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Marriage Encounter

Married Intimacy

Marriage Encounter Online - Marriage MansionSTEVEN

A big Hello to you!  Welcome to the Heart Suite.  We are Steven and Jennifer and we are going to discuss the subject of Married Intimacy and how it has affected us.  We feel honored to be able to give this presentation in the Heart Suite.  No other room in the Marriage Mansion witnesses so much intimacy as does a couple’s bedroom.  From showering together to dressing, to talking both light and heavy, love making, cuddling, sleeping in each other’s arms, to nurturing our newborn children, to caring for each other when we are sick, and more.  We also are impressed with the décor of the suite.  You understand it was done by the wife, but she definitely had her husband’s likes in mind.  So now let’s get started.

It's a fact that it is in the area of our sexual relationship that we experience our greatest intimacy and when that intimacy is not present we experience our greatest loneliness. Yet it’s ironic that neither of us brings up the subject for discussion.

When we have this area of our lives working right, we most nearly live out in mind, spirit and body, the phrase "and the two shall become one." Our minds are in tune with each other and we willingly sacrifice ourselves for each other. On the other hand, when our sexual relationship isn't what it could be, we are cool and distant with each other. And so here we can also experience a feeling of profound loneliness.

Before our Marriage Encounter, I was reluctant to talk about this area of our relationship. I was afraid of hurting Jennifer and of my being rejected by her. So in the name of self-preservation, I avoided telling Jennifer about my needs, fears, and frustrations.

JENNIFER

I see our sexual relationship as one area in which I am really vulnerable. If things seem to be going smoothly, I am not anxious to find out otherwise. I do not see myself as being the perfect sexual partner so I fear the hurt that may follow if I am unable to fulfill Steven's needs. I am also uncomfortable and unsure of myself. I'm not sure whether my thoughts and feelings are normal. I'm not sure what Steven's reaction will be if I tell him what I want or need in sex. I am afraid he will feel inadequate or that he will misunderstand me.

In the past, sex was a subject which came up infrequently and usually in a joking, silly way. There just didn't seem to be the right time or place for a serious discussion about sex. When we learned about dialogue on our Marriage Encounter, it seemed like a good way to discuss our thoughts and feelings about sex in an atmosphere of love and non-criticism. I was anxious to take a look at this area even though the fear of discussing it was still there. Recently we dialogued on the question "How do I feel when Jennifer says ‘no’?" Following are our letters and thoughts from the dialogue we had afterwards.

STEVEN

Dear Sweetheart,

When you say “No” to me in sex by complaining about how stressed or tired you are, - without even a discussion - I am at first disappointed. As the nights of “No’s” string together my disappointment mounts and – like sweet milk turning sour – that disappointment turns to resentment.

I count the days since we last made love and wonder if you are counting, too. I feel empty inside and am torn by my dilemma. I believe in your love and faithfulness to me, and ask myself – what can I do about my needs? Doing more work only gets more work done. Seldom does it get us to bed any earlier.

“It makes me want to sulk, crawl in my shell and not come out unless you beg me to make love. I am hurting because of my desire to make love and that desire is not being matched.

With all my love, Steven

JENNIFER

Dearest Steven,

The times that I would like to write about are the times that I say "no", not because I'm totally exhausted or not feeling well. I have the strongest feelings when I say "no" just because it is too much of an effort. When this happens, I feel very selfish and lazy, like I do when I sleep late and should get started on the day's chores.

In my heart I know that I should be more responsive to you sexually, but there is a resistance inside of me that just doesn't want to go to all that trouble. I’m unwilling to focus on you to the depth I need to when we are making love. So I withdraw and let you know that I am not in the mood. I feel a coolness and a distance between us, and even a little resentment because I don't like seeing myself as a selfish person. I don't want to give up that control over what I'm thinking and feeling. It's hard to recognize this in myself because I want to be seen as generous and am always taking time to give to others, but I realize that I only want to give on my terms -- not theirs; And not yours, when it comes to making love.

All my love, Jennifer

STEVEN

As I read Jennifer's letter I could sense that I was seeing a part of her that I'd never seen before. I expected that she was just a little uneasy and wondered what I was thinking. As I continued to read, I gently put out my hand and rested it on her knee just to let her know that all was okay.

At the time of this dialogue, we were extremely busy. Our entire family had been very sick with the flu for more than a week about a month earlier, and we just never seemed to be able to catch up or regain that lost time. And so our sexual relationship - specifically the frequency of our lovemaking had dropped off rather dramatically. This then became the source of my resentment which in turn made me want to retreat -- to protect myself from further rejection.

JENNIFER

I was feeling very reluctant to get into dialogue on the subject of sex. I knew that we were not making love very frequently but I felt very defensive about it. We had not been feeling well and had been so busy that we were lucky to get to bed by midnight.

However, as I sat down to write my letter I realized that even though these barriers were present, there were also times that I said “no” because I didn't want to make the effort. I really didn't want to face that situation because it meant I had to accept responsibility for my own actions. I was surprised at the discoveries I made about myself as I wrote. I really didn't want to share these discoveries with Steven for fear of having to change.

As we exchanged our letters, I felt a little nervous but Steven's warm touch reassured me. After reading my letter, he looked at me tenderly and said "thank you" for my letter. He began our dialogue by asking me to describe my feeling of resentment more fully. Did I feel resentment toward him or did I feel the resentment inside myself'? I told him that I felt resentful inside myself, and the resentment was the same kind of resentment I feel when I eat a rich dessert even though I’m trying to lose some weight. I feel bad about myself and yet I say “no” to myself over and over. I resent the fact that I have to go through this just to lose a few pounds, considering I never had to deny myself anything I wanted to eat when I was young. I feel inadequate and consider myself a failure. However, there's also resentment -- if it weren't for this stupid diet I wouldn't be feeling guilty.

STEVEN

At this point our focus shifted to my feeling of resentment which I knew was different from Jennifer’s. My feeling grew out of a deepening disappointment. Jennifer asked if it might be like what we both feel when it's a beautiful day outside and we don't do anything -- we just fritter away the day without enjoying the weather.

That didn't seem to be right, but then I remembered an incidence when she probably felt more like I feel now. Jennifer's a beach person -‑I'm not, but I don't dislike the beach either. To please her I had planned for us to go to the beach on Father's Day. I figured that was my special gift to her since it really was “my” day. To make it easy on her, I suggested we pick up food at the deli and head out early. The beach is about two hours away.

I was thrilled that Jennifer liked the plan. However, she said she was afraid we’d get home late, and she thought I should run over to see my father and give him our card. I’d only be gone a short time, perhaps an hour at the most. On the way home I would stop at the deli. About two hours later, Jennifer called me at my father’s home. I told her my father needed me to fix his air conditioner, I’d be along soon. She said she’d go to the deli, pack our food and drinks, and other beach paraphernalia. I thanked her.

When I finally came home – another hour later - Jennifer was disappointed. I had been gone 3 hours. I felt terrible. While I was visiting and helping my father, my guilt over doing this so seldom kicked in. Without letting Jennifer know, I had changed my priorities.

I was terribly sorry for the way I handled this situation. I apologized to Jennifer. I recalled that Jennifer said she felt disappointed at first, then she felt angry, but that turned to resentment. Her needs, plans, and desires were not even recognized—just as mine were not when Jennifer issued her non-verbal "no".

JENNIFER

At this point in our dialogue I leaned closer to Steven, held his hand and asked him if there were certain times when he believed that we had planned to make love and then I said "no". This idea was new to me since there really weren't any particular times I could remember when we had talked about making love and then hadn't. He recalled to me that we had made a resolution a while back to keep Wednesday and Saturday nights free enough so that we could get to bed with enough time for lovemaking. I had long since forgotten the resolution and I felt very ashamed realizing how rejected Steven must have felt on those days when I went on working into the night without any mention of making love. I could see the hurt in Steven’s eyes, and understand his resentment when I didn't seem to be willing to make him my first priority. I gave Steven a warm hug. I asked him to forgive me for those times I had not put him first.

Our dialogue ended with a discussion on how we could make changes to improve our sexual relationship. There was a sense of peace and of freshness about our love. It was exciting to realize that even though we have often talked about sex there is always more to learn both about ourselves and about each other. It is these discoveries that keep our relationship growing instead of stagnating.

STEVEN

A discovery we have made that we pass on to you is the tremendous importance that sex plays in the rest of our relationship. In all aspects of our sexual relationship we are communicating. Dialogues like the one we've just shared tell us so much about us. Sex is far more than just something that's fun to do. It is a powerful form of communication. When Jennifer and I make love, we should be intimately involved with each other and I mean that in more than just the physical sense. If this is not the case, if sex becomes an "it", then we need to work on that part of our relationship and we've found that the best way to do that is through dialogue.

Because sex is such a vital part of a marriage, we urge you to use the tools you’ve been given and dialogue on sex regularly.

JENNIFER

We suggest you take 15 minutes for PR and 25 minutes for CD.

Go in peace and write with love!

Married Intimacy Handout and Questions

STEVEN

When you finish your CD we will take you over to the Meditation Chapel. Brad and Carly want to talk with you about the next event in the Marriage Encounter program. Steven and I saw this activity as more than a break; it was an important part of healing which prepared us for sharing more deeply in the steps ahead.

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