Shaunti Feldhahn and professional sex therapist Dr. Michael Sytsma joined Jim Daly and John Fuller to discuss common questions that married couples ask about physical intimacy on the Focus on the Family Broadcast. Whether you just tied the knot, or you’ve been married for decades, there are bound to be questions surrounding the topic of sex — and that’s okay!
“This was a fun experience,” according to Dr. Sytsma. “We flew into Denver in time for a blizzard. Growing up in Michigan, I was quite familiar with this type of snow – and driving in it – but was reminded of why I live in the South.”
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Shaunti: … a lot of people’s question, “Does it really matter?” And one of the things that we’ve found, that I was (laughs), Dr. Mike was not surprised because nothing surprises him, but I was surprised (laughs). Once we got all the surveys back and started seeing the data as, “Wow, it really does matter for marriage.”
Jim: Yeah. Let me, uh, let me put it this way. And, and Mike, this may be your analogy but uh, both of you respond to this, i- it seems like uh, th- the car. And putting oil in the car and how that keeps everything running smoothly. How does that relate to our sex life?
Dr. Sytsma: Two people in a relationship with each other, because we’re different, because we’re people, we’re human, we have all the frailties of human, we’re going to create some friction. We’re going to create some conflict between us. That’s just normal. And the sexual playfulness, um, having fun together, experiencing joy, experiencing good feelings around each other really helps to keep that friction d- moving smoothly. And sex is a powerful way that couples keep positive sentiment, good feelings just between them to where, “Okay, what you just did hurt my feelings, but you can make me feel really good, too, so we’ll overlook it this time.”
Dr. Sytsma: It’s kind of what happens with it. And, and when, when it’s not working well, the friction tends to build up and, and it’s not as good.
Shaunti: It, the analogy that Mike used and you mentioned it, Jim, was it, we think of it like an oil in a car engine. Like it’s just the gears are just going to grind to a stop. It’s going to break things.
Dr. Sytsma: Yeah.
Shaunti: And there is something powerful that God designed here. Now, some people listening to this are going to be like, “Well, it shouldn’t be that way.” Right? Like, but it kind of is. (laughs) And so we need to be aware of it.
Jim: Uh, Dr. Mike, I want to ask you that question. To me, there would be degrees of that, if I could say it that way. Like a person that might need to hear that 10 times today that I’m lovable-
Dr. Sytsma: Right.
Jim: … versus a person that might need to hear it three times. The point is they sh-, they need to hear it. But some women in that context would need to hear that often to feel good, and then some men. “Honey it, I’m sorry the pipe’s not going togeth-“… (laughs) I mean, certainly in this category. Some plumbing accident-
Dr. Sytsma: Uh-huh.
Jim: … and it’s water all over the place, and I’m going, “Hon, I don’t know how to do this.” And Jean’s going, “Let’s get a plumber.”
Dr. Sytsma: Right.
Jim: “You did a good job trying.”
Dr. Sytsma: And that good job makes you feel much better.
Dr. Sytsma: (laughs)
Jim: Depends how much water’s on the floor.
Dr. Sytsma: Yeah. (laughs)
Jim: But the point is, degrees of impression.
Dr. Sytsma: And part of the struggle that comes in is let’s say I have you know, this big need for it. And my spouse that may not be their skill set. It may not be how they see things. I often work with a couple where one of them just has a critical mind. They’re able to see stuff that’s not right. And that is really good in their field. They do great in the marketplace with that type of a thinking, but they bring it home and their spouse feels kind of beat up because all you see are the negatives.
Dr. Sytsma: But I need you to be affirming me all the time. And the moment we look at our spouse and say, “You’ve got to fill this need of mine,” uh, I don’t think it works very well. Um, how do I take ownership of these needs, not demand that you be the answer for it or I’m going to reach outside the marriage.
Jim: Y- yeah. I just want to jump in a little bit-
Jim: … and have the two of you play off of one another’s gender here. Okay.
Jim: I’m using the word. And uh, in that, Dr. Mike, y- you’re, uh, I can see a man. A- and again, the shoe can be on the other foot, I get it. You don’t have to write me. I understand that. But, uh, the man going, “Really? I’m responsible? That sounds exhausting that I would be responsible for all her fears and her needs in that way.”
Dr. Sytsma: And he’s not going to be able to do it well. Um, I do think it’s important for each of us to learn how to speak to our spouse, how to care for them, how to cherish them, how to adore them. I think those are spiritual principles. We can ground them in things that Paul and Christ have said. Um, but to say that my spouse is responsible for me feeling good, that kind of puts me in a bit of a victim mode if you don’t do well enough.
Jim: (laughs) Yeah.
Dr. Sytsma: Then I blame you and I attack you for not filling that need. And the, the reality of it is I-, they sit in my office and I look and say, “Um, you’re really demeaning your spouse in this moment. You’re saying that they’re not measuring up. What is the heart of the person that you married? You married them because you love them and because you know they love you.”
Dr. Sytsma: And is this a heart issue or a skill issue? Their heart, in my office, is very much for you. “But they don’t affirm me enough.” Well, that’s a skill issue. We can teach them to, but how do you get to where you can draw things from them and you can fill their own heart? You and God work on that piece. So then what your spouse is giving you is the bonus, is the proverbial icing on the cake. That you’re not asking them to be responsible for you feeling good in this.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, it all sounds like it’s coming back to expectations.
Dr. Sytsma: It’s a tough balance.
Jim: That nasty word expectations.
Shaunti: It kind of is. Yeah.
Jim: Now on the, on the woman’s side, I, I would think, “Really, I got to manage his ego? I do it all day long.”
Dr. Sytsma: It’s exhausting.
Jim: “And I got to tell him he’s capable, he’s good enough.”
Jim: “I mean, he’s really not.” (laughs)
Dr. Sytsma: (laughs)
Jim: I mean, so speak from the woman’s side, like…
Shaunti: There are some, there are some women who are listening to this-
Shaunti: … going, “Ye- seriously?”
Shaunti: And, and let me tell you, I actually used to be in that category. I am a pretty…
Jim: You’re a strong woman.
Shaunti: Both of you kno-… I am a strong personality.
Jim: If you don’t mind me saying so.
Jim: I’ve known you well enough. (laughs)
Shaunti: You’ve known me for what, 25 years or something now.
Jim: But it’s who you are.
Shaunti: It is.
Shaunti: And I, I recognized two things, right? I recognized that A, as Dr. Mike was saying, it’s not my responsibility to make Jeff, for example, feel better about himself. Right? That’s something that, as he was saying, he has to work it out with God. But I love one of the things that Dr. Mike actually said is I was wrestling with this um… In one of our meetings, we did a lot of research meetings basically, about three or four hours every Wednesday for three years. And in one of those meetings, I was like, “But how do I help him? How do I help my husband? I’m not responsible.” And he said, “Look, think of it like he’s out there fighting a battle and you can either give him ammunition to fight the battle well or you could be shooting at him.” And so it’s, it’s like you’re helping him or not. And that to me was, “Okay, I can get behind that.” Because it’s still his responsibility. And yet I recognize that I’m in a unique position as his wife, called by God, to try to be a partner to him in the way he needs.
Jim: Yes. And this, this is sounding exactly right. And then there’s a problem called our flesh.
Dr. Sytsma: Mm-hmm.
Jim: And triggers and you know what-
Jim: … I know the right thing to do, I don’t feel like doing it right now.
Shaunti: Doggone it.
Dr. Sytsma: And that’s not, that’s not okay.
Dr. Sytsma: That withholding sense, that is outside of the goal that God has called for us. Uh, we step in and we do care for our spouse. And we have to be able to receive it well. You know, to pull from that example, if uh, how many times husbands sat at my office and say, “I tell my wife I think she’s beautiful. I think she’s so competent. I enjoy her body and being with her.” And she just says, “You can’t. You don’t. I don’t believe that.” And we’re not able to receive her. Our wife will say, “You’re amazing,” and he doesn’t receive it. So it gets really messy in the mix of this. And for me, the invitation is, “What is the vision? What are we striving toward?”
Dr. Sytsma: We both love each other. We got into this because we liked each other. And how do we hang on to that and believe the best in each other as we keep moving forward.