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When Your Sexual Relationship Isn’t Good

Truth in Love 129

How should couples respond when their sexual relationship is not going well?

Nov 20, 2017

Heath Lambert: I am thrilled to be joined by Brad Bigney, one of the most personally encouraging people I’ve ever known. I’m very thankful that he is a member of ACBC, he is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, and he is here this week to help us think about the issue of sexuality in marriage and particularly how to think about it when your sexual relationship with your spouse is not going well. As we start on this issue, we want to get started on the right foot and that means we need to talk about the goodness of sex in marriage. Sometimes it’s easy to talk about problems with sex and the trouble and what we’re against. But tell us what the Bible has to say about the goodness of sex in marriage. 

Brad Bigney: I think just like any issue in life, that’s essential, and it’s shocking and disappointing and surprising; we need to recognize how often Christians don’t have the framework of the Bible of things being good, so if we start off without even having the right framework of it being good to begin with, chances of it being good in a marriage or to personally play it out, it is not likely to happen. So yes, I find I should always ask questions, and always, just like in so many issues, Genesis is the place to go to understand what God has done and how it’s good. Our enemy Satan rarely comes up with some new wicked thing, he loves to take God’s good gifts and just twist them. That is the same way that we are with sexuality. Sex is good, intimacy in marriage is good, and there’s dozens of perversions of that. That’s where we want to start, “that’s good, God thought of it, He gave it to us”. That’s our starting point.

Heath Lambert: So, sex isn’t bad, but here’s the thing, even in a marriage where you don’t have a sexual problem or even when your sexual relationship is fine, I have found over the years that many couples find it very challenging to talk about sex. Why is it hard for couples who are doing it to talk about it? 

Brad Bigney: Well, let’s be honest, we can say that, and I do say that to couples, “there’s no way this is going to get better without talking”, “what do you think this would get better”? and I’ll say to them, “you got to talk about your finances, you’ve got to have a discussion to make sure you’re on the same page, you’ve got to talk about parenting, or this is never going to start to get better,” and on this area, couples often just hope it will get better in silence. But I think what it boils down to is there still a measure of, it’s so personal. Often there are preferences, there’s that someone is doing or not doing, there’s awkwardness with their own body, there’s shame, there’s a lot of reasons that make this a lot harder to talk about, and yet, at the same time, I don’t want to back off all together and say, “oh don’t talk,” but I will say, “you have to be careful.”

I say this a lot, but here, this would be so important, go asking questions, not making accusations. Too often, in conversations, whether it’s finance, parenting, or sex, the conversation begins in frustration. When someone finally says, “you always”, or “you never”, and, “why can’t you just…” and it’s been building, but it’s being framed and delivered as an accusation, not a question.  We should resemble something more like, “honey, could I get your help on something”? “Could we talk’? I think I would have my wife’s permission because I want people to know that we’ve been married, just celebrated 31 years, and we have a wonderful sex life and intimacy, but we have had dozens of conversations. 

Now, are some of those are awkward? Yeah. So even recently, I began to start a conversation with her about something related to our sexual relationship and yes, it was much more awkward than, “Hey, on the budget, we’re going over in… can I get your help here…”. It’s just so personal, it’s very hard for the person to not hear you talking about “them”; you’re not talking about a subject, it’s them, it’s personal. It ended well, but it took a little time. I had to be careful and there was tension, I could feel it, she could feel it. It ended well, and we’ve got a history of decades of trusting each other, but it’s still not easy, but it’s worth it. 

Heath Lambert: Let’s zoom in on that because there’s going to be people listening to this and they’re going to go, “okay, it’s good. We need to talk about it. But here’s the deal. I’m aware of this problem…”, and it could be whatever in the world the problems are, it could be something isn’t working, or it could be a preference thing. Whatever the problem is, you’re aware of a problem in their sexual relationship, they’re listening to you, and they say, “I’d like to talk to my spouse about it, but I don’t even know how to do that”. Now, you said one thing, you said to go in asking questions. What else would you say for somebody listening to this right now and they don’t even know how to start that conversation?

Brad Bigney: I hope they already noticed the phrase that I use, and we use it on all kinds of issues, “honey, could I get your help on something?” It diffuses and the person isn’t on guard, thinking, “I’m in trouble”. So, start there, but begin to ask them, “what do you think about our physical intimacy? How are you feeling about our sexual relationship? What would you want me to know? How do you think this could be better or what do you think? Do you think it’s good?” Just begin to ask questions that show you’re not just most concerned about your agenda. If they feel like you have an agenda and there’s just some things you want to press, that’s probably not going to go as well as couching it in, “we are married and we have a relationship, and our physical intimacy is part of this. How do you feel like it’s going?” You want to communicate the question honestly and not coming from a place of manipulation, “how do you think we’re doing as a couple now?” 

I do think it’s worth noting, and I know you do a lot of counseling, I’ve done decades of counseling now. The sexual relationship, I’ve almost never found to be the real problem, but the first casualty of the marriage that has some problems. I do want to caution, especially men, I find that men very often, very much want the sexual relationship to be wonderful, and sometimes, not always, aren’t as concerned about the rest of the relationship, communication, goals, oneness, helping with the kids. Sometimes if he’s saying, “well, I wish she was more responsive or I wish…” this can be related to a marriage problem. So don’t jump right in by buying some sex technique book and saying, “honey, I’d like us to try some of this”. “Let’s, let’s spice things up”. Perhaps, first would be asking questions about the marriage. How do you feel like we’re doing? Where do you think we are as a couple?

Here’s the thing I press for guys that are listening, here’s my goal with my wife, Vicki. My goal is not to have a fantastic sexual relationship. Those a guy would desire that but I’ve learned, and I think it’s biblical and it’s more of a correct goal, that my goal is to help Vicki to believe that I am one of the safest places in the world for her, that she’s safe with me that she’s cared for with me that she doesn’t need to fear anything with me. I love her. I cherish her. Good sex is a result of a woman resting in someone’s love so that they can completely give themselves with no reservation. I don’t know if that’s making sense. It’s really not a technique book, but your wife, my goal is to be the safest place in the world for her. 

Heath Lambert: Okay, so you got a guy out there listening. He’s going, “okay, I’m listening to this podcast, I’m gonna go. I’m going to sit down and talk to her”. And so, “Hey, babe, could I have your help with something? What do you think about our sexual relationship? What do you think about the frequency?” And let’s say he’s trying to get at, you know, maybe they’re the frequency is a little off from his perspective. It’s maybe once or twice a month and he’d like to kick that up a few notches. Let’s say they get into the conversation, and he realizes she’s pushing back really, really hard about this and is offended and she thought everything was great and now she finds out it’s not. So now here he is, he’s trying to do it, she responded the way she responded. He’s tempted to like, “should I sue for peace? Because what I’m getting is better than what I might get if this keeps going south”, how should a person, whatever the “for instance” is, when they try to do it, right and it goes south, what do you do then? 

Brad Bigney: Well, I don’t think there’s one right answer. There’s all kinds of variations of what might be going on with the couple, but if we want to frame it biblically, and I hope everyone listening does, Philippians 2, even though it doesn’t have the marriage word in it, chapters 2:1-4 frames it up with, “consider the needs of others, more than yourself”, “look out for the interests of others”, “prefer others”, so I don’t think the thing to do would just be pressed on. Okay, you’ve sensed fear or you’ve sensed a significant pushback and you want to begin to ask questions. Allow it to be hurled away from sex to maybe, whatever the thing is, or the area of the marriage that she would say, “I just feel like we’re not on the same page”. It’s not uncommon for a woman to be thinking more holistically about the marriage and for a guy to go right after one segment, if that makes sense.

Now, I want to caution the ladies, I say this when I teach and I say it when I counsel, the other ditch to fall into ladies, is it cannot become, “until this marriage is all it’s supposed to be on every level, there won’t be a lot of sex” That’s my hesitation when I hear this phrase used, “sex was meant to be the icing on the cake of a great marriage” Okay, true, but if you have this notion of, “until this cake is wonderful, we’re not going to ice it”. That’s not biblical. Often, and I hope this doesn’t sound crass or offensive to some people, just like anything, you get better at something by doing it. So regular physical intimacy, preferring each other, and spending time together intimately, you learn each other and you can get better. Just like we’ve gotten better by sitting down even with those tensions; Vicki’s first response is to get tense when I say, “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute about the budget?” She’d rather say, “no”, but things have gotten better as we’ve talked and understood each other and work together. The same is true with the sexual relationship.

I hope this doesn’t sound like, “oh, what a horrible idea”. But when we had young kids and we had five of them, just the thought of just guessing every night, “is this a good night for sex”, that seemed to be a source of massive frustration. So, we just sat down and had a conversation and talked through the week, “well, this is counseling night. I get home late”, “this is small group night”, and consider her preferences. She was homeschooling at the time, “what were the heavy days? Light days?” Then we picked sex days. She knew it and I knew it. There was a back and forth, even right now I’m smiling because there’s like, I’m saying that there’s seven days in the week, “Well, let’s at least make it more than half”. I was pressing for four, she was saying two, I think we landed on three. We both knew. 

You’re going to like this. She still often forgot. I never forgot. I mean, when my alarm went off on sex day, I woke up like a kid on Christmas, and as I was having hard meetings, I would think, “I don’t care, I’m having sex tonight”. Whatever happened that day, you know that night, I’d get in the bedroom, start throwing clothes off and she looked at me like, “what?” Then she’d say, “oh, oh, yeah”. It was sex day and because she said, “I need some time to think about this to get my head around this and it’s just hard when you’re surprised”. Let’s remove the surprise.

Heath Lambert: So, that’s even planning ahead

Brad Bigney: and we’ve moved away from it now that the kids are older, but we still have considerations because, as a woman, she needs to know that nobody’s walking in, and so news alert for those of you that had little kids and think, “Oh, one day when the kids are older, we’ll just have sex all over…”, no. Now they drive, they come in and out at odd hours, you never know if they’re sleeping or coming or going. I’m like, “my word, can have freely have wild sex ever?”

Heath Lambert: Are there a couple of resources that you would recommend a couple of books that you’d say?

Brad Bigney: The ones that I really push with people is CJ Mahaney’s, Sex Romance, and the Glory of God, it is written for men and it’s short. He has a phrase in there that he repeats, “men before you touch her body, touch her heart”, and then his wife Carolyn has one chapter at the back where she speaks to women who struggle to really get into it, getting excited about this. My go-to book with all our couples that we do premarital counseling with is Ed, Wheats, Intended for Pleasure. It’s hard to beat, he was a medical doctor and a biblical counselor. There’s a chapter on sex during pregnancy, a chapter on biological, anatomical problems they can face. You might face sex problems older in life. Probably with ladies who struggle, maybe with a past of abuse or an abortion or things that might cause them to struggle in this area, Linda Dillow’s book Intimate Issues for Ladies. I’ve handed that out and had a good response.

Honestly, the little paperback by Dr. Bob Smith, just biblical principles of sex 75 pages. No diagrams, but where we started Heath to your point, people don’t have a biblical framework. I’ve had more than one woman come back in counseling and say, “Brad that helped me so much”. They always say, “I learned something”. and it’s just all the Scripture. It’s everything the Scripture has to say about biblical sexuality and how it is good.