Maybe this will be worth it.

Maybe….

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This is our first post in a series on Unmet Expectations.  Read additional posts here:

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs. Shame

Unmet Expectations: Quality Time

Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Unmet Expectations: Friends Outside of Marriage

 

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

The Great Divide in Sex Initiation: How To Initiate

In our last post we mentioned several reasons why someone may not initiate sex.  These reasons range from simple nervousness and feeling they are doing it wrong to more serious issues that need addressed.  Today we will look at a few ideas that can spark the mind of a person who simply feels awkward or hesitant to initiate sex.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Consider your spouses desires. When you initiate sex the goal is that your spouse actually responds.  However, oftentimes the tendency is to approach your spouse the way you would want them to approach and initiate with you.  This is not always the best plan.  Take time to consider what it takes to help your spouse respond and then initiate with that in mind.  Perhaps they like some romance, kind words, or a gentle touch.  Maybe they prefer stronger sexual advances and a bit of a sneak peek.  Maybe showing up naked is the best way to get your spouse to respond.  The only way to know what will work for your spouse is to talk about it with them and then try it out.  A gentle reminder though, what works one day may not be the only approach you will ever need.  Vary the way you initiate from time to time and keep the good times coming.

2. Get the mind going early in the day.  We wrote awhile back about how sex really begins outside the bedroom. This can be true when it come to initiation as well.  Giving your spouse an idea that at the end of the day you would like to connect and enjoy their sexual pleasures can help them mentally prepare for the night ahead.  This is particularly important if your spouse tends to plan ahead or just has a very busy schedule.  A simple text message, phone call or note could pave the way for a spectacular night together.

3. Use code words or props.  Add an element of fun to your love life by having a few select words that signal your spouse that you would like to join your bodies together as one at some point during the day.  Or maybe you could let your spouse know you are in the mood by lighting a specific candle that lets them know your flames are burning for them.  It’s even possible for you to have the audacity to include a racy love note or certain undergarment in a place where they are sure not to miss it.  Whatever you can think of that not only let’s your spouse know you desire them but is also flirtatious and fun at the same time.  Nothing wrong with that.

4. Scheduling, planning or expecting sex at certain times is a form of initiation.  Some couples may not need to include any initiation. They’re ‘in the habit’ of knowing one another in such a way that they just seem to know it’s time to have sex.  Some may argue that this is a goal to work toward within marriage.  But while it may be good to always be on the same page, a surprise sexual initiation at an unexpected time or in an unexpected way can still create fireworks and improve upon your sex life even more.

5. Get help. It seems that ‘counseling’ has become a dirty-word in today’s day and age. Sadly, some individuals may initiate sex over and over and continually be turned down. Instead of constantly dealing with rejection and finding ways to suppress your sexual desires, we recommend getting council. Sex is supposed to be part of the marriage relationship. If you’re being rejected over and over again, do everything in your power to get the help your marriage needs. Fulfilling your sexual desires with vibrators, masturbation, or pornography will only fulfill your physical desires.  But a good marriage has strong emotional and spiritual desires fulfilled through sex as well. So if necessary, get help. In the end, your spouse and your sex life will be glad you did.

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Have another tip for initiating sex?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

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

The Great Divide in Sex Initiation: Why won’t they initiate?

Have you ever seen an episode of The Cosby Show?  Though we have many different favorite moments, one that we have always found amusing came from an episode where Cliff takes Claire on a kid free romantic getaway.  After they have a leisurely dinner and return to their room they’re both anticipating what comes next.  Bow-chicka-bow-wow….they know they’re alone, no kids to interrupt, no dishes to wash no work phone calls, just the two of them.  Claire spends time getting ready and when she returns from freshening up, Cliff is “napping” on the bed.  Although a bit disappointed by her sleeping husband, Claire continues undeterred to enjoy their evening.  This is when Cliff says these wonderfully romantic and chivalrous words, “Let’s get it on.”  Claire is not impressed and is rather put off by these words.

We give Cliff a little bit of credit.  After all, he did initiate sex, albeit in the opposite way Claire was hoping.  That said, some rarely, if ever initiate sex.  This leaves the spouse wondering, “Why won’t he/she initiate sex?  Why am I always the one to do so?”

Here are some reasons a spouse may not initiate sex:

1. Track record of refusal.  When a spouse is refused time and time again it’s common for them to just stop asking.  Refusal of sexual advances is often a deeply hurtful, humiliating and distressing experience.  Regular sexual connection is important in marriage, therefore, when sex is regularly refused the marriage will likely suffer, and the one who was refused will be less likely to initiate in the future.

2. Sexual dysfunction or lack of pleasure during sex.  If a spouse does not feel that they are able to perform sexually then there is often little desire to initiate.  This could be a man who suffers from erectile dysfunction or it could be a woman who rarely or never experiences orgasms or sexual pleasure.

3. Specific sexual desires or needs are unmet.  Sadly, many people receive a great deal of education about how sex “should” take place from movies, music, romance novels and other forms of cultural entertainment.  However, these resources rarely provide helpful information that relates to real life.  Still, some may have very specific desires for their sexual relationship.  Perhaps they want more romance.  Perhaps they’re ready at the drop of a hat.  Whatever it is, they’ve come to learn that their spouses needs/desires are much different than theirs.  Knowing their desires will never fully be realized, they may not initiate sex very often, and may stop initiating altogether.

4. Sexual needs are being met elsewhere.  As much as we hate to say it, if your spouse never initiates sex or has drastically changed the frequency of initiation it could be that they are fulfilling their sexual needs somewhere else.  Whether through porn use or regular masturbation, if your spouse does not initiate you may need to find out if this could be a cause.

5. Distrust in the relationship.  Great sex takes both physical and emotional nakedness.  When trust has been broken or there’s unresolved conflict, the desire for sex will significantly decrease.  A spouse may not initiate if they do not feel safe (emotionally or physically) in the marriage.

6. Fear of doing it wrong.  This is much more simplistic than the other topics we have mentioned but many people feel shy about how to tell their spouse that they would like to have sex.  It is entirely possible that your spouse wants sex but want you to initiate every time because they feel uncomfortable or awkward when they do.

We’re quite certain these are only a handful of reasons as to why one spouse would not initiate sex.  Soon, we’ll post a follow-up giving some specific advice in how to initiate sex, as well as some suggestions for how you can discuss this subject with your spouse so that you may both initiate sex more equally.  Until then…

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What are some other reasons one spouse may choose not to initiate sex?  What harm can happen in a marriage relationship when one spouse rarely/never initiates sex?

And for those who are interested, here are Cliff and Claire in action!

 

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

After The Act:

People often talk about how important the moments are that lead up to sex.  But what about afterwards?  If sex is the main event then what happens after doesn’t really make any difference, right?  Maybe, maybe not.  We believe the time a couple spends together after sex is an important part of a healthy sexual relationship.  Strong relationships are built on respect, love and good communication.  A lack of communication in this area of your life can cause more trouble than you may think or be aware of.

Let’s begin the discussion by evaluating what your current post-sex routine is. Are you most likely to: lay in each others arms? Take a shower? Get up and continue with whatever, immediately? etc… And then there is the issue of how you handle “clean up”?  What happens when one person wants one thing post-coitus and the other person wants something else? Does time of day, emotional or physical exhaustion, or time constraints affect how you spend your time after sex?  There are no “rules” about what to do after sex but having open and honest dialogue about what you want and why you may want it is essential to making it work for both you and your spouse.

Understanding how hormones work in your body is important to understanding why you or your spouse might want something different after the act.  After orgasm the body releases the hormones of oxytocin, prolactin and endorphins.  The levels released and their effects on the body differ from person to person and differ after each sexual experience.  Some will experience feelings of contentment, bonding and yes even sleepiness may overwhelm their senses.  Each party needs to understand that falling asleep does not necessarily indicate lack of interest but rather true satisfaction.  A partner who does not experience orgasm may be left feeling unsatisfied and may be reaching for more through continued need for physical touch and close proximity.  Arousal that is not resolved can cause tension for a partner who did not experience orgasm and they may desire to fulfill their needs through continued physical touch and closeness.

Post sex kissing, hugging and talking is what psychologists call “pair bonding”. Professing your love for your spouse and other intimate behaviors seem appropriate to build further depth in your relationship.  But what about the times when you or your spouse just want to resume normal activity?  Some people may not care very much for the cuddling and pillow talk.  This could be in part due to hormones as well as personality driven.  While the release of oxytocin (also called the “bonding chemical”) draws out feeling of contentment and closeness the release of prolactin causes a decrease in arousal possibly causing a sense of being “over” the need for sex or physical touch.  It is also possible that a person who has a low need for physical touch may have all their physical needs met through the act of sex itself.  While this is not an excuse to never cuddle or touch outside of sex, it may help explain it.

So, what does all of this mean?  You and your spouse should take time to talk about what you want/need after having spent time together and then fulfill those needs. If one really needs additional talk/touch time, do everything in your power to provide that for them.  If one really needs to rest in the fact that they’re over-the-top-satisfied, allow them that moment of rest.  And if you’re both feeling completely satisfied but aren’t yet ready for sleep, we’re pretty sure there’s a re-run of Law & Order on somewhere.  It may not be as invigorating as sex, but it may be just what you need to wind down a bit.

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How have you and your mate worked together to ensure that what you do “After The Act” benefits your relationship?

Sexual Rhythm:

Within our house we are rather eclectic regarding the types and styles of music we enjoy.  Justin and I (Megan) both privy ourselves musicians. I am classically trained, Justin is self taught.  We’ve spent hours crafting and fine tuning our skills and training ourselves to make beautiful music.  We’ve spent years perfecting our sense of rhythm, the central pulse that makes organized sense of music.  We find that this applies to our marriage as well.  Marriages and sex lives need a good cadence.  A strong central rhythm that makes organized sense of two different people coming together to make beautiful music.

Within marriage, there are times when sexual rhythm may seem a bit off.  Maybe you aren’t connecting as often or there is some other factor that is infringing on your intimacy.  Today we want to explore common factors that lead couples to get out of rhythm sexually.

1. Mismatched libidos. 

Sometimes one of you wants to “get it on” and one of you doesn’t.  Most marriages have “I’d rather” moments, moments when sex is just not going to happen but it is important to remember these should be the exception not the rule.  Marriages which consistently experience times when libidos (sex drives) just don’t seem to match up need to keep a few things in mind.  Having open lines of communication is essential to understand what is really happening.  Are there an over abundance of activities on your schedule that are making finding the time difficult? Are you truly tuned in to what turns your spouse on or off?  Are there relational issues under the surface in your marriage? Taking time to actually discuss and figure these types of questions out will truly help your libido’s line up with one another.  Often the discrepancy between your sex drives is not a disdain for sex but a problem communicating what gets your spouse in the mood.

2. Physical limitations.

Throughout marriage every couple will experience times where physical limitations disrupt your sexual rhythm.  For some couples these limitations are brief such as pregnancy and child birth or healing from surgery.  These disruptions are often easily overcome once the physical healing takes place.  Taking time to connect emotionally and physically in addition to preparing your mind for sex is often all that is necessary to get back into a healthy sexual rhythm.

For others, however, chronic pain, erectile dysfunction, vaginismus, and other limitations take considerably more effort and commitment to overcome.  A healthy sex life is important in marriage.  If there are physical reasons sex is painful we recommend seeking the advice of a professional health care provider.  It may seem very uncomfortable to discuss such private issues with a healthcare provider but it is well worth it.  Getting help that allows your sex life to flourish is worth the temporary embarrassment and extra effort.  However, for some, the pain and disability is still very difficult to overcome.  During these times it is imperative to have open, loving conversations about how you can work on fulfilling each others needs in this area.  There are so many ways to have a close physical relationship with your spouse that don’t necessarily include intercourse.  There are ways to satisfy your God given sexual desires for your spouse.  Just take some opportunities t0 think creatively and feel free to try new things out.

3. Emotional reservations.

Feelings are a fickle thing.  There are plenty of times in marriage when words are said, actions are done and behaviors are repeated that cause one or both partners emotional pain.  At times these situations are resolved, apologies are made, forgiveness is offered. Other times, however, there is never a proper resolution and these types of underlying emotional issues can disrupt your sexual rhythm.

If you’re having trouble “connecting” due to some other marital factor or problem (finances, disagreements in parenting, who will drive the ‘nice’ car, etc.) then you need to take some serious opportunities to talk these things out.  Most couples decide to grin and bare it, believing the lie that “this is just the way marriage is”.  This. Is. A. Lie.  And it’s often small emotional decisions that turn into bigger ones and drive a marriage into the ground.  Get on the same page in every major area of life first (finances, parenting) and decide on the little stuff later.  If one of you thinks you need counseling to get through it and the other doesn’t – chances are you probably do.  And if you don’t like the term “counseling”, then don’t think of it that way.  Just sit down with a trusted married couple who has weathered the same storms and ask them how they did it.  It may not take professional “counseling”, but having a few well-experienced married friends over through the course of a month and asking them some specific questions about how they pulled through the tough times will reap dividends for your own marriage relationship.

4. Mental Apprehension

We regularly write about how sex is not just physical.  Sex is also spiritual, emotional and mental.  Working through your reservations, fears, misconceptions and misunderstanding about sex is important.  If you have negative opinions concerning sex, seek understanding.  Openly communicate with your spouse that you want to work on your sex life and then invite them to help you figure it out together.  The greatest sexual organ you have really is your brain so training and teaching your mind to have positive associations with sex is going to go a long way in making your sex life great.

Because of the emotional and spiritual power of sex there are times where sexual rhythm is disrupted by thoughts or emotions that you thought had been dealt with already.  You are in the moment, enjoying your partner then all of a sudden there is a flash back, a sensation, a smell that shows up completely uninvited. In those moments it is important to stop, communicate with your spouse what it happening and allow them to help you build a new memory to replace the old one.  Thoughts cannot be ignored but they can be dealt with properly.

5. Physical absence.

For most couples, traveling is at least a minor factor that disrupts sexual rhythm.  Some couples deal with extensive traveling or periods of absences. There is much to be said of the feast or famine sex lives that some couples have.  Sexual rhythm is certainly out of whack when you aren’t even together to enjoy each other.  But really, the best way to handle this type of situation is to change your mindset.  Your sex life is normal for you.  Don’t compare your sex life to others who don’t experience long absences.  Evaluate your relationship on how close you are emotionally.  Spend time in regular conversation with an emphasis on a great friendship. Don’t evaluate your marriage based on how many times you have sex each week.  Build each other up, encourage one another and enjoy your times together immensely when they come. In fact, your anticipation might be so big you can’t wipe the grin off your face for many days afterwards!

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

Death of Perception:

I (Megan) remember our first year of marriage very well.  The passion, the excitement, the newness of it all.  Spending every day with the love of my life, being intimate, learning to love each other.  I also remember our first year of marriage for other reasons.  The fights, the tears, the emotions and the torrent of words I can never take back.  Marriage has a way of drawing out the best in you.  It also has a way of drawing out the worst.  Being fully honest, open and real in marriage is necessary, but it’s oh so very ugly at times.

This can be especially painful when we see and discover things about our spouse and ourselves that we didn’t know were there.  This is when our marriages experience death.  Not death of the marriage itself but death of perception.  Death of what we think marriage should be and what our spouse should be.  All strong marriages experience this type of death.  This death of perception is often unexpected and painful.  Before marriage we thought that our spouse was so great.  We were so “in love” that we knew we could handle any punches life threw at us as long as we were together.  We just never knew that some of the hardest blows would come from within our marriage.

Marriage reveals many things about who we are and who we married.  We see how our spouse resolves conflict differently than we do.  We discover who fights dirty.  We see just how much sexual past’s affect our present.  We come to find out we married an entirely different person than we thought.  A different person than we perceived.  In fact, we discover, we are different.  In these instances it is not our spouse or ourselves that is the problem. It is the perception that is the problem and we need to put it to death.  If we fight this type of death our marriage cannot flourish.  It cannot grow and thrive.

Blame is often a guttural response.  We blame our spouse for lying to us and deceiving us before we were married.  Oftentimes this is not the case but we believe it just the same.  Seeing the ugliness in someone else often makes us blame them and believe lies. We also blame them for bringing out the worst in us.  “I wasn’t this way before we were married!”  Yes you were! You just didn’t have someone there all the time to notice it.  Our perception of our self changes.

While the pain of this death of perception is fresh we have several choices.  We can choose to believe that the person we are married to is not the person we thought they were and we want out.  We can choose to recognize their flaws and though we want out we just stay in the marriage anyway. We check out emotionally and mentally though we remain legally married.  Or, we can grow through this death and build something better.  Something better than we ever imagined or dreamed possible.

Life is a journey.  On this journey we learn, mature, grow and yes, change.  Change is always the one thing that is constant in life.  So, when we come to realize that the person we fell in love with has changed it should be expected.  If, however, we have never put to death our perceptions of who we think they should be the change knocks the wind out of our lungs.  If we never reconcile the fact that the ugliness we see in our spouse is mixed right up with the good, our marriage will end.  It may not end in divorce but it is ended in intimacy, friendship and companionship.  All the things that make marriage worth it are stunted because what we want (perceive) and what we seem to have are too different.  They cannot work together.

So reader, are you ready to put to death your perceptions and build a better marriage?  Are you ready to learn to accept your spouse and dream big dreams for your marriage?  We sure hope so.  It is not easy, it won’t always happen in the manner or the timing we would prefer but it is the only way to move forward in life.

“(God) allows the hours of destruction for the purpose of building something better in its place.  Our part is not to run away from the pain but to walk through the briars and thorns and let Christ teach us how to turn each scratch into positive learning about the depths of God’s love.”  – C. John Miller