A Tale of Two Couples
Jim and Karen were both virgins when they got married twenty-one years ago. Like many young couples, they had fairly unrealistic views of what sex would be like. "Hit and miss" might be a pretty good description of their sex life after the honeymoon; they never really got a handle on things until almost fifteen years into their marriage.
Here's what happened. Jim was always looking for (and worse, thinking he had found) the "magic bullet." He tried something new-the way he held Karen, cradled her, or tenderly touched a delicate spot-and he tuned in to her moans, thinking, Okay, this is the key; this will unlock her sexual fury.
While Karen really did enjoy that new touch, she learned to be conservative with her moans because once Jim heard one, he was certain to do the exact same thing for the next fifty to one hundred times they made love. Karen never understood why it took one hundred times of silence to overcome one moan, but that's the way it was with Jim. He became so predictable that what once made her hotter than an August day now turned her into a glacier. Jim would just get frustrated, thinking (but never verbalizing), I know I'm doing this right. It worked that one time! Why isn't it working now? I must not be doing it soft enough (or fast enough, or some other variation).
When I first met with Jim, I gave him a simple assignment. "Jim," I said, "I want you to go home, look at your wife's closet, then look at yours. Tell me if you notice anything different."
"I don't have to go home to do that, Dr. Leman," he said. "I know our closets by memory."
"Okay, then. When you look at the shoes, do you notice anything different?"
"Yeah, she has fifty pairs and I have three."
"Let me guess-business shoes, tennis shoes, and work-in-the-yard shoes."
"Now, if you counted her outfits and then counted yours, what would you find?"
"I'd need a calculator for her outfits, but I could count mine using my ten fingers."
"What does that tell you?"
"That she likes to buy clothes?"
"Well, yes, but in regard to sex, what does it mean?"
"Well, she doesn't have many sexy outfits, if that's what you're getting at."
Seeing that subtlety wasn't Jim's strength, I decided to lay it out for him more directly. "Jim, what I'm trying to say is that your wife appears to like a little more variety than you do. She doesn't want to wear the same dress on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In fact, she may not want to wear the same outfit every other Monday. She wants variety.
"You see, some of us guys treat sex like a football playbook. We know what we're going to do, how we're going to do it, and where we're going to end up. The problem with this is that our wives soon grow bored with the routine. They could chart our movements and predict, within about ten seconds, how long we're going to spend upstairs before we go downstairs. Your wife wants more than that."
I saw a lightbulb go on in Jim's mind. What I was saying was making sense.
"Here's your job, Jim," I continued. "Your wife will not be the same woman on Tuesday evening, sexually, that she was on Saturday morning. One night she may be up for adventure or a rushed quickie. She'll want you just to 'take her.' Some mornings she may want slow, languid sex, with you taking a lot of time to convince her that she's up for it. Your job is to figure out which way the wind is blowing on that particular day."
It didn't take much more than that. I didn't need to send Jim to a "sex surrogate" (nor would I ever do such a thing). He didn't have to watch some videos. He didn't need to buy a hundred dollars worth of "marital aids." In fact, Jim realized, as I wrote in another book, that sex begins in the kitchen-it's an all-day affair. He adopted a new mind-set and, according to Karen, became a virtuoso of the bedroom.
Now, seven years later, sex permeates virtually everything Jim and Karen do. If you haven't experienced this, you wouldn't believe what an amazing marital "glue" good sex can be. Three years ago, Jim was trapped in a job that he hated. His boss was determined to become the most hated man east of the Mississippi. When you're in your mid-forties, feeling trapped is about the worst feeling there is. Jim could barely force himself to go into the office, but with twins who were in middle school (with college in the not-too-distant future), and two toddlers just getting into grade school, he didn't have a choice. Now was not the time to make a risky financial change.
One Friday Jim got an e-mail from Karen. It was the first thing he saw when he sat down in his office:
Great news! The younger kids are going to be at Grandma's house tonight and the older boys will be gone at youth group. I made reservations for eight at Palazzi's [Jim's favorite restaurant]. If you can come home by six, that'll give us a good hour and a half to enjoy the hors d'oeuvres-which I plan to be "wearing." By the way, if you look in your briefcase, you'll find a Polaroid. Consider it your predinner "menu." Can't wait to see you. Your Karen
You know what Jim said to himself after reading that e-mail? Keep in mind, he was in a dead-end job; financial pressures were mounting. His boss was a jerk who made Jim's daily existence a living hell. But even so, Jim closed the e-mail and said to himself, "I'm the luckiest man alive."
Having a great sex life is an exhilarating experience; it can bond a husband and wife in a way that's unequaled in human experience. Knowing that your bride really does care for you, that your husband desires your body more than anything else, affirms a man and a woman in profound and multiple ways.
Jim and Karen's kids benefited greatly from this e-mail, by the way. When Jim and Karen finally picked up the younger kids from Grandma's house, Jim couldn't wait to see them. Because he was sexually satisfied, he could focus fully on being there for his kids, hearing about their day, and taking the time to tuck them into bed. And don't think that the kids didn't notice how affectionate Jim and Karen were that evening. It gave them a sense of security and happiness, making them think, We're in the best family anyone could be in.
Sexual fulfillment didn't come overnight for Jim and Karen. But when it came, it changed everything about their home. To tell you the truth, Jim would die for Karen; he'd take a bullet for her without thinking twice. There's nothing he wouldn't do for her.
* * *
Mark and Brenda faced a sexual challenge of their own. They had been sexually active before marriage, and both admit that the sex was pretty exciting. But, predictably for couples who engage in sexual relations before marriage, sexual relations cooled off not that long after the wedding. Mark didn't seem as eager as he had been before, and Brenda was far less adventurous.
At first Mark and Brenda thought it was just the kids. They got pregnant early on in their marriage and now had two kids under the age of five. Over time, however, sex became even less frequent, until eventually it was almost an embarrassing afterthought, something the two of them did because they thought, well, they should-at least once a month, anyway.
Mark had a well-paying job and a good boss, but he was under tremendous stress. As a salesman, if Mark performed well, he was rewarded handsomely. If he fell into the bottom third, he'd be fired. He was only as good as last quarter's numbers.
Mark thought he had an account worth several hundred thousand dollars in the bag; it was just a matter of getting the company to sign. When he went into the purchaser's office, however, he was shocked to hear, "I'm sorry, Mark, but we've decided to go with someone else."
"You've got to be kidding! We've been working on this for two months, and last week you said it looked like a go. What do we need to do to earn back your business?"
"It's too late for that," the purchaser replied. "We've already signed another contract."
Stunned, Mark walked out to his car in a daze. He instinctively answered his cell phone when it rang but immediately wished he hadn't.
"Hey, Mark!" his boss yelled through the phone. "I thought I'd take you out to that new Italian restaurant for lunch to celebrate your closing of that Andreeson account."
Mark wanted to swallow the cell phone right there.
Five hours later, after a lonely and very alcohol-laden lunch, Mark began to reflect on what his life had become. He had earned a six-figure income last year, but his job security was always on the line-as his boss reminded him when he heard the news about the Andreeson account.
How long had it been since he and Brenda had had any fun? Mark remembered the days they couldn't keep their hands off each other; now they were like two roommates sharing the same bed but not much else. Ever since the kids arrived, they seemed boxed into that (admittedly gorgeous) 3,500-square-foot home. Mark yearned for the days when he and Brenda could make the world disappear for a few hours as they got lost in each other's embrace.
Deciding to make a change, Mark called Brenda and confessed, "I've had a really crummy day. Can we just go out tonight?"
It was an emotional cry from Mark-even more than a physical one-but Brenda didn't understand. She'd had a rushed day herself. And because she'd lost touch with her husband and wasn't able to read the emotion in his request, she responded with a curt, "Mark, it's five o'clock! I can't get a baby-sitter this late. What are you thinking? You never give me any notice."
Mark wanted to tell Brenda that he missed her. He longed for her to be the eager woman she used to be, who was willing to cut classes to "fool around" for a little bit. But he had already stuck out his neck once today, and look where that got him! So he went on the defensive.
"Ah, forget it," he said, and hung up the phone.
Mark stopped at a pub on the way home and shot pool until 11 P.M. He knew he'd catch a lot of flak from Brenda for being out so late, but she didn't understand the pressure he was under.
Brenda also didn't understand that Mark masturbated two or three times a week-and every time he did so, he felt his desire for Brenda as a person decline just a little bit more. He was tired of being reluctantly accommodated and never pursued.
For her part, Brenda was too busy with the kids to notice. In fact, she was actually thankful that Mark didn't pressure her for sex anymore; she was too tired to even think about it. It never occurred to her that Mark was taking matters "into his own hands" and was adept enough at hiding the pornography on the computer that she never found it.
What Brenda didn't realize was how much this sexual winter was costing them as a couple, and how, if they didn't turn things around, they'd probably be divorced within another five years.
The kids noticed that Mommy and Daddy were rarely affectionate toward each other and often very impatient. They could sense there was something "under the surface," a seething discontent. But because it was never brought out into the open, they lived with the fear and lack of security that such an environment creates.
Brenda became more and more focused on her kids, trying to meet her emotional emptiness through her children's affection. Mark became more interested in work and his computer at home.
Both lived out the sad truth depicted in this anonymous poem.
Their wedding picture mocked them from the table, These two whose minds no longer touched each other.
They lived with such a heavy barricade between them That neither battering ram of words Nor artilleries of touch could break it down.
Somewhere, between the oldest child's first tooth And the youngest daughter's graduation, They lost each other.
Throughout the years each slowly unraveled That tangled ball of string called self, And as they tugged at stubborn knots, Each hid his searching from the other.
Sometimes she cried at night And begged the whispering darkness to tell her who she was.
He lay beside her, snoring like a hibernating bear, Unaware of her winter.
Once, after they had made love, He wanted to tell her how afraid he was of dying, But, fearing to show his naked soul, He spoke instead about the beauty of her breasts.
She took a course in modern art, Trying to find herself in colors splashed upon a canvas, Complaining to other women about men who are insensitive.
He climbed into a tomb called "The Office," Wrapped his mind in a shroud of paper figures, And buried himself in customers.
Slowly, the wall between them rose, Cemented by the mortar of indifference.
One day, reaching out to touch each other They found a barrier they could not penetrate, And recoiling from the coldness of the stone, Each retreated from the stranger on the other side.
For when love dies, it is not in a moment of angry battle, Nor when fiery bodies lose their heat. It lies panting, exhausted, Expiring at the bottom of a wall it could not scale.
* * *
Two couples. Two stories. One reality. If you think sex isn't important, you are sadly mistaken. Many people have been wounded by sex and hurt by sexual memories. (We'll talk about this in a later chapter.) But if you're married, sex will be one of the most important parts of your life, whether you want it to be that way or not. If you don't treat sex this way-as a matter of supreme importance-you're shortchanging yourself, your spouse, and your kids.
This might, in fact, be a hard book to read. It certainly was a hard book to write, because in our society today we have a difficult time talking about sex. Oh, we joke about sex, degrading it through filthy stories, movies, and magazines, but we never talk about marital sex in the way the Creator designed it. Marital sex-the most important and only appropriate kind, in my view-gets ignored, and couples pay a fearful price when this sad reality happens.
But when you give people permission to talk about sex in a nonthreatening environment, you can't shut them up! Once they get going, they want to talk about sex because they know that sex is a powerful force in our married lives.
My hope is that this book will expand and challenge your thinking about sex. It's not just a how-to-do-it manual; the physical mechanics aren't that difficult. This is more of a do-it-yourself look at why to do it and how to do it better. I want to reawaken in you the shared experience of enjoying this wonderful gift on your journey with your mate.