(Just a warning: lots of links. I mean, LOTS of links.)
I know that football is supposedly America’s favorite sport but I love to watch baseball. Baseball fans know that when a baserunner is tagged, he is out. But it hit me the other day that for many who find themselves in sexless marriages, it happens that when one spouse is TAG-ged, it is the other one who is out. As in, “out of luck.”
In my reading, whether it be other blogs or other forums, or even comments in response here on my blog, I see situations in which spouses are suffering in their marriage because of the attitudes, behaviors, and choices of their spouses. This goes both ways, with both husbands and wives being recipients of being TAG-ged.
TAG-ged?!? “CSL, have you been hitting the BBQ sauce again?” No. That just my acronym for a common marital affliction. In my readings, it seems that there are three common problems one spouse may bring into the marriage and it ends up wreaking havoc in the relationship.
I realize that I am in danger of oversimplifying matters, but from what I am reading from other writers and bloggers, these three biggies seem to account for the majority of marital stress and conflict, and they can be summed up the the acronym, TAG.
Years ago, I heard a minister speak of the happy talent that teen-agers had to reason logically to the wrong conclusion. My reading and observation tells me that this isn’t a talent that is specific to teens. When it comes to the area of sexuality, the church has done a marvelous job of collectively leaving the rails.
To get Biblical about sex, we need to realize that God created man and woman to be sexual, and each to respond to it in a mutually pleasing, inviting manner, specific to their gender. Men, you can’t do multiples. Women, you have NO clue about testosterone. Women, you have a clitoris whose only purpose is pleasure!** Men, you want; I mean, seriously NEED! It’s all good because this is God’s design. We are different, but mutual. And the plain fact is that the teaching of the Old Testament reflects this. The Song of Solomon is a paean to godly sex, and sexual refusal was given as a valid reason for divorce at the very same time the Ten Commandments were given. Proverbs has warnings against adultery, but also advises husbands to get drunk on their wives’ physical love. (Prov. 5:19 – shagah means to reel as if drunk.)
But the Church has, down through history, screwed things up so royally that I think it’s a very rare couple that can come into a marriage without being swayed by some aspect of bad teaching that the Church has managed to instill. If you’ve done any reading around, you’ve come across different lowlights about Sex In The Church, including avoidance (breasts in Song of Solomon representing the Old and New Testaments), denigration (celibates more spiritual than married folk) and outright denial (Origen castrated himself.) All of this bad teaching has taken its toll.
In the eyes of the world, the Church is like Calvin Coolidge’s minister. When asked what the Sunday sermon was about, Coolidge replied, “Sin.” Then, when asked what the minister said about sin, Coolidge reported, “He was against it.” Contrary to the perception of the Church being against sex, we have the correct teaching in the Bible. The antidote is to see that sex is God’s creation and God’s provision. One of my spiritual heroes got this. In a letter to a married friend, Martin Luther wrote:
“Kiss and rekiss your wife. Let her love and be loved. You are fortunate in having overcome, by an honorable marriage, that celibacy in which one is a prey to devouring fires and to unclean ideas. That unhappy state of a single person, male or female, reveals to me each hour of the day so many horrors, that nothing sounds in my ear as bad as the name of monk or nun or priest. A married life is a paradise, even where all else is wanting.”
Yes, I know that many scoff at that last, that married life is a paradise, but that is God’s intention. That the Church has played a mighty strong part in screwing that up is an undeniable fact.
Abuse (childhood, pre-marital, etc.):
When someone comes to my CL blog, the first thing they see is a big picture of one of our two cats, Older Kitty, glaring at them from under some sheets. I know that I should try to create a more “professional” graphic for my blog (I like the one I did for my other blog), but I’m quirky and I have got a soft spot for Older Kitty. About 12-13 years ago, she appeared on our doorstep; a weak little kitten, so scared, so skittish and so skinny you could see her ribs under her fur. Wife, being the soft-touch that she is, started feeding her, and eventually, my girls asked if we could keep her. Yeah, even yours humble Curmudgeon was no match for three pairs of pleading eyes, and so we took her in.
But here’s the thing about Older Kitty: she avoids me like the plague, dashing away if I should enter any room she is in. Wife says that she is positive that she had an owner who was male who abused her horribly; recently, she told me that she had found out that the guy had tried to burn her. Mind you, I’ve never done a thing to Older Kitty; I am a cat person and always have been. But there is nothing I can do to ameliorate the fear and anxiety she feels whenever I am in the same room with her. Her past abuse conditioned her to fear all men and so, due to her fear of all men, I am avoided. It’s been this way for 13 years.
I could continue to flog this, but I think the point I’m driving at is pretty obvious. It’s quite possible that your spouse brings issues into your marriage from his/her past that cripples them, emotionally, and despite no ill will or bad action on your part, motivates them to push you away from intimacy. I know that your spouse isn’t on a par of a pet cat or dog, but who can deny that past abuses leave their marks on a person’s psyche? Is it right that you should suffer because s/he was abused in the past? No, but it would be unrealistic to expect someone who experienced abuse to NOT be conditioned by it.
Author and abuse survivor Dawn Scott Jones has written a book entitled When a Woman You Love Was Abused: A Husband’s Guide to Helping Her Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation, and the info blurb on Amazon’s website has this:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 80 percent of childhood abuse victims later suffer from at least one abuse-induced psychological disorder. It’s proven that the effects of childhood abuse follow women into adulthood. Yet few men are prepared to deal with those effects, even when their own wife is the one who is suffering. And their wife’s suffering becomes their own suffering as their needs aren’t being met by a wife who is powerless to control her inner turmoil.
As I said, I’ve been reading around and communicating with guys who tell of different ways in which abuse has affected their marriages, and none of them tell of anything good. In fact, I’ve recently learned that Secondary Abuse Survivor syndrome is a real thing. That’s where someone married to an abused spouse is psychically (and sometimes physically) damaged by the abuse survivor that they married. Suffice to say, many marriages are hamstrung from the very beginning by the sexual abuse one or both bring with them to the altar.
Guilt (over past behavior, whether sinful or not):
I don’t mean to get all preachy on you, but the fact is that we are all guilty of something. One of the tenets of A Prairie Home Companion is that guilt is what makes the world go ‘round. Pick your trope: Jewish guilt, confession booth, karma; we all know guilt. Guilt is simply an inescapable fact of our fallen nature.
But all too often, guilt isn’t just a fact of life, it is allowed to define our life. Guilt that is not dealt with defines not only who we are but how we live, interact, and react to others. And, unfortunately, that includes our spouses who, oftentimes, catch the brunt of our feelings of guilt. Now, I could try to expound on how guilt impacts our relationships, but being a librarian, I’m not into reinventing the wheel if someone else has created a much better wheel than I ever could.
As I’ve said in previous posts, I read a goodly number of other marriage and sexuality bloggers who have been at this longer than I have. One of the things that we bloggers do, to help our material to be found on the internet, is label our posts with tags which describe the subjects of our posts. Just to give you an idea of what guilt can do in a marriage, I’ve done searches on several blogs for you, with different tags relating to guilt and sexual baggage. To learn about the topic and to see if it’s possible that guilt is impairing your relationship, check out these lists of posts:
Chris Taylor/Forgiven Wife on “Baggage”
J. Parker/Hot, Holy & Humorous on “Sexual Baggages”
Julie Sibert/Intimacy In Marriage on “Baggage”
Beth Steffaniak/Messy Marriage on “Toxic Baggage”
The Di Lorenzos/One Extraordinary Marriage on “Baggage”
The gist of all these posts is that folks bring loads and loads of guilt into their marriages, which in turn impact how they interact with their spouses. It could be guilt over a promiscuous past, it could be guilt over sexual sin prior to marriage, it could be guilt over violation of religious norms. Whatever the source of the guilt, it’s not going to go away by wishful thinking.
Which brings me to this imperative:
Okay, for bad teaching, you might not need to hire your own personal theologian. If your spouse is laboring under the weight ot the bad teaching of his/her childhood, family or church, the solution might be as simple as starting to ask “Why do you say that? Where does the Bible say that X, Y or Z is wrong?” As a Christian, the Bible should trump Brother Itoldyouso or Sister Knowsitall.
If, on the other hand, it turns out a wife has internalized the “Good Girls Don’t” message, it may be time to pull in such Christian women writers as Sheila Wray Gregoire (The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex) or Shannon Ethridge (The Sexually Confident Wife).
For abuse and/or guilt, if your wife/husband is throttling/killing any chance for a normal marital sex life, outside professional help and counseling is probably needed. You just don’t have the skills to provide the help, insight and healing that s/he needs. A couple of months ago, I put up an extremely short post, and was surprised at how it generated the most feedback of anything on my blog. Due to a comment or two, I asked a woman named Robin, from another forum, (who is considered by all to be THE go-to source for all matters concerning abuse) to come and put in her 2￠ worth. As I expected, her 2￠ was the equivalent of anyone else’s $100; here is just part of one paragraph she wrote to husbands:
Your role in this process is to be her physical therapist. [Robin was being metaphorical.] You can support and guide her in rebuilding but you CANNOT do any of the work for her. At times you will be standing at a distance watching her form to make sure she doesn’t take any shortcuts that could lead to weakness in the future, other times you will be right at her SIDE modeling how to do the exercises properly. That means YOU need to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy and what will build strength or breed weakness and that my friend is what makes counseling VITAL for BOTH of you.
Guys, if you know or suspect that you wife is a survivor of sexual abuse, go back to that post and scroll down to Robin’s two comments; they are gold and you need them! (BTW, I’ve asked Robin to consider doing a guest post for me, so I’m hoping that sometime in the near future, she will be able to provide you guys with more help and encouragement.)
I freely confess that this topic is not in my wheelhouse, that I pretty much am flying blind. In fact, Robin, in the past, has graciously told me that I had no idea what I was talking about. 🙂
But that doesn’t mean that I think it’s okay to just tell you, “You’re on your own, good luck!” A librarian is NEVER without resources or the ability to track them down. In addition to the Dawn Scott Jones book I mentioned above, I’ve discovered a website for husbands/wives of survivors of child abuse, Support For Partners. They have a private forum for mutual support that is not accessible unless you register to join. Also, I know that Robin will stop by and have resources that she will recommend, as well.
Being TAG-ged Sucks….
… but it doesn’t have to be your final out. Yeah, you and your spouse have a harder row to hoe than most. But hoe it you must. I agree it’s a shame you can’t just polevault over the whole mess and land in clover, but it’s going to take hard, hard work to achieve healing.
Recently, while watching the BBC’s Songs of Praise program, I learned of a new (for me) hymn, We Cannot Measure How You Heal, and it really spoke to my heart; I hope it will speak to yours, as you face having to deal with the healing process. I know that many of you will find yourself in the second stanza, but as the third tells us, our Father is able to disentangle peace from pain and make broken people whole again.
We cannot measure how you heal
or answer every sufferer’s prayer,
yet we believe your grace responds
where faith and doubt unite to care.
Your hands, though bloodied on the cross
survive to hold and heal and warn,
to carry all through death to life
and cradle children yet unborn.
The pain that will not go away,
the guilt that clings from things long past,
the fear of what the future holds
are present as if meant to last.
But present too is love which tends
the hurt we never hoped to find,
the private agonies inside
the memories that haunt the mind.
So some have come who need your help,
and some have come to make amends,
as hands which shaped and saved the world
are present in the touch of friends.
Lord, let your Spirit meet us here
to mend the body, mind and soul,
to disentangle peace from pain
and make your broken people whole.
** Ol’ Kublai Khan, in Xanadu, had nothing on women when it comes to “Pleasure domes.” 😉