Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Handle Demands for Sex in Marriage

WARNING: This blog is going to be explicit!  Not pornographic, but direct and clear in the same way we talk to clients in our counseling and coaching office about healing and maximizing their sex life!

This question comes up often enough that I have to write about it.  "My husband insists that its his right to keep having sex, even though my heart isn't in it because he has been unkind and unwilling to apologize, take responsibility or to talk through and work on our problems.  What should I do?  What is right to do?"  Before answering her question, I want to share some principles that we've found effective.

Mark Gungor says it best, "Touch her heart, and she'll let you touch everything you want to!"  Perhaps overly simple for the complexities of the dance of sexual intimacy, but it captures the essence of her needs/his needs.

She needs to feel emotionally safe and close.  He wants physical closeness.

AND, one usually comes before the other.  He needs to hold her heart, before she willingly opens her body.  At least that's our overwhelming experience in our own bedroom, and the counseling and coaching office.  Not to say that the guy needs to be perfect, but at least trying.  And, we've sometimes urged the wife to "give him a break! Don't set the bar so high that he doesn't have anything to work for."  It's an ongoing process . . . an ongoing dance, and unfortunately sometimes a standoff.

What DOESN'T  work is a hierarchal demand for sex, because "it's my right.  It says so right here in Scripture, 'Don't deprive each other except by mutual consent . . . "   We simply don't see that work! (Except for  him for about 5 minutes!)  And when she is willing to be really honest, she says that it makes her feel like a prostitute, "That he only wants me for my body, not my mind or my heart, because he isn't engaging me in that way outside of the bedroom."  One husband sobbed in repentance when confronted his wife said it this way.  Others don't.

One wife got really creative.  She waited until her husband was really worn out, sound asleep, and probably unable to 'perform' due to fatigue.  "I stripped, woke him up and said, 'I demand my right to your body, right now!''  He got the point.  "She did to me what I'd been doing to her.  I got it.  I'm so sorry.  I don't want to be that guy."

If you are that guy, even occasionally, take heart, there's hope.  You can grow toward mutually willing, mutually satisfying love-making during your next conversation.   Die to yourself, go to the conversation to give loving listening, learn and practice the principles of sustainable hot monogamy.  Gungor's videos are a great resource for the principles, and our book provides practical steps to become a man who holds his wife's heart, and therefore very often gets to hold the rest of her!"

Now, before you protest, "That's too easy, you don't get my situation, her issues, etc."  We know.  It's complicated. and the solution may require more time and more answers.  But please try, and please consider these thoughts as some potentially important ingredients for Great love-making in your marriage.

Oh, the answer to the wife's question at the beginning of this blog, "It is essential that you tell your husband how you feel about having sex without an emotional bond.  And if it takes a period of abstinence to get it right, it's worth it.  You owe it to your marriage to be honest, and to not tolerate anything less than God's best."

BTW, the husband who had 'emotionally raped' (his words) his wife for years by demanding sex in the absence of emotional safety and closeness became a 'holding heart' who learned to tenderly and carefully hold all of the thoughts, feelings and desires in her heart.  I see them around once in awhile and they have big, satisfied grins on their faces.  I know why they're smiling, and they know that I know why!

Blessings, Jeff (and Jill).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Power of Prayer to Connect Couples

We were thinking the same thing at about the same time, "Its bad enough that we need to pray."

That's actually an old joke we learned from a church-planter.  While serving as part of a core group to help to plant a Church in the northern suburbs of Chicago in the late 80's we often faced problems and challenges.   Often, after talking about what to do for awhile, the pastor would quip, "Do you think its bad enough that we ought to pray?"  You get the joke, right?  It would be good to make prayer a first thing and not an afterthought.

I'll let you in on a little secret.  Jill and I work really hard to keep a relational connection in the midst of marriage ministry.  Emotional and physical closeness aren't a given.  We have to make time to connect, not just to communicate a huge volume of information about the couples we serve and events we get to do, but to just be husband and wife in an ever evolving relationship.  And there's nothing as good as prayer to connect (and to repair us).

After taping a promo for an upcoming event yesterday morning we were both spent.  Not a good thing to begin the day mentally exhausted, but not surprising, because public speaking (and taping) requires a great deal of energy and concentration.  It was 1045am, and we both faced a day of appointments that wouldn't end until 930pm. "What can we do to connect, and to refresh, as well as to get centered on the priorities of the day?"  Let's pray!

So we did, and it was really good.  No, it's not the first time we've prayed together, but its the first time in awhile that we intentionally invested in a comprehensive kind of praying; the kind where we go back and forth until everything is covered.  Not that we're legalistic about checking off everything that needs to be prayed about, but the kind where the more you pray the more you want to say, because it feels so good to get it off your chest, to give it to God, to share it with your partner, to bless them . . . and last but not least to connect with our Creator, Sustainer, Savior, Lord, Brother, Friend, Comforter, Wonderful Counselor and so much more!  (I wish I had words to describe Him!)

Jill began, I took a turn, and she ended by filling in some blanks.  We looked up and the world (and our day looked different).  We felt different too.  Cleansed, relieved, at peace . . . and close.  Of course! Close!  Why?

Prayer aloud as a couple fulfills one of the essential requirements for relational intimacy: Emotional Openness. To the extent that we confide intimate thoughts and feelings during prayer, we grow close to God (Him to Us), and to each other.  We bring forth deep concerns, joys, puzzles, desires and more to the ears and hands of Him who knows us, loves us and guides us.  And we become better known by our partner.

Did I mention that this is something we recommend?

Its stunning to discover how many couples have difficulty praying together.  But not surprising, given the potential potency of spiritual intimacy with God and each other that results.  Could there be Spiritual pressure against it? (that's a polite way of saying spiritual warfare).  Is there something about prayer that the enemy might want to frustrate it for couples?  This is a topic for an entirely different entry, so I'll get to my challenge (to myself and to you).

Where are you as a couple with prayer?  If its regular fare in your relationship, then we simply suggest you ask God to show you how He might like to grow it and protect it (i.e., make time for it).  Then, on the other end of the continuum, you might not have ever done it.  Don't worry, and don't be ashamed.  But there's no time like the present to get started.

Here are a couple of tips:

  • Sit somewhere comfortable and private
  • Decide who is going to begin
  • Prompt yourself to cover three areas:
    • Confess concerns
    • Give gratitude 
    • Ask for outcomes 
Is this working for you?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Entire books have been written about prayer, so I'm not trying to say an authoritative word, but rather to prompt a beginning (or continuation) of an invaluable opportunity to make your marriage more what you want it to be, and to discover together all that God has for you in some simple disciplines.  

We would love to hear your responses to this post, and comments/suggestions from your own experience praying as a couple.  

Prayerfully, Jeff and Jill 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Post Mort-em on Marriage Disasters, Part I

It's not an appealing title, eh?  Bear with me. There are tried and true ways to ruin a relationship that are worth mentioning for the sake of prevention.

#1. "We grew apart".  Nothing extreme occurred.  We just got busy with the kids, our careers, friends, hobbies, etc.  We don't really share many interests or activities.  Nothing broke and no one sinned.  Its just that time and life took its toll.

The anti-dote?  Say no to good activities that you enjoy solo (e.g., bridge club, golf, boys/ladies night out, television shows that you watch alone).  You don't have to be completely radical.  Just make an effort to begin to grow some shared interests and activities.  Hearken back to your dating days.  What did you enjoy doing together? Perhaps it was anything because it gave you an opportunity to be together.

#2. "He/She had some secrets that I didn't know about (and they didn't let me help them.")  This ranges from financial problems (credit debt) that was never disclosed, sexual/porn addiction, pills/alcohol, untreated abuse issues, etc.  Keep things hidden and satan will be happy to nurture their growth. Secrecy is a greenhouse for the growth of marital cancers that will eventually erode trust and respect to the point it feels unrecoverable.  Bring shameful things to light (and get some good pastoral clinical counseling when indicated) to assist your marriage in recovery.  *Check out this video testimony of a miraculous move from sexual promiscuity to purity that has built a beautiful marriage. 

#3. "He/She crossed the line and fell into the arms of another".  There are many ways to do this.  Sexting (sending graphic pictures of oneself to another), posting on a dating site, rekindling an old flame through facebook, and last but not least . . . simply disclosing intimate things to a member of the opposite sex (complaining about your marriage is at the top of the list.).

Without the various forms of infidelity and marital erosion there wouldn't be much to do in our counseling practice, Grace & Truth.  We're not saying that forbidden fruit isn't tempting (good luck walking away from enticing edible treats during the upcoming holidays). It can taste really good and even provide the delusion of satisfaction while its going down, but just like the calorie-dense treats, you'll live to regret it.

Recovery and Prevention We're not saying the problem prevention and recovery is easy.  Just that its worth it.  If you've been through it you know.  You feel like you're going to die and sometimes wish you would.  But it can go easier than you think if you'll let Jesus do some things for you.  He is able.  Remember, He was tempted in every way that we are, but was without sin.

Ask Jesus to rekindle your desire for relationship

Ask Jesus to relieve you of shame and guilt for secret sins (I John 1:9), and bring them to light

Ask Jesus to purify your heart and mind and to focus your affections on your spouse

There is a way that seems right but the path leads to death.  Then, there is a way that works.  God's way works and perseverance wins the race.  

Do you think it impossible to experience any of these problems in relationship?  Think again.  The best prevention is a good offense (daily effort to nurture and grow your marriage).

Blessings, Jeff

*Jeff Williams is a Supervising Professional Clinical Counselor, Master Christian Leadership Coach and Coach Trainer, co-author of "Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship", and Founding President of Grace & Truth Counseling and Coaching, and Great Relationships Global Marriage Ministry

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to Coach Your Marriage (and family) through the Holidays!

If the holidays go as well as possible, what will you be able to celebrate after they’re over?  In other words, what are you hoping for, and what (or who) do you hope to avoid?

Holidays seasons are usually mixed experiences for most of us.  We have wishes, hopes and dreams about how they will go, and what we will do.  Some desires end up being fulfilled but some aren’t. Proactive planning can increase the probability of getting what we want. 

Our suggestion for Happy and fulfilling holidays is to specify desires. You can do this individually and as a family.  Ask yourself, “What do I want?”  This is a relatively simple, yet powerful exercise. Try it now. See how many bullet points you can come up with.

For example:

Jeff: What do you want for the Christmas Season, Jill?
Jill: I’d like to have an open house for friends and family before schedules get too crazy.
Jeff: What else would you like?
Jill: I’d like to plan an evening we could take Gabby (granddaughter) to the Clifton Mill to see the lights, and have hot chocolate by the waterfalls
Jeff: What else would you like?

You get the idea.  You keep asking your spouse and other family members what they would like.  Pretty soon, you have a great list of everyone’s desires.  Now you can begin to discuss and negotiate how to make these a reality.

This same exercise can be done to identify what you don’t want or what you would like less of.

Jeff: What do you not want for the Christmas Season?
Jill: I don’t want to be so busy that we don’t have time to enjoy it.
Jeff: What else do you not want?
Jill: I don’t want to get exhausted shopping.  I want to be strategic about the times and places I go, and get shopping done early in the season.

Sometimes emotional topics surface, such as strained or difficult relationships with people you’ll see at holiday celebrations.  A great question to ask yourself or each other is “If your interactions with _____ go as well as possible, what would you like to be able to say afterwards about how you did your part to be pleasant.”

Once desires have been shared and discussed, the next step is to brainstorm action-steps to accomplish them.  This can be done efficiently by coming up with and evaluating options.

Could's (could do's) What could you do? What ideas have you thought of? What have you considered? Try to list 5 options for each desire that you would like to become reality.

The task in step #1 is to generate as many ideas as possible. This is green-light brainstorming. Everything is on the table. No idea is too ridiculous to mention. Often an idea that isn't realistic gives birth to an idea that will work.

Wants (want to's) - The second step is to evaluate the list of options from step #1.  . Which ones do you like, and why? What do you like about them? Which do you not like? What are the advantages or disadvantages to each one? What are obstacles or barriers? Which would you like to try? Which do you think have the best chance of being helpful? 

The idea with #2 is to check in with your heart and mind. Which ones are you motivated to try, and which ones do you think will work? Scratch the options from #1 that don't make the cut.

Will's (will do's)Now that the list of possible solutions has been shortened, it's time to make a decision about what you will do. Which of the possible action-steps/solutions do you want to do?

The best way to handle the holidays is to get out in front of them by thinking about what would like and what you would like to avoid; forethought in other words.  The simple questions suggested above surface desires and the brainstorming process leads to potential strategies, solutions and action-steps.  This is the essence of the coaching process for any life circumstance.  Begin with the end in mind by thinking about the ideal outcome, then explore your thoughts, feelings and desires around that outcome.  Finally, brainstorm possible action-steps to make your desires a reality.

We hope this helps!

Happy Holidays, Jeff and Jill Williams

Friday, November 16, 2012

Essential Ingredients for the Marriage God Wants You to Have

A common recipe for homemade bread calls for flour, salt, sugar, water, yeast, and oil. Eliminate any of these items, and the mixture isn’t bread. Every ingredient is necessary. None can be forgotten. Bread isn’t bread unless all the components are present, mixed together in the right combination, and baked for a specific amount of time. The same is true for a great marriage. Several key ingredients are required to build and sustain a great marriage relationship that is full of hope, joy and purpose. The essential ingredients to develop and sustain a great marriage are heart, hope and skills.

To successfully coach your own marriage it is essential to use effective skills and to do helpful exercises with a heart of love and to hope in faith for more and better in your relationship. Both heart and hope are gifts of God through an authentic relationship with Jesus, so two-thirds of what you need comes from Him, not other people, including your spouse. Once these are established, skills will help you to steward relationship healing and strengthening opportunities because skills and exercises are the channels through which your love and hope are given to your partner, and through which your partner can express their hopeful love to you.

From Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hope for Marriages in Crisis - A Miracle for Your Marriage

Is your marriage in the middle of the Crisis? Hang On! Don’t quit, there’s hope!

While your enemy, the devil is relentlessly attempting to destroy you, there’s help available from heaven on earth. God has imparted gifts and knowledge to some of His servants so that your marriage can be saved, healed and protected for His purposes.

Don’t let the enemy have his way! Don’t let him win! Recognize that all hopeless thoughts and feelings are ones that he is planting or nurturing so that you will take action to kill your marriage. Don’t do it. Many a couple has lived to regret impulsive behaviors that further hurt their relationship; such as revenge affairs, angry words, even Facebook messages!

Take wisdom from the Bible which points out that you can’t retrieve spoken words any more easily than you can retrieve an arrow that’s been launched from its bow! Conversely, recognize that hope in faith springs from God Himself. And, please consider in the midst of your desperate pain that He is the one who can do “immeasurably more than we can ask for or imagine.”

No matter the depth of your pain and all the water that has gone under the bridge in your marriage, please allow a little bit of doubt to seep into your mind and heart. Your marriage may be in the process of a miracle, even if it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, let us ask you this,

“If God wants to give you a miracle for your marriage, would you be willing to receive it?”*

Join us for the Marriage Miracles conference this Saturday, November 17.

Click Here for more information and to register

*Excerpt from "Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship", p. 177

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Birth of Marriage Coaching - Two Couples in Crisis

“Jeff, I’ve got a bad situation here. Two marriages are in crisis because of an inappropriate relationship. We know you have extensive experience in situations like this. Will you and Jill come to help?”

The two couples were in pain and undecided about their futures. The extensive involvement of both families in a church meant that there could be catastrophic ramifications not only for them, but the entire congregation. Why? People talk and take sides. It’s not uncommon for such events to erode unity or even split churches. The best outcome in such a circumstance would be reconciled relationships in both marriages and between the couples.

With a tone that communicated pastoral concern mixed with a tinge of desperation, the pastor asked me to get on the next available flight to his city: “We’ll pay your expenses and have you here as long as it takes; whatever you need.” Providentially, our schedule was open. “We’ll be glad to come,” I said. As soon as I hung up the phone, adrenaline rushed through my body as I began to contemplate how Jill and I could help these two couples. I caught the first plane with an empty seat the next morning and Jill followed a couple days later.

En route I contemplated: What had we learned and experienced over the years that we could apply to this broken situation? A few years prior we helped to catalyze a community marriage initiative, in the process learning the state of the art in relationship ministry. The big secret was the existence of relationship skills that almost any couple could learn to use to improve communication, prevent misunderstandings, build closeness and resolve conflicts in ways that build instead of eroding their relationship. Just prior to the community marriage initiative I’d become certified as a Christian Leadership Coach.  As I reflected on the community initiative and coach training I thought, We’ll draw on the most effective relationship concepts and skills we know to help them work through pain while we’re with them, and to equip them with coaching skills to continue dealing with hard issues effectively after we’re gone. When I compared notes with Jill over the phone that evening I discovered that she’d reached the same conclusion.

So, as we flew into the storm of the relationship crisis, Marriage Coaching was born.

Arriving on the scene, we formatted our conversations with both couples, and the church leaders as a coaching conversation. We worked through a coaching process called “The Coaching Funnel”. The concept of the funnel is to help a client discover their vision for what an ideal future looks like, progressing through an exploration of their thoughts, feelings and desires. You then assist the client to set clear, specific and measurable goals, to move them toward their ideal future, with action steps to achieve those goals. After working through the coaching funnel, we taught and modeled communication and conflict resolution exercises based on the skills in this book.

In many respects it was easy. Although the situation was emotionally charged and extremely uncomfortable, we knew exactly how to structure every session in order to obtain clear objectives based on what the participants wanted. They wanted to understand what happened and why it happened, so we facilitated partners sharing with each other using good speaking and listening skills. Some wanted apologies and others wanted forgiveness, so we facilitated them through apologies. They wanted ways to work through the powerful emotions they were carrying, so we modeled exercises to help them to do just that.

The process elicited their desires and we simply responded to what they asked for. That’s the foundation of coaching; it’s about what the person/relationship being coached wants, not what someone else—counselor, pastor, friend—prescribes for them. So, coaching your own marriage is about the desires of your heart, and that’s why it works. You and your spouse identify what you want, and then work a process to make your desires reality! 

*Excerpt from Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship