Facets of Marriage (Part 2b): Lovers

Posted on March 13, 2014

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“And as a lover knows his beloved’s heart, all the shapes and curves of her even in the dark,  you know me.” Audrey Assad

 

An issue requiring some delicacy which sometimes surfaces in therapy is the issue of our bodies.  Often one partner protests (and is offended by) the other partner’s weight gain.  There is a yin and a yang to this issue.  One of the many hazards of pornography is that is sets a standard for physical perfection that few can meet.  Even if you did meet that standard when you got married, it is unlikely that you will 30 years later.  If the quality of your sex life is contingent upon the socially constructed standard of physical beauty, this does not bode well for a satisfying lifelong sexual relationship.  As an aside, my wife maintains that one of the benefits of presbyopia (the vision problem that creates the need for reading glasses when we hit middle age) is that you can’t see each other’s wrinkles when you are up close.

With regard to the weight issue, you cannot control what your partner does.  If you try to control your partner, you will make yourself crazy and your partner resentful.[1]  If the relationship is contingent upon each partner’s body mass, the relationship is always in a precarious position.  It is difficult to be securely attached to you if your love for me is contingent upon me not gaining any weight.

When I work with sex addicts and their partners, I have to point out the reality to the partner that you cannot control what the addict thinks or does.  If you try to manage your partner’s recovery, you will make yourself crazy.  The flip side of this is that it is in the addict’s best interests to have structure in place around recovery.  The addict needs to work recovery because it is for the addict’s benefit.  However, when the addict gives his partner a view to how he is working his recovery, it is a gift he gives to his partner.

One of the concepts that sets Christianity apart from other religions is the idea of “grace.”  Through faith the believer has the unmerited favor of God.  This favor does not have to be earned.  There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.  His love is unconditional.  At the same time, there should be some evidence in our lives of our conversion.  Our service and avoidance of sin flow from the grace we have already received and not as a means to earn God’s favor.

Drawing an imperfect analogy from these two points, I would suggest that it is in each of our best interests to have a healthy lifestyle including exercise and eating right.  You should do it for yourself.  A few years ago a friend in healthcare administration asserted that as much as one third of the healthcare costs nationally stemmed from obesity and smoking.  Just as the addict should work recovery for himself (or herself), healthy habits benefit the individual who maintains those habits.  At the same time, you cannot control whether your partner maintains healthy habits.  If you try to, you run the risk of sending the message to your partner that “I only love you if…”  Taking care of yourself is a gift you can give yourself and your partner.  As with our relationship with God, this should flow out of the love and acceptance we have already received and not out of a need to earn that love and acceptance.  Having said that, to some extent we are only postponing the inevitable: our bodies are going to change as we age.  Those changes are inherently going to be moving us away from the standard of beauty suggested by our culture.  Again, the quality of our sex lives should not be contingent upon living up to that standard.

Ultimately, sex is and should be about pleasure and connection (i.e. intimacy) and not about performance and physical perfection.  A wonderful facet of the marital relationship is having a lover for life.[2]  It is way more important and more satisfying to have a partner to whom you are securely attached and a relationship where you can love and enjoy each other, than it is to have a partner who meets the cultural standard of perfection and knows all of the sex tricks from the magazines at the supermarket checkout.  There is joy in knowing and being known and in loving and being loved in all of our imperfection.

 


[1] For more on trying to control your partner, go back and check out Hula Hoop and the Five Guarantees.  https://scottwoodtherapy.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/hula-hoop-and-the-five-guarantees/.  No you won’t find them on itunes.

[2] If this seems like a downside to marriage, you might be missing an important aspect of our sexuality.

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