Jan 142018 4 Responses

Shocking Results from a Marriage Survey

It wasn’t a scientific study. The survey has more in common with  a question on Family Feud than it does something which might be published in a scientific journal. But it’s still interesting and it provides a glimpse into an average marriage.

At a recent marriage conference, participants filled out a brief survey. Based on my article, 10 Signs Your Marriage Is Healthy, I had 100 people tell me what they struggled with the most in marriage. I expected a variety of answers. Every relationship is different. Throughout various seasons of life, we face different struggles. I assumed some answers might be more frequent than others. I knew time is always a struggle (more because of apathy than busyness of schedules). I assumed properly working through communication differences would also be an issue. However, I was surprised by one recurring answer.

A good number of married couples reported that for them, sex was not meaningful. It was characteristic which most couples identified with in a negative way. Of the ten things I listed, this was the biggest problem.

This surprised me. It’s not shocking that sex is a problem for many couples. It’s an important aspect of relationships and often the first place problems reveal themselves is in the bedroom. But the fact that this was the biggest problem–more than time, communication, and money–was surprising.

Notice two aspects of people listing this as their biggest problem.

1. The problem is greater than people admit. It’s difficult, even with anonymity, to admit a problem with sex. It’s much easier to say that we don’t spend enough time together or we don’t laugh enough rather than checking a box which says sex is not meaningful. If 40% of an audience admits to a sexual problem, there is a great chance 60% of the audience actually experiences the issue negatively. (See: 7 Red Flags for Dying Intimacy)

2. Consider the low bar of “meaningful.” Here was the description: “Sex is meaningful. It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing, but in a healthy relationship (and barring outside factors of age, pregnancy, or illness) it is a meaningful experience. Society often overvalues sex–it isn’t the most important thing in the world. But many couples undervalue sex–it is an important element of a healthy marriage. When a couple finds the middle ground, it results in a meaningful level of intimacy.” Meaningful doesn’t seem like a high bar or unfair expectation, yet most couples didn’t feel their experience matched the definition.

Why Sex Isn’t Meaningful

While “meaningful” can be different things to different people, the failure to have a meaningful sex life is clearly a problem within a relationship. If sex is an important component of a healthy marriage (and it is), failing to have a meaningful sex life is a significant hindrance to having a happy marriage.

What prevents many couples from meaningful sex? Apart from illness, disease, and extenuating circumstances, many couples fail to have meaningful sex for one of three reasons:

Lack of Intention. Either they assume good sex should just occur naturally or they downplay the role it plays in a relationship. Both options hurt their relationship. While aspects of sexuality occur naturally, developing a healthy sex life with your partner is not an easy process. It takes effort, trial and error, and forgiveness. It’s a process over time, not a gift given on the honeymoon. Wise couples value the sexual connection and intentionally work to develop that type of relationship with their spouse. A passive approach to sex results in a second-rate intimacy. (See: 7 Signs of a Satisfying Sex Life)

Poor Expectations. The wrong expectations ensure disappointment. Between the silence of parents (and the church) regarding sex and the shouting of society with a false narrative of what sex is all about, it shouldn’t surprise us that many couples have the wrong expectations regarding sex. Consider the survey–many people hear the results and they assume a bunch of men aren’t happy and reported it on the survey. However, that’s not the case. While some response came from men, just as many came from women. In too many relationships, neither the man or woman have a high expectation of sex being meaningful for the woman. Sex becomes all about him and neither end up happy. Husband and wife should expect a meaningful sexual connection that isn’t perfect or all-consuming, but is important and a regular aspect of their lives.

Unwillingness to grow. Many things may contribute to lack of meaning regarding sex, but one overwhelming characteristic leaves couples stuck in something less than they desire. The unwillingness to do the work necessary to change their outcomes is the biggest reason many couples rate their intimacy as less than ideal. Anyone can struggle to have good sex, but no one can expect that to change until both parties are willing to do something about it. Intimacy is too important to a marriage to do nothing when our experience doesn’t match reasonable expectations. If something is wrong, do something about it.

How to Develop a Meaningful Sex Life

Admitting that our levels of intimacy are not meeting our expectations is the beginning of improvement. Here are three other practical steps we can take to improve our sex lives.

Talk about it. I’ve written before, “we talk too much about sex with others and not enough about it with our spouses.” Reverse this trend. Don’t talk about it in bed. Don’t critique during the act. But do find ways to discuss feelings, expectations, desires, etc. Talk about it productively, not personally, and in a way that draws the two of you together. If you can’t talk about sex, you don’t have a sex problem…you have a communication problem. Fix it.

Read a book. Not just any book. One hesitation about telling people to get help regarding sex is the fear that people will turn to the wrong resources. 50 Shades of Grey won’t help your sex life. Reading Men’s Health or a romance novel is not productive. But there are good, reasonable resources to assist a couple with intimacy. (Consider: Hot, Holy, and Humorous–Sex in Marriage by God’s design or A Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex)

Get help. The last thing which many couples consider should sometimes be the first action they take–speaking to a professional. The average couple would be shocked at how practical the advice a counselor could give them regarding their sex life. Too often, we are too involved in a situation to understand the problems. By leaning on an outside source who is an expert, we can quickly gain information to improve our situation. A good counselor won’t laugh at you or be shocked you have a problem. They will simply hear about your situation and assist you to find better ways to connect.

It’s reasonable to assume that marriage should lead to a meaningful sexual connection. If your relationship isn’t there, something needs to change.

Ask yourself: Do we have a meaningful sex life?

Ask your spouse: What is one thing I can do to make your sexual experience more meaningful?

4 Responses to Shocking Results from a Marriage Survey
  1. J. Parker Reply

    I was nodding my head throughout the article (actually not all that shocked by the results, given what I do), and then I saw my book mentioned. Thanks for the shout-out!

    You are spot-on about intentionality and expectations — which are issues I often hear about from struggling marriages. I love that you’re speaking up to help couples reclaim sexuality the way God planned for us to have — a meaningful, intimate relationship! A lot of my readers ask what the church can do, but I believe it’s pastors who must embrace this message for real change to happen. So thank you so much for leading the way!

  2. Mike S. Reply

    This pastor is putting this article in the church bulletin on Sunday. Thanks. (It mirrors my observations too.)

  3. Paul Byerly Reply

    Yup, this is one of the well-hidden secrets of Christian marriages. Thanks for shining a light on it!

  4. Mike Steele Reply

    Wow. I read your blog often, but this one, I just don’t know. I could write a novel about this, at least from a Husband’s perspective.
    You cannot fix someone else. When a partner will not expand beyond what they know, won’t talk about it, and does not read anything? There is no where to turn. Just no where. If there is no place to turn, your only choice is forward.

    The 7 Signs are excellent, but that is all they are. There are far too many that just, for whatever reason, will not go there. Here is my declaration and I speak for no one else:

    I love Christ Kevin. There is nothing I would not do. But I can do more than one thing at a time. After 35 years of hope, I have spent the majority of it sitting in 2nd class. By now, even I get the message. We live together, but that is all. I have to protect myself. I get tired of rejection, the resulting anger that inevitably leads to resentment. I am tired of resenting my wife. I love her too much for that. It is also fruitless.

    Sorry if I am not blond and blue, sorry if I don’t “move” you, but this is me. If it is not enough for you, that is your problem not mine. God seems to be content with who I am.

    We can live together, travel, dance, walk, talk, raise a family, Worship, serve the entire community. But there will be no sex. and please, do not ever tell me you did not know; you did not realize. You are too smart for that. One of the many things I love about you is your intelligence. You knew. That makes at least some of the last 35 years sinful. When you know you are wrong and do it anyway?

    This is the life I have; the only earthly one I have and I am going to make it count. I am going to live it as well as I can, and if that is not enough for you, so be it. Just do not ever, not once, complain to me or about me.

    I also notice how few comments there are on this topic. We are so puritanical.

    I apologize, rant over.

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