Nadia: “…No you’re not understanding what I’m saying.”
Friend: “Then, help me understand.”
Nadia: “It’s just that, well…
Nadia: “Oh, alright. I’ll tell you. But promise not to tell anybody else, OK?”
Friend: “Of course I won’t tell anybody.”
Nadia: “My sex life…it kinda sucks. It’s nothing like what I experienced before marriage.”
Friend: “Nadia, you’re married to a great guy. He’s…”
Nadia: “I know he’s great! He’s amazing in just about every area. But he’s not a good lover. *pauses* Well, maybe he is, I don’t know. He’s just not as good as what I experienced back in college.”
Friend: “I’m not really sure what to say.”
Nadia: “Of course you don’t. *sighs* I feel so awkward just thinking about this, let alone talking about it out loud. I just don’t want to compare my husband to other guys I’ve been with.”
Friend: “Then don’t compare.”
Nadia: “I’m not sure how not to.”
Nadia isn’t alone. Past sexual experiences bleed into marriage. Maybe there was a time before marriage when sex…
It felt right.
It felt simple.
It felt sexy.
It felt consequence free.
But 5, 10, maybe even 30 years later, those memories of the ‘good-old-days’ linger. These memories may not be fully based on reality, but the emotions penetrate into your marriage. They may be innocent enough at first, but they spread like a cancer, leaving more and more unmet expectations in their wake.
Sexual baggage usually shows up in one of two ways. One is through comparison of your spouse to past sexual partners. Another area is through shame and guilt about past sexual experiences.
(Note: In this post, we’re going to keep our attention on the former – comparing past sexual experiences to the present. While we recognize that not all of our readers have past sexual experiences outside of marriage, we’re fairly confident that most or all will know other couples who do.)
Comparing past sexual experiences to your current sex life will likely lead to feelings of unmet expectations. Though it may be improper to compare your spouse with past partner(s), it happens. Rationally, you know your spouse is a different person than your past lover. In fact, you may daily spend time convincing yourself of just that. Still, there may be a sinking feeling that your spouse is just not living up to the best of what you’ve experienced.
Even the “results”.
None of it seems to compare. It almost seems unfair. How could sex with your spouse not be BETTER than your best sexual experience before you were married?
Though there may be several reasons, we want to point to one in particular. Are you ready?
Sexual encounters leave an imprint on our minds, bodies and souls. While there are many dangers of engaging in sex outside of marriage, the greatest is that we imprint ourselves outside the context of commitment. The illicit nature of sex outside of marriage adds a level of intrigue, mystery, excitement and stimulation. All of these make the experience unforgettable and may even heighten the desire to do it again. When sex within marriage fails to live up to the imprints of the past, it serves what can seem a crushing blow to your marriage.
The good new is that there is hope.
Below are a few tips as to how you can deal with these thoughts of comparison. Included are a few things you need to understand as well as advice what you can do with that understanding.
Understand: If you remain dissatisfied with your spouse and/or sex life, you’re likely to exaggerate sexual attributes from past lovers. Not only that, but you may even experience a certain nostalgia and longing for a time when things were easier, or at least different. These thoughts are most likely to emerge when you come to the realization that marriage requires hard work. Understand that these past relationships weren’t any better (they ended, didn’t they?). Also, understand that a great sex life takes work, and it’s much better to work on your current sex life than reminisce about a short fling from college.
Do: Make a mountain out of a molehill with your spouse. Write out a list of all the attributes you enjoy about your spouse. Include personality traits, physical attributes and sexual characteristics. Understand that the sum of these is why you married them. Take time to remind yourself of your commitment and promise to spend your life with him/her. When thoughts about your previous partner creep into your mind (and they will!) replace those thoughts with the ones you just compiled of your spouse. Take control of your thoughts and use them to your advantage.
Understand: Your spouse is a unique individual and it’s not OK to expect them to be like anyone else. Learning how to please and how to receive pleasure is not automatic. Maybe your past partner loved sex as much as you do, but you have discovered (or at least you think you have) that your spouse really doesn’t seem to care. Or maybe it seems difficult to please or find pleasure with your spouse as opposed to your previous partner. Understand that great sex does not come automatically. Not only that, but the process of making sex more enjoyable for you both is ultimately better for your marriage than the final product.
Do: Make sex and communication about sex a priority. If you’re sexually frustrated you may be tempted to stray or escape through fantasy, but that won’t actually help your marriage – in fact, it will make it worse! Choose to be present with your spouse. Take your time. Communicate often. Enjoy making sex better, together. Months, maybe just weeks later, you’ll discover that sex with your spouse really is better than the best from your past. The good-old-days will be the days ahead of you, not the days behind you.
Understand: How you think about your spouse and your sex life will determine how much you enjoy it. If you continually think that they’re not meeting your expectations, you may need to reevaluate your expectations. Are they being faithful? Available? Teachable? Are they showing up? Do they desire to serve you? If so, maybe you have some unrealistic expectations.
Do: Take time to connect relationally with your spouse. Make the effort to have difficult conversations. Renew your mind with positive thoughts about your spouse. Remember that marriage requires something of you, not just your spouse. In the end, you may want to openly discuss your expectations with one another. If they’re completely satisfied, suggest something a little different that may bring you a little more excitement.
And don’t forget, sex isn’t a ‘product’, it’s a ‘process’. No matter what happens, enjoy the process. That’s the greatest expectation of all.
This is part 4 in a series on Unmet Expectations. We’ll cover the subject of guilt and shame from past sexual experiences in our next post. Until then…
1) Your sexual relationship is a process, not a product. What are 3 ways this changes how you think about sex?
2) Do you believe it’s possible to have unrealistic expectations in the bedroom? Why or why not?
3) Discuss with your spouse: How does sex leave an imprint on your mind? Body? Soul? What can I do to leave a lasting imprint on all 3 right now!?!?