As a teenager I once heard a Christian speaker warning against the dangers of premarital sex. He said intercourse creates a "soul tie" between two people.
My husband and I have been married for 18 months, and our sex life is OK. But I worry about the soul tie he created with his college girlfriend. He says his repentance removes that, but it's hard for me to believe he feels no connection with her. Why can't I stop thinking about it?
Louis: Premarital sex does have many effects on individuals, and the depth of impact and strength of the experience over time varies considerably. The variables might be the intensity of the relationship, the length of the involvement, the morals of the individuals, the guilt or remorse experienced, what intervened in the romance and the way the relationship ended. But the idea of a soul tie would not necessarily apply in every relationship.
More important is the true soul tie you and your husband have created. That will be strengthened by your acceptance of his word, dismissing your doubts and deepening the trust you feel for him. Ask God to help you take your doubts captive and to focus on the oneness he's created for your marriage.
Melissa: Many of the couples who come to us for counseling had premarital sex, either with each other or with another partner. The primary result is usually lack of trust. One or the other brings it up, especially during arguments.
Even though the past behavior was painful, it's foolish to allow that pain to carry over into your marriage. Getting past that pain into forgiveness is a choice well worth making—and it is a choice.
You don't like the feelings that go with your lack of trust. Your husband doesn't like the accusations. Neither of you wants or needs this problem. Your decision seems simple—move toward oneness and a great marriage.
A Lackluster Libido
After 16 years of marriage, our sex life is almost non-existent because my husband seems to have completely lost interest. Should I keep offering, but wait for him to show some responsiveness? Should I demand sex because he's tolerant though disinterested and just be grateful for what little I can get? Or should I stop trying, get used to celibacy and try to enjoy our nonsexual relationship?
Louis: Don't just opt for celibacy! Sexual fulfillment is too important a part of your marriage for you to stop trying. As you approach your husband about his disinterest, express yourself in terms of your own feelings. You might say, "Honey, I feel abandoned and unimportant sexually. I don't understand what that means or how I should react. I've enjoyed our sexual oneness and I need it in my life." Express your feelings using "I" statements, while avoiding criticisms or placing blame.
And keep talking about it. Try to explore in your own imagination and through conversation with him why his interest in sex has vanished. The male psyche is almost as complex as the female one. Assuming he's near 40 years of age, some mid-life transition issues could be playing a role. Men begin to question a lot of things in their lives in mid-life, especially their need for intimacy and whether life has turned out the way they thought it would.
There may be many possible causes for his loss of physical desire. He may be worried about his potency or desirability. He may be stressed out on the job. If you've changed your appearance or attitudes toward him, he may not want closeness. He could have become involved in some form of extramarital sex—perhaps pornography or cyber-sex. Don't assume you know, but ask him what's going on in his life, in his feelings.
The options you mention are viable, of course, but I'd strongly recommend a more assertive and positive approach. Don't back off. Let him know you care. Keep on making yourself as alluring as possible. If the distance continues, see a marriage counselor together.
Holding Out for Perfection
My wife only feels free to have sex with me if our relationship is "perfect"—or "almost perfect"—by her standards. I know that she needs romance and attention, but that's not enough for her. Any minor disagreement or stress becomes an excuse. We end up having very little sex. Can't a case be made that being physically intimate would improve our feelings of closeness?
Louis: Insisting on perfection as a prerequisite for anything will practically assure that it won't occur. So here are two questions for you. First, does your wife have some underlying resistance to sexual closeness that isn't being addressed? Second, is she a perfectionist in all the demands of her life?
Either of these possibilities can create huge barriers to becoming sexually intimate. The most common issues we see under the first category are unresolved anger or hurt, fearfulness about sexual vulnerability and a problem about power or control in the relationship.
Perfectionism is nearly always accompanied by general unhappiness and tension. Individuals who hold impossible perfectionistic standards are basically insecure about their own worth. They can't relax unless everything is perfect. No wonder tremendous pressure interferes with every aspect of life. Enjoying sex just becomes too complicated.
Together, talk about these possibilities. See if you can discover factors—other than your own behavior—that might be turning her off sexually.
Melissa: You asked, "Can't physical intimacy improve our feelings of closeness?" For most men, that's true: physical intimacy does improve your feelings of closeness. But it isn't true for all women. Men tend to feel more open, relationally, to their wives after sex. Women tend to feel more sexually open when there is relationship intimacy. See if the ways you're showing "attention and romance" are the ways that are most meaningful to your wife. Being emotionally vulnerable yourself might make a huge difference to her. Since men and women come at intimacy from different directions, you might be wise to take a look at how she sees the problem.
Louis mentioned the issue of power or control in your relationship. Ask your wife if she feels "controlled" by you. If she does, she may be withholding sexual intimacy because it's the only area of your relationship where she can feel that she is in charge. Also check out her definition of "minor disagreements" or "stress." You may have two different ideas about what that covers. The only way to find out is to ask.
Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., were marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counselled clergy couples. Louis McBurney passed away January 20, 2009.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.