Editor’s Note: As her daughters began their married lives, Barbara Rainey wanted to share some of the lessons she learned throughout her own marriage as well as those gleaned from years of ministry to couples. In these heartfelt, insightful letters that eventually evolved into the book Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife, she answers the tough questions and addresses the realities of marriage. Enjoy this excerpt from the book and visit TheArtofBeingaWife.com for more information.
This is a little embarrassing. Okay, a lot embarrassing. But please tell me that sex is more than I think it is. It’s fine. Don’t get me wrong. But the initial passion has pretty much cooled off, we have all the kids we want, and honestly, sex seems like the last thing on my list of needs because I am tired ALL THE TIME!
Boy, do I understand you. Dennis always said he’d be a millionaire if he had a dollar bill for all the times I said how tired I was! And sex was at the bottom of my to-do list more times than not.
We missed each other often. Making sense of our sexual differences sometimes felt like we were from two different solar systems, not just Venus and Mars. I totally get that time and energy is a huge challenge on this front!
First, a quick sweet story about your grandma: While we were shopping for something to wear for my wedding night, my mother gave me two very brief pieces of advice about sex. As I was trying on a beautiful white eyelet nightgown, she said, “He’ll like you much better naked, you know.” Then she added, “It gets better with time.”
She was right about both. While sex can seem automatic and even easy in the beginning, especially since it is so hard to control passion before marriage, becoming great lovers for life is a decades-long learning experience.
Think of a young oak sapling, just planted. Then consider that same tree as it matures over the course of the changing seasons—the satisfying shade it provides in summer, the glorious color in autumn, the strength of its limbs through a bitter winter, the continued growth come spring. It helps to remember an oak tree takes decades to mature. And so do our marriages. So work to be patient with one another, okay?
We’re different sexually
When you girls got married, I remember preparing mentally, thinking through what I wanted to say about sex in marriage. One topic I tried to explain is how different we are sexually as male and female.
In the early months of my marriage, I thought it was only a physical difference. Sex was a relatively simple experience for us. At least it was until we began to encounter some surprisingly distinct differences. Like so many women before me, I discovered that we could have an argument, and he could immediately set that aside and be interested. Or that he didn’t need any conversation before being ready. Or that we would be in the middle of lovemaking and he wouldn’t hear the crash just outside our apartment walls!
And yes, it is true that not all men are exactly the same. But from the beginning men were designed by God to think about sex more often and in a more focused way than women. It’s the ability to compartmentalize.
Even though I’ve learned a lot about living with a man, I still find myself caught off guard at times by our gender differences. The combination of chromosomes that makes an embryo a boy or a girl keeps us male and female for life on a cellular level. And it never changes.
Think about this with me for a second. Most couples would say they have much in common; their basic emotions, education levels, and beliefs can be the same. But for me as a woman, knowing what it is like to be my husband, a man—to crawl inside his skin and feel what he feels—is not possible. I will never think like a man; I will always view the world through estrogen-shaded feminine lenses, while he will always have a testosterone-fueled male view on life.
Pleasure without commitment
An epiphany for me came from George Gilder in his book, Men and Marriage: “Unless they have an enduring relationship with a woman—a relationship that affords them sexual confidence—men will accept almost any convenient sexual offer. The existence of a semi-illegal, multibillion-dollar pornography market, almost entirely male-oriented, speaks of the difference in sexual character between men and women.”
Women are designed to be the stabilizing force in the lives of men. Far from being insignificant, we are instead supremely important. Without the stabilizing commitment of women in marriage, men are more likely to live like barbarians, wandering impulsively through life, fighting, competing, and chasing after power they might not even be able to define.
Sadly, today many young men are enjoying the pleasure of marriage without the commitment or responsibility because many young women are too willing to cohabitate instead of demanding a marriage proposal by their refusal to have sex outside of marriage. So there might be a temporary stability created in these unmarried couples who live together, but it will not last or produce healthy relationships.
Your dad often said to me, “Women are powerful,” but every time he said it, I never quite comprehended his meaning until I read Men and Marriage. Understanding this male/female difference has helped me to make sense of my deep, life-altering responsibility to my husband to help him feel like the man God created him to be. And that includes my being willing to learn what says love to him, and his being willing to learn what says love to me.
Our needs and desires are sometimes vastly dissimilar, but we have worked together to both compromise and take risks. It is supremely important that you hear this conclusion I came to understand: If I love him, I won’t view his biological sexual differences disapprovingly. This is a very practical way you as a wife can and must show him respect. If you belittle or shame his male sexuality; any other attempts at showing respect will feel hollow to him.
As the two of us had conversations about sex and our divergent perspectives in those early years, seeking to know one another better, I caught glimpses of what it must be like to be a man. It was a continual revelation. I felt compassion for him and more motivation to care for him. But within days of each conversation, I returned to viewing life as a woman.
Truth is not a magic wand that changes a woman’s sex drive into a man’s, but it does help correct our misguided thinking. Still, a thousand conversations will not revolutionize my design or his.
He knows my heart is for him
We have come to a place after decades of marriage where we understand we will never view sexual intimacy in the same way. For many years we thought cultural conditioning created our differences, but I believe now that male/female differences are God-designed for a purpose. I do not feel a sexual need for him the same way he does for me.
Hear me clearly on this: I do need him. But I feel that need uniquely as a woman, needing not a physical release as men do, but an emotional filling—the rebonding and reconnection that comes from reaffirming our commitment through sex. There are times when I’m just not in the mood—we girls are emotional beings, right? And at those times we mutually agree to delay making love until the next night (and sometimes we opt for a quicker method to meet his physical need) but regardless, I make sure he knows I am not rejecting him. Why? Because he needs to know I respect his need and personhood as a man. He can feel dismissed and therefore disrespected, so I have learned to protect him by what I say and don’t say.
Over time we have proven we are for each other. He knows my heart is for him. And he appreciates that my heart must be as wooed as my body. Still, there are times I request being together because I’ve missed him, and I feel it, not physically as he does, but emotionally. We are different, and it is good.
Thanking God for the genius of His design even when I can’t appreciate the wonder,