{se} x marks the spot part II

sex marks the spot

After drafting much of this post, I thought it was really important to provide some context for my perspective on sex, which is why this is part II and not the original post for the How To Maintain Your High Maintenance Marriage series. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, I’d start there and come back over here when you’ve caught up on the nitty gritty (not super gritty…).

Sex: The Newlywed Perspective

Sex as a newlywed is much like being a newlywed – It requires adjustment and time to get acclimated. Physical and emotional desire definitely do a good job at propelling you into a natural display of your love, but I would absolutely argue with anyone who said sex was like riding a bike or tying a shoe (people say that, right?).

Those people are implying that sex is easy, that it’s innate. I guess that’s partly true, but what about the hours you spent with training wheels on before you graduated to a proper two-wheeler, or the countless rhymes you came up with to remember that the right string goes under the bridge when tying your shoes?

Yes, sex is an instinctive, organic response to physiological and psychological prompts, but it takes work. There is definitely a learning curve and, from what I hear, the learning doesn’t really stop. Or at least it shouldn’t.

I spent the first few months of marriage distracted by perfectionism. I wanted to do it right.

The temptation when you first enter the realm of sexual intimacy is to hurry past all the awkward newness and fumbling. But, the goal is not to hurry it or rush just so you feel comfortable or, at least, average. The goal is to learn right alongside your partner and have fun in the process.

I learned that this was more easily achieved when I checked my pride at the bedroom door. I so desperately wanted to live up to Tim’s expectations which were really my own expectations. It felt like a sure sign of womanhood failure that I wasn’t the perfect, as-seen-on-tv lover for my husband.

After a couple post-sex moping sessions, I had to explain to Tim why I wasn’t basking in the afterglow of love making. This meant I had to actually verbalize all my fears about not being good enough and my disappointment with not being perfect at the whole sex thing. It was a bit awkward and uncomfortable to say those things out loud, but the learning and having fun part of sexual intimacy can only happen if you are totally OPEN with your spouse. 

OPEN – that means talking about the physical, emotional, and spiritual (how you view this in light of God’s purpose and plan) aspects of your sexual relationship. A willingness to broach these potentially painful, embarrassing, confusing topics may not come easily – it certainly didn’t for me – but the more you push past any awkwardness, the better it gets (the conversation and the sex).

While you’re being open and honest, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek help/advice. Mothers are a wonderful resource, but if you don’t feel comfortable talking with your parent about sex, find a trusted friend who will give you Christ-centered counsel. (If no one comes to mind, pray that God would show you the right person and right time to ask.)

I had several “Aha!” moments talking with my mom. She was the one that helped me see that it’s not going to be perfect. The less pressure I put on myself, the more enjoyable the experience will be. She was 100% right.

Books are also good resources. You don’t have to see someone face to face as they talk to you about sex. Admittedly, I was a know-the-basics type of gal. I didn’t take Sex Ed in high school (not for religious reasons, but because I already had enough credits and only wanted 5 periods), so my knowledge of specifics was based on educational videos I watched in fifth grade. Yeah, the kind where you were instructed to put your head between your knees if you felt embarrassed or laughter coming on.

I really appreciated these written resources that were recommended by friends and family:

  • Sheet Music by Kevin Leman – great for when you’re actually married
  • Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat, MD – demystifies the whole process, perfect for the pre-married stage

I mentioned yesterday that I wondered if talking or reading about sex crossed the line of purity. No, I don’t believe it does. Having phone sex with your fiance would absolutely cross the line, but having an open and honest discussion about the past, future expectations, and any other concerns would be doing yourself a favor.

Two more thoughts about newlywed sex:

  1. Have a sense of humor! Sex doesn’t always go smoothly, which doesn’t always mean it goes awry, but it definitely means laughter is in order. That learning curve I mentioned earlier? It means that sex won’t always go how you planned and it’s best to just smile and embrace the imperfection.
  2. Sex is messy – physically and emotionally. Sex is so intimate, it can spark insecurities and past hurts as well as love and joy. I was rather shocked at the intensity of some of my feelings when sex became a part of our relationship. This is just another reason to have an open communication policy about sex.

Whether newlywed or 50 years down the road, sex binds two people together with an intimacy impossible to find elsewhere. It is a beautiful gift to enjoy with your spouse and everyone is different. Don’t judge your sex life on what you see in the media or hear from your friends.  Allow the uniqueness of your relationship to mold your physical intimacy as well.

{se} x marks the spot

sex marks the spot

Every Monday for the past four week I’ve been part of a collaborative series, “How To Maintain Your High Maintenance Marriage” {brain child of Kayse Pratt}. Some may say we’ve saved the best for last. Others may be appalled that we are broaching this subject on the interwebs at all. This topic may illicit blushing, unease, or a cold sweat – but please don’t click away!

You guessed, it. We’re talking about sex.

No worries, this post is far from x-rated, but I fully support having candid conversations about this often sensitive topic.

{It is taking a large degree of self-control not to attach the musical stylings of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass Band to this post and refer to “making whoopie” from here on out. Too much Newlywed Game. Back to the business at hand…}

A Little Background

I’ve been married for 10 months (rounding up a couple weeks here), so am quite the novice when it comes to physical intimacy. Tim was my first boyfriend so everything in the physical department was new to me as a 24 year old.

For everything, from kissing to sex, I had a fear of not being good enough. What if I was horrible at both things? It’s not like I could practice the sex aspect, since both Tim and I were committed to virginity until May 11th, 2012.

I also struggled with defining physical and conversational boundaries. I went into my relationship with Tim committed to not kiss until my wedding day. Whether I heard God’s voice correctly or manipulated His will for my own benefit, I eventually felt released from that commitment (which is a whole different post). So, that created new physical boundaries to establish. And with all of this, conversation was necessary, but I worried, like any good-girl, that discussing sex crossed the line of purity.

A note on virginity: Virginity doesn’t preclude you from having sexual sin enter your relationship. It’s easy to push physical boundaries. Realize that no one is immune to temptation and relying on your own self-control is not enough. God gives strength and grace. Lean on those.

{Now that I’ve launched in to this background, I realize the original content for this post will need it’s own separate day. My background, however, provides necessary context for my perspective on sex. So, definitely come back tomorrow for the The Newlywed Perspective on Sex.}

Another struggle I hadn’t anticipated was the ghosts of previous relationships. I may have never had a boyfriend, but Tim had been in a few relationships before me – a couple in high school that didn’t bother me and one serious girlfriend in college. Initially I wasn’t bothered by Jackie, Tim’s college girlfriend. Then, her history with Tim began to haunt me.

Jealousy, pride, and fear took hold. I hated to think of the physical and emotional intimacy they shared, even though I wasn’t in the picture back then. It felt unfair that I had to suffer Tim’s past relationship when I didn’t have one of my own. What if I was inferior in some way? Though I still wrestle with these feelings occasionally, I wrote Jackie a letter that gave me much freedom.

Pre-marital counseling also offered ample opportunities to revisit these issues. Surprisingly, it wasn’t awkward to discuss sex, and a myriad of other things with the single, male pastor/professor who did our counseling. {Our pre-marital was good, but after experiencing a couple sessions with a married couple, I highly recommend your pastor/counselor is married. The real life experience is invaluable.}

So, that brings us back to May 11th, the day sexual intimacy became an active component in our relationship, and the past ten months of it being a part of our marriage. Thanks for bearing with my mid-post decision to make this two parts! Come back tomorrow for my newlywed perspective on sex.

{se} x marks the spot part II

~~~

Don’t miss the much more experienced perspectives of Kayse, Kelly, Monica, and Jamie.

Check out the other posts in this series: CommunicationServiceLaughter.

6 Ways to Curb Your Competitiveness

Competitive ConflictThis week’s How To Maintain a High Maintenance Marriage post was about laughter and playing with your spouse. One of the specific ways Tim and I play together is by playing games. Whether it’s Monopoly Deal or a couple rounds of Bananagrams, we enjoy the camaraderie and engagement that games provide.

Games are also quite sentimental to us. Our first hangout (that our lovely friends kindly organized so we could meet beyond a handshake) ended in us conveniently being on the same team for Nerts. We lost but had some great laughs and a high five. Before we went on an actual date, TIm and I kept in touch by playing way to much Words With Friends. I learned how to play Up The River, Down The River while camping with his family and we spent countless nights playing Fill or Bust (one of my personal favorites) with my parents.

So, considering how much our relationship began with games, I find it ironic that games have also created a fair amount of conflict between Tim and I. Maybe it was my newly in-love state that suppressed my true nature, but games became less and less laughter producing the more we played.

The competitiveness I try to hide kept rearing its ugly, aggressive head the longer we were married. A fun game would go from a pleasant way to spend a half-hour to a ruined evening within minutes if I lost. Plus, I’m an English major which makes losing word games even more painful.

Winner WinnerDespite my best efforts to control my competitive urges, they were becoming a real problem. We had to stop playing a few games in particular because loosing put me in such a foul mood – silence and sulking. I would be even more upset if I thought he let me win on purpose. Several times I thought I could play again without being a competitive jerk, but one roll of the dice and I as the world’s worst loser.

Competitiveness isn’t always a bad thing, but when it pits one spouse against the other, it can foster unhealthy dynamics in a marriage. Especially in the first year together, activities, free time, schedules, and work should all be creating intimacy not distance.

I was trapped between the desire to enjoy a game or two together and the truth that playing a game may turn out positively unenjoyable because I have yet to master the art of controlling my competitive spirit.

In the meantime, I realized it would behove Tim and I to do things that played to our individual strengths but did’t pit us against each other.

Are you or your spouse competitive? How has that affected the way you interact with each other and the activities you do?

6 Ways To Curb Your CompetitivenessHere’s 6 ways to keep competitiveness at bay in your relationship:

  1. Pick games that rely on chance not strategy or skill. Losing is much better when you know there wasn’t much you could do to change the outcome. You can just relax and enjoy time with your spouse. Try Fill or Bust or Sequence.
  2. Play games in a group. I don’t mind losing when its to multiple people.
  3. Be on your spouse’s team. You can channel that competitiveness for the benefit of the both of you.
  4. In the same vein, join a community league or team. You’ll be playing together with multiple other people. Chances are, you won’t be the most competitive person on the team.
  5. Pick up an individual sport – rock climbing, cycling, solitaire – and encourage each other in that activity. Be your spouse’s cheerleader. It feels great to support and be supported.
  6. PUZZLES! 

Pure & Simple: Cherish

Sometimes you find a blog that feels just right.  It’s a joyful, uplifting, and beautiful. A couple months ago, I found a Pure & Simple and it’s that kind of blog. I was immediately taken with the soft, simple design that seems to echo the heart of the blog’s content.

Amanda, Becca, Natalie, and Meg are passionate about being who they are and embracing what they love to do. They are willing to take risks and accept grace.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 9.39.58 PM

Every month, these ladies pick a different topic and ask other women to reflect and share. I was so excited when Natalie asked if I would write about February’s topic: Cherish. All month, posts are focusing on how we can cherish the relationships in our lives.

Today, I’m over on Pure & Simple sharing tangible ways I cherish my husband. Pop on over to read the post and peruse this gem of a blog!

Cherish

Hug Me: Learning Your Husband’s Love Language

Tim and I had our first love language conversation on June 13th, 2012. I remember the date because it’s my brother’s birthday AND because it was the first time, 3 days after we started dating, that Tim and I held hands.

The glorious feeling of his warm, strong fingers circling my own, always cold, hand may have influenced my love language conclusions during that first discussion.

I readily stated that among words of affirmation and acts of service, one of my love languages was physical touch. I figured that heady feeling whenever Tim wrapped his arm around me or kissed my forehead was a sure sign I heard love through physical affection.

My conclusions were sorely misguided.

Tim, on the other hand, was completely accurate when he said his love language was physical touch. This discrepancy has been a source of struggle for me since we got married. I love Tim, but I like to love him the way I love in general – through words of affirmation and acts of service – not through physical touch.

I do my love for Tim a diservice by not speaking his love language. It’s also dangerous if Tim doesn’t hear my love. I’ve learned that one of the greatest acts of service you can give your husband is learning his love language and speaking it fluently.

Service takes sacrifice and it’s a sacrifice to put his love language above the one you naturally give. It’s so challenging, yet so worth it.

Hug Me!

Our Story: Hug Me!

As I shared above, I discovered the importance of learning Tim’s love language when I realized ours were so vastly different. I’m an internal processor, so when I’m upset or frustrated, I’d rather be alone. I’ll avoid physical contact or, if Tim captures me in a hug before I can cold shoulder my way out of it, I’ll stand there lifeless in his arms. (I’m cringing as I admit this.)

In those moments, when an intentional display of physical affection is intrusive to my processing, Tim needs that hug or hand on his back to know that we are alright. For Tim, physical touch is less about sexual intimacy and more about physical closeness. Hugs feel safe and reassuring.  Holding hands or rubbing his neck communicates the “good” status of our relationship. Without these, he feels isolated and unloved.

It was disheartening to realize that the way I deal with conflict and express my affection both communicated the exact opposite of love to Tim. Learning Tim’s love language has been difficult for me, and actually speaking it is a daily choice that I don’t always choose. Both Tim and I are just embarking on the journey of learning to speak each other’s love languages.

The Choice To Serve

Whether love languages is new to you or old news, serving your husband in this way is vitally important to maintaining a healthy marriage.

  • Have a candid conversation about love languages. Get the book if you need somewhere to start. Share how you give and receive love.
  • Be honest and specific about your love language. It’s important that you both recognize each others expressions of love. Finish sentences like: “Love is when I do…” and “Love is when I say…”.
  • Acknowledge and appreciate your husband’s love language. You can’t change the way your spouse is wired. God made him that way.
  • Accept love from his love language. I know I’m suggesting that spouses should learn and speak their partner’s love language, but your husband may not be there quite yet. If he isn’t speaking your love language, pray for receptivity towards the way he gives love. Grace is an important player as you learn to give and receive love.
  • Be intentional about learning his love language. It’s not something that will come naturally. For me, this looks like reaching out first, random acts of physical affection, and, in conflict, staying physically present.
  • Practice! When I studied abroad in Italy, I didn’t learn to speak Italian in the classroom.  I learned Italian by living with an Italian family, having conversation dates with an Italian friend, and forcing myself to use Italian while ordering my cappuccino. It was rough and embarrassing at first, but by the time I left Italy, I was conversationally fluent. The same goes for learning a love language. It takes time and practice in real life situations, but fluency is possible.

All of this is still difficult for me. I outlined this post on Sunday morning and then failed miserably at exactly what I was writing about almost immediately. Hence the need for grace in this whole process.

Apology and HUGS later, I was even more convinced that speaking Tim’s love language was one of the best ways to serve my husband.

~~~

Pop on over to these blogs to read what they have to say about service in marriage:

Check out the other posts in this series: CommunicationLaughter. Sex

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