About the Guest
She thought she had finally found her happily-ever-after. Author Jennifer Smith remembers her joyous wedding day and the vows she took to love, honor, and cherish her husband, Aaron, as long as she lived. She had no idea that just hours after saying "I do," her hopes and dreams for a romantic honeymoon would be challenged. As the days, weeks, and months went by, Jennifer tells how she became even more despondent and isolated. Had marrying Aaron been a mistake?
Jennifer Smith remembers her joyous wedding day. She had no idea that just hours after saying “I do,” her hopes and dreams for a romantic honeymoon would be challenged.
Bob: Aaron and Jennifer Smith faced an unexpected challenge right after they were married when they learned that Jennifer experienced tremendous physical pain anytime the two of them were intimate with one another. Doctors had no explanation for the pain. The lack of physical intimacy in their marriage spilled over into every other aspect of their relationship.
Jennifer: Because we weren’t physically intimate, our marriage wasn’t being fulfilled how we thought it should be. It amplified everything—to talking about our finances or decisions that we were making for “Where would we live?” or the things that we were doing—our jobs—any decision that we had to make, and then, in our attitudes. It came out in our attitudes toward one another and how we were treating one another.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What happens in a marriage relationship when the two coming together as one just isn’t working at all?
We’ll explore that with Jennifer Smith today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. Let me quickly, before we dive into what we’re going to talk about today, remind our listeners about the special offer that we’ve got for listeners. This week and next week, FamilyLife Today listeners are invited to join us at an upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. If you register for yourself, this week or next week, your spouse comes free. It’s the best offer we make all year on the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. It’s a buy one / get one free opportunity. It’s good this week or next week when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and register or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to register over the phone.
And let me just say—the Weekend to Remember is a great weekend getaway for couples. You’ll get practical biblical information about God’s design for marriage—
—about the issues that couples face in a marriage relationship. More often than not, what people tell me when they come to a Weekend to Remember—if they are older couples, they say, “We wish we had come here years ago,” and younger couples often say, “This is exactly what we needed as we are going through some of these challenges in our marriage relationship.” And no matter how good your marriage is—there are challenges that you’re going to face as you go through married life together.
So, again, if you want to sign up for an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—sign up this week or next week—you pay for yourself and your spouse comes absolutely free. We hope you’ll take advantage of that. We’d love to see you at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.
Now, the subject we are going to talk about today—I think, Dennis, sometimes, we can give people the impression that if a young couple—a dating couple—will do everything right during their engagement period, that, somehow is going to guarantee you—
Dennis: —happily ever after.
Bob: Yes: “If you will follow this procedure—make sure you don’t live together, you don’t sleep together, you honor your parents, and you do it the right way—that means marriage is going to be perfect for you.”
Dennis: It means that—in order for that to occur, you have to have two robots marrying each other with no backgrounds. [Laughter]
Bob: No real human beings.
Dennis: No real human nature within their own hearts and no struggle over their own selfishness.
Jennifer Smith joins us again on FamilyLife Today. She heads up a ministry called The Unveiled Wife—a web-based ministry. She and her husband, Aaron, live in Oregon with their two children. She has written a book by the same name as her ministry: The Unveiled Wife: Embracing Intimacy with God and Your Husband.
Bob: Well, it’s an unveiled book because you are telling the truth about your own story in a way that’s pretty revealing. You guys decided, early on, that if you were going to help others with the struggles you went through, you were going to have to be honest about what you faced; right?
Jennifer: Absolutely. We together talked about our story and sharing it with other people. My husband gave me the green light and supported me in sharing our story. It was hard—it was really hard to be that open about what we went through.
Dennis: Who was the person who was most encouraging to you to do it? Was it Aaron?
Jennifer: It was Aaron; yes.
Jennifer: He saw the need; and he saw how it could encourage others to hang on to their marriage and to have hope because, sometimes, all we need is that little bit of hope for the next day, and the next day, and the next day.
Bob: Did you think, like I described, that as long as you handled engagement right—because you did—you handled it about as well as anybody could. Were you thinking, “If we play by the rules on this side of marriage, then, God will give us joy, and peace, and blessing on the other side,”?
Jennifer: Absolutely—absolutely, I did think that way. I had all these expectations of how and why God should bless our marriage and our relationship because I did all the right things, growing up, and into our relationship.
I really had a hard time with that when our marriage hit those hard places and brought devastation and frustration in my heart. I immediately brought those to the Lord, but I did it in a way that was almost disrespectful. I said, “Why is this happening when I did this, this, and this for You?”
Bob: Let me take you back to your wedding day because that was a pretty—it was a magical day; wasn’t it?
Jennifer: Oh, totally. I remember just getting up for that day with so much joy. I knew that my life was going to change and I thought “…for the better,” obviously. I was so—just excited to be at that altar with my husband.
Dennis: Did you have any fear about the honeymoon night? Did you and Aaron talk about that and discuss fears you might both have had about that?
Jennifer: Yes. I don’t remember us talking too much about it or about our expectations; but we both went into it very hopeful / very excited to finally embrace this love that we’ve been waiting for and wanting to fulfill our relationship that way.
We were both going into it, thinking, “This is going to be awesome!”
Bob: You had had to fight temptation during your—
Bob: —dating? It wasn’t like, while you were engaged, there was no desire. You were both ready for that night.
Jennifer: We were very ready.
Bob: But the honeymoon night did not go the way either of you had hoped it would go.
Jennifer: Not at all. It was full of pain, and tears, and frustration.
Bob: All because there was physical pain as you tried to consummate your marriage?
Jennifer: Yes. So, we got to the place where we were staying—and kind of prepared ourselves and—you know, bringing in the suitcases and unpacking a little bit. Then, we just went for it, so to speak. I experienced a lot of physical pain. It was like, “There is no way I’m ever going to get passed this,”—that is how it felt. I remember stopping and going to the bathroom and just feeling so inadequate as a wife. I already felt like, “I can’t even fulfill this role that I’ve been wanting for so long.”
Dennis: Had you been to an OB doctor before you got married?
Jennifer: I did. It was actually for a surprise kind of physical ailment that I had year-and-a-half prior; but everything seemed fine.
Bob: And you had no reason to think, heading into your honeymoon night, that there was going to be any difficulty.
Bob: So this, all of a sudden, takes both of you completely by surprise as you’re trying to, again, consummate your love and your marriage. You went to the bathroom. You were in tears. You felt inadequate. How did Aaron respond to what was going on?
Jennifer: He was so gracious and so patient. He just looked at me, and kind of laughed, and jokingly said: “Don’t worry. We have the rest of our lives to figure this out.” And we both just said, “We don’t want it to take that long,” but “You know, I’m in this for you and with you.” He was so patient.
Bob: And were you thinking that night that: “Okay, we’ll relax. Tomorrow will be a different day,” and “I’m sure other couples struggle, maybe, the first time out; but we’ll be able to make this work tomorrow,”?
Jennifer: That’s what we thought; yes. We went to bed that night—
—we prayed. We surrendered our relationship to the Lord—our marriage. We were so happy that we were finally married. We just thought, “Maybe, tomorrow will be different.”
Bob: And it wasn’t?
Jennifer: It wasn’t.
Dennis: So, what you would have thought would have been easy was, not only difficult, but painful.
Dennis: And not just the honeymoon night—but the next day / the next day—the same experience.
Dennis: How did you begin to process that, as a wife?
Jennifer: It was very difficult. I began already feeling the isolation and wanting to pull away because I anticipated the pain. Going into your day thinking, “I don’t want to be physically intimate with my husband,” is really hard and challenged me and my role as a wife. I remember just thinking, “I don’t want to have to keep doing this.” Those feelings came on very strongly; but then, I had to reinforce that—you know, what my husband said when he proposed to me—that God has a purpose for our relationship and purpose for our marriage. So, there was this huge tug on my heart of, “What do I do now?”
Dennis: In addition to this, Aaron shared with you that he had a struggle with pornography.
Bob: Did that come up here?
Jennifer: We weren’t talking about that issue here. When we were dating, he had brought up that it had been something that he struggled with. I just thought to myself, “Well, every guy struggles with this.” I had no experience or didn’t know what the extent was to his struggle with pornography. So, I wasn’t even thinking about that during this time of being recently married.
Dennis: And I just want to affirm both of you for having had that discussion prior to getting married. There are a lot of couples, who engage in marriage, and don’t have this discussion and don’t allow one another into each other’s lives around this. And this can be the guy or the gal. It doesn’t have to be just a guy who struggles with pornography.
Bob: You’d had some exposure to pornography yourself; right?
Jennifer: Yes; when I was younger, I had several different incidents where I was exposed to pornography and just—I actually, as a young girl, searched for it. I’d be at a relative’s house and I knew what was in that drawer that you shouldn’t look at. The flesh is very overpowering sometimes.
Bob: And let’s just be realistic here. A couple who is engaged today—it would be very unusual if the husband has not had some exposure to pornography.
Bob: And it would be unusual if the wife has not had some exposure. In this culture, probably, the majority of both men and women have been exposed to that before coming in. What you are really trying to understand is, not whether there has been exposure, but has pornography gotten its tentacles in your soul?
Dennis: Yes, to what extent has this been a problem? How often? How frequently? How long ago?
And here is where I think I’d give a shout out to dads—I’d just say to dads:
Father of the bride—before you give your daughter away / before you bless your son as he marries a young lady—I say you have these conversations and say: “Let’s go have a long walk, son…” “Let’s go on a fishing trip...” “Let’s go sit down on the back deck for a couple of hours and let’s have a conversation because we’re men.
“We know what’s happening in this culture. We know it’s pervasive, but let’s talk about what you’ve seen,’”—not get into the details / that’s not the point—but the point is to determine: “To what extent has this been a problem?” and “How much of this are you bringing into your marriage, around expectations of your wife?” because that can crush a young bride at the beginning of the relationship.
Bob: Yes, it really can. You are listening to FamilyLife Today. Our guest, today, is Jennifer Smith, the author of the book, The Unveiled Wife.
As you look back on these challenging early weeks of your marriage, and the difficulties you were experiencing with intimacy, do you think Aaron’s prior exposure to pornography was a factor in what you were going through at all?
Jennifer: I think it definitely could have played a role because I—especially in feeling inadequate. So many insecurities raise up in your heart. You start to think—
Jennifer: —“I can’t fulfill him, but I know that thing over there did; at least, at one point.” I didn’t know if he was still struggling with it when we were first married; but I remember thinking: “I’m not like them. I can’t fulfill him. What if he goes back to it?”
I did wrestle with a lot of fear with that.
Even though we talked about it, and we were transparent about his addiction to pornography prior to getting married, we probably didn’t handle it the best way because I brushed it off. I didn’t engage in a very serious conversation about the matter—not that we needed to talk about details about what he was doing—but, when a person is in an addiction to pornography, they are actually in a relationship with lust and with—
Jennifer: —what’s happening there. I just want to encourage people, who are engaged or in a serious relationship—they need to have these conversations because they need to know—if your fiancé is in a relationship with pornography, they’re not committed to you.
Bob: Okay, so, here is the picture I’ve got at this point—where, early in your marriage, every time the two of you try to come together for marital intimacy, it’s painful for you. Your husband has had a past experience with pornography. I’m guessing you are calling a doctor and thinking, “I’ve got to have an exam and see if there is something wrong with my body.”
Is that where you were?
Jennifer: My husband was there, and he encouraged me to go see a doctor; but I was intimidated. I was scared. I was embarrassed. I didn’t have a lot of exposure with people checking me out—so I didn’t make that call for a long time.
Dennis: You moved to Lynden, Washington. There was a women’s clinic there.
Jennifer: Yes. We made an appointment to get vaccinations so that we could go to Africa because we were planning on this big mission trip. We wanted to serve God and do something great for His Kingdom. We went in for vaccinations.
That was the first time that I had asked someone else for an opinion. I told her what we were struggling with and that I experienced a lot of pain. She gave us a list of things that we could do to try and lighten the mood and relax. I just remember thinking, “Okay, so, I had this list of things that I had to do in order to be intimate with my husband.” I did try all those things, but still, it didn’t work. Then, I felt even more hopeless when those things didn’t help us.
Dennis: You actually ended up regretting that you were married?
Jennifer: Yes, I did.
I had really struggled with: “Did I make a mistake? Was God actually calling us to marriage?” I wrestled with so much doubt surrounding our relationship. All the insecurities that I had about what we were dealing with just went through the roof.
Dennis: This was how long into the marriage?
Jennifer: Weeks into the marriage that I started getting unsure of our relationship.
Dennis: And here’s where—and she’s mentioned it a couple of times, Bob—here is where I want the listeners to hear: “For a young couple like this to be isolated and to be going through something like this—to not let somebody else into the interior of their lives, even as embarrassing, and as threatening, and as vulnerable as this makes you feel to have to invite somebody in and say: ‘We’ve got a problem. We need help,’—when you are in isolation, that’s where these thoughts crop up.”
Dennis: You look around at everybody else, and you assume everyone else is getting along perfectly—which is not the truth. You assume you’re the only one who is dealing with anything like this.
At that point, if you had a mentor—and this is one of my standard pieces of advice for young couples starting out their marriage—I challenge them to begin to pray together every day when they start their marriage; but I challenge them, formally, to establish a relationship with a mentoring couple to walk them through the first year of their marriage—meet together once a month.
If you had had a couple that you knew you were going to be able to meet with—you might not have not told them at the end of month one / maybe not at the end of month two—but somewhere in the first twelve months—either Aaron or you would have spilled the beans; wouldn’t you?
Jennifer: Yes. I would totally agree with you that mentorship is so important. Aaron and I didn’t know this going into marriage. So, we didn’t let anyone into our relationship or to share those things. I would just encourage people that that is a very, very vital thing that we need to have a part of our lives.
Dennis: Now, when you had the thought about regretting being married, did you end up expressing that to Aaron?
You’re a very private person. You keep a lot of things—especially, early in your marriage—to yourself. Aaron is the transparent one. How long before you shared that with him?
Jennifer: I remember a specific point in time where I kind of just blurted it out. It would have been about six months into marriage. We were in the airport, making our way to El Salvador; and we were still doing mission work. I was rushing through the airport to catch our flight. I just stopped, and I was weeping. When Aaron finally realized it, he came, running back to me—he’s like: “Come on. We’ve got to go. What’s wrong?”
I said: “I think I made a mistake. You married the wrong girl. I can’t keep going like this.” Everything was mounting / everything was burdening my heart. I didn’t know how else to respond, and I just broke. That’s when I first kind of blurted it out. Even then, it wasn’t really a conversation I had with him until about maybe a year-and-a-half later.
Bob: I don’t know if folks understand this; but this is not just an issue of being frustrated—
—both of you—that you can’t consummate your marriage because you’ve not been able to fully consummate your marriage at this point; right?
Bob: This spills over into every other nook and cranny—
Jennifer: Oh, yes.
Bob: —of a relationship; doesn’t it?
Jennifer: It amplified everything—to talking about our finances, or decisions that we were making for “Where would we live?” or the things that we were doing—our jobs—any decision that we had to make, and then, in our attitudes. It came out in our attitudes toward one another and how we were treating one another. Because we weren’t physically intimate and our marriage wasn’t being fulfilled, how we thought it should be, we were aggravated.
Dennis: So, Jennifer, your first story about Aaron on your honeymoon night was that he was patient. You couldn’t believe how gracious he was, how patient, and how understanding he was with you, as a wife. How long before the patience turned to anger and an eruption?
Jennifer: Aaron was very kind, and gentle, and patient—that is the word I keep coming back to is—
—patient with me.
It wasn’t until about three-and-a-half years into our marriage that it really got to him. I think that, if he had expressed those emotions / the anger and what he was really going through, earlier on, it might have forced me or motivated me to find help sooner, and to come out of my shell, and to stop being so embarrassed or insecure about finding help. Maybe, we would have found help sooner.
Dennis: I think that is an important point. I’m glad you made it and not me. You know, as human beings, we experience pain. Pain is like a warning light on the dashboard—it tells you: “Something is not right. You need to go get help.”
And I have to say, as I read your book—and again, it’s easy to second guess something like this—but I saw you two kind of charging off across the globe, going on mission trips; and here was a major area of your marriage that was deficit. I guess my slant on this / my view is: “If you’ve got something major going on in your marriage, ‘Time out!’ / ‘Stop!’
Ask for help and go to the right people. Go to wise people—people who have God’s perspective on this. Frankly, go after it to solve it because if you don’t—you know, as we’re going to hear—problems like this can destroy a relationship to the point where there is no return.”
Bob: If you were doing the first three-and-a-half years of your marriage over again, is that what you’d do?
Jennifer: I would totally find help sooner. I think that one of the biggest problems that Aaron and I had was escapism. We were escaping the problems instead of facing them because we were so terrified, and unsure, and without a clue about how marriage is supposed to go.
I remember thinking—now, looking back: “Premarital counseling is helpful, but that post-marriage counseling is so much more vital because you have expectations going into marriage; but when you actually experience it, that’s when the real talks need to happen.” I think, if we had that sooner—instead o running off to these different countries, or escaping into movies, or books, or whatever was dulling the pain that we were experiencing—
—we would have been reconciled a lot sooner.
Bob: We do tell couples that we think it’s a good idea for them to attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway prior to getting married; but we think it’s an even better idea for them to come back, a year later or two years later, and go through the same content; right?
Dennis: No doubt about it. Anybody can handle romance. That’s like falling off a cliff together—
Dennis: —being swept away by emotions of the perfect date / the perfect evening; but reality has a way of calling us to our bedrock convictions and “What are we going to do about this?”
I’m glad you said what you said, Jennifer—that if you’d done something earlier, it might have helped you guys instead of chasing dreams and kind of pretending like it wasn’t there—instead you’d stop and address the needs in one another’s lives because you were suffering / he was suffering—the marriage was suffering. People in a foreign country might be able to wait / might be able to wait six months so that a young couple can get their marriage started on the right trajectory.
Bob: Well, of course, right now, we’re encouraging listeners to sign up for an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway because, this spring, we’re going to be hosting more than 60 events all around the country. If you sign up this week or next week for one of these upcoming events, you can save 50 percent off the cost of registration—when you pay the regular rate for yourself, your spouse comes free.
Get more information about that and sign up at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and get information over the phone. Plan to join us for one of these weekend getaways. And it may be that you’ve been married, not just for a couple of years, but for a couple of decades. We think it’s good for couples to get away and invest in their marriage regularly in order to keep their marriage pointed in the right direction.
Again, if you sign up this week or next week for a Weekend to Remember getaway, you will save 50 percent off the regular cost. All the details are available at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FT-TODAY for more information.
Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; and the toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY.
We also have copies of Jennifer Smith’s book called The Unveiled Wife available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. If you’d like to find out more about Jennifer’s story—about their journey during the early years of their marriage and the challenges they faced—go to FamilyLifeToday.com and get a copy of The Unveiled Wife by Jennifer Smith.
Now, 2016 is a special year for us. As of this year, FamilyLife Today has been in ministry / been operating for 40 years. We’ll celebrate our 40th Anniversary this year; but honestly, it’s not our anniversary that we want to focus on—it’s your anniversary. FamilyLife Today exists to be the proud sponsor of anniversaries.
There are a lot of couples who will celebrate an anniversary together this year, and FamilyLife Today had a role to play in that anniversary happening. In fact, we want to shout out to our friends, Dennis and Sally Payne, who live in Arvada, Colorado. They’ve been married 36 years together today. The Paynes have attended four Weekend to Remember marriage getaways during their marriage. They are also friends of FamilyLife. They help support this ministry with their donations, and we’re grateful for the partnership we have with them—so “Happy anniversary to Dennis and Sally.”
Again, it’s your anniversaries we are all about, here, as a ministry. In fact, we’d love to help you celebrate your anniversary this year. We’ve got some special ideas for what that celebration could be like. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com and tell us your anniversary date. We’ll have some suggestions for you as the date draws near—again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
And again, thanks to those of you who make this ministry possible through your donations.
We’re listener-supported. You’re the ones, together with us, who are helping more anniversaries happen every year through the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Now, we hope you can join us back here again tomorrow. Jennifer Smith is going to join us. We’re going to hear about the breakthrough that happened in her marriage—how God ultimately brought them to a place where she and her husband could experience joyful marital intimacy. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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