Yesterday I attended a 'training' at Church called Spiritual Bootstraps (ask Resiliency Training), setup by the Relief Society and the Military Relations Missionaries, to help the sisters in the ward talk and work through issues they are struggling with. We have talked about communicating with our spouses, raising children, learning to be happy with ourselves and not compare, etc. I have enjoyed the training each time I have gone and this time was no different. We talked about sex and its importance in marriage. It wasn't dirty or 'sensational' but funny, thought provoking and, believe it or not, spiritual. To keep it simple, it was awesome.
Sex in important. We all know this, right? Actually, Janae from Bring Joy recently wrote a blog about the importance of Sex and she was totally dead on. We live in a society that is obsessed with sex but it seems more like a game than an actual real important thing in a marriage. It needs to be addressed more in a practical emotional and spiritual way and less of a sensational how to. Everyone knows "how" to do it but not many understand the rest of it: the emotional and spiritual aspect, how men and women work, the when and how it can strengthen or kill your marriage.
I grew up with a very straightforward understanding about sex and intimacy. I knew how babies were created from a very young age, what sex was and that it was special and to be reserved for when I was married and only shared with my dearest husband. I saw it as beautiful and wonderful and not at all scary. So it surprised me to find that some of my friends who had this perception of sex growing up: "No No. Bad Bad. Wrong wrong. Dirty dirty! Oh you're married? OK, have fun!" My friend described it as Cookies in a Cookie Jar: you can't have them and then all at once they are ALL yours.
Talk about overwhelming!
I know that many people blame the Church for that, saying that sex is hidden and regarded as shameful but it is quite the opposite. There are numerous talks by General Authorities, books, courses of study, etc (more on that later) dedicated to the importance of healthy physical intimacy in marriage. Just because we treat something with reverence doesn't mean that it is something to be hidden and ashamed of. No, that thinking is the fault of the ignorant and fearful parents and leaders. But this can be rectified and must be for the well-being of future generations.
However, this is not what I feel should be discussed today. I would like to share something personal from my own life and what I have learned about intimacy, why it is important and, most importantly, how it has affected my marriage.
And it all started before I met my husband.
Like I said, I knew about sex and babies from a young age. It was a healthy clean knowledge but when I became older and puberty set in, it became something I was obsessed with. I hid this obsession because I knew it was all carnal and not something I actually wanted to indulge in. But during my high school years, I started making bad decisions, intentional bad decisions. I was able, with the help of my family, friends and Heavenly Father, to walk away from these choices and start over. I married my dear husband in the Temple for Time & Eternity and we began our new life together. It was beautiful.
But it was some time before I was able to shake past feelings, anxieties, fear and doubts from my mind. My past decisions were still haunting me and tainting my view. I loved my husband more than anything but I was scared: scared that my body would repulse him after I had a baby. Scared that he would find someone better than me and leave. Scared that I would fail somehow and our marriage would fall apart. I was selfish, scared and I actually felt unworthy of my husbands love. Though I didn't realize it at the time, these fears, doubts and insecurities if left unchecked could have destroyed my happily ever after.
When my husband enlisted in the Marine Corps, he was gone for 10 months, start to finish. During that time, I was left with our 2 children (one a toddler, one a small baby) and I had time to reflect on the past and on myself. I found that I missed my husband, truly missed him. I needed him. I wanted him. I wanted to be with him, to hold him, to talk to him, to make him dinner and to just be with him. The more I thought and prayed about it, the greater my desire for him became. I realized then that all my fears and doubts were bupkis! I had a choice: I could let these bupkis fears and doubts infest my mind and destroy my amazing life with my husband or I could let it go and move on. Well, I was NOT going to allow these fears and doubts (that were obviously not of God) separate me from my husband. They were NOT going to win! I started praying to Heavenly Father, asking him to remove these fear, to help me be a better wife to my husband and to let go of my past. He listened, He answered and I healed.
But there was still more to be done.
For those 10 months of training, my husband and I were physically together for 10 days after bootcamp, 2 weeks for Christmas and 2 weekends the spring he finished training. Obviously we couldn't be physically intimate while we were thousands of miles apart (and that sucked) but this was sort of a blessing in disguise. Why? Because, at that time, we needed more than the physical. We needed to become more emotional and physically intimate. We started talking, I mean really talking, to each other. We told each other everything, our fears, our doubts, our desires, our wants and needs. It left us both raw and open to each other. This openness brought a level of trust and understanding that we both so desperately needed. Huzzah!
The results are SO worth the effort! Our marriage is stronger, our life better and our family happier. We seem to deal with issues much better than before, we don't ever fight (though we occasionally disagree) and we both look forward to our personal time together, even when we aren't having sex. And, I'm just saying, with our stronger and newly gained trust, understanding and connection came real, genuine, wonderful, amazing sex. It's like love unchained, seriously. Life is just wonderful!
I learned that intimacy is about having a real, solid connection with your spouse, removing barriers and road blocks and truly becoming one with them. When you get married, it is no longer about YOU as an individual. It is about YOU, the married couple and the family. You and your spouse cannot effectively run a home, raise a family and have a life together unless you really understand one another and are connected and attached to each other. Being intimate emotionally, spiritually and physically with one another (and only one another) allows you to do that and that is why it is important. Intimacy is also an expression of your love for each other (we all want to be loved!) and a great way to blow off some steam. Who doesn't need that?
Reflecting back on all this now and considering the training from this morning, I can finally exactly pinpoint what I have learned about physical intimacy and truly connecting with my spouse. This is what is important:
It is so crazy important that you truly talk to your spouse. Be raw, honest and genuine about everything you feel, fear, desire, need or want. Don't hide from your spouse! Your spouse should know you better than anyone. Your spouse is your best friend and he will love you through thick and thin, the good times and the bad times, when you are at your best and at your worst. So give him all of yourself!
2) Love Yourself
I think this is a struggle for many women because our bodies change as we get older, when we have babies or our hormones go nuts. Sometimes our own self doubt can keep us from loving others, especially our spouse. Let it go! If your husband tells you that you are beautiful, thank him and believe it because he means it. Pray for the strength and ability to love yourself, embrace your talents, your body and take care of yourself.
3)Be a Lover to your spouse
This doesn't mean that you have to be the one to initiate everytime (though you totally should sometimes). But you need to love on your spouse. Kiss them. Hug them. Hold them. Learn what appeals to them (flowers, a back rub, a shower together) and go for it. Leave love notes in your hubby's lunch box. Shoot, help him put on his tie in the mornings. Show your spouse that you care and consider their romantic needs. And let's not forget a good cuddle before and after sex!
4)Spontaneous is nice but planning is better
I know some of you might have LAUGHED when you saw the word planning, especially if you have little ones. Spontaneous love making is great and sometimes ideal for the moment but sometimes it's nice to have romantic build up, foreplay, the works! Let's face it: if there's a little planning, it's more likely to happen! You just have to find something that works for you. We talked about The Bead Method yesterday during the training and it was pure genius! Talk to your spouse, find something that works for you and get planning!
5) Say YES! Be careful of NO
A friend of mine shared the following story:
A friend of hers was getting married and the friend was talking to her sister about intimacy.
The Sister: Just say yes to your husband. Don't tell him no.
The Friend: Uh, why? Why shouldn't I say no?
The Sister: (gesturing around the house) Do you know why my husband is so helpful?
The Friend: No, why?
The Sister: Because we have sex. I give him what he needs, what he wants and he, in return, is loving to me and very, very helpful.
So true, don't you think? Loving your spouse means sincerely fulfilling their needs because you care about them and, it's really true, you are more likely to get if you give. So give! Say YES to your spouse, enjoy your intimate time together and be genuine about it. A happy husband/wife is a helpful husband/wife.
And be careful when you say NO. Whether you want to admit it or not, men NEED sex, they need to be physical with the one they love and women need that loving connection as well. Rejecting your spouse outright and repeatedly can cause your husband to shut down from you completely and it can destroy your marriage. In fact, a family member of mine recently divorced his wife after I think 8 years of marriage because his wife refused to have sex with him from the beginning. It is not uncommon so be careful! Janae actually covers this in her blog so go check that out.
6) Study Up!
Sometimes we need a little expert advice. Here are some non-trashy marriage resources that I got at the training today. These are educational and uplifting without getting into the sensational. We actually watched the Mark Gungor DVD at the training several times and he is hysterical!
Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Any talks on marriage will discuss intimacy and I personally love the Eternal Marriage Course. And let's not forget that we must pray with our spouses as well read and study the scriptures.
Mark Gungor: Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage - DVD
Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage: Unlocking the Secrets to Life, Love and Marriage by Mark Gungor
The Bead Method by Mark Gungor & Carolyn Evans
And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment by Laura Brotherson
Between Husband and Wife by Steven Lamb and Douglas Brinley
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr.Laura Schlessinger
Light His Fire: How to Keep Your Man Passionately and Hopelessly in Love With You by Ellen Kriedman
The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love by Tim & Beverly LaHaye
Being intimate both emotionally and physically is, like many things, not something you fix or do once and you're good. Maintaining your marriage is like maintaining your home: it takes work. And not just work it takes sacrifice, patience, understanding, prayer and lots and lots of true love. Remember, you married your spouse for a reason. You married your husband because you love him. You may not have perfect desire for intimacy everyday or as often as one of you would like but loving each other should never be a chore. It's an adventure, a thrill ride, a joy and an excitement. If you want a happy marriage in general, you need a happy, healthy intimate sex life.
Love yourself, love your spouse and kindle that fire. Don't let it die!
Hannah Wetzel is the Wife to one Wonderful Man (her Marine), a Mother to 3 children and an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She loves cooking, baking, writing, reading, embroidery and anything out of doors. One day she hopes to open her own little bakery and have a little homestead (goats and all) with her family. Follow Hannah on Twitter and Pinterest.
PLEASE NOTE: These views shared above are from my personal experience in my marriage. While writing this blog, I realize that not all marriages begin or are currently on healthy terms. Just like physical and emotional abuse, there is such thing as sexual abuse in marriage and that is never acceptable. There are also marriages that are damaged because of infidelity, pornography and other addictions which may take years to heal and become whole again and marriages where a spouse struggles from past pain or trauma that was never addressed. I am not a psychologist or a professional of any kind. For those who are struggling in abusive or damaged marriages or those struggling with past issues, please seek professional help with your issues and struggles and may God bless you on your road to peace and true happiness.
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