Even when you have a healthy sex life there are sometimes outside circumstances that can prevent you from coming together with your spouse. El Fury and I recently went through one of these periods. We had family staying with us, both of us were sick, I was on my period, one of our kids was up all night for a few days in a row. We were both exhausted. Our sex life got out of whack for a few weeks and it made our relationship feel strained. We both felt stressed and like we weren’t connecting. I felt like I was being short with him and with our kids.

First Corinthians 7:5 says Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Now this verse is obviously talking about prayer, but the point is the same. You need to come together regularly with your spouse. If you deprive one another of sex it leaves you open to temptation. This could be temptation other than sexual immorality. When I feel like my relationship with EF is “off”, I am much less gentle, kind and loving toward everyone. I am more easily angered, selfish and self-pitying. Sex with your spouse sets the tone for your marriage.

EF and I were able to get back on track once things slowed down and we were healthy and well rested again. Coming together was a sweet reunion. But I hope we learned from this experience. No matter how crazy your life may seem at the moment, it’s not asking much to find 30 minutes to connect with your spouse. When you do, you can handle all the crazy with a much more gracious attitude.

Athol Kay at Married Man Sex Life has a post up about using active listening to connect with your wife while she decompresses from her day. This is a part of something I call emotional undressing. Just like you have to take your clothes off, you also have to undress your emotions if you’re going to connect sexually. Athol’s point is pretty simple:

Most women have a need to verbally decompress their day. Which is a fancy way of saying they need to talk when they come from work, or you come home from work when they’ve been home all day. Women tend to be more emotionally fluid than men, and it can often seem to the guy like he’s been dropped into a verbal puking of half a dozen emotions and disconnected storylines. This is just her  clearing her daily event cache. […]

The actual solution is to do what I call “Booing the Villians and Cheering the Heroes”. Which is to say you treat it something like watching a TV show with a bag of popcorn, and simply enjoy the show. When good things happen you say “woo-hoo”, when bad things happen you say “that sucks”. Her friend does something good in her story, say “she’s awesome”, and when some bitch does her bitch thing, say “that bitch”.

And some great tips from the comments:

  • ”That must have been {hard/difficult/frustrating/a relief/description of situation}”
  • ”You must have felt {emotion}”
  • ”Tell me more.”

The need to decompress isn’t limited to women — men need to decompress too, even though it may look different. Since women tend to be more relational then men, it’s not surprising that they decompress by discussing their relationships. Men tend to be more goal-oriented, which means that we decompress by tying up the loose ends of our daily tasks. It takes effort to switch gears when we’re focused on work (or a project), and it’s frustrating to leave a job undone when a good stopping point is in sight.

In the micro, when we get home from work we men tend to have rituals we like to complete before we’re ready to fully engage with our family. For example, I take off my shoes, change into comfy clothes, and wash my face and hands. I love to see my wife and kids when I walk in the door, but I’m not ready to settle in with them until I get a few things done. Even completing these minor tasks helps clear my brain and lets me switch into family mode.

In general, women decompress themselves by discussing their relationships, and men decompress themselves by checking off their to-do list.

Ultimately what we’re talking about here is context switching, and this decompression frees us up to go to the next thing. If you’ve been reading tips on the internet for enhancing the romance in your marriage, most of the tips you’ll find are techniques for assisting you and your spouse to switch into a sexy context. Foreplay is certainly a part of this, but it’s really one of the last steps. The first steps happen when you and your spouse decompress.

If you can identify the steps you have (unconsciously) taken to emotionally undress when you have had a mutually pleasing sexual encounter with your spouse, you can later recreate those steps to assist with a context switch in a more difficult circumstance. Don’t just examine the 10 minutes before you have sex, but consider all your interactions with your spouse over the past 24 hours. Look for the times that your spouse was definitely not in the mood for sex, and then think about what happened between then and your spouse’s orgasm. This whole process is the emotional undressing.