The Intimate Marriage

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After 45 years of ministry and pastoral marriage counseling, I have noticed a common pattern among couples who struggle with sexual issues in their marriage, especially after the ten-year mark. The pattern follows this series of stages in their sexual development.

Stage 1 – We are in love and cannot get enough.

Stage 2 – We are producing babies and there are lulls in the action, however, we feel so close, intimacy requires little effort.

Stage 3 – We are busy raising kids, providing a home and getting ahead at work. We are often too tired for anything else.

Stage 4 – We forget basic biology and psychology (i.e., Men need sex to experience intimacy; women need intimacy to experience sex and, oh yes, unlike men whose arousal is tied to visual stimulation, a woman's "moods" are still very much linked to her monthly cycle... and, of course, this is where the problems begin).

Stage 5 – We begin to bargain over sex:

SHE – The bio clock has stopped ticking which permitted the spontaneity he so enjoyed.

HE – The "chase" is over and the excitement of that is gone (which is normal, but some men cannot accept this). Stage 1 is exciting but brief.

SHE – Begins to perceive that she has more control over sex than he has and mistakenly uses this to her advantage (i.e., if she is not in the mood, it isn't happening).

HE – If he has no moral convictions, he may attempt to find satisfaction (not intimacy) somewhere else – self-gratification, porn, adultery.

If he is a Christian, he may weaken to these things but normally he will make the lesser mistake of bargaining with his wife.

Stage 6 – Bargaining stage – like Kubler Ross's stages of grief, the husband will avoid reality (Point 7) by trying to trade or buy sex.

  • He begins to do his share of household duties – even more than his share!
  • Gifts, outings, watching the kids, being nice to her mother...

All in an effort to "earn" what only she can provide as a result.

Stage 7 – Stalemate/Acceptance

Without realizing it, this couple has sabotaged their sex life and they accept that it may not get any better than this.

SHE – Grows more selfish and accustomed to controlling their sex-life simply because it suits her mood, her health, her emotions. The fact that both may be Christians provides a certain guarantee that she can maintain the status quo while the children need two parents, and she will begin to seek satisfaction primarily in her role as a mother, not as a lover.

HE – Grows more distant and less accommodating since he eventually realizes he cannot explain, bargain or buy what he desires from her. As a Christian the best case scenario is that this will be a cross he will bear because of his faith and the love he has for her and his children.

I have generalized here but am fairly confident that aside from personal details and circumstances, this seven-point trajectory describes the sex lives of many marriages both in and out of the Church. The hard part is how to avoid or change this scenario.

My experience as a minister has guided me in stating a common problem experienced by many married couples: a stalemate in the normal development of their sexual experience due to a misunderstanding of the normal development in this area of married life. Stating the problem comes from observation and experience, however, the solution to the problem will be found in God's Word since God created marriage as well as the sexual experience for both men and women.

Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time...

- I Corinthians 7:5a

Imagine! Two thousand years ago, in a culture and society much different than our own, Paul the Apostle admonishes married couples with the exact same problem that modern couples have – unbalanced expectations and fulfillment of sexual needs. His response is clear and simple – stop depriving each other. In other words, start providing your partner what they need, not simply what you are willing to give. For this to happen, you have to know what they need and that only takes place when there is productive communication. You see, the first step to renewed sexual satisfaction is not a gift or a date night, the first step is honest talk about everything, not just sex.

Honest talk, productive communication and on-going conversation is the first and necessary step to what couples really need and that is intimacy. What sex ultimately creates is intimacy, and intimacy is what truly satisfies the soul, not sex. Sex is only one of the pathways to intimacy, to feeling and being one with another.

Bargaining does not work because in doing so one is literally buying sex and sex that is obtained in this way cannot produce intimacy. On the other hand, controlling sex is as destructive because this tactic is debasing and damages your spouse's self-worth.

Intimacy happens when couples do and experience things together. Of course, sex is one of these but not the only one. Traveling together, studying together, worshipping together, serving together, overcoming together and building together are a few of the things that create a sense and spirit of intimacy – the operative word being, "together." Of course, intimacy doesn't always lead to sex but it does set the psychological, emotional and hormonal wheels in motion that facilitate this desire for both partners in marriage.

Those who have mature marriages see the bigger picture and realize that the goal in the marriage relationship is not to try and maintain or recapture the pleasures of the past but to go forward and discover what else God has embedded in the marriage experience for our edification. Just as there are 7 stages to the stalemate that many marriages arrive at, there are also 12 stages that describe a couple's life journey in a blessed marriage union:

Stage 1 – THE MEET (He is / she is the one)

Stage 2 – THE VOWS (Me and you forever)

Stage 3 – THE BLISS (Guiltless sex blessed by God)

Stage 4 – THE AMAZEMENT (Babies)

Stage 5 – THE CHALLENGES (Home – Careers – Loss)

Stage 6 – THE PRIDE (Children growing)

Stage 7 – THE BITTERSWEET (Children leaving)

Stage 8 – THE COMFORT (Just the two of us)

Stage 9 – THE JOY (Grandchildren)

Stage 10 – THE TEST (Growing old)

Stage 11 – THE PEACE (Growing old together)

Stage 12 – THE HOPE (Together in Heaven)

Trying to artificially create or maintain one stage or another stunts a marriage's growth but also frustrates God's plan for a marriage that not only lasts a lifetime but, more importantly, is satisfying for a lifetime. For those who have known this kind of intimate marriage, one lifetime together is usually not long enough.

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