Sex is an important part of any marriage relationship. In God’s infinite wisdom, He gave us a special expression of love and commitment that over the course of a marriage serves as a bonding agent, pleasure center, place of comfort, and a journey into surrender and oneness that reflects the very unity of the Trinity.
Given the way our society obsesses about sexuality and stresses its importance in our lives (if you want to be popular, rich, or famous), you’d think sexual intimacy would turn out to be everything to a marriage—the secret to everlasting happiness. Is that true? And what about remarriage sex (“re-sex” as I like to call it)? Is it any different than sex in a first marriage?
Research has shown that sexuality (including sexual expectations, affection, matters of desire, and how a couple communicates about sexuality) is the seventh most important predictor of a high-quality remarriage relationship. Without question, sex is part of a healthy relationship.
But while sexuality proved to predict with 84 percent accuracy whether couples were happy or unhappy, overall sexuality only accounted for 13 percent of what contributes to a high-quality relationship. In other words, sex is an important part of marriage, but a healthy sexual relationship doesn’t necessarily result in a healthy marriage. You better have more in your relational toolbox than just good sex, because sex is just part of the picture.
Melinda called me about marriage therapy because she and her husband had just separated. As she described their circumstances, I could tell they faced a number of issues—stepparenting stresses and not prioritizing their marriage in relation to the children—and that those issues had divided the couple over time.
“Plus, we never have sex,” she said. “We’ve had sex twice in the past year. I’m not quite sure how to describe it other than to say there’s a ghost in our bedroom.”
When sex is going well, it adds excitement to marriage and acts as a regular emotional bonding agent for the couple. But when affection and sexuality are not functioning well—as in Melinda’s marriage—sexuality can be another considerable drain on a marriage.
Previous sexual experiences
A key difference between high-quality relationships and struggling ones is the presence of fear. Fear of another break-up, of being hurt again, or that the marriage was a mistake. And fear is often a factor in the realm of re-sex; it tends to reveal itself as worry.
When asked about the previous sexual relationships of their partner, 90 percent of couples with healthy marriages agree that there is nothing to be worried about. However, 42 percent of couples with low-quality marriages show concern and worry about their partner’s previous sexual experiences. What seems to be in question is how previous experiences compare to the current couple’s sexual relationship or how they might be limiting their sexual fulfillment.
It’s vitally important that couples move through this concern so that it doesn’t hide below the surface like a malignant cancer, eroding a partner’s perceived significance in the relationship or their ability to fully enjoy sex within the marriage.
Couples would do well to discuss their concerns, being careful not to compare their current sexual relationship with the past. Instead, they should express their desires for how they would like to see the relationship or their confidence in their partner’s satisfaction improve. Don’t let your fears related to the past go unaddressed or they will limit your intimacy today.
Luisa’s husband pursued her sexually with great passion during the first year of marriage. But that began to change. Ramon began getting up at night and sleeping on the couch. He explained that his back was giving him problems and sleeping on the couch was actually more comfortable.
Luisa, however, feared that it meant his sexual interest in her was diminishing. Her first and second husbands both left her for other women, and now Ramon’s actions made her feel “like he’s leaving me on purpose … He’s been initiating sex less often, and I think it’s because he is not happy with our sex life.”
Given her painful rejections in previous relationships, Luisa’s negative judgment of her husband is understandable, but it was still hurting their marriage. Her therapist asked her to stop focusing so much on his sexual desire as the only indication of his commitment. She began to notice that Ramon’s behavior outside the bedroom evidenced a continued desire to share life with her. He wasn’t pulling away as she feared.
Once Luisa began to trust Ramon’s heart again, the couple worked together to create opportunities for lovemaking to occur. Given Ramon’s back problems, the couple had to be more intentional and rely less on nighttime spontaneity to present them with opportunities to engage in sex. As their relational and sexual communication increased over time, a strong sexual intimacy was re-established.
- Don’t make comparisons in your mind … or out loud! A comment like “Why can’t you touch me the way John did?” isn’t going to breed confidence in your spouse. Keep your comparisons to yourself! Nor should you linger on comparisons in your own mind. Doing so keeps you looking back instead of connecting to the moment at hand.
- Your new spouse’s sexual preferences may vary from your previous husband/wife. Listen to verbal and nonverbal messages telling you your spouse’s preferences.
- Calm your insecurities. If you were sexually rejected or traumatized in the past, be careful not to let your insecurities or anxiety run ahead of you.
- Give yourself time to develop a couple groove. Learning how to read one another, when to respond with a specific touch, or your couple sexual style will take time. Learn as you go; share what you learn.
- Confront your sexual ghosts. Don’t be quick to make negative assumptions about your partner’s motivations or behavior. When fearful, try to take small risks to increase your willingness to trust.
- Don’t ignore sexual problems, and don’t overreact. It’s normal for couples to have a sexual complaint of some kind. Don’t panic if you encounter difficulty. Talk it through, and if necessary, find a therapist who can help.
- Read more on enhancing sexual intimacy.
I often tell pastors that the two most neglected topics in churches today are the two “S’s”—stepfamilies and sex. Let God speak to both of these important life subjects in your congregation and community. Offer couples a class, workshop, or conference on the topic of sexuality within the next year.
There are many curriculum and video resources to utilize, or you can host a conference, like The Art of Marriage® video event.
Finding appropriate resources is no longer the issue. To be candid, the absence of training in sexuality is mostly due to church leaders who don’t have the nerve to address it. Sex is not a dirty word—it’s God’s idea. Let His wisdom speak in your church.
Copyright © Ron Deal, 2010. Article adapted from The Remarriage Checkup, by Ron L. Deal and David H. Olson. Published by Bethany House.