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Posts tagged ‘marital communication’

Affair Proof Your Marriage

SOURCE: Dennis Rainey/Family Life

I remember the day I learned a hero of mine had fallen. His spiritual influence had been tarnished by adultery. I was nauseated when the news came, for I had drunk deeply from the well of his writings, preaching, and life.

I’ve done a lot of thinking since then.

I’ve pondered the tragedy to his ministry. I’ve winced at the shame to him, his family, and the name of Christ. I’ve asked myself, How many like him must fall before we who are Christians come out of our sanctified closets and admit that sexual temptation does exist? I’ve grappled over the growing number of Christians who’ve lost their marriages, families, and ministries due to sexual infidelity.

As a result, I have determined that we need to start asking one another some tough questions. Like a man asking another man, “Are you being the leader of your family and taking care of your wife’s needs—spiritually? Emotionally? Sexually? Are you being sexually faithful to your wife? Are you being faithful mentally? Are you reading stuff you shouldn’t?” And wife to wife: “Are you sending your husband into the world hungry, with his sexual needs unmet? Are you a ‘marriage bed magnet’ that causes him to daydream at work about you!?”

I’ve concluded that it’s time we stop assuming we are all beyond temptation and start exhorting husbands and wives to pay more attention to taking care of one another’s physical needs.

But for some, any open admission about the sexual dimension of life is strictly taboo. I love to quote Dr. Howard Hendricks’ powerful statement about sex, “We should not be ashamed to discuss that which God was not ashamed to create.” If God isn’t blushing about what takes place in our bedrooms, then why should we?

Here are eight exhortations to affair proof your marriage:

1. Make your marriage bed your priority. Exhaustion is the great zapper of passion. In this on-the-go, always-plugged-in culture, our lives are hectic and our schedules are packed. The result is we have little time and energy to share, give, or receive. Fatigue does not fuel passion.

Practically, some couples could go their own independent way indefinitely, denying their need of one another. But God gave us sex as a drive to merge, to force us out of our isolation.

Am I suggesting that you should write down “sex” on your calendar? I’ll let you decide. But some of you don’t need a reminder on your smartphone—you just need to say NO to some good things and go to bed early; say about 8 p.m. or so.

2. Talk together about what pleases one another. I once spoke to a group of wives whose husbands are in the ministry. During the message I took a few minutes to address the subject of intimacy and how so many men bomb out of the ministry because of sexual sin.

Afterwards, a young wife came up to tell me about a conversation that she had had with her husband. As they were driving home after he had spoken at church one night, she turned to him and asked, “Sweetheart, what do you want me to do that would help you become a great man of God?” There was a moment of contemplative silence, then his reply came, “When I come home from work, meet me at the door with no clothes on!”

She was dumb-founded! Was he being silly or serious? She has since concluded that he was very serious!

Why not do something tonight that you know would truly please your mate?

3. Fan the flames (or flickers) of romance. When our children were at home, Barbara and I had a small table in our bedroom set with dishes for special evenings. (No, our bedroom isn’t that big, it was just that crowded!)  We would put the kids to bed with a book or rent a kids’ movie as we shared a candlelight dinner, alone. We fanned the flames by re-introducing ourselves and talking.

What setting enables your love for your mate to spark or even ignite? Feed the flames—don’t starve them.

4. Have fun with your spouse. Some of us are so serious about “the objective” that we’ve lost the fun of the relationship. Grins, giggles, and laughter ought to drift out of our bedrooms occasionally. (So what if the kids find out—it’ll be good for them to know that Mom and Dad have fun in bed!)

The Lord God, who created 40,000 different kinds of butterflies, never intended that our marriage bed become boring! But some are. Consider just one problem–the clothes many of us wear to bed. Men really aren’t excluded here, but I’ve had some tell me privately that they’d like to burn some of the burlap sacks their wives sleep in. Snap out of the rut–why not have fun shopping together for some new lingerie?

5. Add the element of surprise to your marriage bed. Why not take one of your lunch hours at work to add some sizzle and creativity to your marriage bed? Caution: If the sexual area of your marriage has been a struggle, then it might be good to ask permission before cooking up something you think is wonderful, but might be offensive to your spouse (Romans 15:1-7).

6. Be patient with your spouse. Remember, the Christian life is the process of becoming like Christ. This area of married love and commitment demands that we are continually growing and learning about one another (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).

7. Protect your intimacy by avoiding emotional adultery. Emotional adultery is friendship with the opposite sex that has progressed too far. When you begin to tell a friend of the opposite sex about your intimate struggles, doubts, or feelings, you are sharing your soul in a way that God intended exclusively for the marriage relationship, and it often leads to physical involvement. To avoid it, set strict limits about the time you spend with those of the opposite sex, particularly in work situations. And reserve some subjects for your spouse—Barbara and I are careful to share our deepest feelings, needs, and difficulties only with each other.

8. Beware of bitterness. Perhaps nothing should be feared more than that of becoming resentful of your mate’s sexual drive or apparent lack of sexual appetite. Bitterness quenches the fires of romance. Keep short accounts and ask forgiveness when you fail or if you have become bitter (Ephesians 4:26-27).

I love what Vonette Bright, wife of the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ said about sex, “It’s just as important to be filled with the Holy Spirit in bed as it is in witnessing to another about Jesus Christ.”

Why not pull the plug and turn out the lights early tonight?

When Your Spouse Lets You Down

SOURCE:  Dr. Dave Currie with Glen Hoos/Family Life Ministry

Seven steps to letting go of hurt and disappointment.

“Forgive and forget.” It’s a well-worn cliché—one that is easier to say than to practice.

If you’re married, you’ve been there. Your spouse has said or done something that has wounded you. It may be something small, or it may be a major betrayal. Either way, your pride screams at you to take revenge. If you don’t strike back immediately, you at least want to keep this “guilt card” in your pocket, to be pulled out at a later date: “Oh yeah, well what about the time when you …”

When we’ve been offended, the last thing we want to do is to let it go. And yet, if our desire is to have a healthy, lasting marriage, that is exactly what we’ve got to do. Here are seven suggestions to keep in mind when your spouse lets you down:

1. Agree on a time to talk. If you need to talk to your spouse about something, don’t just corner him or her and launch in unexpectedly. That is a recipe for hostility. Instead, agree together on a time to discuss the issue. That gives each of you a chance to think about it in advance, which will result in a more productive discussion.

2. Handle negative emotions responsibly. When we react emotionally, we often say and do things that we later regret. In many cases, it is best to delay the discussion until you’ve settled down, gained a proper perspective, and prayed about your attitude. This will allow you to go into it looking for a solution, rather than just being consumed with your own hurt.

As partners, you need to respect each other’s need to “take five.” If your spouse needs to wait a few minutes, or even a day or two, to cool down, don’t press the issue. This should not be used as an excuse to avoid the discussion entirely, but it is better to take some time to clear your head than to allow your emotions to take you somewhere that you don’t want to go.

3. Deal with one issue at a time. Remember that “guilt card” we mentioned earlier? Once you’re into the discussion, you will be tempted to pull it out. Soon, your conversation has deteriorated into a long list of offenses, as you try to outdo one another with everything that the other person has ever done wrong. This only intensifies the conflict and deepens the divide between you. It can also be overwhelming to be presented with a massive list of things that need to change. Instead of being motivating, it’s discouraging.

Instead, be content to solve one problem at a time. It is much better to make serious headway in one area of your relationship than to simply rehearse everything that needs fixing.

4. Be clear about your perspective. Give each other some uninterrupted time to share your concerns. If you are just trading barbs back and forth, neither of you will really be hearing the other—you’ll be too busy thinking about your next comeback.

When it is your time to talk, try to help your mate understand your hurt or frustration. Help them to see why their actions and words had the impact that they did. Likewise, the offending spouse should have the opportunity to explain their words or behavior. It could be that you have misinterpreted their motives, and when this is cleared up it goes a long way toward solving the problem.

5. Hold your relationship more dear than this issue. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our feelings or our “rights” that we lose sight of the bigger picture. People joke about marriages breaking up over toothpaste and toilet paper disputes, but it really happens! Remember that your relationship is the primary concern. You may have some issues to sort out, but you still love one another—and loving one another often means letting the other person be right.

6. Walk in an attitude of forgiveness. If you are going to live with this person for the next 20 … 30 … 50 years, you are going to have to forgive one another many times. You cannot afford not to forgive. Unforgiveness not only hurts your spouse, it also hurts you! As Corrie ten Boom said, “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.”

This brings us back to the issue of forgiving and forgetting. In truth, there are some hurts that you will never be able to forget. What is more important is that we choose to let it go. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.” Forgiveness entails giving up your right to punish your spouse—whether through direct retaliation or just letting bitterness fester.

Over the past year, I have discovered the value of “advance forgiveness.” I make a conscious decision that, the next time my wife, Donalyn, offends me, I am going to forgive her. Then, when it happens, I remember that I have already decided to forgive her, so there is no point in making a big deal out of it now. This really helps to take my critical edge off.

7. Forgive as Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:13 says, “[Bear] one another, and [forgive] each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

And just how does the Lord forgive us? Fully. Unconditionally. Willingly. Time and time again.

This kind of forgiveness is supernatural; it is more than we can do on our own. Particularly if your spouse has betrayed you in a major way, you may need to ask God for the ability to let go of the hurt and forgive them from your heart. But as you trust God to give you His strength and love, He will help you to forgive … even when your spouse has really let you down.

If you have never experienced God’s complete, unconditional forgiveness, know this: God loves you deeply. There is no sin that is so great that He is unwilling to forgive you, if you would just come to Him. If this is the desire of your heart, pray this prayer:

Dear God, I need You in my marriage, and in my life. I acknowledge that I have sinned against You by directing my own life, and that I cannot go on any further without Your help and guidance—and above all, Your forgiveness. I thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay for my sins. I now accept that sacrifice and invite Jesus to take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and empower me to live the life You have called me to. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.

Tough Times, Together

SOURCE:  Family Life/Dennis Rainey

We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.
Romans 15:1

Life in a fallen world can be tough.

But what makes suffering and hardship worse is that they often turn us against each other rather than toward each other.

Here are a few ways to keep that from happening as you negotiate the common speed bumps and detours of life:

  • Give your spouse time and freedom to process trials differently. Fight the urge to discount each other’s emotions or grow impatient with the time it’s taking your spouse to deal with something. Some of us are quick to move on. Some process slowly and are more introspective. Give your spouse freedom to not be like you.
  • Recognize the temptation to withdraw from each other during periods of intense challenges. As a result, you end up thinking your spouse doesn’t understand you or isn’t taking the tough time seriously enough, which makes you want to pull back even more.
  • Respond to trials by embracing God’s perspective of suffering. Search the Scriptures for God’s counsel and point of view. Verses like “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) help to strengthen you through seasons of suffering by reminding you that God is good and He is in control.
  • Remember that your mate is never your enemy. As my friend Dr. Dan Allender says, your spouse is your “intimate ally,” a fellow burden bearer for a difficult time.
  • If the burden or suffering persists, seek outside help. If you feel as if you’re slipping off into a deep ditch as a couple, don’t wait until you have all four wheels stuck before you seek help. Find godly counsel by calling a mature mentoring couple, your pastor or a biblical counselor to gain some traction.

Talk about the way each of you responds to periods of suffering, stress or a major challenge–and why. What do you need the other to understand about how you process difficulty?

Take some time to pray for one another around an issue you are facing. Express your trust in God to guide, strengthen and see you through … together.

5 Lessons I’ve Already Learned as a New Husband

SOURCE:  James Lepine/Family Life

Whether you’re six months or 60 years into your marriage, God can and will continue to teach you about howto become the man He wants you to be.

Just over six months ago, I married the woman I’d been dating off and on since I was 16. I feel like I’ve learned a lot already, and over the past few months I’ve jotted down five lessons on what it means to be a good leader and husband to my beautiful wife.

I hope these lessons will be helpful to you as you seek to represent Jesus to your wife.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Be proactive, not reactive.
What it means: Take the lead. Don’t wait for your wife to guide the relationship. Don’t react to what she wants—provide a vision for the relationship. 

What it looks like: My wife is a planner.  I am a “go with the flow” type of guy.  However, part of leading and loving well means that I am proactive about planning the upcoming day and the week with my wife. 

Just this morning, as I was showering before work, I asked EA (Elizabeth Ann) to come into the bathroom.  We talked about each night this week—what we had going on and when we would make time to spend together. Six months ago, I would have kept all of that stuff in my head, or maybe I would not have even thought about it (until it was actually happening).  Now that I know my wife better, I do my best to be proactive about planning the days and weeks with her. 

2. Talk less, act more.
What it means: Don’t talk about something until you’ve already done it.  The more you talk about something, the less likely it is to happen.  Talking about it gives you the illusion of progress.

What it looks like: Guys like to brag about things.  They like to talk about things they either did in the “glory days” or things they will do “some day” when “I finally get the time.”  Enough.  Women don’t need more men with big mouths.  Just shut up and do it. 

Here’s an example: I’ve made it a goal of mine to always make sure that my wife has gas in her car.  And I’m always asking her, “Hey, do you need gas?” or saying, “Let’s take your car tonight, so I can put gas in it.”

I am really bad about keeping my wife’s car gassed up.

Here’s how I could fix that: When I get home from work, grab her keys, say, “I’ll be right back,” and then go put gas in her car.  Maybe she doesn’t need it.  Maybe I’ll only end up putting two dollars worth in.  But you know what?  I did it.  And I have a feeling that the more I do it, the more it will become a pattern, and the less I will end up talking or even having to think about it.  It’ll be second nature.

What are some things that you’d like to do for your wife that you need to just start doing?

3. Engage, not escape.
What it means:  Engage in meaningful conflict.  Seek the good of your wife.  Stay focused on the end goal of the argument.

What it looks like: My wife is an external processor.  I am an internal processor. Translation: She likes to talk through things; I like to go away and think for a while, then come back and talk once I’ve got it all figured out. Just a few months ago, whenever EA and I would get in a disagreement, my tendency would be to shut down and completely lock up emotionally.  This would send my wife even further into a tailspin.  It was pretty ugly. 

But here’s the thing about being married: You have to resolve conflict.  You’re stuck together.  So you’ve got to figure out how to have conflict.  Meaningful conflict.  Conflict that benefits your relationship, instead of tearing it apart.

Now when I get frustrated, instead of locking up, I gently and lovingly express what I’m thinking and feeling to EA and we go from there.

A big key here is to ask clarifying questions.  Make sure you’re hearing each other correctly.  Really listen to each other.  Remember that you’re on the same team, and that Satan wants to tear you apart. Be radically committed to keeping him from making that happen. 

4. Create, not complain.
What it means: If you don’t like something, change it.  Don’t complain about it unless you’re willing to do something about it.  Create solutions instead of talking about problems. 

What it looks like: Anybody can complain.  Anybody can criticize.  Anybody can cut something down.  The courage lies with the creator.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  The very first verse of the Bible shows God as a creator.  We were made in God’s image.  What does that say about us? Be strong and courageous.  Step out on a limb and create something new, rather than “sitting in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1).  

How does this apply to your marriage?  Well, here’s one real obvious scenario: when you don’t like what your wife has made for dinner.

Yes, I’m really suggesting this … why don’t you cook dinner for once?  Why don’t you try your hand in the kitchen?  Create a meal.  Then sit under your wife’s scrutinizing taste buds 

EA and I generally make brunch together every Saturday.  All I’m doing is frying eggs and bacon, but we have a blast (and it’s always delicious).

Why not give it a try? 

5. Be confident … and humble.
What it means: Don’t be so overtaken by humility that you lack the gumption to lead. And don’t be so overtaken with confidence that you become an arrogant jerk.  Find the balance and live there. 

What it looks like: Some guys are all humility.  They slink back into the shadows and defer to others and never take any credit for the work they do.  They’re “nice guys.” They’re tender and kind and loving and smart.  Whenever people mention them in a group setting, everyone says, “Aw, what a nice guy he is.”

Other guys are all confidence.  They’re macho men who eat barbecue, pizza, and burgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They watch football, go hunting, and carry around boulders on their backs for fun.  They’re tough and manly and have Sherwood Forest growing on their chests (and backs). 

Pastor Mark Driscoll describes these type of men as the “Tender Man” vs. the “Tough Man.”  It’s essential that you learn to cultivate both sides: the tough and the tender.  Stu Weber calls this being a “tender warrior”.  Strong, but gentle.  Tough, but kind.  Protector, and lover.  Not one or the other, but both!

How does this apply to your marriage?  Mostly in conflict.  Men like to fix things.  But usually that’s not what a woman needs.  She needs you to be tender and loving, to hold her and tell her you love her (yes, even if all you want to do is say, “If you would just do it this way everything would work out fine”).

EA and I learned this lesson on Christmas Eve, when I used the word “nagging” to refer to her in a joking context.  She didn’t think it was funny.

We talked, and I tried to explain that I didn’t mean it the way she had perceived.  I was steadfast and adamant about making sure everything was clear.

But she didn’t care about that.  She wanted to know that I heard her and loved her, and she wanted me to hold her.  And I couldn’t get that through my thick brain.

There’s room for both, men.  Meet your wife where she is, and then take the opportunity to clear things up, learn from it and move on.

First Corinthians 16:13-14 tells us, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Why don’t you write that verse on a piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror? Read it every day for the next week.  Pray that God will continue to mold you into a man after His own heart.

Whether you’re six months or 60 years into your marriage, God can and will continue to teach you about how to become the man He wants you to be  … in your marriage and in every other aspect of life.

“Not tonight dear” … Men Rejected

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

Men are wretched at dealing with rejection.

Women are not good at it either.

But at least they are more prone to talking about it, or they are vulnerable enough to be sad. Men tend to go silent or get angry.

I want to get to sexual rejection—wives who seem to reject their husband’s sexual advances—but first, a warm-up illustration.

For the first five to ten years of our marriage, Sheri and I would have our most intense conflict when we went to visit her parents. The conflict always circled around my sense of being rejected. Sheri has five siblings, and when we visited her parents there were always a few siblings and their families there too. Having not seen them in a year, she (and I) were eager to spend time with them. But at some point I would feel like she wanted to spend more time with them than with me. This might have been true given how infrequently she saw her brothers and sisters, but, all the same, I took it personally.

My reactions were juvenile. It was as if I was looking for her to pat me on the head and say, “Oh, Eddie, don’t be silly. I love you more than anyone. I will cancel all of my family plans for tomorrow and spend it only with you.” Or, better yet, “Are you kidding?! I am married to the world’s supreme stud-muffin. I adore you . . .”

I am thankful that the Spirit is very powerful and now my responses rarely look that pitiful. Being able to say: “I miss not being able to speak to you during the day. Let’s try to take a walk this afternoon,” is the fruit of massive sanctification.

Now to a more difficult experience of rejection.

I have spoken to a number of men who have a sense that sexual interest in marriage should be roughly equivalent—that both husband and wife should have similar sexual desire for the other person. Men are usually willing to accept that they might have a little more sexual desire than their wives, but when those differences get extreme, watch out. Men will feel rejected.

“Why can’t you ever take the initiative and ask if I want to have sex?” I know many husbands have said this to their wives and I suspect many more think it.

Women can certainly feel like sexual objects, and that is an important matter, but, for a moment, consider the rejected man.

A husband is in a very vulnerable spot every time he asks his wife if they can be sexually intimate. Perceived resistance will be taken as rejection. Maybe the wife really does have a headache, or perhaps she is just bone tired, but it will be hard for the husband to resist the urge to take it personally.

“No” to a husband’s advances is a big deal in a marriage. A godly wife can certainly say “no” but she will also be alert to the way her response might be taken by her husband. Understanding and compassion can go a long way at these moments.

Men, if you react with silence or anger, it means you have a problem.  Any time you think, “I have a God-given right to sex from my wife” expect to crash and burn. Aim, instead, for massive sanctification that might say, “Could we talk about when I ask you if we could be intimate [and I am not asking right now]?  I am surprised that those are really difficult moments for me. I know that sometimes the timing is bad, but I tend to take “no” or even “later” as rejection, and I don’t want to do that.”

Those conversations can be hazardous, especially if a wife uses it as an opportunity to talk about how she feels like a body more than a person to her husband. But when a desire to love the other person and pursue unity in the relationship outweighs a sense of personal rights, couples can usually come to creative solutions.

Real Sex Talk In Marriage

SOURCE:  Louis and Melissa McBurney/Christianity Today

Oral Sex, Anti-Climax and Pain vs. Desire

Is oral sex wrong between married partners? I’ve talked to a couple of Christian friends about this, and the consensus is that men are generally for it, while women are generally against it. So who’s right? Is there a biblical answer?

Louis: Your observation is correct. When couples don’t agree on oral sex, the men tend to be the ones who are for it. But in our counseling experience, we find about as many couples who say they practice some type of oral sex as those who don’t. Generally the problem is not so much with cunnilingus (the husband stimulating his wife with genital kisses) but with fellatio (the wife stimulating her husband’s penis by mouth).

The wife’s resistance may be explained by a variety of causes. Rarely is it related to childhood sexual abuse where she was forced into fellatio. Sometimes a wife is responding negatively to insistent demands by her husband, which feel threatening to her. Also, there is often a revulsion to the idea of oral sex because of uncleanliness and strong genital odors.

Medically, the practice is generally safe unless there are infectious genital lesions (e.g. herpes, condyloma, chancres, etc.). These call for medical treatment. However, the anal area is not sterile and should be avoided in sexual play.

Biblically, there is no clear directive. Some verses in Song of Solomon seem to suggest oral sex, and Hebrews 13:4 might imply that any mutually agreeable behavior between husband and wife is sanctioned. The Levitical laws that carry the most explicit sexual directives and prohibitions do not mention oral sex.

Melissa: Sexual intimacy is always best when it is mutually satisfying. If oral sex causes dissension, then it is destructive—especially if you’re not talking openly about your disagreement. Trying to understand each other’s perspective could help a lot. Find some time to talk when your emotions are not so high from lovemaking. Be as open and frank as possible. You might find that you can work out a compromise.

We’ve been married 12 years, and my husband has always had a problem with retarded ejaculation. He can’t climax while having sex. I don’t want to make the problem worse by complaining about it, but it makes me feel unappealing. The doctors say the problem is psychological, and my husband seems to resent the idea that he should see a therapist. Our marriage is great otherwise, but I’m frustrated about this. What should I do?

Louis: Assuming your doctor has ruled out the physical causes of retarded ejaculation (e.g. neurovascular disorders, drug side effects, etc.) and that the pattern has always been present, I would advise you to look at it in the context of your entire relationship. You say your marriage is “great otherwise,” so the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may apply.

If your husband is not resistant to sex, is sensitive to your sexual needs and can lovingly bring you to orgasm, I don’t think the problem has anything to do with your attractiveness. The most common psychological causes of this disorder are a compulsive personality where control and scrupulosity about cleanliness may create anxiety; a fear of impregnating one’s wife; or a deep-seated (probably unconscious) ambivalence toward women.

Genital union is fun and important for a sense of sexual oneness, but intra-vaginal ejaculation is not necessarily symbolic of commitment, attraction, passion or love. A couple may find orgasm quite pleasurable without penetration. Stimulation to climax can be mutually satisfying with a variety of techniques. If you find orgasm more intense and complete during penetration, then continue that approach. And follow it up by stimulating your husband to ejaculation.

Because of infections and a difficult childbirth experience, I have vaginal scar tissue and a damaged gland that, short of a miracle, will never heal. As a result, intercourse is very painful for me. My husband understands this is not my fault, and I understand his need for regular sex. I dread having sex, but should I keep enduring it out of love? Resentment is growing between us.

Louis: The idea of “enduring” sex for any reason is distressing to me. We human beings are created with such a marvelous aptitude for healing and adaptation that I’m usually optimistic about the potential and probability for healing.

First of all, you and your husband should call a temporary moratorium on penetration, though not on sexual relations and pleasure. Second, check out all possible medical or surgical procedures that might relieve the physical problem of the vaginal scar tissue. The vagina is an elastic, expandable structure, and removal of the old scarring might be possible.

I assume you have already pursued medical avenues for relief, so third, I suggest that you begin the exercises of “sensate focusing” that can let you find nonpainful, enjoyable ways to give each other pleasure. This approach usually involves taking turns bringing each other physical pleasure—first through nonerotic stimulation such as massage, and then progressing slowly over many weeks to erotic, sexual stimulation without penetration. The later steps include some gentle, well lubricated vaginal massage with one finger, then with two, etc., halting at the first sign of pain. This gradual approach can prevent vaginismus, the spasm of the vaginal walls that creates most of the pain of intercourse. You should direct your husband in this process and proceed very slowly (over a period of months) in order for the conditioned pain/anxiety response to subside.

Since I’m not sure what physical damage has occurred, it is impossible for me to predict whether you have clitoral responsivity. If your clitoris is intact, you should be able to experience orgasm once the pain response is alleviated. Even if the pain cannot be overcome, love-making without genital union should still provide sexual satisfaction and relational intimacy.

Melissa: Working through this type of problem can deepen your relationship. Expressing love to each other as you consider each other’s needs and difficulties can help you both realize how important you are to each other. The key, again, is communicating openly, tenderly and unselfishly. The Lord designed us to have a strong need for each other. When we work to meet one another’s needs, our love for each other, ourselves and God expands and deepens. I hope you will use this difficulty to let that happen.

Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., were marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counselled clergy couples.

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