It’s a rare person, if anyone, who comes to marriage without sexual “stuff.” You did. And so did your spouse. Last time we talked about dealing with your own stuff, and this time we’ll talk about how to support your spouse when they have sexual baggage.
The most important perspective to maintain when it comes to your spouse is to ask yourself, “If I were dealing with what they are feeling, if I were in their shoes, how would I want to be treated?” Keep in mind that your spouse has a different personality from you, so the answer may not be exactly the same as what you yourself would want. From what you do know about your spouse, try to look at the world through their eyes.
Your spouse’s sexual baggage affects you. Acknowledge that. And you need to deal with your own heart in that regard! (More on that next time.) But regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do, you are responsible for your own feelings, thoughts, and actions. The best underlying question to remember is, “Who does God need me to be to my spouse in this season?”
Here are a few things that will help as you consider that.
Quit Trying to Fix Them!
Many times each week I hear from someone whose husband or wife is unresponsive to sex, or is wrestling with pornography or an affair, or has sexual baggage from the past. Almost always the question is some variation of, “How can I fix my spouse?”
News flash; you can’t!
So quit trying.
How do you feel when your spouse tries to fix you? It’s not fun. And it’s not helpful. God has not called you to fix your spouse! You can’t fix them, and fixing your spouse wouldn’t fix you anyway. Believing you would be OK if you could fix them is a lie. A sexually responsive spouse will not fix your porn addiction. A spouse who says Yes to sex will not cure your loneliness or anger. A spouse who does not demand sex will not heal your wounds from your past.
When your spouse has sexual baggage it often uncovers something in your own stuff. Even if your contribution to the disconnect between you is very minor, you deal with your part. You may need to get your grubby hands off your spouse so God is free to do what He wants to do with them. Take the time to identify the holes in your own heart, and learn to feed yourself. This is hard! You will need to connect with others in finding support for yourself through this.
But in spite of all this, you do have a role in helping your spouse deal with their sexual stuff.
BE the Invitation
Healing happens through safety and connection. If your spouse has been hurt sexually (and who hasn’t been?) you can become a safe place where they can feel seen, heard, and loved. You are not the one who can “fix” your spouse! But you being a safe place will be a significant help in what your spouse needs to experience.
Ask yourself, “What’s it like to be married to me?” You are not responsible for your spouse’s choices, but you are responsible for how you bring yourself to your marriage. If your spouse feels criticized, why would they want to come closer to you? You may be tempted to say, “My spouse is supposed to give me sex!” Really? Would you be inclined to come closer if your spouse demanded it? Demanding or trying to manipulate sex or intimacy doesn’t work; closeness, intimacy, only comes when both partners choose to come together voluntarily.
You help your spouse want to come closer by BEING the invitation. You’re not controlling, demanding, or criticizing; you’re inviting. As you consider what it’s like to be married to you, what might you need to change in order to be the safe and inviting place your spouse want to come closer to? Don’t think primarily about sex; think about the rest of your relationship. Would you want to come closer to you?
When Boundaries Are Needed
The previous section spoke largely to marriages where your spouse is pulling back from intimacy because of sexual brokenness. But there are times your spouse’s sexual baggage displays itself in acting out, engaging in pornography, affairs, etc. When your spouse is not dealing with their stuff, there are times boundaries are needed.
Remember, setting a boundary is NOT about getting your spouse to change. That’s out of your control. A healthy boundary is in the service of making further relationship possible. It’s not for the purpose of punishing your spouse. A boundary is always about what you choose to do.
A boundary might be something such as, “Honey, I love you. But your pornography use is destroying our marriage. I’m asking you to get help starting this week. If not, I’m going to talk with a lawyer about a separation.” OR, “Honey, I want to make our marriage work, and I cannot continue while you’re cheating. I’ve made an appointment with a marriage counselor. I’m asking you to come with me. If you don’t, I will ask you to leave our home.”
Please note, this is not about trying to force your spouse to have sex with you! These kinds of somewhat extreme boundaries are for when your spouse is acting out sexually and is not already dealing with their stuff.
It’s Not All About You!
Many people believe marriage is supposed to make you happy. Sometimes it does! But more than happiness, marriage is about learning to love well. It may be that in this season God is asking you to love your spouse as He does, sacrificially.
So keep asking the question, “God, who do You need me to be to my spouse in this season?”
Through all this, your heart is important. Your desire for intimacy with your spouse is God-given. Next time we’ll talk about tending your own heart in this process.
Your Turn: How safe of a place are you for your spouse to find healing for their sexual stuff? Are there boundaries you need to set because of your spouse’s bad behavior? Leave a comment below.
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- Marriage can be hard when your spouse has sexual baggage. You cannot “fix” your spouse; quit trying! But you can help by being a safe place. And sometimes by setting boundaries. Tweet that.
Struggling with Sexual “Stuff?”
When your spouse’s sexual “stuff” stirs up your stuff, you need some help. That’s why we’ve created the Sexpectations online course – to help you deal with your sexual story, find the transformation Jesus offers, and write the next chapter with hope. You can do this regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do.
Don’t wait any longer! I’m inviting you to join me in the Sexpectations online course, and take the next step in finding the wholeness Jesus offers.