The Sex Recovery Series: 4 Point Plan to Rebuild Your Sex Life

by | Nov 1, 2022 | Series, Sexual Intimacy | 13 comments

4 Step Plan to Rebuild Sex Life
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Sometimes our sex lives and marriages get so messy that we don’t even know where to begin with untangling it all. 

Sex has become so ugly. We feel distant from each other. We feel unwanted and unloved and used.

How do you recover from that?

And how do you recover when sex has been used as a weapon, leaving someone feeling objectified?

In our surveys for The Great Sex Rescue, we found that 16% of women said their primary emotion after sex was feeling used. 

In those marriages, having sex makes things worse, not better. 

And it doesn’t end there: 

Great Sex Rescue

From The Great Sex Rescue

Many women report obligation-message motivations for having sex, whether it’s to keep their husbands from sinning sexually (18.8%), because they feel guilty if they turn their husbands down (34.8%), or because when they don’t have sex, their husbands become unpleasant (17.6%) or even treat them badly (6.7%).

That’s not okay.

Here’s a letter I received from someone recently that’s typical of much of what I see:

I really don’t want to have sex, I just know my husband needs it to be able to function. We have sex 1-2 times a week, minus dragon week, so I understand that 3 times a month at minimum is not really enough. However, I have an unspoken resentment towards him for all the things he’s done wrong regarding sex for the last decade and a half and before we were married and it just makes me clam up more. We can’t talk about it because we’ve tried and it just leads to more frustration and hurting each other. If we could delete sex completely we would be very happily married, and we have no plan or desire to ever separate. I have also desperately wished that he could have a concubine. But obviously those wishes can’t come true. Do you have any books for a wife who wants to honor her husband’s need for sex but needs to forgive him (and probably herself) for past and present issues and move on?

What do you do when your main emotion around sex is resentment?

Sex is supposed to be something that brings you together, where you can celebrate each other, but far too many couples end up in this negative dance where she feels used and resentful, and he feels like she doesn’t care about him.

How do you get out of that?

That’s what I want to look at this month: How do we dig out of the pit?

And as we looked at last month, often that pit is something that one or both of you dug for yourselves.

  • She felt no pleasure when you first had intercourse, and so her libido dropped 
  • You’ve had sex for years without her feeling pleasure, and so she feels used
  • There’s no intimacy outside of the bedroom, and so sex feels shallow and even dirty
  • The higher libido spouse has pressured the lower libido spouse so much for sex that it has become divorced from intimacy all together
  • One or both of you have insisted on having sex despite pain she may be feeling
  • One or both of you have insisted on having sex despite unhealed past trauma
  • One or both of you have felt that sex could stop his porn use

And you can likely add more!

 

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Today I’d like to suggest a 4-point plan for digging out of that pit.

1. Reframe sex so that it is integrated into your relationship, not separate from it.

Too often we think that no matter what is going on in the relationship, sex is supposed to look the same.

I remember a well known marriage speaker telling me she was once on a panel with some very big names in the Focus on the Family/SBC world, and a question from the audience came about taking a sex fast after a husband’s pornography confession so that you could re-establish intimacy.

One very well known bigwig was aghast. It would be a sin to deprive the husband of sex, you see. And so no matter what else was going on in the relationship, she wasn’t allowed to say no.

This attitude, more than anything else, is what is causing our pits. 

This idea that sex is divorced from how we feel about each other, and is simply a physical act which she owes her husband, is exactly why sex causes distance and libido plummets.

We will never, ever, ever dig out of the pit until we put sex in its proper place.

Sex is the culmination and expression of the intimacy in your relationship; it is not the cause of it. 

Yes, sex and intimacy feed each other, but if there is no intimacy to begin with, then sex becomes objectifying and empty. Until we see sex as the way that we express how we feel about each other, rather than as a commodity that we deserve, then we will always dig the pit deeper.

You cannot manufacture intimacy by forcing or pressuring someone to become vulnerable so you can use their body. (and if forcing and pressuring are involved, that’s coercion, and it’s not okay. It’s abuse).

If her libido has plummeted, and she feels used, and she feels resentful, you can’t get out of the pit by trying to make her think differently about sex, or realize how much her husband needs it, or tell her about being selfless.

You can only dig out of that pit by honoring God’s real design for intimacy, which is not that someone feels used, but that instead both feel valued and cherished. 

If your spouse is unable to see sex as anything other than an entitlement, that is a huge red flag, and a sign that your relationship likely isn’t safe. We have more on how to handle this in The Great Sex Rescue, but you do not have to submit to sex where you feel used and abused. 

Passion 4 Dancing

2. Make both of you feel safe.

The test to see whether or not you’ve both reframed sex is really whether or not you agree that this is step #2. If one of you thinks the next step is to work on having more sex, or work on relaxing more, then you haven’t actually reframed sex.

When you realize that sex is the culmination of your relationship, then you will also realize that you cannot have mutual, pleasurable, intimate sex if one or both of you don’t feel safe.

Sex without safety is coercion and objectification.

The woman writing in does not feel safe regarding sex. She doesn’t feel like she matters.

Her libido will never, ever return until she feels as if her husband values her. Berating her for not meeting his needs will only dig the pit deeper. Berating her for not understanding how important sex is like picking up a shovel and making it worse.

She needs to feel valued and safe BEFORE her libido can revive (or before she can discover it for the first time); before she can start to respond physically; before sex can become stress-free.

Too much advice just tells women to meet men’s needs. And the more we do that–the deeper we dig.

Feeling safe means that there is no pressure on you to perform. You know that you are accepted and loved. And it’s that safety that gives space for libido. 

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3. Build affection.

Once you feel safe you can start working on affection. Spending time together, non-sexual touch, kind words–these are all things that are often missing from stressful relationships.

Remember–sex is the culmination of the relationship, not the cause of it. Until you have a base of safety and of real closeness, sex will not flourish.

4. Rebuild sex from the ground up

It is only with the foundation of reframed sex, safety and security, and closeness that you can then address the bedroom.

Just because the problem that you’ve identified is in the bedroom does not mean that you start to solve it in the bedroom.

Instead, that’s where you go at the end, after you’ve done the foundation work.

Think of it this way: Your marriage started off at 0, at neutral. You wanted to get to +100, to sexual bliss. But as you’ve dug the hole by making one person feel used and objectified, and building walls between you, maybe you’ve fallen to -100. The way to fix it is by first aiming to get to 0, not aiming to get to +100. You have to pay back the debt first before you aim for something more.

This month, I want to walk us through these four steps to rediscovering sex.

We have to do this in the right order, or we will end up making things worse.

But I have also found that, if #1 and #2 are dealt with well, the other two are often quite easy to address!

So let’s get started!

 

4 Step Plan Rebuild Sex Life

What do you think? Why do people get this in the wrong order? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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13 Comments

  1. Stefanie

    I’m really looking forward to this series. Last week’s podcast was also really good and I intend to listen to it again with my husband. Right now my husband is in a self-pity mindset. I’m trying to get him to switch from “my wife is rejecting me” to “my wife suffered a decade of sexual trauma.” I think that switch would help him stop pressuring me.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      YES! This is it exactly.

      Reply
  2. Suzanne

    Should be a great month! I still wish we could get away from saying “his needs” when referring to a man wanting sex. His desires, his wants, but stay away from his needs, because sex is not a need.

    Reply
    • K

      Yes, “needs” has definitely become a triggering word for me.

      Reply
  3. Phil

    I have been exploring a concept that centers around the idea that desire has more to do with sex than anything. AKA – sex starts other places in your marriage than sex it self. Like the kitchen I guess…here is where I am at: mutual sex? Absolutely. How do we get there? MUTUAL DESIRE. Haven’t figured out how to create that but thats where I am with it. Dont even want “more” sex. Just want to be mutually desired.

    Reply
    • Jim

      For there to be desire, there also must be attraction. I often feel that my wife is not attracted to me anymore. It has been like this for the last several years. It has gotten worse since our last child was born. There is little affection to no affection anymore. I feel like a roommate and not a spouse. I go out of my way to do everything that I can around the house and spending time with our kids to give her a break. All conversations are about the kids. The kids are all that she thinks about and I am an after thought.

      Not sure how to change this dynamic.

      Reply
      • Phil

        Jim. So here is the litmus test I have been working on. Btw my concept is just that. Its not proven. Its just a thoughtful direction I am looking: as a kid I used to go to a Friends house to hang out. He lived with his Grandmother. Hey called her Mem (mehm). Mem would make us homemade French fries like All the time. So by the time I was 16 I decided to start making fries myself. So I went out and bought me a fry Daddy. I still got that sucker. If I go home and put that fry daddy on the counter I guarantee you everyone of my family members including me will desire french fries. When it gets to the time to eat them no one can keep their hands off and they are SO good. Now I realize there are pitfalls with my test. Like if I made them every night for example my gut turns just thinking about that. The grease would kill me. Here is what is interesting. A majority of the time my wife and I meal plan together each week. I am guessing we have 60 solid meals that we rotate. Some are more fitting for speed depending whats going on. Anyway sometimes there are nights the plan doesnt work out. Maybe somebody doesnt feel like cooking or we forgot to get the meat out of the freezer. Well thats ok. BUT! What is interesting is that most of the time we desire the food we plan to eat. When we start cooking we desire it more because of the smell and then we taste it. From what I have learned so far the Hypothalamus is both involved in hunger desire and sexual desire. So if I can create desire for food, one should be able to create desire for sex. Just a theory. I am not trying “control” anything. No what the discussion is around here is ME – I have done something wrong – my wife has her part but for us I am the major offender from our past. At this point, I may never “get what I want”. However, as much as I do get frustrated at times I cling to hope. Trying new stuff gives me hope. Not sure what your story is Jim. I do know that mine starts with me. I wish the best for you.

        Reply
  4. Carlos

    I think it would be helpful for the men who read this blog to learn more about the amount of time this process can take and hear some strategies to help them succeed. When the woman writing in said, “If we could delete sex completely we would be a very happily married,” I thought about a question that was asked in your latest podcast “would you still love your wife if you never had sex again?” I like to believe that husbands want to do the right thing when they recognize how painful sex has been for their wives, but they don’t know what to do with their desires.

    My wife and I have worked through steps 1-3, but sex hasn’t returned. She is much happier now. Even though i’m grateful, I often feel like I’m pouring into our relationship from an empty vessel.

    Reply
  5. Tim

    Totally off topic, but have you written anything for people whose spouses have lost their faith? A friend is dealing with that at the moment and I thought there might be something on here to encourage her, but couldn’t see anything relevant in the ‘faith’ section.

    Reply
  6. Em

    What you said about starting in the negative and having to get to zero first is very true to my experience. It was just as hard to move from zero up as it was to move up to zero.

    Reply
  7. rebuildmode

    This series is fantastic — would have come in handy about 2 years ago, but we have been rebuilding based on all of your other great resources and blog posts. We were this couple. In a very bad place where sex from her perspective felt like being used, getting nothing out of it, not truly being seen, mixed in with a healthy dose of obligation message. Even though she had the capability to feel physical pleasure & orgasm, it was devoid of meaning and the experience wasn’t bonding.
    Some of those challenges went way back to childhood and experience with parents (non sexual trauma, that was intermingled with sexual trauma after we got married due to people pleasing characteristics, etc.). Sexual relationship didn’t take off as it should have upon marriage due to some of these issues, and also past porn use for me with left me with PSR (although I didn’t know it at the time). These factors created a poor sexual dynamic from the start, and eventually led to intermittent porn use again on my side, while her still believing that that was partially her fault. Just a mess of a situation. Felt grown apart, felt hopeless at times. Sex came to a grinding halt. Many other aspects of the relationship were still good (liked each other, valued family, were respectful to each other), but true connection was lacking. Both had therapy, many in-depth chats, took all pressure off of sex (full break) with no defined time lines. Weeks turned into months. There would be an occasional coming together, and then nothing for months. Very difficult at times, but kept on showing up, showing love, showing respect. Line in the sand re porn (no more) — read up and did a ton of work re. reframing the mind, learning how to view women as a whole being. Learned that sexuality can be controlled, put on hold. Worked hard at creating safety and trust. Fast forward 1.5 years, relationship and true intimacy (read connection) continues to be rebuilt. Times of sexual connections began to increase, but often triggers/traumas would come up for her, and even when arousal phase was well underway for me, would purposely stop and indicate we would not continue because of what was coming up for her. This continued to build trust and connection. Very Very difficult at times and very frustrating, but this is what is required when digging up from the pit at -100. Have to take a hard look in the mirror, and if there are factors at play that Bare Marriage talks about (obligation message, lack of orgasm for her, porn use, etc.) — need to take full responsibility for you brought into the relationship to cause that. Fast forward another 6 months, and things are beginning to look like marriage/sex how God intended. Relationship/connection first, check in, conversations, best friends, care for and cherish one another. Sex and the compulsion for it is totally different now as well. Comes much more naturally, and flows out of the closeness we have and create. Not out of duty. Since still in re-building/re-discovering phase, I actually purposefully don’t really initiate yet so it doesn’t feel like any sort of pressure. It’s more her setting the pace, and frequency is actually taking care of itself! Also feel like less frequent that what I would have previously desired is also fine because the quality is so much different and vastly more satisfying because of the true connection we have. All this to say — if you are in a rut — have deep conversations about the relationship, take the pressure off, focus on the friendship and emotional connection, and get rid of/deal with the intimacy killers. See it as a project/goal to do the hard work. Many men can take on huge challenges when it comes to building, career, etc… see the rebuilding as that kind of challenge, and remove any thoughts of what you will get out of if, what you are owed, etc. The challenge is to get yourself to a healthy place where you own and can control your sexuality and no one (your wife) needs to “do something” for you to help with that. Put your thoughts and efforts into productive things that give you purpose and joy, and rely on God for strength. At the beginning of the journey (when things initially fell apart and sex was broken), I remember feeling despair, and not knowing how this could be handled (old paradigm of thinking it would be hard to go a couple of weeks without sex, never mind months) — and I felt God say, I’m going to be with you, and help you, and walk through this with you. Takes a humble heart to just submit, make a commitment to get healthy, own your stuff, and seek healing. He is faithful, and has done all of those things. We are in such a great place now, and it was totally worth the effort and time we both put into it. If this is your situation, I hope this is encouraging to you. Do the hard work, you won’t regret it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, my goodness, this is amazing! Thank you for this. What a great testimony. I’m so happy for you guys!

      Reply
  8. Luke Jalbert

    Sheila,
    My wife and I have been listening to you/reading your books for the last year and a half trying to dig out of this pit. There have been so many times you said something that I felt like I knew at some instinctual level but couldn’t put into words as well as you do. However occasionally you say things I really have trouble understanding.

    Disclaimer: I was raised by my Dad, my mom is a very butch lesbian, and I’m an engineer through and through. “emotional moron” applies quite well to me and I know this.

    However, when you described the husbands reaction to being told he raped his wife I was baffled.

    You said if someone’s first reaction is not empathy for the victim, it’s a bad sign.

    Maybe it’s because I am an emotional moron, but I don’t see the natural reaction of denial after being accused of any heinous act as anything besides normal. If i accused someone on your staff of child abuse, don’t you think there first instinct would be to deny it?

    Reply

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