Best-selling author Gary Chapman explains how a husband and wife can renew the passion of their sexual relationship. (Part 1 of 2)
Dr. Gary Chapman: I’m often asked by people why did God make us so different, males and females? And my answer is, if God had asked me, I would’ve said for example, don’t even turn us on until we finish our education. And then once we realize we’re sexual, three months later let everybody get married. And once we’re married, every three days, push both of our buttons. Now wouldn’t that be a lot easier?
Jim Daly: It would work. (Laughter)
John Fuller: I like that.
Gary: But God didn’t bother to ask me.
End of Teaser
John: Yeah, well, I wonder what your advice to God would be with regard to this matter of the marriage relationship and sexuality. There are a lot of different perspectives and you’ll be hearing Dr. Gary Chapman with more of his insights today on “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and as we talk about the subject of physical intimacy, this is something, parents, you’re not gonna probably be comfortable with your children listening in, so with that warning, Jim, we come back to the topic.
Jim: Well, I appreciate that, John and I just want to say, when we talk about intimacy, it’s so important because the culture has robbed us of the goodness of it. I see it as God’s wedding present to us in so many ways. (Laughing) And Gary we could talk about that. Some wives may not think of it that way. (Laughter) But I mean, it is true. It’s something beautiful and the world has made it something not beautiful and we need to regain that ground, so I know you might be uneasy listening to the conversation, but I would say stick with it, because I think you’ll hear and learn many good things that you can apply in your relationships.
In fact, I’d say about half of the top 15, John, we took a look at it, about half, seven or eight of the top topics that we’re contacted for here at Focus on the Family are related to intimacy and sexual issues in marriage and that’s why it’s so important. And if you can put it in that context, then you’ll understand why we need, as a marriage and parenting ministry, to talk about this.
John: Uh-hm and we’re talking specifically to men today. Recently we had Arlene Pellicane on this broadcast, talking about a number of ways to encourage your husband, including that important aspect of intimacy and if you missed it, it’s at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Let me add this, John. I know Dr. Gary Chapman is an accomplished author and speaker. In fact, his perhaps most well-known book is The Five Love Languages.
Jim: And Gary, I understand that book has sold over 10 million copies and it’s one that sells more every year.
Jim: That’s an amazing feat. Congratulations.
Gary: Well, thank you. I don’t know that I had a lot to do with that (Laughter), but I am grateful.
Jim: Well, what it says is that you really tapped into something that people connected with—the love languages, how do I think, how do I respond to people?
Gary: And I think, Jim, you know, this has a lot to do with sexuality, as well, the five love languages, because sex is not just a physical thing. It’s an act of love.
Jim: Well, that really takes us to the opening question, which is, “What is the difference between love and sex?”
Gary: Well, I think sex is the joining of two bodies. Love is the joining of two souls, far deeper than simply a physical experience.
Jim: Let me ask you this. It’s kind of interesting because so often as I mentioned, we get responses here at Focus on the Family and some of those responses will break down by gender and they kinda break down this way, where a woman will write in and say, “I don’t know if I know what love is. I’m in this marriage. It seems to be only physical, if I listen to my husband. What is love?”
Gary: I think love is that deep emotional need that all of us have to sense that this other person genuinely cares about me and my well-being. And when I have that sense, there’s a calmness to life, there’s a depth of life and whether it’s a parental relationship or whether it’s a marital relationship, that need for love is fundamental to who we are.
Jim: That’s what we are as human beings.
Gary: Yeah, I think it’s because God is love, the Bible says. It’s one of the fundamental characteristics about God, is that He is love. He cares about His people and He communicates that to us and on the human level, we’re called to do the same.
Jim: And I appreciate that. In so many ways the culture rips that apart, doesn’t it? It keeps us busy. It keeps us distracted. The enemy of our soul is really winning at that game, isn’t he?
Gary: Yes, and I think in our culture, we’ve separated sex from love and consequently, our culture is very sexually oriented, but it’s not connected to love and sex is often not an act of love. It’s just something for my pleasure.
Jim: Ah, you know, a comment, we did a series called The Family Project, which is a small-group curriculum. One of the most poignant comments in there was a woman who said, “With the Women’s Movement and abortion rights and all of it, we thought we were getting independence and what we got was abandonment.”
Jim: That’s kind of what you’re saying, isn’t it?
Gary: Exactly, exactly. I think, you know, when sex is what God intended it to be, it is an act of love in which a husband is reaching out to his wife, seeking to pleasure her in this area. And he’s also loving her in other ways so that love is not always connected with sex. It’s much, much broader than that and if the wife feels loved by that husband and the sexual part of the marriage is an attitude of how can I pleasure you, it’s gonna be what God intended it to be.
Jim: Hm, let’s talk about those seasons in life. Describe the first few years of love in a relationship and how that changes as you move through your marriage.
Gary: Well, I think in the early stages of marriage, sex often is not as wonderful as we thought it was going to be. I think that may be why God said to Israel, to a young man, “Don’t go to war for a year and don’t do any business for a year, but pleasure your wife for a year. Learn to pleasure your wife,” a whole year for a honeymoon. How does that sound?
Gary: I don’t know how you survive, you know, for food (Laughter) if you’re not working, but the idea is, it’s gonna take time for you to have mutual sexual fulfillment. We just assume by all the movies, that all we have to do is just get in bed together and it’s gonna be wonderful for both of us and that’s simply not true.
In fact, many couples will say, it was at least a year before we learned to have mutual sexual fulfillment where both of us sensed that this was indeed, an act of love and we were both experiencing a sense of fulfillment in this. And so, then we grow from there and then comes the child and then—
Jim: Right. (Chuckling)
Gary: --things change after a baby comes and we both start focusing on the baby and often we kind of forget about each other and not only this part of the marriage, but other aspects of the marriage we tend to feel like we’re drifting apart and often, they are drifting apart and that’s why we have to be very intentional in a marriage if we’re gonna stay close together as we raise our children.
Jim: What does that look like, a practical handle for that younger married couple, that maybe the baby’s 8-months-old, you know, a year old? What’s a practical handle for them to talk about this; is it scheduling time? Or what is a way that they can invest in each other, remember each other, even though it’s so busy?
Gary: Yeah I think scheduling is a part of it. Now obviously, when the child is an infant, you can’t always schedule (Laughter), but as they get older, children really thrive with schedule. And that’s why I say to young parents or older parents for that matter, have an early bedtime for children. You know, when our kids were coming along, we put them to bed at 7 o’clock every night.
Gary: And in about—
John: That’s pretty early.
Gary: --at about 9 years of age, we would let ‘em stay up to 7:10. (Laughter) And then when they got to be 10, 7:20. (Laughter) And so, here they were teenagers, they were still goin’ to bed at 8 o’clock and they thought that was normal, but it gives the parent time to be together and foster their relationship. So, I think--
Jim: And it’s important to do.
Gary: --yeah, I think it’s extremely important.
Jim: Let me ask you this. We want to concentrate on men, so how can a man think more of his wife’s sexual preferences instead of his own? This is difficult. There’s a lot in that question.
Jim: How do you put yourself aside?
Gary: --yeah, we are not by nature lovers. We are all selfish and that’s true in any area of life. So, when it comes to the sexual part of life, we’re still selfish. We’re thinking about ourselves. What am I getting out of this? I want my needs to be met. You need to do this for me. And that attitude is not an attitude of love and if the spouse responds out of a sense of duty, that’s not love. That’s a sense of slavery. I’m doin’ this because I have to do this. That’s not what God intended.
God intended sex to be an act of love in which both of us have the attitude, how can I pleasure you? How can I make this better for you? And if we have an attitude of love, then we’re gonna find mutual fulfillment, but if we just go into it with the attitude of, you know, you owe this to me. You need to do this for me, that’s never going to result in a healthy marriage.
Jim: Gary, let me ask that hard question though, for a woman who’s hearing this and is saying, “Well, that is me. That’s where I’m living. I’ve done it that way for years now.”
Jim: “I’ve always felt a sense of duty, not pleasure per se.” What can she do to begin to change that environment in her heart? She can’t control her husband obviously, but what can she do to say, okay, how can I “rejigger” my thinking?
Gary: Well, I think one thing is to seek God’s wisdom. Always when you have a struggle in any area, seek God’s wisdom, because God knows what needs to be done in every situation, so I would say, seek God’s wisdom.
And the second thing I would say is, verbalize not in a condemning way, not in a judgmental way, but verbalize your pain. Verbalize what’s been going on. Your husband may have no idea this is the way you feel. He’s not a mind reader, so you have to verbalize to him and have to request of him, not demand of him, request of him, can we talk about this?
And most of the time, if a wife’ll be open like that and not condemning, but reaching out and asking, a husband’s gonna be interested in that and then they can read a book together. They can go to a conference together. They can talk to friends together, go to a counselor, there’s plenty of help out there, but obviously, there has to be a willingness to reach out and often it’s that kind of conversation that leads the husband to take positive action.
John: Gary and you’ve talked to a lot of men over the years. How many men do you think approach sexual intimacy with their wives from a sense of, you owe me this? Is it a few? Or is it a really broad number of them--
Gary: I think it--
John: --of us?
Gary: --yeah, I think it depends on whether or not the wife has some understanding of sexuality and they have some sense of fulfillment in the relationship. If she simply draws back from this whole area of the relationship six months after marriage or a year after marriage, then many husbands are gonna have that response, because we are selfish. We feel like, I married you. This is supposed to be a part of marriage and we tend to come down demanding and commanding of her.
So, I don’t know statistically, you know, what that would be, but a lot depends on the kind of response the wife is having with the husband.
Jim: Gary, let me do this. So often in this modern world, we fail to integrate Scripture into our lives. I mean, we read it. We go to church on Sunday, but this area particularly is a very private area. We’re not really comfortable saying, “Okay, Lord, where am I failing in my sexuality?”Sometimes we think, I think of the Lord as a grandfather who we don’t want to share these most intimate details with. You would never tell your grandfather what you’re doing in bed with your wife, right? But God knows these things.
Jim: He’s not your grandfather. He’s the Creator of it and so, approaching Him in a different way, a different context, that He created it. He knows how He made it. He knows how it’s supposed to work. Apply that Scripture.So often we look at 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient; love is kind.” Does that Scripture have a place in our physical intimacy?
Gary: I think it does and I think also, bringing God into the sexual act itself can be extremely helpful. I’ve sometimes said to couples, “Do you ever pray when you’re having sex together?” I mean, in your mind. I don’t mean out loud, but in your mind you’re saying, “Thank You, Lord that You gave me this wife.” “Thank You, Lord that You’ve created this. This is so wonderful. Hallelujah!” In your mind you’re acknowledging God is there.
And some people think, “Oh, you don’t talk to God about sex.” Listen, it was His idea, you know. Why not talk to Him about it. He knows more than we do about it.
Jim: That is so helpful and I appreciate that. It’s almost a form of worship, isn’t it, that you can express your gratitude in that kind of situation and I think the Lord is grateful for that, that you’re acknowledging Him and His design right then.
Gary: Yep, I think so, Jim and I think it’s true in all other areas of life. You know, when you speak love in various areas, you know, whether it’s words or whether it’s doing things for the other person, you know, we’ve often heard and experienced this reality that when you serve someone else, you’re serving Christ.
You know, when you’re taking trash out for your wife, you’re serving Christ. Yeah, we’re told to do everything we do as though we’re doing it for Him.
Gary: So, you bring this into the sexual part of the marriage and we’re serving each other here and we’re serving Christ as we serve each other.
John: Well, we’re talking with Dr. Gary Chapman today on “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly and this is content that is found in Gary’s book, Happily Ever After: Six Secrets to a Successful Marriage. This is one of the six areas that you really need to think through, talk through with your spouse and get more information about and we’ll direct you to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to get a CD of the conversation or download or that book, Happily Ever After. John: And if you can make a generous donation to Focus on the Family today, we’ll send that book to you as our way of saying thank you for your partnership with us.
Jim: Gary, let me ask you this. I would put this in the difficult question category and I’ve not talked to a lot of people about this, but again, at Focus we hear from people and in some of those responses, this’ll be the theme where their sexual relationship [of] this married couple is dysfunction, maybe nonexistent or at least so sporadic that it’s not making a difference in their intimacy, emotional intimacy.
And often what will come next will be, then my husband had an affair. Talk about this linkage, both for men and for women, that when this area of your life is not healthy, that it can be the catalyst, particularly I think for men and the way men are wired, without putting guilt on wives at this point, but if you’re going a year in your marriage and you’re not getting this area taken care of, you can wander and that, I think, sets up the environment for an affair. Is that accurate?
Gary: Yeah, I don’t think we want to excuse a man or a woman who uses this as a[n] argument on why I had an affair, but there’s no question about it, when needs are not met in the marriage relationship, we are far more tempted outside the relationship. And this is not only true sexually, this is true emotionally.
Jim: Well, that would be more of the wife’s issue, right?
Gary: Yeah, many wives, you know, get emotionally attracted to someone else and have an emotional affair that never leads to a physical experience, but she’s disengaged from her husband and she’s engaged with this other person far more.
That’s why I think we, as couples who are married, we have to give attention to communicating love to each other in the language that person will understand. This is where the five love languages comes in again. If a husband’s meeting his wife’s need for love, by speaking her love language and she feels secure in his love and she’s doin’ the same for him, then you are far less tempted by someone you meet at work or someone you meet at church or in some other context.
Jim: And in that context, which I think that is excellent advice, but there are outliers, I understand that, but for men typically, it’s that physical expression is what they need and for women, it’s that emotional connection and what they need and when either person is not getting that, that’s a dangerous place where the enemy can work against us, right?
Gary: Yeah and I think this is why it’s so important for us to understand the differences between males and females and this is one of them, that the male sexual drive, sexual desire is physically based. In the female, it is emotionally based.
And what I mean by that is, for the male, there’s that buildup of seminal fluid that pushes him to have sexual release. A wife doesn’t have that. She has her period, to be sure. That affects her desire, to be sure, but she is far more motivated by an emotional need. If she feels loved by that husband, she wants to be physically intimate with him. If she doesn’t feel loved by him, she may have little desire to have sex with him, unless that’s the one place that she gets tender words and kind touch.
So, understanding that difference ought to help us in relating to each other and that’s why I say to guys, “Listen, if her language is acts of service, you need to be doing things for her. Take the trash out.” One guy said to me some time ago, he said, “Dr. Chapman,” he said, “I found out my wife’s love language is acts of service and she told me that when I take the trash out, she finds that sexy.” (Laughter)
He said, “Dr. Chapman, I wish someone had told me that.” He said, “I’ve been taking the trash out three times a day.” He said, “Nobody told me that.” (Laughter) Well, I’m telling you, that whatever your wife’s love language is, when you do that, it communicates to her that you love her and she is far more drawn to you in the sexual area.
Jim: Dr. Chapman, I mean, I’ll have a personal experience in that regard. I mean, this morning I was talking to Jean about this, right.
John: About taking the trash out.
Jim: No, not (Laughter) no, I was talking about some of the questions and she said, “Well, you just did something the other day that I actually even told a girlfriend about.” So, I said, “What was it?” (Chuckling) But you know, in the morning I made coffee. She was getting ready upstairs, so I made her a cup. I took it upstairs, brought mine up there and I sat down and listened to her as she put her makeup on.
Jim: And she said, “That really spoke to me.”
Jim: And (Laughing) and I thought the same thing. Wow, I just need to do that more often. (Laughter) And uh … but it just made her feel good and feel important. What would say her love language is, if that’s it?
Gary: Probably acts of service or quality time, but most likely—
Jim: Quality time.
Gary: --quality time.
Jim: I think so. I’m gonna have to concentrate on that, John, what about you?
John: Well, no, Dena’s absolutely a quality time person—
John: --so, I’ve learned that I just need to hang around a lot—
John: --and talk with her. It doesn’t always lead to intimacy. In fact, it often doesn’t—
John: --necessarily lead to intimacy, but it does bring us closer together.
Jim: Well, and that’s a good point, John. How do you, as a man, not manipulate that environment for what you want?
Jim: And of course, they see right through that.
Gary: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I think if we speak her love language and then turn around and say, “Let’s have sex,” I mean, she realizes you’re just manipulating me, no, no. That’s why speaking her love language has to be a way of life—
Gary: --that constantly we’re reaching out to her in this way and when she really knows that we love her, then she is drawn to you sexually.
Jim: Talk about the couple, as we’ve been talking kind of gender generalizations, if I could use that term, but where the situation’s reversed. About 30, 35 percent of women tend to have more of a sexual drive than their husbands.
Jim: Talk about that and the uniqueness of that and how she might be able to, you know, do better in that environment if her husband seems to be more distant.
Gary: And there are many reasons for that, Jim, as you well know. Sometimes it’s because of the nature of the relationship. He has drawn away from her and he’s masturbating or taking care of himself, you know, and therefore he doesn’t express interest to her, because he’s so hurt or frustrated or feels so put down by her. These are emotional reasons why a man might go elsewhere or draw back from his wife.
Jim: We tend to “flight,” right, the fight—
Jim: --or flight.
Jim: So, a lot of men will just pull back emotionally.
Gary: Yeah, yeah and then sometimes the husband may be having an affair and she just doesn’t know about it and so, consequently, he’s not showing interesting in the sexual part of the marriage, because he’s involved somewhere else and this often can go on for a year or two before a wife ever finds that out. So, there are reasons for that.
And then sometimes it is a physical thing with the man and in that case, he needs to see a medical doctor, needs to take some medication that can help him in this area.
Jim: Talk about the counseling aspect of this. I mean, again, because there are people that are hearing this and they’re thinking, I’m in that spot. They’ve heard something that is pulling them in saying, that’s me. What can they do? Should they seek counseling in this area of intimacy?
Gary: I think always, because if things aren’t getting better on their own, then time, alone, is not gonna heal this. And you may as well reach out to someone who has had training and helped other people in this area and typically, that’s a Christian counselor.
And people say, well, how do you find Christian counselors and I say, “Call Focus on the Family.” (Laughter) They know them all over the country.
Jim: We do; we have a good database of well-qualified counselors all over this country and of course, we have the National Institute of Marriage for those marriages that are in real trouble. I’m so proud of that effort. They have a[n] 85 percent success rate.
Jim: So, we really want to see more and more couples get that help they need. Let me ask you this. You have counseled thousands of couples, Gary. What is the biggest impediment when you look at it? I mean, if we’re driving our car and the engine light goes on, we get it to the mechanic. I’m almost too Type A about that. I won’t drive that car until I get it to the shop. But in our marriages and in our relationships, when the warning lights are going off, we just keep drivin’.
Gary: Yeah and I think that’s tragic and I say to people, why would you go on for 30 years hurting in this part of your marriage and not reach out for help? If you had a pain in your body, you’d go to a doctor within three or four days.
And I don’t know whether people feel like, well, you know, it’s embarrassing to talk to somebody else about this, but don’t suffer for a lifetime. I mean, you don’t have any problems in this part of the marriage that other people don’t have similar problems and counselors have been working with this for years. So, I just encourage people, reach out. It’s a sign of strength to reach out and if your spouse won’t go with you, go by yourself.
Jim: Just go, initiate it.
Gary: Yeah, go and get the process started.
Jim: Let me ask you, sometimes we don’t know what the indicator light is. In the research, when it comes to physical intimacy, I’ve seen younger couples, it’s averaging about two to three times a week are having that kind of physical intimacy. Couples that are married for a longer period of time maybe once a week, something like that. Does that match your research in what you found?
Gary: I think so, Jim and you know, you don’t want to be arbitrary here, because every couple—
Gary: --is different and you want to allow for those differences and don’t try to match yourself up with a national average and say, well, you‘re not, you know, we should be doing this more often.
Jim: What’s comfortable for you.
Gary: Yeah, but it’s what’s comfortable to you and what’s meeting your needs and also, there are other situations that are involved. For example, there are a lot of people who are working all week long and they’re gone. They’re only home one … on the weekends, you know. And there are others that are home every night, so, there’s children [sic] and there’s a lot of factors that involve how often this takes place.
Jim: It can often be a source of humor, but pain where people will talk about this as a couple and the spouse’ll say, “Well, that’s them.” (Chuckling) You know, we’re not them or you know, we’re not the national average.
Jim: But there is a need to be hearing that pain, correct--
Gary: Yeah and I think—
Jim: --I mean, both male and female.
Gary: --yeah, I think we need to be listening to each other. In fact, we should be proactive. The husband should say to his wife periodically, “Honey, on a scale of 0 to 10, how satisfying is our sexual relationship to you? And she gives some feedback.
Jim: I would think, Gary, hearing that question, a lot of spouses will be afraid to ask—
Jim: --that question.
John: I was just thinkin’ the same thing.
Jim: I mean, that’s beautiful and that’s open and that sounds like the question you ask in a healthy environment, but sometimes that question will beg a fight unfortunately. How do you do that in a way where there’s been tension over the past months or years—
Jim: --how do you begin to ask that kind of question?
Gary: I think you have to check your own attitude. Why am I asking this question? You know, if you genuinely want to improve this relationship, not just for yourself, but for them and you really want this to be a more loving relationship, then the starting place is always, you know, “Honey, what could I do that would make things better for you? Not just in the sexual area, but in other areas, in our marriage? You know, give me an idea of something I could do or stop doing that would make our marriage better for you?”
You start on the marriage level and you let them give you an idea and you say, “Okay, I appreciate that.” And then if you have the idea, I want to do something to get this relationship moving in a positive way, you ask those kind of questions, your spouse will answer. Now you have information and you and God can initiate that.
Jim: I’m laughing, because I did that with Jean. You mentioned that in a previous program that we taped together. I went home and she said, “Were you with Gary Chapman today?” (Laughter) That’s the problem doin’ this.
Jim: We’re always “outed”—
Jim: --John. I mean, I’ll get home and say, “Hey, Hon, what’s one thing I could do in our marriage?” She said, “Were you with Gary today?” (Laughter) But it worked. I mean, she had two ready to go.
Jim: I thought that was—
John: Not just one—
Jim: --she had a list.
John: --but two.
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)
Gary: You know, almost any of us if our spouse asks, we can give them an idea of something that we think would make things better and then you take initiative on that and it communicates to them you care.
Jim: And that’s beautiful communication. That’s the way God designed it. Gary, we have touched on so many good things today and hard things that are part of our physical intimacy, our emotional intimacy. Let’s keep going. I’d like to talk next time about how, when young couples come together to marry, how do they heal the past? How do they talk about their past in a way that’s beneficial to their marriage and keep moving forward, along with many other questions I have right now? Will you do that?
Gary: I’d be happy to.
Jim: Let’s go.
John: And we're looking forward to the return of Gary on our next program. Meanwhile, please check out his book. It's a 350-page resource that addresses so many different aspects of the marriage--in-law relationships, finances, communication. Again, this topic of marital intimacy is just one part of this great resource.
Order a copy of Happily Ever After when you call 800-232-6459 or you can find it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And once again, let me just say that when you make a generous contribution to help us strengthen marriages through the work of Focus on the Family, we'll say thank you by sending a copy of Gary's book to you.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time for more from Dr. Gary Chapman, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Gary ChapmanView Bio
Dr. Gary Chapman is the senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He's also an international public speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books including The Five Love Languages which has sold more than five million copies and has been translated into nearly 40 languages. Dr. Chapman holds several academic degrees including a Ph.D. in adult education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.