About the Guest
Blended family expert Ron Deal tackles the delicate topic of sexual intimacy. As Deal explains, to be intimate with someone is to know them at a deep level. But what does a person do with their sexual past, especially as they enter into a new marriage? Deal answers those questions and more.
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Ron Deal tackles the delicate topic of sexual intimacy. As Deal explains, to be intimate with someone is to know them at a deep level. But what does a person do with their sexual past, especially as they enter into a new marriage?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 25th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How do we keep passion and intimacy a vital part of a marriage relationship, and what happens when that marriage is a second or third marriage? We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We’re going to have a very transparent, candid conversation about marital intimacy today about sexuality. I just want to give everyone a heads up. Some of this may be conversation that you want to divert younger ears from listening to.
But before we dive into all of that, I want to remind our regular listeners. Today is the last day for us to remind you about the special offer we’ve been making recently for FamilyLife Today listeners to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. You can attend any of our getaways this spring, and you save 50-percent of the regular registration fee; but you have to register before the weekend is over.
So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can let you know about dates and locations. You can register online or register by phone. However you choose to do it, you’ll save 50-percent off the regular registration rate as long as we hear from you this weekend.
So, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and plan to join us this spring at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. These really are great getaways for couples to relax and refocus and refresh your marriage.
One of the things we talk about at the getaway, Dennis, is what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to talk about marital intimacy. That’s a subject we dive into pretty deeply at the getaway. Of course, God’s design is that sexual intimacy would happen inside a marriage relationship and that we would have one person in a lifetime that would be our spouse and that would be the only person we would have marital intimacy with.
But in this culture, a lot of people who are getting married are bringing a sexual history with them into their marriage. In blended families or remarriage situations, this can become a challenging issue.
Dennis: I’m glad we have a leader like Ron Deal with us on the broadcast—
—to help unpack a very thorny, delicate subject. Ron is the director of our Blended Family Initiative here at FamilyLife, and Ron, this is a loaded issue—
Ron: It is.
Dennis: —when it comes to blended families.
Ron: Yes, it is. Sex is a loaded issue. That’s because it goes so deep—
Ron: —into our soul, in terms of who we are, how we are designed by God, the beauty of it. Yet, I’m convinced that God knows how incredibly intimate and powerful sex is. That’s why He put boundaries around it. That’s why He put up walls and said, “Look, this is reserved for a covenantal relationship where there is commitment and permanence.
Bob: We ought to say, just right here at the beginning, the phrase, “Casual sex,” that’s an oxymoron.
Bob: There is no such thing as a casual sexual encounter as much as someone might like to make it casual or treat it like it’s a game of tennis or—“We just got together for a recreational activity.”
We are fools if we miss the idea that there is something that goes to the core of our being when a man and a woman come together sexually.
Ron: Exactly. So, this is intimate. It’s powerful. The word yada used throughout—the Hebrew word in the Old Testament—to be known—is the same word God uses when He wants to know us and know us intimately. When David says in Psalm 139, “You’ve searched me and known me,” that’s the same word for: Adam knew his wife, and they had a child. The point is: This is powerful. It reveals something about us.
So, even this conversation today—as you, listener, are joining us in this dialogue—you may experience a number of emotions or thoughts or feelings that cut pretty deep. Why? That’s the way sex is designed, and it’s something worthy of our attention and us understanding biblically how to approach it.
What we want to do today is just recognize that when somebody finds themselves—
—in a second marriage or a subsequent marriage, they’ve had a previous sexual partner. How do they, in their new marriage, navigate that terrain in such a way that it does foster oneness in their marriage relationship because that’s what God intended it to do.
Dennis: You actually ask couples if their spouse died, “Would you want the remaining spouse to remarry?”
Dennis: You’ve found some pretty interesting responses to that.
Ron: Yes, you know some people say, “Oh no! I don’t even want to think about that question”; you know? They get wrapped up in it and think, “That’d be so awkward.” Other people feel great permission and freedom—“Yes, we have those dialogues before my wife died, and she said, ‘You have my permission to move on.’” What’s the point of that? Well, carry that into a new sexual relationship.
You get married again, and you feel that permission. You feel the blessing to be intimate, now, in another relationship with a different person.
As opposed to, you didn’t feel permission. You feel guilty. You feel a little haunted that—“Boy, if my first husband or wife knew where I am at this moment, that would be a really bad thing.” That either liberates your sexuality or restricts it. That’s an important dynamic.
There are a number of little barriers like that that just come into play that I think can trip people up. Part of the reason we wanted to talk about this today is because we want to try to remove some of those.
One of them is related to the question you just asked, Dennis. It’s what I call the ghost of marriage past. We’ve talked about this before on this broadcast. It’s the idea—in particular for somebody who has gone through a divorce—that you loved, and you lost; you stood before a pastor and before a group of people; and you said, “I do,” until death do us part; and then life taught you, marriage is not forever. You intended it to be; and for whatever reason, it wasn’t.
So, giving of yourself / fully disclosing / surrendering yourself in marriage—which is what God is inviting us to do—has become a painful thing for you. So, now, you find yourself in marriage number two.
Sexuality is one of those ways that we surrender ourselves. The metaphor in sex is a giving up of me into a knowing of you and a sharing of myself with the other person. It’s a very intimate form of communication; but how do you do that when you have been taught—“Boy, if I give all of me and then all of the sudden, you dump me and walk away like the last person did, I’m going to feel a lot of pain again. I don’t want to go there.”
It becomes a calculated decision about what I give and how much I share and how I engage myself in sex. I think it’s a real trap for some people who end up—I would put it this way—
—they end up having sex, but they don’t make love. They don’t give their heart, and their sex life is going to suffer because of that.
Bob: Well, it doesn’t feel safe.
Bob: I know in conversations I’ve had with couples—wives have said, “Safety and security is at the core of what allows me to be open and vulnerable and self-giving. So, if my experience has been—I did that once, and I got trampled”—who would ever do that again? How do you get to a point where you can do it again, and how long does that take before you can feel like—“I can really trust this, and I can give myself and know that that person will still be around?”
Ron: I’ve shared on this broadcast before one of my favorite quotes by that great marriage educator and therapist, Mark Twain, who said, “A cat that sits on a hot stove won’t sit on a hot stove again.”
Ron: Of course, then he added, “That cat won’t sit on a cold stove either.” Why?
When you get burned, you don’t go back to the same place. It’s just normal that you would want to avoid that sort of pain. So, what’s the answer?
I think, sometimes, people expect their spouse to somehow make them feel safe enough that—“I can, then, surrender myself”—and it doesn’t really work that way. I mean, yes, they have an influence. If they love you well and they provide for you and they provide an environment where you do feel safe, that’s helpful; but you still have to deal with that internal ghost that’s haunting / that says, “No, no, no, don’t get on that hot stove anymore. Don’t go on any stove. Just stay away.”
You have to wrestle with that piece of you. I’d say, “Pray about it.” I’d say, “Talk to God about that: ‘Lord, help me release this part of who I am so that we can engage in what You have intended for us to have.’” But that means I have to let that piece go, turn down my fear, trust God in giving myself is going to be an okay-thing to do.
Dennis: Ron, there are so listeners who have said, “I’ve prayed that prayer”—
Ron: “I’m not there yet.”
Dennis: —“and I’m not there yet. I haven’t felt the freedom to re-surrender my life to my spouse.” At points, there may be a need for a third-party counselor to come alongside and to unpack what’s in the heart and how they’ve been wounded.
Bob: It could be that counselor could help the other spouse say, “Here are ways you’re not helping your spouse feel safe,” because it could be things that the husband’s doing or the wife’s doing that causes the other person to go—“I can’t feel safe here.”
So, I think it’s good for one partner to recognize you’re not helping to create a safe and secure environment; but beyond that, I think your point is right. We’ve got to confront our own fears in this situation and say, “Okay, it’s not all about my partner. It’s about me saying, ‘I’m going to trust. I’m going to step out in faith.’”
Bob: “‘I’m going to rely on God to protect me in this situation.’”
Dennis: Maybe, Ron, it’s not the person they are now married to—they are in a blended family; and their previous spouse, perhaps, used sex selfishly, was not safe as Bob was just talking about and—let’s just say it’s the wife—she’s feeling like he’s dangerous. This guy is just trying to love her well.
Dennis: What does she do with that?
Ron: Yes, again, I think you’ve got to own it. You’ve got to look it in the mirror; and you’ve got to say, “What is going on with me? What is this about?”
The reason this is important, Dennis, is because what most of us fall into is constantly looking at the other person going—“There something wrong with you. There is something wrong with you. There is something wrong with you.” Well, yes, they may have influence. They have a roll. They have a part, but it’s your fear that’s fueling all of this. You have to name it. Ask God to help you with that. Recognize this is leftover residue from the past.
Now, I have a choice: Do I wipe off the residue and push through my fear and give anyway?
I mean this is true in the sexual bedroom, and it’s also true outside the bedroom; right? I mean you give of your finances to the other person, or you can withhold. You can give of your communication, or you can withhold. You can share in parenting the mutual children that you now have, or you can withhold. Withholding just keeps you isolated and alone. You’ve got to make the choice about how you’re going to deal with this.
Bob: I don’t know, in a blended family, how much people have to deal with the expectations or the performance of past spouses. If you’re married to somebody who may be kinder, gentler, more patient, more loving, but less skillful—
Bob: —in intimacy. The other person you were married to was harsh, critical, controlling, but skillful in intimacy. To find yourself with a new partner where the experience is less physically satisfying can be discouraging, disappointing.
You may be wondering to yourself, “I wonder if my partner is comparing me to a past spouse.” How do you deal with this whole comparison thing and with somebody who may not be as good as a previous spouse was?
Ron: Okay, there is a lot wrapped up into that question.
On one level, there’s: “Do I entertain comparison thoughts?” I would say, “No, you don’t.” On the other hand, you can’t help but make some automatic comparison thoughts that just come to your mind; and when those come and if there is something that’s troubling about them or difficult about them, then I do think you have to work through it. If you have the assumption that the other person is more skillful—that’s the way you ask the question—or “Is it just us? We just don’t have what it takes. We’re the wrong combination,” that just presumes that you don’t have any influence over this.
I mean people need to have far more communication about their sex-life than we typically do.
I think a lot of people go into it and just hope they’ll figure it out, but—“I don’t want to say anything about it out loud about my preferences / about what I more appreciate or value.”
If you were asking your spouse for a backrub—just a long, hard week—“Boy, would you hit that spot on my neck? I’ve got a knot right there”—and they started rubbing in a way that was not helpful, you would probably say, “Push a little harder. Get that thumb. Hit that one little spot. Just dig into there a little bit. Oh, yes, that’s it. That’s what….” We will do that when it comes to a backrub; but we won’t give voice to sexual preferences or energy or likes or desires when it comes to our sexuality.
Part of that’s embarrassment. Sometimes, that’s: “I feel a little ashamed of being a sexual person.” Well, that’s a theological issue that you’ve got to wrestle with God about; but the point is: If you’re finding that your sex life is not what you hoped it would be and it doesn’t quite compare to the first sexual partner you had, it’s time for you to say something. It’s time for you to give voice.
Now, what you don’t do is you don’t make that comparison overt. The way you would describe that backrub need is the way you give voice to your sexual need.
Dennis: Let’s talk about in blended families how couples can begin to communicate around their expectations because I could see in a blended family how this would be fraught with difficulty. Just knowing how we, as people, are fragile; and it’s difficult to share with our spouses.
Ron: I think women in particular can feel insecure about their own body: “I don’t feel good about me. So, you can’t feel good about me.” That one issue is common among women. So, again, I would caution somebody: “If you find yourself doing that—‘Wow, I’ve seen pictures of his first wife. My husband’s first wife was gorgeous. She was beautiful. I’m not that. Therefore, I can’t be a good sexual partner’”—no, that’s not right.
Dennis: Should that be talked about?
Ron: Yes, it should be talked about.
I think if she has a fear or concern about that, she should talk to somebody. It may not be her husband, but she needs to talk to somebody so she can process that concern / that insecurity because that’s what that is and just find some perspective about it.
What I want women, in particular, to know about sexuality is that your sexual confidence is the thing that really lights your husband up. You’re far more worried about your body type than he is. When you bring a confidence, then, your energy speaks to him. It communicates your desire, and that is what invigorates him.
You know, Dennis, one of things a husband could do in that situation is he can be mindful of just be complimenting his wife and communicating his interest in her—
Dennis: Right; right.
Ron: —his love and passion for her. The more verbal he is about that, outside the bedroom, helps to increase the sexual energy inside the bedroom; but she needs to hear and be affirmed by him that he’s really in love with her.
Bob: That he finds her—
Bob: Read the Song of Solomon.
Bob: I mean read it out loud to each other.
Ron: It’s good stuff.
Bob: It is good stuff; but listen to how these two, in the Song of Solomon, spoke about desire, spoke about passion, described one another, and take some cues from that. Anytime we come to this subject, I’m reminded of what your mentor, Dennis, Dr. Howard Hendricks said, “We should not be ashamed to discuss what God was not embarrassed to create.”
Bob: This is a good gift from God. We should discuss it with appropriate conversation. We need to makes sure that we’re treating it with the dignity it deserves; but then we need to be able to be candid, especially in a marriage conversation, about our sexual relationship.
Ron: Let me go into another barrier that, really, has less to do with sex and more to do with blended family dynamics.
One of the things that turns down sexual energy for men is stress.
That’s top of the list. It doesn’t matter what marriage situation that is. Imagine, in a blended family, stress is high in the first two years. You’re trying to combine people. We’re trying to figure out kid stuff and ex-spouses that are calling and creating havoc in our home; and you and I in our marriage—we love each other like crazy; but man, we don’t see eye-to-eye on some things, and it just feels like we have a lot of conflict. That kind of stress can diminish a man’s sexual energy.
All of the sudden, his wife is going—“Are you not interested in me sexually? What’s going on?” It has to do with what’s going on outside the bedroom that’s impacting him on the inside. I’ve had many men sitting in a counseling session say to me, “You know, we just don’t get along, and we’re struggling with some things. It doesn’t even occur to me to be interested in sex or to bring that up.” Well, yes, of course, not—there are other things that are making that more difficult for you.
So, again, the answer is: Working on the blended family environment, coming—
—together around how you’re going to manage some things, trying to get some training / some information that we do at our conferences and the resources that we have available to help you come together as a couple. Then, as that stress diminishes, then the sexual energy will come back.
Dennis: Whether you are in a blended family or in an intact marriage that has gone the distance, I’d just encourage husbands to do a couple of things. First of all, ask your wife what her top three needs are right now, maybe, specifically, around this area. Maybe, consider asking her, secondly, “How can I create a safe marriage bed with you?” Third: “Is there anything I’m doing that is creating fear?”
Then, for the wives, I’d just encourage them to consider asking their husbands: “How can I better communicate my respect of you in this area?” Then just listen. Then find a way to practically apply what he’s talking about here.
Bob: Anytime we talk about this—and you know this is the case, Ron—there are some wives who are saying, “Ours is the unusual situation. It seems like the opposite situation. I have more interest or desire than my husband does.” There are some husbands who would just say, “You know, this is not as big a deal to me as it was years ago, and I don’t know why, but it doesn’t matter to me.”
I think the point is: If you are having these issues, you need to get some help. You need to get some counsel. You don’t just say, “Okay, then our solution is: ‘We’ll be frustrated in this area’”—because that’s going to spill over into every other area of your marriage.
Ron: Right. Pick up a good book. A Celebration of Sex by Doug Rosenau is one of my favorites. There are many good, Christian-based books about sexuality. Learn some things. Talk about this. Maybe, as Dennis said, you do need to sit down with a third-party who can give you some direction and some guidance. Yes, you have to get over your embarrassment; but rather that, than suffer in silence and not get any help.
As we kind of draw this conversation to a close, it occurs to me: For a great many people, a re-sex relationship—that is a sexual relationship in a second or subsequent marriage—is an opportunity that they really take advantage of.
A lot of women find their sexual voice in mid-life. They didn’t know who they were when they were young women. They didn’t really understand much about themselves or sexuality, and they just didn’t have a good understanding of sexuality; but they find that voice in mid-life in another marriage with a husband who really loves and cherishes them unlike the first—becomes an incredible opportunity for sexuality to come alive.
Just as God is the God of second chances for a lot of things in our world and in our lives, it can also be that people have an opportunity to have a second chance at a healthy sex-life.
Dennis: I think to those who are in blended families, you need to pick up one of Ron’s books. The Smart Stepfamily may be the place to start. Ron’s got a daily encouragement devotional for smart stepfamilies. Get into a book together and open the conversation on a number of these issues and allow his voice to speak into your lives.
Ron: One of the great things about that devotional is a little of shared couple time outside the bedroom might just help things inside the bedroom.
Bob: Well, of course, we’ve got copies of the devotional in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Our listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy, or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. The title of the devotional, again, is Daily Encouragement for the Smart Stepfamily by Ron Deal. Order your copy online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask for Ron Deal’s devotional for stepfamilies.
There is one other suggestion we’ve got for you. This is something that we’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks. We want to encourage you—
—whether you’re in a first marriage or a blended marriage—join us this spring at one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. There are tens of thousands of people who will be with us for a weekend this spring in more than 50 cities across the country, and we’d love to have you be among those couples who experience together a fun, romantic weekend away where you can work on your marriage and grow closer to one another.
The reason we are mentioning it now is because this weekend is the last opportunity you have to sign up for a getaway and save 50-percent off the regular registration fee. When you register this weekend, you can take advantage of that special offer. So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to register, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to register over the phone. If you have any questions, we can answer those when you call us; or you can find information online, again, at FamilyLifeToday.com. We hope you’ll join us at one of these upcoming getaways.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your spouse are able to worship together in your local church this weekend.
I hope you can join us on Monday. We’re going to talk about how foundational it is / how important it is for your children to understand their identity. How has God made them uniquely? What are the unique gifts He’s given them? What’s their purpose and meaning? What are they good at? All of those issues are things that, as parents, we need to be able to help guide our children in. We’ll talk about that Monday with Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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