All too often, however, we don't even realize how we've been impacted. We don't pause to make the connection between our past and our present. I suggest that you create an Intimacy Timeline. This exercise can help you pinpoint when and how your sex life got off track.
Let me explain what this Intimacy Timeline would look like by illustrating from my own life.
1. List factors that affected your view of and satisfaction with sexuality. I went for broad categories of childhood, premarriage, newlywed, post-children, and mid-life -- although I certainly could have tracked more variations by using specific ages.
Childhood: conflicting messages about sexuality (media focused on sexuality vs. religious messages of "just don't do it!"), didn't feel pretty
Premarital: no strategy for maintaining purity, curiosity about sex, promiscuity, guilt, multiple short-term partners
Newlywed: in love, secure in relationship, freedom to engage in sex, ample time, high sex drive
Post-children: low sex drive, estrogen deficiency, exhaustion, menstruation problems
Mid-life: increased sex drive, improved marriage relationship, endometrial ablation, vasectomy, commitment to time alone with hubby
2. Assign a value to the categories, with 0 being not one way or the other, -5 being awful, and +5 being ideal. For myself, I put Childhood: -1, Premarriage: -4, Newlywed: +3, Post-children: -3, Mid-life, +4. Of course, you could use any range you want.
3. Transfer the data to a graph to see your sexual intimacy through the years.
By doing this exercise, I see when my intimacy suffered -- when I was promiscuous before marriage (see My Personal Testimony) and after having children (see When My Sex Life Sucked). I can also see when my intimacy soared. Yeah, increased sex drive! Yeah, better marriage relationship! Yeah, all that practice that has paid off!
What things might negatively affect your sexual health and satisfaction?
- Overly strict messages about sexuality -- such as sex is bad, sex is for men only, etc.
- Being molested or raped
- Ongoing sexual harassment
- Sexually-transmitted disease
- Low sex drive
- Pain in intercourse
- Sexual mistreatment or apathy from a partner
- Extreme difficulties with menstruation
- Poor body image
Positive factors might include:
- Quality biblical teaching about sexuality
- Maintaining purity before marriage
- Getting married
- Taking a marriage and sexuality class with your spouse (with homework:))
- Trying new things
- An increase in sex drive
- Mentoring other couples
Try this exercise. Sit down and list those things that you believe have impacted your approach to sexuality and your current satisfaction with this area of your marriage. Give those messages or experiences a value from -5 to +5, with 0 being a-okay but nothing special. Then chart a timeline to see where you have been.
What can an Intimacy Timeline reveal?
1. Are you making general progress or backtracking? For instance, if your sex life is only a +1 but it was in the negatives for most of your life, that's good. However, if your sex life is a +1, but it has been +3 to +5 for most of your marriage, you might need to pause and address whatever the problem might be. Some ups and downs are to be expected, but living according to God's design for marital intimacy should result in an overall upward trajectory.
2. Are there events in your past still affecting you negatively? If you were molested, told sex was terrible, and struggled with weight as a child, it would be no surprise to discover that poor body image and/or low sex drive affect you now. Even if your current situation is substantially better than that awful time, those messages are likely hang around in the background until you replace them with the positive truth from God's Word. Maybe you've blocked it out to some extent, but it shows up when you represent your sexual health in an Intimacy Timeline.
3. Do you have current issues that need to be addressed? Had I done an Intimacy Timeline when my kids were infants or toddlers, I would have noticed how terrible things were. At the time, I didn't realize how much our sex life had dropped off and how unavailable I was to my husband. I was in survival mode: I was tangled up in the trees and couldn't see the forest. Doing this exercise would have helped me to step back and gauge where our intimacy was. Armed with that information, I could have spoken more candidly to my doctor and my husband about our sexuality and remedied problems. I'm betting many of you have analogous situations.
4. Are you and your spouse on the same page? If both spouses create an Intimacy Timeline, you can compare how you view your marital intimacy.
Maybe your lines wouldn't be as in sync as the ones above. Perhaps you think things are going fine, so you'd give your current intimacy a +3. And then you find out from his Intimacy Timeline that it's a -2 for him -- meaning he feels sex-starved right now. Wouldn't a loving wife want to know that? Wouldn't a loving husband want to know if his wife thinks sex is not going well now because it hurts or she's tired or whatever?
An Intimacy Timeline is simply a tool to see where you've been and where you are, and then to actively plot where you're going. It can also be a tool for communication with your spouse to see where the two of you are going -- or rather, growing -- together as a couple. Take a look at where you've been and where you want to go. Pinpoint issues that have negatively affected you and start to deal with them.
I'm a firm believer in redemption and healing from God. Yet you will not likely combat a bunch of negative messages with a single great experience. In fact, psychologists say we need about five positive messages to combat every one negative message. But you can start today. Take a new approach. Make new memories. Experience new satisfaction. When you start piling up the positives, the negatives will slowly fade. Your Intimacy Timeline can mostly hang out on the positive side, and maybe some of you will even have those +6 times.
Let me know if you use this exercise and how it works for you.
Note: I appreciate all of the questions from Monday's post. You are welcome to add your question there at Q&A for J at HHH. I will begin answering the inquiries next week.