Sunday, 30 June 2013

Is sex really that important?

Obviously, a blog about marriage is going to wind up talking about the sexual dimension of marriage.  Some people might have a hard time with that.  While we proclaim marriage to be a divine and eternal institution, all too often we feel fear, embarrassment or guilt discussing sexual intimacy, even with our own spouse.  I'm sure some people will find this blog and pass by never to return again as soon as the encounter a sexual topic.  If you are tempted to do that now, please stay a bit and let me plead my case to you.

The sexual dimension of marriage is what sets marriage apart from all other relationships.  Every other aspect of a marriage is something you can have in a relationship with a friend, or sibling, or parent.  Sex then is the defining characteristic of marriage.  When God married Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the fall had not yet taken.  They were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, to become 'one flesh', to cleave unto each other, all before sin entered the world.  The idea of sex being some 'dirty necessity' because of the fall is false.  Married sex was part and parcel of Paradise as God intended it.

Furthermore, The Proclamation on the Family states "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."  We were male and female in the beginning, and will remain so in the resurection as well.  Those who are faithful will have the opportunity to continue their marriage in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.  With sex the defining characteristic of marriage, and gender part of our eternal identity and purpose, the reasonable conclusion is that the sexual relationship between a husband and wife will also continue in the Celestial Kingdom for those couples in the highest degree.

Our mortal life is a probationary period, and everything we have in mortality is a stewardship.  For example, parents have a stewardship over their children, not ownership.  We have a stewardship over our time, talents, our body, our life, and our possessions.  If we are good stewards, then the parable of the talents works in our favor.  Having been faithful with few things, we are given much.

The sexual relationship of a marriage is also a stewardship, and the parable of the talents applies to this area of your life.  Those who abuse their sexuality, either by engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage, or by neglecting and starving the sexual relationship they should have with their spouse, will have taken from them even that which they have, and find themselves consigned to state of eternal celibacy if they do not repent.  Those who make better choices shall have eternal lives, and continue to expand their family for all eternity together with their spouse.

There is a cost in mortality to neglecting this stewardship.  A marriage that lacks mutual sexual fulfillment, or any progress towards it, is a source of emotional pain and distress for at least one spouse.  Rather than enjoying the strength and peace that comes from mutual sexual fulfillment in a marriage, they often find themselves in a state that leaves them vulnerable to temptation, depression, anger.  Rather than feeling the closeness of being 'one flesh' there is a gulf of rejection between them.  Left unaddressed, resentments can build up, turn into hostility, rebellion or coldness, and poison even the best relationship to death. 

It's important to note in the parable that not everybody starts off with the same stewardship, and so it is with our sexual stewardship.  Some couples may find their way to mutual sexual fulfillment with relative speed and ease, while another may go through many painful years, even decades, to learn and change so they can get to that same place.  In the end what is important is the direction of the relationship.

So yes, sexual intimacy is important.  Both for the happiness of both spouses during life, and for determining their place in the eternities.  Seeking to get to the point of mutual sexual fulfillment is not just a righteous goal, it is part of your eternal progression.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Bedding down

Our bed gets a lot of use.  There is the sleeping of course, and the times where we put out the 'Do Not Disturb' sign and lock the door.  But it is also where we gather for family prayer and family scripture reading.  It was where my wife would nurse our babies, where young children would come for comfort after a nightmare or when feeling ill.  It is where my wife relaxes with a good book or draws up plans for her garden or designs a new home.  It is where my wife and I have had some of our deepest joys and our hardest battles.  Where we have struggled with our hurts, where painful moments have slowly blossomed into new understanding and greater appreciation for each other.  Where Christmas presents have been wrapped and hidden. 

In our time we have gone through a few beds.  As newlyweds we went right from our honeymoon into the married student housing for the university I was attending.  It came furnished, but the bed was an old double mattress over a frame that had no box spring or platform.  The mattress was supported by springs that went side to side across the frame.  When we lay down it felt like we were the meat in a very large soft taco.  That night the frame was removed and the mattress put on the floor. 

We began a quest to find a bed of our own as soon as possible.  I've come to think that having the right bed is important to the intimate life of the marriage.  Here are my observations on the different types of beds we've had:

The Waterbed
Waterbeds are not a very popular choice these days, and if you want one you may have to do some looking for it.  If you are going to get one, get the very best motion reduction you can afford, and don't even think of getting a mattress with no motion reduction.

We had a king sized waterbed for many years. It was nice, especially in winter, to climb into a bed that was already warm, but it also was that much harder to climb out of it in the morning.  You had to get yourself up and over the side of the box holding the mattress.  That was one more reason to hit the snooze button.

There is some maintenance involved, including adding chemicals inside the mattress to help keep the vinyl in good shape, and finding and sealing the occasional small leak (then changing the damp bedsheets).  Any air bubbles in the mattress were a noisy nuisance and getting them out was a two person job.

Moving a waterbed is a big job of disassembling the frame after draining the mattress then moving all the pieces to the new home, putting the frame together and filling the mattress.  By the next day it would be warm enough sleep on.  A cold waterbed mattress is no fun at all.

As far as intimacy went, if you like variety, this is not the bed for you.  It was fine for the missionary position, but other positions were more awkward or even unworkable.  I have no idea if it was coincidence or if the magnetic field of the waterbed heater did something, but every child we conceived in that bed turned out to be a girl.

As we both added on a few pounds we reached a point where our combined weight when together would have us sink to the bottom which was not comfortable, and so decided it was time for a new bed. The mattress of a king sized waterbed is not the same dimensions as a king sized coil spring mattress so we got rid of the entire thing.

Coil Spring
Our next bed was a regular coil spring mattress, still king sized, but not exactly top of the line.  The frame was a metal platform frame so there was no box spring, just the mattress.  The platform part itself was a heavy gauge wire mesh but that had too much flex it in, so I got some 3/8 plywood sheets cut to the right size to drop into the frame and the mattress rested on that.  Problem solved.

Since I expect most of you have experienced coil spring mattress I won't go into detail on that, but the bed frame was very noisy during those intimate moments.  We were not bothered by that too much, but as the kids got older and realized what that noise meant they certainly complained, which gave us a chance to teach them a bit about the importance and rightness of intimacy in marriage.  They complained about that too.

Our mattress began to show a lot of uneven wear, creating a surface with high and low points resembling a map of Middle Earth.  I was getting a sore back from sleeping on it and it was time again to make a change.

Memory Foam
A few months ago we replaced our coil spring mattress with a new memory foam mattress.  The soft and medium mattresses were wonderful to lay on in the showroom, but to roll over felt like rolling uphill due to how deep we sank into the foam. Neither one of us spends the whole night in the same position so we went with a much firmer mattress.  We also made sure that the edges of the mattress held up,  we didn't want to roll over to be near the edge only to sink in to the point where we wind up getting dumped off the bed in our sleep.

We kept the metal frame but because motion is so well absorbed by the mattress, the frame makes practically no noise at all now even when we are at our most energetic.  That also means my light sleeping wife is not disturbed when I roll over or come to bed after she is already asleep.

In most cases there is no significant difference between a coil mattress and a firm memory foam mattress when being intimate, except that it is far more comfortable to kneel on.  The mattress change also added a couple inches of height to our bed, and that has proven advantageous as well but a thicker coil mattress would have given us that too.

In terms of moving, our memory foam mattress is much heavier than our coil spring mattress was, and not as flexible bending around corners as it was brought inside.  I expect softer memory foam mattresses would be more flexible than ours.

The next time you find yourself shopping for a bed, be sure to take into account how you and your spouse sleep.  Do you spoon through the night or each keep to your own side?  Do you stay in one position all through the night or do you move around a bit?  Are either of you prone to be woken up easily if the other rolls over?  But also take into account the impact the bed will have on your sexual relationship.  Does it open up new possibilities or close some off you would like to keep open?

Since you can't test all those things in the showroom, be sure the return policy will allow you to change your mind and be aware of how long you have that option before you make your purchase. 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Soul mates, by choice.

There is a popular romantic notion that each person has a 'soul mate', some special one and only person with whom they can have a perfect, life long romance.  Find and marry this person and you will live happily ever after, marry somebody else and it will end badly.  It helps create drama in romantic comedies, but as a guiding principle of relationships here in the real world it can be a hindrance, or even a destructive force.

There are 7 billion people in the world, the vast majority of them you will never ever meet.  Most of those you do meet will be in fleeting, short term encounters.  The person driving your bus, that stranger that asked for directions.  Only a tiny percentage of humanity will ever establish some kind of relationship with you, so from a statistical view, if there were soul mates almost nobody would run into them let alone marry them.

Of course you could take the view that an all knowing Heavenly Father will arrange things so soul mates do meet.  Fine, what happens then if this person dumps you, or is hit by a drunk driver and killed?  How do you cope with failing your one and only shot at bliss?  You could take Heavenly Father's intervention even further, claiming that He would set things up so you are sure to not fail or be thwarted, but that takes you into the territory of mimicking Satan's plan,  restricting everybody's freedom to choose so that specific outcomes are achieved.

The danger lies in the fact that there is no objective way of determining if somebody is your soul mate or not, it's purely emotional.  It can be amusing when some teenaged girl makes monthly announcements of finding her new soul mate, but more than one marriage has ended because one spouse came to believe that the person they married was not actually their 'soul mate' and somebody else was.  That opens the door to having an affair, and even feeling justified in doing so. 

The Church actively discourages the idea of soul mates as well.  President Kimball stated: "‘Soul mates’ are a fiction and an illusion" and Elder Boyd K. Packer said: "I do not believe in predestined love... You must do the choosing, rather than to seek for some one-and-only so-called soul mate, chosen for you by someone else and waiting for you."

At the same time however, many married couples, both in and out of the church, have experienced being directed toward marrying a specific person.  I've experienced this myself.

I met my wife at a Youth Conference dance when we were both teenagers.  Neither one of us knew many people there so she was trying to meet as many guys as she could, and I was trying to dance with as many pretty girls as I could.  I hadn't noticed her at any of the events before the dance, but the second I laid eyes on her that still small voice told me very clearly that I should go and meet her, which I gladly did.  There was an instant connection and we hung out with each other for the rest of the dance and talked about everything. By the end of that dance we were in love.

As I watched her leave, that still, small voice interupted my thoughts again and told me "She is the one".  I really liked the idea of things turning out like that, but I didn't want the pressure of knowing she was 'the one', especially since she lived a hundred miles from my home in another Stake.  Not ideal conditions for a long term relationship.

I had to be told she was the one three times that night to get past that fear. My fear of failure made me refuse to take it as guaranteed that we would marry, instead I took that revelation as an obligation to do all I could to pursue that outcome, which I did.  After years of dealing with the obstacles of a long distance relationship I popped the question soon after I returned home from my mission nearly 25 years ago.

So, how is it that I can be told she was 'the one' when there is no such thing as soul mates?

The answer is in the difference between predestination and foreordination.  I have no doubt that my wife and I are continuing a relationship that began before the world was, but if I had chosen to jump off the straight and narrow, or if she had, then she would not have been the one for me and I would not have been the one for her.  Instead we would both have been 'the one' for somebody else.  Both of us had our agency, but we both chose paths that made her the one for me and me the one for her.  We are soul mates by choice, not by destiny or fate.

The same can be true of any couple that strive for that kind of relationship in their marriage.  Nobody is a victim or pawn of fate, we are all agents in our marriage.  The choices we made resulted in the marriage we are in, and the choices we make will shape that relationship for good or ill.  While this gives each spouse the power to harm the marriage, it also gives each spouse the power to make the marriage better.  If the feeling that your spouse is 'the one' has been absent lately, perhaps it is time to make some new choices and bring that back.