Sunday, 9 August 2015

Fight For Your Marriage Part 2: Messages

Read Part 1 first if you haven't yet.

Once you have prepared yourself to fight for your marriage, you need to take action.  In this case you need to deliver a number of messages to your spouse.

These message may be hard for them to wrap their head around.  They may run contrary to how they have always thought and how they have been taught and raised.  You will likely get some pushback on a number of them.  If you do, you will need to stand your ground lovingly and without apology.  Even if your spouse doesn't voice any objections, they may just be holding their tongue so you may want to address those points even if they are not raised.

The messages below are the ones that need to be delivered first and I've included the kind of pushback you are likely to get. You spouse may raise the same objections a number of time and when they do you will need to repeat your messages.  Eventually, even if they don't agree they will reach a point where they see the difference between what they think you are saying and what you are really saying. You do not necessarily need to deliver these messages in the order presented here, but together they lay the foundation for the messages I'll cover in the next post.  Pray for guidance in doing this and also listen for the messages your spouse is trying to send you.

Message 1:  I want a marriage that includes mutual sexual satisfaction.

Pushback:   You just want to satisfy yourself and don't care about my feelings.

This is where you try to get them to see your vision of what the marriage could be, and point out how it is different from what they may think your vision is.  You need to convince your spouse that your motives are not selfish.  If they feel you are only seeking your own pleasure, you won't get very far.  They have to know that you want their happiness as well and you are willing to make changes too.   Make sure you talk about 'we' and 'us' and 'our marriage', not about yourself.

Related post: Intimacy lessons from a jar of peanut butter 

Message 2:  It is a righteous desire.

Pushback:   You are being carnal and lustful.

God married Adam and Eve before the Fall, before sin.  He commanded them to cleave to each other and become one flesh, not push each other way and maintain barriers.  Paul taught that "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled" (Heb 13:4) and that a married couples should not defraud their spouse out of what marriage should include (1Cor 7:1-5).  The Bible says "let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love." (Prov 5:19Many latter-day prophets and apostles have made the point that the sexual desires man and woman feel toward each other are from God, to guide us into marriage and family and unite husband and wife.

Sometimes overzealous local church leaders, inhibited parents, or other factors can create in others  a distorted view of human sexuality that says any sexual feelings should be repressed and any sexual expression should be minimized, even within marriage.  This is wrong, we are told to bridle our passions.  That means we harness them and put them to productive and appropriate use, just as a bridle enables man to harness the power of a horse.  We don't let them run free, and we don't hunt them down and kill them.

It is not carnal or lustful to feel sexual desire.  How somebody reacts to those feelings may be carnal or lustful though.  If they put their own gratification ahead of keeping the commandments of God, that would be carnal and lustful, but feeling sexual desire or having sexual thoughts for your own spouse is not at odds with God's commands.  The desire to unite with one's spouse is a desire to do something God wants married couples to do.  Linda S. Reeves, Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency said in the April 2014 General Conference:
 The intimate marriage relationship between a man and a woman that brings children into mortality is also meant to be a beautiful, loving experience that binds together two devoted hearts, unites both spirit and body, and brings a fullness of joy and happiness as we learn to put each other first.
Satan seems to have two ways to use sex as a weapon.  One tactic is to get people to be promiscuous and break the law of chastity.  The other tactic is to turn what should be a source of joy in marriage into a source of heartbreak and conflict.  The Lord's way is for a man and woman to save themselves for marriage, and then enjoy together the passion and pleasure and joy of a mutually fulfilling intimate relationship.

Related Post: Spreadsheets and Bedsheets

Message 3:  Our marriage needs it.

Pushback:   You can live just fine without it, it is only a want.

We tend to think of needs in terms of what we need to remain alive, but survival is not the objective in marriage, oneness is.  While it is true that people do not die from a lack of sex, it is also true that many marriages do.  President Spencer W. Kimball said:

If you study the divorces, as we have had to do in these past years, you will find there are one, two, three, four reasons. Generally sex is the first. They did not get along sexually. They may not say that in court. They may not even tell that to their attorneys, but that is the reason.
If the intimate relationship in a marriage is not a happy one, then the longevity of the marriage is at risk.  Even if divorce seems silly at the present, the accumulation of hurt and frustration can turn love cold and ferment into anger given enough time.  A spouse who feel unwanted is more vulnerable to temptations.  They can't shift the blame for any wrong they do onto their spouse, but what sense is there for somebody to make it harder for their spouse to do the right thing when they have the option to make it easier instead?

You can think of intimacy as being the food that sustains a marriage.  A variety of well balanced meals served frequently is ideal.  Throw in some snacks and deserts and special treats.  Have feasts, celebrations, quick and simple meals to go when time is short.  Now and then try a new dish. How much healthier is a marriage like that compared to one where a crust of bread periodically interrupts  a famine?

Related Post: Is having sex a need or a want?

Message 4:  It is possible.

Pushback:   I'm not not a sexual person. /  I'm 'broken' that way.

We like to think that making love comes naturally, but the truth is that for a couple to achieve mutual satisfaction they must both become students of their spouse's body and heart and mind and likewise become their spouse's teacher on the topic of their own body and heart and mind.  If a spouse doesn't understand this and leaves their spouse ignorant of the best ways to please them (or teaches them wrongly by faking it) they can get to a point where they think there must be something fundamentally wrong with themselves sexually.  They can come to see themselves as 'broken' or 'not one of the lucky ones' or 'being sexual just isn't who I am'.

If your spouse says things like that when discussing the messages above or at other times, you need to help them find the faith to try.  Don't push them from behind, encourage them and lead them.

God wants all his children to be happy and He will be there to help.  It may seem odd at first, but there is nothing wrong with praying to God to help your sexual relationship with your spouse.  It also helps to de-personalize past problems.  Nothing is inherently wrong with either of you, you both just didn't have all the right information and skills you needed and that can be changed if you work together.

It is not wrong to seek out information from trustworthy sources to help overcome obstacles.  My wife and I were greatly blessed by Laura Brotherson's book 'And They Were Not Ashamed'.  Other good books on marriage exist as well, many of them focusing on some specific aspect.  Don't be too embarrassed to buy and read such books (alone or as a couple), there is nothing wrong with learning how to be a better lover of your spouse, there is no shame in seeking professional counseling or medical help if that is needed to move forward.  Whatever challenge a couple has, others have already had it and there are resources and information to help.

Related Post: Fear, the intimacy killer

When you are at the point where your spouse understands that your goal includes their happiness, and it is a good and important thing that you can achieve, then you are ready to move on to the next set of messages.  After that I'll go over some strategies for how to deliver those messages.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Fight For Your Marriage Part 1: Preparation

The comments on my previous post reminded me of the time I started seeking to improve my marriage.  It also reminded me of conversations I've had with a friend in a similar situation years later, and many posts and comments I've seen in other marriage blogs and discussion boards.

In all these cases one spouse realized that their marriage needed to improve in the area of intimacy, and the other spouse was pushing back and opposed to the very idea.  Either somebody had to fight for their marriage to make it better, or just give up and accept things as they were and hope the hurt and disappointment didn't turn to resentment and anger, or lead to worse consequences.

I believe that fighting for your marriage is the right thing to do, and this blog is mostly about doing just that. I've talked about individual pieces of what fighting for your marriage includes but now I feel it's time to pull it together.  Although this is written from the perspective of resolving intimacy issues in the marriage, the same principles apply to other situations with a little adaption.

If you are in this situation and ready to fight for a better marriage than you have now, then you should first prepare yourself in these areas:

You need a vision of what your marriage could and should be.  I don't mean a dramatic revelation from God, but you need a picture in your head of what it is you want to work towards.  Chances are your spouse has a picture of that in their head too.  They may be as unhappy about things as you, just for different reasons.  The challenge will be to find a picture you agree on, then make it a reality as much as possible.  For now you need to start off with clarifying a picture of your own.

Joseph Smith said in Lectures on Faith that "it is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action".  Fighting for your marriage will not be easy.  There will be emotional pain, tears, frustration.  If you do not have faith that it will lead to something better you will not put in enough effort to accomplish what you want.  You need faith that God will help you, and faith that there is a way to move towards your vision.

Know who the enemy is... and is not
It's sometimes easy to see your spouse as the cause of hurt and pain then cast them as the enemy.  That isn't reality however, Satan is the enemy, and what better way can he destroy a marriage than to get spouses to see each other as the villain and forget about him?

Your spouse is your team mate.  They may not be as much of an asset to the team as they could be, but the same could probably be said for you as well.  The point is you can't go into this with the idea of 'defeating' your spouse.  You either win together or you lose together.

Part of your objective is to find a way to work together as a team.  If you are attacking them, criticizing them, complaining, and rubbing their face in their perceived failures, whey would they want to be on the same team as you?

Joseph Smith wrote in a letter to the Church:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— (D&C 121:41-42)
Note that he didn't just say it was a bad idea, he said that you can not maintain any kind of influence in somebody's life through authoritarian means.  It is impossible in the long run.  Seeing your spouse as your team mate rather than your enemy will help you treat them as those verses outline.  Fight the real enemy instead.

Related posts

Live the gospel 
The best way to fight Satan is to live the gospel as best you can.  That's right, go to church (and the temple), read the scriptures, pray and keep the commandments.  Don't brush that off as trite or simplistic.  A wise Bishop of mine once said that other than receiving ordinances like the sacrament, the purpose of any church meeting is to receive revelation, those quiet whispers of the Spirit reminding us of something we should do.  It can also happen while read the scriptures, but if our lives our out of harmony with the gospel we block God's inspiration.

You can not change somebody's heart, but God can.  You need His help and His inspiration.  Through faith and righteousness you can draw on the powers of heaven and gain access to the gifts of the Spirit.  Living the gospel will also increase your faith and your capacity to love.

When you pray, don't pray like you are leaving a voice mail message for God.  Talk with Him, tell him not just what you want but why you want it.  Tell him what you plan to do, how you feel and what made you feel that way.  Don't tell him what you think He wants you to say, say what you really mean, and even cry on His shoulder.  Plead your case.  He knows what you are feeling, He won't rob you of the growth you get from overcoming by giving you some instant fix, but He will help. 

Un-Christlike behaviour and attitudes are at the root of all relationship issues.  The more Christlike you can become, the better off your marriage is even if nothing else changes.

Related posts

Have righteous motives
When your spouse pushes back, one thing they may do is call your motives into question.  You need to make sure your motives are well thought out and in harmony with the gospel so you are ready to answer such accusations by clearly explaining why you are pursuing this.

Don't just focus on the external and immediate pain point. If you frame your objective as having sex more often with your spouse, you may want to re-think that.  That only looks at what you want, with no consideration for your spouse's feelings or needs.  Your spouse will sense you ulterior, selfish motive and refuse to co-operate, or pursue a selfish motive of their own to further limit intimacy with no regard for your feelings.  Each one is as bad as the other.

In theory you could have sex more often by resorting to bullying and manipulation but would that get you the kind of marriage you want?  No, and in the long run I expect you would find yourself alone if you did that. Having sex more often should not be the objective, the objective should be to have a mutually happy and fulfilling relationship.  One where you each have leaned how to find real joy in meeting each others needs.  An increase in sexual intimacy is only a side effect and the sexual relationship is only a portion of what makes a marriage happy and fulfilling for both spouses.

Related posts

Ground yourself in sound doctrine
Another area where push back occurs is over basic ideas and beliefs about sexuality.  You may have to push back against ideas like sex is a necessary evil, or intended only for reproduction, or that sexual desire for one's spouse is not in keeping with church standards, or having sex often is carnal, or that sexual desire is lust or that sex should not be that important.

It is important that you don't buy into such false ideas, or you will find yourself hard pressed to help your spouse overcome them.  Get it firmly settled in your heart that sex is a wonderful and divine gift from God and he is fully approving of married couples being intimate and enjoying, often.  There are many quotes from various General Authorities along those lines.

Some true teachings are misunderstood.  Passions are to be bridled, but sometimes that message is taken as they are to be repressed.  To bridal one's passions means they are harnessed so they can put to good use.  Never buy into the idea that you are somehow in the wrong to feel a desire for intimacy with your spouse.  Feeling sexual desire only becomes carnal or lustful if one puts their gratification above obedience to God.  The desire a spouse feels for their partner is neither carnal or lustful since it is a desire to do something righteous.  It is also an emotion God planted in the hearts of mankind to bring men and women together to be one flesh.  God command Adam and Eve to cleave to each other, not push each other away.

Related posts

Have realistic objectives  
Perfection is not going to happen in this world.  Our spouse won't be perfect, we won't be perfect, and our circumstances won't be perfect either.  Our objectives need to be realistic and this is an area where it is best to keep objectives vague and not attach an artificial deadline to them.  Feeling pressured destroys intimacy and can backfire by creating resentment and frustration and a lack of co-operation.  It is not a race, if things are moving in the right direction, be happy about it.  If they are not moving in the right direction, don't make it worse by over reacting.

There are a number of circumstances that will slow progress.  Negative emotions resulting from past sexual sins, growing up in a sex-negative home environment, and wrong teaching by well meaning local church leaders are things that can be dealt with but they can take some time.  Mental illness, other medical conditions, past sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences can be much harder to overcome, and might never be fully overcome in mortality.

They may take your effort to change things as a way of you saying you don't love them as they are and need to be reassured that you are trying to change things because you love them, not because you need them to change for you to love them.

How many times have you heard that contention is of the devil?  Probably a lot.  Let's take a closer look at that scripture:

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11:29)
To me, a 'spirit of contention' is an attitude of looking for a fight, taking offense easily, and acting out in anger.  It is not like what Jude said when he told the early Christians to 'earnestly contend for the faith' (Jude 1:3).

You can not fight for your marriage without running into disagreements with your spouse, and having your spouse object and push back.  There will be times where you need to push back against what they say and stand your ground with courage, but you need to be able to 'earnestly contend', not 'contend with anger'.   No name calling, no lashing out.  Even with your deepest disagreements you need to remember that 'A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.' (Prov 15:1)

If you feel yourself getting angry, shelve the topic for another time.  If you tend toward the other end of the scale and avoid conflict even when you should not, you need to steel yourself for those moments where you have to take a stand.

Related posts

It is easy to see how our partner needs to change, and also easy to be blind to how we need to change.  Are you being the best spouse you can be?  Are you meeting your husband's or wife's relationship needs well?  How do you know what their needs are?  Just because you are doing things the way you would like them done for you doesn't mean you are doing them the way your spouse needs them done. 

This isn't about 'fixing them' and if they feel it is that will lead them to push back.  It has to be about improving the marriage.  It is pretty rare for only one spouse to need to change to improve a marriage, so be prepared to listen and learn what you need to do for them.  Set the example by not pushing back and resisting change, even if they do.  Invite your spouse to help you become better and they won't feel like this is a one way street.

Related posts

Persistence and patience
Deeply engrained ideas can take time to change, especially when there are deep emotions that go with them.  Don't expect one brilliantly worded speech to change much.  You are going to have to repeat yourself several times, refute the same objections again and again before an old paradigm is replaced with a new one.  Don't get frustrated, just calmly and peacefully address the concern again.  Exercise faith that things will change and continue to pray for help and guidance.  Remember the parable of the unjust judge.

Charity and forgiveness
Last but not least, you must have charity towards your spouse.  1Cor 13:4-7 has a lot to say of charity.  It suffereth long and is kind.  It keeps one from 'acting unseemly' (lashing out, slamming doors, other immature and destructive behaviors).  A charitable person does not selfishly seek for just their own satisfaction without regard for others, doesn't take offense easily, and don't assume the worst of others.  In fact the key to being charitable is to assume the best, and not attribute to malice what can be explained by ignorance or something else.

You also must not hold a grudge over any past offense.  If you do that you will not be able to do the things above. Forgiving somebody doesn't mean you pretend it never happened, it doesn't mean you don't still hurt over it, it doesn't mean you must extend the same trust as before, but it does mean that you let go of any desire for payback, any hostility toward the other person. 

To restore a relationship fully requires both forgiveness and reconciliation.  Forgiveness is something an offended person can give no matter what the offender does or does not do, but for there to be reconciliation the offender needs to act to fix what they broke.  That would include recognizing their error, feeling genuine regret for it that matches the seriousness of the offense, making a full confession, asking for forgiveness, making restitution and not doing it again.  The same steps we take when we reconcile ourselves to God through repentance.

That a lot of preparation, but you must start with that.  Next we'll discuss things you can do and how to do them.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth

I have to confess something.  My wife is the only woman that I've kissed in romantic way.

I didn't plan it to be like that.  I got my Patriarchal Blessing when I was 16 and it said that 'in time' I would meet a select daughter of God take her to the temple to be married.  I lived in a small town with a small branch, no LDS girls my age within 50 miles and I was not interested in dating a non-LDS girl.  The closest I got to having a girlfriend before then was the time I had a crush on a girl that couldn't stand me.  It sounded to me like finding my future wife was way off in the distance.  I figured I would serve a mission, come home and move to the city, and then go through a number of relationships, but thanks to some divine intervention I hit the jackpot about 10 months after that blessing.

Still, I did have to wait.  She wasn't old enough to take on a double date when we met, and we took things slow.  Partly out of heading the caution of our church leaders, partly because it was a long distance relationship.  Her family moved evern further away the next year, then the year after that I left on a mission.  It was about 4 and a half years after we met that we finally knelt at a temple alter.

We didn't rush into kissing, but we didn't wait until we were married either.  A kiss can be so many things.  It can be a quick, casual peck on the cheek, a formal greeting, platonic affection (Acts 20:37), gallantry, worshipful devotion (Luke 7:38) or a passionate event.  It can also be an act of betrayal as it was with Judas or with anybody who give their affections to another outside the of their current relationship.  It can create arousal or revulsion, excitement or offense.

In a dating relationship, kissing is a serious thing.  It is the most physically intimate act a dating couple can participate in without crossing the line and it indicates a level or commitment that elevates the relationship above others.

My wife and I did not let our kisses become passionate until after we were engaged, and even then we limited those kinds of kisses to the times when we were saying goodbye for the evening.  There were times it took a lot of effort to pull myself away from her lips and perhaps that was unwise to risk that much temptation, but thankfully neither of us gave in and did something we shouldn't have.

My wife said many years later that she was glad we did that because it comforted her to know that she was able to have those kinds of feelings for the man she was about to marry.  We both felt passion and desire, but we had it bridled.  The wedding picture I love best is the one where her arms are around my neck, my hands on her waist holding her close.  Her eyes are closed and her head tilted back, lips slightly parted, surrendering to the kiss we are just about to share.  At the wedding reception we were both more than happy to osculate when the guests clinked the glasses.  We may have clinked them ourselves once or twice to get them started.

A strange thing happened however shortly after our wedding.  The kissing stopped.  There were still the quick hello/goodbye kisses, but not he passionate kissing done just to enjoy the intimacy of  kissing, not making out.  Passionate kissing was the canary in the coal mine; it's ending signaled the onset of all the challenges in our intimate relationship that marked the early years of our marriage.

My wife knew that during the engagement, kissing would only be kissing, but now that we were married she expected kissing would be seen by me as foreplay.  If she was not in the mood to have sex (and that was most of the time back then) then kissing was off the table too.

In the later years, when things in the bedroom were good but not great, kissing was still on the back burner.   It wasn't until we set out to make our intimate life as wonderful as the rest of our marriage that we even really addressed it, and addressing it made a big difference.

I'm sure that James did not have kissing in mind when he said "the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" (James 3:5) but there is still more than a little truth in taking it that way.  I don't think it is possible to reach the same level of passion in a marriage without kissing, as you can with it.

Not all kissing has to be foreplay though.  My wife and I always make a point sharing a meaningful kiss before we part or when we come back together.  Even when it's just her heading off to Relief Society and me heading off to Priesthood.  By meaningful I mean a tender and sweet kiss on the lips, done with deliberate affection.  Sometimes when we reunite after work the kiss is a little longer, or supplemented with a kiss on the neck or behind the ear while holding each other close. If one of us feels like giving the other a kiss, we share a kiss.  A small interruption to be reminded that you are loved is a nice thing.

How is the kissing going in your marriage?  When was the last time you gave your spouse a kiss that wasn't done just out of habit?   If you want to ramp things up, here are some ideas that might help:

Learn how you spouse wants to be kissed.  
Do they hate big sloppy kisses or do they not care, or even like that?  Does a kiss on the neck send shivers down their spine?  Talk with your spouse, find out what kinds of kisses they like and don't like, where they liked to be kissed on their body and even what locations or settings they want or don't want to be kissed in.  Something about being alone with my wife in an elevator makes me want to give her a nice long kiss. 

Develop good kissing skills
It's kind of up to your spouse what makes a kiss good, but it doesn't hurt to look around for ways to become a better kisser. There are a number of places online that go over kissing techniques, I'm not going to point you to any one in particular but if you Google 'How to kiss' you'll find a few places that will go over it.

Take your time
Practice makes perfect.  Setting aside time for kissing is a wonderful thing and it gives you both the chance to explore and communicate about what works and what doesn't.  Take a drive some evening out to some private spot and make out like teenagers.  Also take your time with the kiss itself, inside and outside the bedroom.  Make each kiss an intentional intimacy.  Now and then have a 15 second kiss when you both get home from work, or perhaps a 30 second kiss.

Be ready
The best thing to do is to brush your teeth regularly, and include brushing the surface of the tongue and roof of the mouth as well.  Carry breath mints if you need to.  Keeping the lips kiss ready is good too.  I carry a ChapStick with me all the time and use it a fair bit.

Don't attach strings to it
I mentioned before how my wife used to avoid kissing when she wasn't in the mood for sex.  She expected that one would have to include the other.   It's OK however to have kissing without an obligation to have sex as well.

If you are going to do that, it must be mutually understood and agreed to at the start.  If my wife indicates that sex is off the table but she is willing to engage in some kissing, we have a wonderful intimate time and I do not try and pressure her or seduce her into going further than she said she was willing to go.  This has been a real blessing in our marriage at those times when her health has temporarily put limits on what she can do.

Don't be ashamed of it
Go ahead, kiss in public, kiss in front of the kids, show up at your spouse's workplace and give them a kiss there, kiss at church, kiss in the Celestial Room of the temple.  Keep it appropriate for the setting, and be sensitive about any inhibitions you spouse may have not yet overcome, but never be afraid to express your love for each other with a loving kiss.

Kissing and kisses have been made the subject of many songs for a reason.  Little girls dream of getting a true love's kiss before they have any concept of sexual love and one kiss can sear itself into a person's memory for life.  It may seem like a small thing, but a renewal of kissing in your marriage could result in many other good things for the both of you.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

How to grow your love for your spouse

I love Valentine's Day.  I know some people think it is a fake holiday invented by greeting card companies but I don't see it that way.  It is a ritual, and rituals are reminders that focus our attention on something we otherwise could take for granted and even forget over time.  I also see it as a challenge to step up my game and make sure my wife feels as deeply loved as possible.

I loved her the day we met and I loved her even  more deeply the day we got married.  I didn't think I could love anybody more than that, yet here I am over 25 years later, loving her more than ever before.  That is the magic of love.  Perhaps the explanation is that I've always loved her as much as I was able to love, and over time that capacity to love has increased allowing me to love her more.

I believe there are things we can do to increase our capacity to love our spouse (and others), and it doesn't matter if the relationship is already super or if there are some real challenges to work on.  There is always room for growth and we should make an effort of some kind to perfect our love for our spouse.  If we are not moving forward we are backsliding, so don't get too content.

But what do we do in order to love our spouse more?  Here are some ideas.

Love God more than you love your spouse.
If you love God more than your spouse, you will love your spouse more than if you put your spouse at the top of the list.  It sounds counter-intuitive but it is true.  In Gal 5:22 it says "the fruit of the Spirit is love" and from this we can know that love is a gift of the Spirit.  Those who rebel against God are described as having hearts that are hard (Moses 6:27) and the Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from those who harden their hearts (Hel 13:8).

When the Spirit of the Lord withdraws, the gift of love goes with it.  When we put God first and submit our heart to Him above all else we can be blessed with a greater measure of the Spirit of the Lord, and with that a greater capacity to love.  Or, as John said:
1John 5:1-2
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
Increasing our love for God is the same as increasing out love for our spouse as well, so the suggestions below apply to both.

You can not truly serve somebody from the heart without coming to feel greater love for them.  Faithful Bishops, Presidents, missionaries, teachers and more testify on their release (if not sooner) of the love they have for those they have served.  That love grew as a result of the service they gave.  The same is true in a marriage.  As you serve your spouse, your love for them will grow.

If you are not deliberately doing some kind of act of service for your spouse on a daily basis, start today.  It doesn't have to be anything big or elaborate or prepared in advance, but it does need to be a genuine act of service done with a willing heart.  If we do something grudgingly "it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift" (Moroni 7:8).  If you are already serving them daily, can you do better?  Are you actively on the lookout for an opportunity to do something to make your spouse's life happier, more comfortable, more joyful?

Nobody wants to be taken for granted by their spouse, but it can be so easy to do just that.  If we are not attentive with a grateful heart we can overlook the little acts of service our spouse does for us, or come to just expect them as something they are supposed to do anyway.

No spouse is perfect, so if we go looking for what it is that our spouse is failing in, we will find something.  Chances are they are aware they could do better at that too, but if they are not recognized for what they are doing right, why bother working harder to do more things right?

Turn that habit around, notice the things your spouse is doing well and praise them for it.  If it is something you have come to expect from them realize there are spouses out there who do not do that.  Make a point of giving praise and gratitude both in private and in front of others when appropriate.  Perhaps use social media to express your thankfulness as well.  And always be as specific as possible when expressing gratitude or giving praise.  Pretend you are trying to convince your spouse, because some spouses need to be convinced

If a couple makes a point of doing those things, I'm confident that their love for each other will grow and flourish.  Even if there are troubles, having the Spirit of the Lord is present with service and gratitude creates an environment where healing and progress can happen.  Rather than go 'back to normal' now that Valentine's Day is over, start laying the foundation for a Valentine's Day next year where you can honestly say you are more in love with your spouse than ever before.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

How to refuse having sex with your spouse

Nobody gets through life without experiencing the pain of rejection.  You may have been turned down by the school you wanted to attend, you may not have won the job or promotion you sought after, your ideas may be ridiculed and dismissed, or perhaps nobody will publish that great novel you wrote.

The most painful rejections however happen in the realm of human relationships.  A guy who has asked a girl for a dance only to have her scoff at his request can remember the painful sting of it long afterwards.  Likewise a girl who hopes for romantic attention from some boy, only to see him fall in love with somebody else can experience a deep heartache that crushes the joy out of life for a time.

Over time we tend to build up what I call 'The Wall'.  An emotional buffer zone or barrier we put between ourselves and others so they can't hurt our feelings as easily.  Some are lucky to have The Wall in place early in life, others don't experience a number of wounds first.

Emotional intimacy in marriage requires that we let our spouse in past The Wall but doing this leaves us vulnerable.  We are giving our spouse power to inflict the deepest of hurts when we let them in like that.  We may trust that they will be careful, but sooner or later they will do something we find hurtful.  Usually sooner.  Nobody can read the mind of their spouse and know where all the sore spots are.  Sometimes we find them the hard way and cause unintentional pain in the ones we love.  This has a lot to do with why some people resist emotional intimacy.  They don't want to be vulnerable, they don't want the lack of control that comes with giving another person so much power over their inner life so they keep them outside The Wall as much as they can. 

For many (and not just men) being refused sexual intimacy by their spouse can be the most painful rejection of all.  A marriage where that pain is frequently felt is at risk.  Over time that pain can turn to resentment and anger, or lead a person to resort to destructive coping strategies that eventually breakup of the marriage, or transform it into sexless sham of matrimony.  Even if everything outside the bedroom is perfect and both spouses feel genuine love for each other, it will be hard for them to sustain it in an environment where they frequently feel rejected.

Does that mean that somebody should always accept an invitation to be intimate with their spouse, no matter what?  Of course not.  While I feel that a married couple should make every reasonable effort to make love as frequently as either spouse desires, the reality is that there are times when that is not possible, or when doing so would be harmful to a relationship rather than helpful.

If somebody is ill or exhausted or otherwise unavailable it is not rejection, it is bad timing and poor circumstances.  If the trust and respect that should exist between a couple has been harmed, or there are serious unresolved conflicts, those should be addressed first so that neither spouse comes away from having sex feeling coerced, used, or dominated rather than loved and cherished.  The objective of every intimate encounter should be mutual happiness.

There is a world of difference between can't be intimate and won't be intimate.  A spouse feels rejected when they feel that their partner is either expressing a dislike for them, uncaring of their needs and feelings, ranking them as less important compared to other things in their life, or just plain old being selfish.   It doesn't matter if that is or isn't accurate, if they think that is why they were turned down, they will feel the intense pain of rejection.  So here are some ways you can avoid causing hurt feelings at those times when you need to turn down being intimate with your spouse.

Explain why you can't.
Don't assume they know how you are feeling.  Don't think that subtle hints get through.  Clearly inform them of what it is that leads you to turn them down.  If you don't, they will try and figure it out themselves and likely get it wrong.

Show them you are making a point of removing the obstacle
If you are just too tired, don't stay up late watching TV, get some sleep so you won't be too tired tomorrow as well.  If you are sick, focus on what you need to do to get better.  If there is tension and distrust in the relationship, take action to find healing. Make sure your spouse knows you are doing something to get past the obstacles and that you are serious about changing things for the better.  Ask them to help with that if they can.

Make sure they know you wish things were different too.
Even if they don't feel rejected, they can still feel disappointed or even frustrated when things don't turn out the way they wished.  Those feelings are a reflection of their love for you and should be taken as a compliment. But don't leave them feeling like they are the only one feeling a touch of heartache.  A little sympathy and empathy can go a long way, so tell them you are not thrilled about it either.  It softens the blow and affirms the relationship.

Promise to make it worth the wait
Sacrifice is sometimes defined as giving up something good in the present in order to gain something better in the future.  If you are going to ask them to sacrifice their desires for your benefit, let them know how it will lead to them gaining something better in the future.  You can make a vague promise that you will make waiting worth it, but it will be more powerful if you promise some specific intimate treat.  It could be something you wear for them, a special date, a certain position or intimate act or anything else above and beyond the usual.  If you do this be sure to keep that promise without delay so they don't feel they were toyed with.

Give what you can.
Physical intimacy isn't limited to just having sex.  If you can still give them a passionate kiss, a long embrace, a sexual touch, a cuddle, or fall asleep in each others arms, the contact and closeness will leave them feeling loved and accepted in spite of not being able to make love.  A little loving is better than nothing, but you do need to make it clear at the start where the limits are of what you are able to give, and you need to know that your spouse will respect those limits.  If you don't do that you could wind up doing more harm than good.

If being refused is not a common event, it will be hard for a spouse to take being turned down as a personal rejection if even just one of those suggestions are put into practice.  If several are used together it becomes even harder.

If a spouse has frequently felt rejected there can be emotional scars to deal with.  They might emotionally withdraw, putting their spouse back outside The Wall to protect themselves.  In that case the most important of those suggestions is showing their spouse that they are working on changing what they need to change and that they are committed to removing as much rejection from their relationship as possible. Without that, the other suggestions will likely be seen as insincere and manipulative.

Things will never be perfect in mortality.  Your spouse will still cause the occasional unintended hurt and so will you, but when there is a sincere effort to avoid doing that, and a heartfelt effort to heal any hurts, those events will become vehicles to a deeper understanding and connection with our eternal companions and the closer a couple can get to a rejection-free marriage, the stronger their emotional bond can become.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Sexuality and Spirituality

Something that is commonly said by marriage bloggers, counselors, and those who write books on marriage and sexuality for Christian audiences is that sex is a physical, emotional and spiritual need for men.  I have no problem seeing the truth of the first two, but it has always been hard for me to see sex as a spiritual need.

For the first 22 years of my life I didn't have any kind of sexual relationship with anybody, and it had no impact as far as I could tell on my testimony or my relationship with God or any aspect of my spirituality.  Also, after getting married our sexual relationship was not so good in the early years and is better than ever right now.  The ups and downs of my love life however do not seem linked the state of my spiritual life.

Sure, when things are good there is that much more to be grateful for, and being sexually satisfied within one's marriage can lessen the temptation to commit sexual sins and increases one's desire to qualify for the Celestial Kingdom where the relationship can continue for eternity.  But I see our relationship with God as being defined by our own individual behaviour.

An intimate relationship that is not mutually fulfilling may or may not be caused by something that also hampers that person's spirituality, and having a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship doesn't indicate anything about somebody's spirituality.  Certainly it is beneficial to have that part of a marriage going well, but it is not a requirement for being in tune with the Spirit.

What I have come to understand is that more than sex being a spiritual need, sex has a spiritual need.  In other words, both the husband and the wife need to have a deep commitment to keeping their passions, appetites and desires inside the boundaries set by the Lord so they can maintain a satisfying intimate life now and forever.  A loving Heavenly Father has given us standards and commandments to allow us the joy of sexual fulfillment safely.

Without a resolve to live by the standards of the gospel, the ecstasy of sexual pleasure can wear away at those boundaries over time.  A person or couple can begin to stray further and further out of the light seeking more and more forbidden fruit or exotic thrills.  Over time righteous sexuality can morph into rebellious hedonism.

Sexual pleasure is a powerful force for good in a marriage, but it can also turn destructive if handled carelessly, and nobody is immune from the danger. The Lord warned it can start small and end up with large consequences:
Doctrine and Covenants 42:23
And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit...

Doctrine and Covenants 63:16
And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.
A Case Study

This was all brought into focus for me though my participation in a sex and marriage online forum, and I think the story is instructive.  This forum is specifically for Mormon couples to talk with each other in seeking answers and sharing advice in the hope of achieving a mutually fulfilling sex life.  I joined it and began posting there seeing an obvious connection between their objectives and my own with this blog.

The big difference however is that the forum allows posters to promote, encourage, glorify and advocate for things that are contrary to the standards of the gospel.  You don't have to look hard to see posts and threads that promote masturbation for example.  Look some more and you'll find the same for removing temple garments so that immodest clothing can be worn on date night or for the thrill of sleeping nude together.  There is also tolerance for posters blaming the church or church leaders for failing to take care of things that in reality they are not responsible for, anti-Mormon accusation against Joseph Smith or the church over polygamy, watching porn as a couple to 'help' a marriage, and even promoting the swinging lifestyle and the adultery that goes along with it.  For that reason I'm not going to promote, link to, or even name the forum.

To be fair, there was a lot of good discussion as well, and the good far outweighed the bad with the possible exception of all the discussion on masturbation, but something very interesting happened when I began to point out the church's position on these things.  I was met with anger, LOTS of anger.  Did I insult people?  No.  Was I trolling for flames?  No.  I simply expressed clearly that the Church's position was that masturbation was wrong.  I supported it citing numerous official publications from the church including where President Spencer W. Kimball spoke on behalf of the Lord saying He did not approve of it in the October 1980 General Conference Report, and even referring to the fact that Handbook 1 (section 6.7.1) refers to it as something contrary to the standards of the Church alongside violating the Word of Wisdom and using porn.

In trying to justify their anger they complained about my being repetitious, yet I was only replying to the claims they had repeated over and over.  They also took offense that I would not take the clear direction of prophets, apostles and the church and downgrade it into a personal opinion of my own for their personal comfort.  Nephi said 'the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center' (1Nep 16:2) and I think this was a classic example of that in some cases.  Some posters even decided or threatened to leave the board.

Those who were angry complained to the moderators who then gave me a warning in a private message sent near the start of December.  It said it was a 'final warning' and any further complaints would result in my being banned.  I do not recall receiving a previous warning like that from them but I'm not able to check that any longer.  I politely responded to them saying why I felt the accusations made were not warranted and giving examples to back up what I said.  Being open to correction however, I asked them to show me the post(s) that justified the warning to help me understand.  I received no reply at all.

A week ago the lead moderator bowed to the pressure put on him and banned me.  They announced it to the forum in a public area and said I was not banned for my views but for driving people away. I believe in their hearts they really think that, but I would say the truth of the matter is that anybody who expresses the same views as I did will be met with the same reaction no matter how they word it.  The guilty would again take offense and rise up demanding their removal unless they be quiet or censored.

They also said I caused 'serious harm' to another poster.  Hard to picture how that could happen.  And if that really is so, why can't they point out to me where it happened?  I was polite and factual (as I am here), even when others were rude and insulting.  It feels to me like my crime was being steadfast in upholding what the church said and unwilling to validate actions contrary to the teachings of the church. 

I emailed the moderators after being banned, speaking to their concerns and I asked them again to show me what post(s) of mine justified their action.  Again I got no answer from them.  I believe they are not able to find a post of mine that meets the standard for banning.  I think all they have are invalid complaints from people who wanted me silenced.  They are free to reply to my email to them anytime if they actually do have something more substantial than that.

Ironically, my banning is causing other posters to consider leaving the forum as well.  As one of them said, it is no longer an LDS forum.  I took this past week to ponder the whole thing rather than make some knee jerk reaction, and that is where it crystallized in my mind more than ever before that sex needs spirituality, not the other way around.  That forum has not committed itself to upholding the standards of the church, and so it has backslid into a place where people who have gone outside the boundaries set by the Lord will try to influence others to do things that are contrary to the gospel, and react with anger and hostility to anything or anyone that brings those boundaries into focus and show they really are the Lord's boundaries.

I'm sad things turned out this way.  There are very few resources out there for Mormons who want an LDS specific approach to sex and marriage that fully conforms to the standards of the church. That forum has the potential to become one.  If the moderators required that posts not conflict with the standards and commandments of the church, or attacked the church and it's leaders,  and enforced that, they would lose some posters right away but they would make it a place where 10,000 times as many Mormons would feel comfortable.

I'm grateful for the posters who objected to my banning, especially those who did not agree with me but recognized it was the wrong approach.  If my account was unbanned and the forum became a place that upheld the standards of the church I would be happy to return, but I don't expect that will happen. 

If any of you from that forum see this and want to say anything to me about what happened over there or ask a question about it, please do so by email (scroll to the bottom to see the address).