Waking groggily, I felt Jane roll toward me and put an arm on my shoulder. Taking this as a cue, I started to kiss her. "Stop!" Jane said as she rolled away.
"You look so cute in the morning," I said, hoping for a response. But she only moved farther away.
"How come you're not interested anymore?" I pleaded.
"It's too early and I'm tired," Jane responded. "Plus this is the only time you seem to notice me anymore."
"It is not!" I said defensively. "I help around the house and try to talk to you every evening."
"You only talk about work," she said. Then added, "And when was the last time you emptied the dishwasher?"
"You always change the subject," I shot back. "I don't know why sex seems like a chore to you. We used to enjoy it!"
"Why don't you go watch TV or get on the computer like you always do!" Jane responded.
I got dressed and angrily left the room. But Jane's accusations were right. I just hated to admit it.
I was the problem
For some time, I'd been gauging my happiness by how things were going physically between Jane and me. And lately, they hadn't been going well. It just took me awhile to realize the problem wasn't Jane. It was me.
When Jane's interest faded, I was too self-absorbed to see that I was to blame. Instead, I became moody, blaming Jane for not living up to our marriage vows. I was too blind to see that I wasn't living up to them. I'd ceased to keep Jane at the center of my life in the things that really mattered—talking regularly, sharing joys and disappointments, and being an equal partner in caring for our children and our home. I was focused on only two things: what was going on at work—and in the bedroom.
When our sex life suffered, I soon sank to new lows: watching movies with sex scenes, thriving on stories from promiscuous friends, and allowing my thoughts to wander whenever I saw an attractive woman.
As a Christian, I knew I was making bad choices. I knew I had to give up these things and do what was right. But how? My attitudes about sex had become so ingrained, they practically defined who I was.
I rationalized that I wasn't having an affair, that just looking couldn't hurt anything. But it did hurt. My relationship with Jane suffered. I wasn't pursuing her as a person anymore—just as a sex partner. And a struggling marriage creates tension for the whole family.
Confessing to Jane
Things started to change in January 2000.
I awoke one Wednesday morning feeling amorous and approached Jane. Given the way I'd been acting toward her, though, she wasn't interested. We argued, and I lost my cool, saying horrible, hurtful things. At some point I realized Jane was actually afraid—afraid of me, her husband, who was supposed to be her protector and supporter.
I left the house in a huff—and headed to my regular Wednesday morning meeting with Jim, my accountability partner. Jim and I have always asked each other the tough questions, such as, "What sin are you currently fighting? Have you kept yourself pure in mind and body? Are you lying to me?"
I knew I hadn't been honest with Jim in answering those questions, that I'd been lying to him by not admitting my problem. It was time to come clean.
I arrived at the usual meeting place, embarrassed by what I was about to tell Jim. When I finally told him what had happened, I realized I was talking to the wrong person.
"I have to go home," I told Jim. "I need to apologize to Jane and try to repair the damage I've done." Jim and I prayed, and then I returned home.
I'll never forget that conversation with Jane. ÿ She could be volatile, so I didn't know how to approach her. But apparently God had prepared her for this conversation. While I don't remember everything I said, I do remember that Jane was completely calm. There was no anger, yelling, or name-calling, just a peace that can come only from God.
After I apologized, Jane said, "I'm not the only one you need to get right with. You need to get right with God. And you need to find help to get your life back under control."
I didn't have to wait long to get started. I was scheduled to have lunch with my pastor that day.
But by the time lunch arrived, I talked myself out of telling him about my situation. God wouldn't let it drop that easily, as my conscience nagged me to spill my guts. So I told Pastor Doug everything.
God spoke to me through my pastor's response: "Every time you watch a movie with sex scenes or let your mind wander, you're dishonoring your wife. You need to focus all your energy, especially your sexual energy, exclusively on her."
I vowed then and there that Iwould never again allow sex to control me.
I asked God to take anything from me that dishonored Jane. I was surprised to find God answered my prayer and brought immediate relief. My temptations to watch immoral movies, stare at attractive women, or let my mind wander out of control were gone.
That's not to say I haven't struggled since then. While the draw isn't as strong as before, sometimes I get complacent and my mind wanders toward sexual images again. But I find God is just as willing to forgive me and help me today as he was when I made that first crucial decision.
When my mind wanders, I'm also quick to tell Jim, my accountability partner. Knowing Jim will ask me the tough questions is definitely a deterrent. He even calls me in my hotel room on business trips to ask how I'm doing—and what I'm watching on TV.
Additionally, Pastor Doug advised me to make a list of all the things I needed to eliminate from my life.
"For every negative behavior," he said, "put a positive behavior in its place. If you don't replace the negative behaviors with something positive, eventually the negative behavior will return."
My "negative behaviors" usually start with images. Like most guys, I'm visually oriented. Jesus knew this; he said that even looking at a woman lustfully is like committing adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28). For me, merely looking at movies, photos, or other women can lead to sinful thoughts—and it detracted significantly from my relationship with Jane.
I'm learning to replace that negative behavior with a positive one—"bouncing" my eyes away from unhealthy images. I read about "bouncing" in an article recently. The idea is that if I allow my eyes to linger on an unhealthy image, I'm sinning. To prevent this, I've trained myself to "bounce" my eyes away to something else. I can't avoid seeing certain things, but I can control whether or not I dwell on them.
I take this principle a step further. Whenever I see an image I need to bounce away from, I immediately think of a pleasant moment with Jane, such as holding her close as we drift off to sleep. This allows me to replace a possibly sinful situation with thoughts that increase my appreciation for my wife.
I also needed to eliminate potential sources of sin from my surroundings. For me, that meant being careful about what I watch on TV. When commercials with sexy images come on the screen, I focus my attention completely away from the TV. Controlling what enters my body through my eyes makes it easier for me to focus my sexual energy on my wife. We also often mute the commercials and discuss, as a family, whatever we're watching—turning a potential negative into a positive.
I'm also watching less TV. And I'm replacing that TV time with more conversations with Jane. In particular, I focus on her day, not mine. We also try to play more games as a family. These positive behaviors are strengthening family relationships and helping overcome my temptation to sin through visual images.
As I've connected again with Jane through conversation, I've rediscovered what first drew me to her. My love and appreciation for her grew again. I began to appreciate all she does for me and our family. I married an amazing woman, and I'm grateful to God for bringing us together. We're both strong as individuals, but our strength is multiplied when we work as a couple and keep God at the center of our marriage.
A changed man
Understandably, it took Jane time to trust the changes that occurred in me. But now she knows I won't turn into some raving maniac if she says no to my advances.
I now focus on Jane's needs not just because I should, but because I want to. And not because of what it makes her do for me, but because of what it does for her.
I'm a different person. I now know that pleasing my wife is the most important thing I can do, next to loving God. I can have intimacy with my wife without sex, and it's a deeper intimacy than I ever experienced through physical attractions.
We're now best friends who open our souls to each other, and that's a powerful, life-changing experience. Considering where I've been before, that's truly a gift from God.
Rick Koen, a project manager for American Trans Air, lives in Indiana.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.