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).