Imagine eight women of various ages and from all walks of life gathered together for four days with just one goal—to sift through their sexual and emotional baggage. Why in the world would they take on such a difficult and emotional task? Because they’re serious about making healthy sexual intimacy a priority in their marriages.
Some come to my Women at the Well Intensive Workshop because they’ve acted out sexually and are desperately trying to break free from their first extramarital affair . . . or their fourth or fifth. Others have shut down sexually, avoiding their husband’s sexual advances for years, or even decades. Childhood sexual abuse, body image issues, premarital promiscuity, or emotional disconnection make it too painful to “go there” again.
I often describe female sexuality as a “pendulum swing.” Some of us swing too far to the left, crossing boundary lines we never thought we’d cross. Some of us swing too far to the right, isolating and insulating ourselves from the very connection we once craved. Most women will swing back and forth to some degree throughout their lives—feeling like a hot mama on some days and a cold clam on others. Our hormone levels and feelings fluctuate as unpredictably as flashflood waters running through a dry creek bed. It can be rather scary, not just for the woman experiencing these peaks and valleys, but also for the husband who has no idea whether she’s running hot or cold from one season to the next.
Melanie Connors, the lead character in my latest novel, Veil of Secrets (Thomas Nelson), knows the pain of extreme pendulum swings. As a teenager, her sexual passions were awakened by a much older man whom she worked with on her father’s political campaign trail. Prior to their illicit encounters, Melanie felt overwhelmed with fascination and desire. Afterward, those feelings morphed into guilt, shame, remorse, and regret. The sting of his rejection didn’t provide relief, but rather catapulted her toward yet another man—and subsequently, many others—in her attempt to medicate the pain of feeling disconnected from her beloved but busy father.
Like me, Melanie thought putting a wedding band on her finger would stop the madness and give her an escape route off the crazy train. And it did. In fact, the wedding band was her permission slip to shut down sexually altogether. She landed her man, and they created a family together. A continued sexual connection just didn’t seem like a necessary ingredient any longer, but her husband, Will, disagreed. He eventually issued an ultimatum: “We either work on the marriage, or we work on the divorce.” With the help of a professional counselor, Melanie and Will sift through the baggage that has weighed their marriage down for too long.
Connecting sexually with our mates isn’t just Hollywood’s notion of a healthy relationship; it’s God’s notion of a healthy relationship. The Bible is full of passages that support this claim, my favorite of which is Song of Solomon 7:10: “I am my lover’s, and he claims me as his own.”
Has sexual and emotional baggage weighed your marriage down too? Ask yourself these questions:
Do I feel like “damaged goods” because of my sexual past?
Do I often wish my husband would be content with just holding hands or talking, rather than expecting sex?
Am I comfortable and confident in my own skin, or do I feel the need to hide my body from my husband’s eyes?
Can I enjoy sex with my husband without guilt, shame, or inhibition?
Do I often fantasize about being sexually or emotionally intimate with a different man than the one I married?
Would my husband say he got a “bait and switch” deal—that I seemed amiable to physical intimacy in the early years, but not nearly as much so now?
If you recognize your sex life has ventured too far off course, know you are not alone. Countless women have approached me after speaking engagements over the past 20 years saying, “Wow! Your story is just like my story!” Indeed, no temptation seizes us but what is common (1 Corinthians 10:13). If this storyline resonates with you as well, I hope you’ll invite the Holy Spirit to search your soul and reveal anything and everything that keeps you from enjoying a vibrant, healthy sex life in your marriage.
If you need someone to help you craft a happy ending to your sexual and emotional story, I hope you’ll connect with a professional counselor or spiritual mentor, or prayerfully consider attending a workshop for yourself. When we’ve been deeply wounded in relationships, we experience deep healing the same way—in relationship with others.