The 7 (Sex) Habits: #2 Begin With the End in Mind 1

Today we’re going to take a look at the second habit in our series, The 7 (Sex) Habits of Highly Successful People.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind is based on imagination — the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.

What do you want your sex life with your spouse to be like? Forget about fear, rejection, apathy, disappointment, busyness, and any other obstacles… if your sex life with your spouse were unbelievably amazing what would it look like? Be honest with yourself!

Maybe it’s difficult or painful to envision your “perfect sex life” because it seems so far from reality. We get emails from people all the time who are frustrated and disappointed with the sex in their marriage and are looking for help.

Or maybe your sex life is pretty good… but could it be even better? Do you have some unmet desire that you haven’t mustered the courage to share with your spouse yet? Or maybe you know that your spouse has given up on achieving her deepest desires because you’ve been holding back.

If either of these paragraphs describes your marital sex life, then this habit is for you! But before you can hit your target, you need to decide what you’re going to aim at.

So how do you pick a target? The rest of this post will describe a method for creating a Marital Sex Life Vision that will represent the target you and your spouse will aim for in your sex life. Here are a few Bible verses that talk about the value of setting goals, and remind us to rely on God’s purposes even while we plan.

But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.

Isaiah 32:8

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

2 Corinthians 5:9

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”

Luke 14:28-30

(If your sex life — or marriage — are in a bad state right now, you might be tempted to think something like “I just wish he’d never touch me again” — if that’s you, then this exercise probably won’t be of much benefit right now. For the purpose of this post we’re going to assume that both spouses want to have an unbelievably amazing sex life together. Otherwise see: “When All Else Fails, Try Tears”.)

Each spouse should begin separately, by writing down the elements of his or her Individual Sex Life Vision. Below is a list of topics your vision might address. Think of these items from the perspective of, “if our sex life were unbelievably amazing….” Don’t worry about being realistic — aim high!

Feel free to use any format you want for your vision — as you know, we like making lists with bullet points! The post “How to Talk About Sex Before You Get Married” has more ideas you can include in your vision. Write as much as you can, and then spend a little time editing it down. You may decide that some elements aren’t important enough to include, or you may realize that you forgot something critical.

Now each spouse has an Individual Sex Life Vision! Great work. Each of you has something concrete to use when you’re talking about your sex life together. These Visions are fantastic personal tools that you can update over time as your desires and expectations change, and as you refine your thinking. They aren’t cast in stone, so feel free to revisit them periodically.

The next step is to share your Individual Sex Life Vision with your spouse. Take turns sharing your thoughts, and be careful not to interrupt or be dismissive. This is an intimate process, and your spouse is showing great vulnerability by sharing his or her vision. There’s no need to react while your spouse is sharing — just listen.

Now get a new piece of paper to begin documenting your Marital Sex Life Vision. After you’ve shared your individual visions, each element will fall into one of three categories.

  • Agreement. Yay! Your visions are aligned. Write these items down in your Marital Sex Life Vision and underline them.
  • Disagreement. It shouldn’t be surprising if your visions aren’t completely aligned, so don’t be discouraged. You didn’t marry a clone of yourself! Write down areas of disagreement by indicating the desires of both spouses in the Marital Sex Life Vision and put a star next to them. These are items to negotiate over later.
  • Unsure. There might be elements in one spouse’s vision that the other spouse just isn’t sure about. Write these down in the Marital Sex Life Vision with a question mark next to them along with initial of the spouse who is unsure. The initialed spouse “owns” this question mark.

Depending on how many stars and question marks you have on your Marital Sex Life Vision, you might want to take a break. You’ve already done a lot of work just getting to this point, so don’t feel compelled to finish this exercise all in one sitting. Each spouse might need to think about the areas of disagreement, and particularly any question marks that belong to him or her.

When you’re ready to continue, the first thing to do is deal with the question marks. Each question mark should be resolved by the spouse who owns it. If the owner now agrees with the vision element created by the other spouse, remove the question mark and underline the element. You’re done — it’s a new area of agreement. If the owner decides that he or she disagrees, then they should write down their vision for that element along with a star — you’ve got another area to negotiate.

Now it’s time for the negotiation, but the good news is that you’ve already done some of the hard work. The steps to a successful negotiation are:

  1. Know what you want. Done!
  2. Say what you want. Done!
  3. Compromise to reach an acceptable agreement.
  4. Be content to receive what you agreed to accept.

You did the first two steps when you wrote your Individual Sex Life Visions, so it’s time for step three. For each element of disagreement, you’re going to have to talk about your vision:

  • Are there any parts that are not essential?
  • What are you willing to give to get what you want? This can mean compromising on one vision element to gain more on another.
  • How can you bless your spouse by giving him or her something they want?

Remember: the point of negotiation isn’t to convince the other person that your desire is better! You don’t need to change your spouse’s mind in order to reach an acceptable agreement. In fact, negotiations often break down because both parties get so focused on changing the other’s mind that they get angry and frustrated.

For example, let’s say that Spouse A wants to have sex every day, and Spouse B wants to have sex once a week. It would be easy to argue about who is “right” and which is “better” for the marriage, but it’s unlikely that either spouse will genuinely be convinced. So just skip all that. Recognize that each spouse wants what they want, the desires are legitimate, and you don’t have to want the same thing. You’re trying to reach an acceptable agreement! If “about three times a week” is acceptable to both spouses, then they can agree to that without either spouse changing their individual vision.

Negotiation is tough, and sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to give up everything you want in order to avoid conflict. Similarly, it can be tempting to push your spouse to give up her vision in favor of your own. Being loving doesn’t mean being a push-over, and it doesn’t mean “winning” at the expense of your spouse. Give a little, get a little, and show Christlike love.

It may surprise you to learn that there are several passages in the Bible that talk about negotiation, and particularly the importance of honesty and fairness in the process.

Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making.

Proverbs 16:11

Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

Genesis 29:15

Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God accept you.” But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

2 Samuel 24:18-25

Hopefully you’re able to reach agreements that are acceptable to both of you on all your starred items. (If not, come back to them in a day or two and negotiate some more.) Write your agreements down on the Marital Sex Life Vision and erase the starred individual elements that led to the negotiation. These agreements are now part of your Marital Sex Life Vision, and it’s time for perhaps the hardest part of negotiation:

Be content to receive what you agreed to accept. The Marital Sex Life Vision isn’t permanent, but we suggest that you try living with it for a while before reopening any negotiations (at least six months). Update your Individual Sex Life Vision as often as you like, but do your honest best to live up to and accept the agreements that you made in your Marital Sex Life Vision. If you’re having trouble being content, recognize that the shared vision is probably very close to the best possible arrangement you can make with your spouse (as long as you were both acting in good-faith throughout the process).

Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.

Proverbs 25:14

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Matthew 5:37

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

Amos 3:3

You didn’t get exactly what you wanted, and neither did your idiot, short-sighted, unimaginative, selfish, lazy spouse. I’m kidding of course! You’ll never convince your spouse to want exactly what you want, nor vice versa. Now that the two of you have negotiated acceptable agreements and created a Marital Sex Life Vision, it’s time to move forward and make this vision a reality — which will be the topic of the next post in this series: Put First Things First.

Do you and your spouse have a shared vision for your sex life? Do you know the target you’re aiming at? Leave a comment and let us know.

The 7 (Sex) Habits: #1 Be Proactive 2

(Here’s a link to the series introduction — a good place to start!)

Habit 1: Be Proactive is about taking responsibility for your life. You can’t keep blaming everything on your parents or grandparents. Proactive people recognize that they are “response-able.” They don’t blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. They know they choose their behavior. Reactive people, on the other hand, are often affected by their physical environment. They find external sources to blame for their behavior. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance, and they blame the weather.

And you can’t keep blaming your spouse, either!

Stephen Covey describes three Circles that can be used to understand and evaluate our circumstances:

  • Circle of Concern: Everything you care about, everything that impacts your life.
  • Circle of Influence: The subset of your Circle of Concern that you can affect with your decisions.
  • Circle of Control: The subset of your Circle of Influence that you can directly control.

Here’s a diagram, for you visual thinkers.

The 7 (Sex) Habits: #1 Be Proactive 3

When we’re reactive, we spend all our time and energy worrying about things we can’t control or even influence. When we’re proactive, we spend our time and influence on the inner circles, the things we can control (in our own life and body) and the things we can influence in our immediate community and family.

As an exercise with your spouse, it can be helpful to categorize your concerns using these circles. First, list everything you care about. Second, underline the concerns that you can influence. Third, put a star next to the things you can control. (Once you have your list, you can draw the three circles if you want!) Discussion questions: Do your lists match? What items are you spending the most time and energy on?

Here’s what Jesus says about our Circle of Concern:

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

God is all-powerful, so nothing is out of his control! As believers, we can trust God with our Circle of Concern and have his peace, relying on his power and goodness to handle everything that concerns us.

God’s power isn’t just for our Circle of Concern, but for everything in our lives. Proverbs 3 is full of advice, guidance, and commands for making good decisions — it’s hard to pull out a few verses to quote, but these are some of my favorites:

Proverbs 3:3-6

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Action words for the proactive Christian: bind, write, trust, lean, acknowledge — along with promises of what God is proactively doing for you. God is active — he is always at work around us — and since we’re made in his image he expects us to be active also.

Here’s another passage from Proverbs about being proactive.

Proverbs 6:6-11

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
    When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
    and want like an armed man.

The ant doesn’t need anyone to tell her what to do, and she doesn’t sit around waiting, pouting, or complaining about the seasons. The ant works within her Circle of Influence to gather what she needs when the circumstances are favorable.

It would be easy to go on and on — God’s commands in the Bible are always proactive. Even when you’re in a season of waiting, you are commanded to be in prayer, service, and study.

So then, what does it mean to be proactive in our sex life with our spouse? Here are some examples that might resonate with you.

Reactive thinking says:

  • I don’t know if I want to have sex, let’s see how I feel at the end of our date
  • It’s not my fault, I can’t help how I feel
  • Our sex life is disappointing because of our jobs/kids/health
  • Why doesn’t he know what I want?
  • Why doesn’t she initiate sex?
  • After my day at work / with the kids, I just can’t do it
  • If he would ABC, then maybe I would XYZ

Proactive thinking says:

You can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose how you act in response. You can take responsibility for yourself. You can’t control your spouse, but by being proactive you can influence your spouse through service and communication. As you focus on what you can control and influence, your Circle of Influence will grow!

The 7 (Sex) Habits: #1 Be Proactive 4

Being Proactive is a big idea, so maybe you’d like an actionable tip for where to start. Take a look at this post about The Five Love Languages and Sex and find your spouse’s primary love language, then do something for them that speaks to it. Afterwards, remind your spouse of your primary love language and point them at that post and this one. Rinse (if necessary) and repeat!

If this habit has made an impact in your life and marriage, leave a comment to tell us about it.

The 7 (Sex) Habits: Series Introduction 5

This post is an introduction to a new series based on “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People” by Stephen R. Covey. The ideas in “7 Habits” have been applied in many different contexts, and I think there are lessons that can be applied in our sex lives with our spouses. As always, our thoughts will be guided by Biblical truth, and I think you’ll see that the 7 Habits work very well in the context of a Christian marriage.

As I write the posts, I’ll add links to this list of the 7 Habits.

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win-win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

If you’ve never been exposed to the 7 Habits before you may be thinking that they’re a bunch of modern pseudo-psychological gobbledygook, but that’s not true. The posts in this series will include specific, concrete behaviors that you and your spouse can use to improve your sex life. We’ve written before about the power of habits to create real and persistent change in your life, and even though the Bible doesn’t use the word “habit” there are many passages that command us to build positive patterns of behavior. Here are a few examples:

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Proverbs 3:1-2 “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.”

Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

1 Corinthians 11:1-2 “Be imitators of me [Paul], as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.”

Proverbs 4:20-27:

My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.

This series will look at each of the 7 Habits and discuss how to apply them in a Biblical manner to improve your sex life with your spouse.

I will conclude this introduction by mentioning a key tenet that is woven throughout the 7 Habits: the abundance mentality. The basic idea is that in most circumstances there is enough of everything for both spouses to get what they need from the marriage. Unless you each want exactly different things, there’s a way for both of you to be satisfied. Habit 4 (“think win-win”) builds directly on this concept, but the mindset is of broad applicability. The abundance mentality stands in contrast to the scarcity mentality — the belief that there isn’t enough for both of us. The abundance mentality isn’t magical thinking, and isn’t about actually having more. The abundance mentality is about acting on the expectation that the resources you have (e.g., time, money, attention, energy) can be used in a way that pleases you both.

The scarcity mindset says:

  • There isn’t enough for everyone, so I’d better get my share now
  • If I don’t get my way now, I never will
  • Only one of us can win this argument (and it’s going to be me)
  • I give her what she wants, but she never gives me what I want
  • How can I get more?

The abundance mindset says:

  • There’s plenty for both of us
  • When she wins, it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost
  • I can give away my time/energy/prestige/power/recognition now because there will be plenty more later
  • We can reach a decision that lets us both win
  • How can I give more?

As Christians, we have more assurance of abundance than anyone else in the world! The abundance of God is obviously not mere worldly possessions, but the fullness of a life built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

John 10:10 “[Jesus said] The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Luke 6:37-38 “[Jesus said] Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Matthew 6:33-34 “[Jesus said] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [worldly needs] will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

I challenge you to begin thinking about your marriage and your sex life with an abundance mindset! Your sex life is not a competition over who gets what they want. You both have needs in your marriage, and there is plenty of sex, time, energy, and love to satisfy you both. Pray that God would show you his abundance in your marriage.