The first time I heard that my husband could leave me was in church. The pastor stood in front of the church and said that one of the biblical reasons for divorce was lack of intimacy.
For years, we have struggled in the bedroom. Yes, we know what parts go to what parts and what to do with those parts. The difficult part has been letting go of the years of abuse and shame that followed me into the bedroom each night.
When you stand before your family and friends promising forever to each other, you have no expectation for a sexless marriage. In fact, that is just the opposite of what you are expecting. But those passionate, “never leave the bedroom” kind of days have a difficult time occurring when you or your spouse carries shame of past relationships and/or the memories of abuse.
The expectations of young married couples is so distorted by depictions of sex in media—and even advice from church leaders—that it leaves so many discouraged, thinking they are the only ones struggling.
What if we took a new approach to counseling and advising soon-to-be-married couples? What if instead of telling them everything would be amazing and potentially setting them up for failure, we gave those stories? Stories of the marriages that survived. Stories of the hard marriages. Stories of marriages coming out of therapy and not out of old-school preaching?
I remember the first time I saw a pastor cry. They were not forced tears or tears made on cue. They were tears of authenticity. He was sharing his story of childhood trauma. I sat there and could feel the connection. I could connect with his honesty and vulnerability.
This is where we all connect: We connect when we discover that we are not alone. Our story and who we are matters.
So why, then, when we prepare a couple for marriage are we handing them a book listed with steps or ideas on how to make it work? Why aren’t we giving them stories? Real stories. Stories filled with pain and healing. Stories filled with the real stuff couples go through not just what love language they are.
My husband and I came into the marriage with a trailer full of baggage. That was our reality, and we had to make it work. But 17 years and five kids later, this is what we have learned:
This Is a Team Effort
When either of you are struggling in the bedroom, it’s not the time to wave your white flag. It is about understanding that whatever the other person is wrestling with is difficult and messy. And messy is where the truth is revealed and healing begins.
Talk About Sex
Don’t focus on how excited you are to start that honeymoon without realizing that one or both of you already has expectations in place. Whether you grew up in a home that talked about sexuality fluidly or you learned everything you know from pamphlets left on your nightstand, you have ideas that may or may not be realistic. If you learn to have those conversations with your soon-to-be spouse about your past and how you view sex, you can seek guidance and support before you ever walk down the aisle—and continue to have those conversations after you become husband and wife, as well.
Sex Is not Everything
Don’t get your panties in a bundle. When you come into a marriage and you have a past filled with abuse or sexual promiscuity, how you view sex changes. You may see sex as something dirty and not something holy as God intended it to be.
We need more church leaders to be aware of what they are saying to young marrieds. Not everything is better by having more sex or being more available for your spouse. Those in leadership need to be educated and pour grace over so many that struggle in this area.
Seek Outside Help
One of the best things we have ever done for our marriage is have accountability with someone else. I have three girlfriends who know everything about me. I check in with them regularly and they push me to be a better mom, wife and person. My husband also has a couple of men in his life that call him on his issues. They see more for him than he can see for himself sometimes.
Believe in the covenant you have made with God. Believe that what He has brought together is to make you holy, not simply happy. God sees the bigger picture of the union He has brought together, and it does not just include the bedroom. Believe that God has put people in your life and around you to bring glory to Him—not glory between the sheets.
My husband and I are in a healing place now. Every morning, I can feel him lay his hand on my head as I am sleeping. I know he is praying. Praying that I would fight the battle that rages in and around me. Praying that I would know that God is for me. Praying that I would see myself the way he sees me.
He chooses every day to stay in a marriage that is hard. In a marriage that is not what some would say is ideal. He chooses to stay and believes that God is doing something good.
Sheli Massie is more afraid of skinny girls than of eating grasshoppers in Uganda. She is a Redbud Writer who writes about living your truth filled life over at Eggs&Rice.