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Turn Up the Heat by Dr. Kevin Leman

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Communicate for a Better Sex Life

By Dr. Kevin Leman
Author of Turn Up the Heat from Page 1)

Q: My husband is a workaholic. His driven nature has taken the spark out of our relationship and has made our house a tense place to be (if he doesn’t make a deadline, the whole family gets the brunt of his frustration). When he does take the time for sex, it seems like that’s driven too . . . and lacks the warmth, spontaneity, and love that we used to have. How can I tell my husband, without offending him, that I want the man I fell in love with back?

A: Because a man is so driven to succeed by today’s culture, and that’s also the way God almighty made him (to provide for his family), it’s easy for him to fall into workaholism. But workaholism can destroy the very foundation of the marriage you are working to build together. Sometimes husbands overwork because they fear being out of work (and so want a cushion) or because they need the encouragement that a bonus or a slap on the back for a job well done brings. Sometimes husbands overwork because they feel they aren’t needed — and sometimes aren’t wanted — at home. So why bother to be there? Why not bury yourself in a career where you get visible rewards?

First you need to figure out why your husband is overworking. Oftentimes men have no idea how their workaholism is impacting their marriage and family. If you are a woman of faith, pray that God will change your husband’s heart. The hard thing is that at this point there is little you can say that won’t sound confrontational.

What you can communicate, however, is how much he is needed and wanted at home. You can create an atmosphere of welcome, warmth, gentleness, and tenderness. You can ask questions that help you understand his world. As much as you might want to give him a lecture, don’t. You’re his wife, not his mama. Those are two completely different roles.

Instead, be his lover. Make your home the place where he longs to be and where he’s most comfortable. Let your love and gentle words of welcome draw his heart toward home.

Q: I work ten-hour days on construction sites and have a hard time switching tracks to home. My wife complains that I’m MIA from our family when I get home — that my brain is somewhere back at the job site, and it doesn’t kick in until I start thinking with “my other brain” when I want to get her in bed with me. I can’t argue with her. She’s right. I know I’m a one-track kind of guy, but how can I make the switch? She gets ticked, and this really affects our sex life.

A: Wow. Sounds like you have some pretty intense, long days. You must be physically and mentally tired by the time you get home. No wonder you’re MIA sometimes. But here’s what’s really going on. Your wife, sensitive soul that she is, is picking up on the fact that you’re headed somewhere else in your mind and that you aren’t tuned in to her or her needs. She’s like every other woman in the world — she wants to be number one in her man’s life. That’s why the fact that you don’t engage in life at home really bothers her. And because you aren’t engaged in her life, she probably figures, Why should I bother pleasing him?

Sex is not just an act; it’s a relationship. The way you interact with your wife — your loving touches and nurturing words — will set her up emotionally to not only enjoy but also pursue sex with you.

So let me ask you: how long is your drive home? When you leave the job site, you need to emotionally and mentally leave it. How about putting on some calming music or stopping at a local park and just sitting on a bench for a few minutes to reorient your thinking?

There are lots of ways to unwind from the workplace and turn your thoughts toward home. One female lawyer I know doesn’t accept any clients past 4 p.m. She uses the 4 to 5 p.m. time to clear her head on the way home. Another couple agreed that the husband needed 20 minutes at a local coffee shop as downtime before he showed up at the front door. Then he was all hers!

So talk with your wife and come up with some practical and creative solutions.

One couple I know established a great tradition when their children were young — and they’re still doing it 15 years later. At the end of the day, when the kids are tucked into bed, they sit across from each other at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, and for 20 minutes they talk about them. Not the kids. Not what’s happening the next day. But their relationship.What’s going on in their hearts. They’ve taken to heart the wise admonition to not let the sun go down on your anger. So they talk about everything. And I mean everything. And their marriage — including their sizzling sex life — is the better for it.

Q: Both of us grew up in homes where we just didn’t talk about sex. It’s really uncomfortable for us. How can we get past this issue?

A: You’re not alone. Many men and women, especially those from conservative backgrounds, are embarrassed to talk about sex. And yes, that has something to do with your upbringing for sure. But for the sake of your marriage, you need to move past this embarrassment. I dare you to read Proverbs 5:19 in the Bible. You tell me what that little puppy has to say to you. The fact of the matter is that you are like a delicate rose that needs to open each petal to your husband, who wants to love you and be part of your life. If this is an issue that continues to separate the two of you, find someone you can talk to. No, not a girlfriend — a professional. And take your husband with you. Together you can overcome this embarrassing situation. It’s too important not to.

Q: My wife said the other day that she doesn’t think we communicate well. I don’t get it. We have sex a couple times a month, and I tell her I love her, but she says sex isn’t satisfying to her — that she needs more from our relationship. So we tried sex once a week, but that didn’t work either. She says we never talk anymore. I don’t get it. We talk about things all the time — about how our kids are doing in school, where we want to go on vacation, etc. Isn’t that communication?

A: Sure, you’re communicating, but it sounds like, from your wife’s dissatisfaction, you’re not communicating on all levels. What your wife is longing for is intimate communication, not just the act of sex, and in that, it’s clear you’re falling short.

In one of the best books I’ve ever read about communication — Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? — author John Powell talks about the five levels of communication, which I want to discuss briefly.

The fifth level — cliché conversation. The following catchphrases are examples of this level of conversation: “Say, you’re looking good.” “You been keeping busy?” “How’s the family?”

The fourth level — reporting facts about others. Ah, this is easy! These are words and conversations that are designed to keep us aloof and removed from other people. We talk about others but avoid getting ourselves involved in the conversation in any personal way.

The third level — ideas and judgments. Here we begin to approach an area of real communication. At this level we are beginning to share our ideas, thoughts, and opinions. We still tend to be somewhat apprehensive and guarded, and if we meet with disapproval, we may modify our opinions so that they are more to other people’s liking. At this level we are most anxious to avoid conflict and criticism.

The second level — feelings and emotions. As husband and wife we begin to share the feelings that are underneath the ideas and opinions we’ve expressed. And far too many couples rarely get to this level. For example, think of the husband who leaves the dinner table every night without saying anything to his wife about the meal or about his appreciation for her efforts in fixing it.

The first level — complete emotional and personal truthfulness in communication. For us to survive in marriage, this is a must. We have to develop an openness and honesty within our relationship that says, “I can tell you how I really feel without you judging me.” This level of communication is very difficult because of the possibility of being rejected.

But it is also at this level that couples crave time together — where they long to know each other in every way and can’t get enough of each other sexually. By going to this level, you’re saying, “You fascinate me. I want to know you. I can’t imagine my life without you. Your heart is one with my heart.”

That’s the level at which your wife lies in bed with you thinking, This is the most amazing guy. And he chose me. Wow. I can’t wait until our next sexual interlude. I have some surprises to show him. . . .

See what a little communication can do?

Q: My spouse has a problem with anger. It’s hard to talk to her about anything because she blows a gasket about everything. If I make a mistake or forget to do something she’s asked me to do, she gets really angry. (And she knows how to take it out on a guy.) Sex is definitely not happening anymore because there’s no way I could please her. I know, because I’ve tried. But I never do anything right, according to her, so I’ve stopped even trying. I can’t imagine living another month, much less a year or years, like this. For the first time ever, I’m starting to think of divorcing her. (And I can’t believe I’m even writing that, but there it is.) Can you help me? Can you help us?

A: It sounds like your wife’s anger is holding you hostage — and in more than just the sexual area of your relationship. High on the list of people you don’t want to marry are: (1) an ax murderer, (2) an angry, critical person. Your wife’s anger will affect everything about your life, and unless it’s dealt with, it will continue to develop in your relationship and will eventually destroy your love for each other.

You and your wife are at that critical point right now. Your wife needs some help . . . but so do you. And you need it quickly, since your relationship is strained enough that the thought of divorce has now entered your head.

Both men and women can get angry. But there’s a way to be good and angry — without ripping other people. Here’s what I mean. (I’ll use the illustration of a balloon.)

1. Your spouse does something to tick you off. You say to yourself, Never mind. It’s going to go away. She’s going to stop. But the anger begins to build. (You blow air into the balloon.)

2. She continues in that behavior, so finally you say something. But she ignores you. (You blow more air into the balloon.)

3. You get angrier and angrier. (You blow more air into the balloon.) By now your veins are bulging. (You blow more air into the balloon.)

4. What happens next? Pow! There’s an explosion. It’s sort of like being sick with the flu and saying, “Oh, I wish I could hurl! If I could just throw up, I know I’d feel better.”

Sure, you might feel better if you throw up, but look at the mess you’d make. Yeah, you’d feel better, but then you’d still have to live with the people you just vomited all over — psychologically, emotionally, even physically. And what would it gain you in the long run?

Anger is a very natural emotion. We all have anger. Even Jesus Christ was angry when he walked this earth. Notice that when he saw the money changers in the temple, he didn’t say, “Oh, hi, fellas. Have a nice day.” He threw them out. He used action, not words.2

Do you remember that terrible sound you used to make when you slowly let the air out of a balloon — squeak, squeak? It drove your brother, your sister, and your parents up the wall. (Fun, huh?)

What happens when you do that with your balloon now? The balloon gets softer, more malleable, doesn’t it? Is it likely to explode? No.

Here’s the analogy: If your wife has feelings of anger, the best thing you can do for her is to help her learn how to articulate that anger. Even better, help her learn to articulate her disappointment and annoyances before they become anger. Address the issues as they build. And although you might not think things will change, they will — slowly, one squeak at a time.

Will it happen overnight? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your marriage. If your wife doesn’t respond when you gently say to her, “Honey, I love you, but this is an issue we need to work on together,” you may need to insist that both of you get help from a professional counselor to talk through the issues. Something is provoking your wife’s anger, whether it is built up from issues in her past, or is a result of something you’ve actually done or that she believes you’ve done. Isn’t it time to find out where that anger is coming from so you can do something about it? That’s the only way to help her start letting the air out of her balloon. And it’s the only way to begin rebuilding trust and love in your marriage.

Q: Whenever we get into a fight, my spouse retreats when I want to talk it out. And I get the icy backside for a week in bed. Might as well hang a sign: No sex here. How can we learn how to fight — and accomplish something?

A: A good question, and one many couples ask. Because you marry someone different from you (good thing too), often your styles of fighting are completely opposite. One wants to talk; one wants to retreat. But if you are going to fight, you have to do it fairly.

Playing hide-and-seek in the midst of a fight never works, because eventually your spouse will have to come out of hiding. But is your spouse hiding to give you time to cool off so you’re reasonable? Is your spouse hiding because then you’ll come after him or her in that hiding place and try to make things right? Or is he (guys are often the ones who get silent and retreat) hiding in order to regroup and think? What’s the motive for hiding?

Maybe it’s time to consider the way you respond in a fight. Is there any way you can respond differently so your spouse won’t go into a turtle shell?

And what’s the purpose of your fight in the first place? To air your opinion that you won’t change no matter what? Or to state what you think and hear what the other person says — even if you don’t agree? If neither side is willing to listen to the other, there can’t be any resolution.

When you fight, it’s important not only to hear what the other person is saying but to really listen. That means seeing beyond the emotions to the heart of the issue. Even if you don’t agree, you have to validate what the other person is saying and consider it as important as what you are thinking and feeling.

Don’t let your emotions drive the train. Don’t ever go to bed mad. That will build a wall that’s not easily torn down, especially when layers build up and weather into hard cement. So talk through the issue before you sleep — whether it takes 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours. Sometimes you can’t entirely resolve the issue. But you need to at least come to a resolution where you say, “We know we haven’t solved the problem yet. So let’s set a time and a place to address it again.” That way, you have an action plan.

After a fight, it’s very important to reconnect both lives and hearts. Sex is the greatest of glues for married couples. Both of you need to know that everything’s okay, that life can go on. In fights, you have to fight fairly. If there is a winner and a loser, then as far as your marriage goes, you both lost. Marriage is a team event, not a solo one.

Q: I heard you say once that sex is more about relationship and communication than technique. Is that really true? I admit, my spouse and I are struggling in the area of communication. Our sex life isn’t doing so well either. Any advice?

A: Sex isn’t really about the G-spot, the I-spot, the X-spot, or any other spot. It’s about a relationship. And communication is an integral part of that relationship. If you suffer in your sex life, chances are it’s because there are unsettled issues, past hurts, between you and your spouse. It would indeed be rare for a couple to have a great sex life but lousy communication and a lousy relationship. The two simply don’t go together.

If you and your spouse struggle in this area, why don’t you take off the masks? Why don’t you bare your hearts to each other? Marriage is too precious a union to let go of and not fight for. If your car isn’t hitting all eight cylinders, you’d take it to a mechanic, wouldn’t you? If your marriage isn’t hitting all eight cylinders, you may need to get some outside help. If you need to do that, look for someone who’s married and appreciates what marriage is all about. Or find a professional counselor who wants to provide several sessions to get to the heart of the matter — not one who wants to sit down with you for two years.

At the heart of the marriage relationship is the ability to communicate in love, with what’s best for both of you in mind. Sure, some topics may be more difficult to talk about than others, but what have you got to lose? You’re in this relationship for a lifetime. Why not make it the best it can be?

Straight Talk

Communication has to be a priority in your marriage, but you can be creative and smart with how you go about it.

If you’re a woman: You converse naturally, so no problem there. But if you want to converse with your man, pick your time wisely. You don’t want to pick Sunday afternoon, during the fourth quarter of his beloved Bears game, to try to launch a conversation.

Want to get dear hubby’s attention? Try these top two ways:

1. Watch something he’s in the midst of doing (like building something out of wood in the garage) and say, “Wow, that looks interesting. Tell me more about that.” Now you have his attention. You’ve shown interest in one of his projects, and all boys — little and big — love that. He’ll be more than happy to talk with you. Plus he’ll share his heart along the way and be willing to listen to your sharing too.

2. Touch him. Touch is so powerful to guys, and it can open up wonderful communication lanes between you. As you’re touching him, say, “Honey, I have a really important question to ask you. You seem to be deep in thought, so now may not be the best time. If so, just let me know, and I’ll wait until the time is right.” But by touching him, you already got his attention. By addressing him with respect, you secured his attention. And by letting him know you’re willing to wait to talk, you’re almost guaranteed to have a captive listener!

If you’re a man: The most important thing you can do is conserve some energy (and word count!) during the day so you aren’t running on empty for your wife at night. Maybe this means making phone calls and doing appointments earlier in the day, and scheduling quieter, nonverbal activities later in the day.

Also, when you leave the office, turn your thoughts toward home. Shrug off your work and the pressures of the day. Think about your wife and why you married her — all the things you love about her. Put her in the front of your mind.

Remember the three most important things to a woman are:

(1) affection (that means closeness but not sex),

(2) communication, and

(3) commitment to family. If you major on these three, you’ll have a happy bride.

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Used by permission of Revell, adivision of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2009. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

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