Author and Advocate for Healthy Sexuality and Spirituality

Category Archives: Every Woman’s Battle

Love The One You’re With

At one time I was having extramarital affairs with five different men.

First, there was Scott. I met him while volunteering at a summer camp. Scott was so outgoing and talkative. What initially attracted me to him was how he could have a conversation with anyone — not just a superficial one, but a deep, meaningful discussion. I could walk into a room and he would pour on the attention, asking all about how things were going and how I was feeling. In comparison, however, my husband was a man of few words: the strong, silent type.

Then there was my scuba coach, Mark. With his distinguished, salt-and-pepper hair, he looked just like Lloyd Bridges. Mark’s maturity and love for diving intrigued me. He encouraged me to overcome my fears and helped me discover my underwater adventuresome side. I felt safe with him, like a daughter feels safe with her dad. My husband, on the other hand, was only a few years older. He didn’t evoke within me a feeling of being nurtured and safe as Mark did.

Tom was my accounting teacher at the university I attended. What struck me about Tom was his wit and intelligence. I had expected accounting to be the most boring of all my classes, but Tom had a way of making it the most fun and interesting part of my day. My husband was an intelligent accountant also, but he couldn’t make me laugh like Tom did. His wit paled in comparison to Tom’s.

Then there was Ray. Ray was such a die-hard romantic, heaping compliments on me and sweeping me off my feet with whirlwind passion. My relationship with my husband never seemed to have that magic spark that I felt when I was with Ray. Ray had set the romantic standard that my husband couldn’t live up to.

Finally, there was Clark. He was ruggedly handsome, suave, and debonair. I looked forward to being with him every Friday night. As I approached the counter at the movie rental store, the owner automatically went to the classic section and pulled out any Clark Gable movie. It didn’t matter which one. I loved them all. Even standing tall at six foot and seven inches, my husband just couldn’t measure up to Clark.

Even though I wasn’t having sexual intercourse with any of these other men, I was still having an affair with each of them — a mental and/or emotional affair. My fantasies of being Clark Gable’s leading lady, memories of my romantic relationship with Ray, and fascination with Tom’s wit, Mark’s maturity, and Scott’s verbal talents affected my marriage in a way just as damaging as a sexual affair would have.

I was overlooking all of the many wonderful things about my husband because I was either focusing on the positive attributes of one of these other men or focusing on my husband’s negative attributes. Because I lived with my husband, I saw not just the good, but also the bad and the ugly. He left the toilet seat up in the middle of the night. He snored, and when he woke up he had morning breath. Then he’d brush his teeth and leave toothpaste in the sink. Sometimes I felt that he couldn’t do anything to suit me. With all of my criticizing, he probably felt like he couldn’t do anything to suit me, either.

The other men’s warts, however, were out my line of sight. I could look at them and see nothing but their shining qualities, the kind I initially saw in my husband but had lost sight of over the years because of all my comparisons.

I felt distanced and disillusioned. Could he ever excite me like the other men did? Was I still in love with him? Could he ever measure up? Could I ever learn to live with my less-than-perfect partner?

Fortunately, the positive answers to these questions surfaced when I ended these affairs and changed my measuring stick. Together, we discovered a new level of intimacy that we didn’t know existed, all because I stopped comparing and criticizing and began embracing the uniqueness of my spouse.

Excerpted from Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional Fulfillment by Shannon Ethridge. Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved. Published by WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO 80921. Used by Permission. Not to be copied without Publisher’s prior written approval

Trading Intensity for Intimacy

I recently met a young woman who grew up in the war-torn country of Sierra Leone in West Africa. As bullets whizzed through the city streets and landmines blasted limbs off of children playing in the fields, every day was a struggle for Lela and her family to survive. She had been in the United States less than two years when I asked her what she liked most about living in this country.

She answered with a sweet smile, “Peace. There is nothing like living in peace.”
I also asked, “How did you cope with the chaos of war all around you day after day?”
Shrugging her shoulders, she replied, “When war is all you have ever known, you don’t realize how chaotic it is.”
Although I’ve never known the terror of dodging bullets or landmines, the truth of Lela’s statement struck a chord. I never realized how intense and chaotic my life was until I experienced the peace of living with sexual and emotional integrity. For years I had walked blindly into compromising situations, begged over dinner tables for morsels of affection, and found myself sleeping with the enemy time and time again. I consistently mistook intensity for intimacy and the concept of a peaceful relationship seemed unfathomable.
…My journey toward the peacefulness of sexual integrity began in 1996 with several months of individual and group counseling. There, by ripping up phone books and screaming at empty chairs instead of at the innocent people I lived with at home, I vented my anger toward every person who had ever hurt me. I sat in a chair across from an imaginary “Shannon at fifteen” (the young girl I once was who was about to make all the sexual mistakes that I had just lived through). With my counselor’s guidance, I was able to voice my new understanding of the pain and loneliness this fifteen-year-old had felt, to sympathize with her naiveté and confusion about her sexual and emotional desires, and forgive her for the bad choices she was making and the pain that her poor judgment would cause me and many others. I wrote letters of forgiveness to my father and mother, one painfully honest set that would never be mailed and another more socially acceptable set that were mailed and received with sincere appreciation. I also wrote a letter of forgiveness to myself. As I looked over my list of previous partners, I recognized that I was looking for love, approval, and acceptance from every authority figure in my life except from my real father and my heavenly Father. I embarked on a mission to get to know both of them better, frequently carving time out for family camping trips and retreats with the Lord.
…God, in His sovereignty, looked beyond my weaknesses and saw my need for genuine intimacy. And in spite of my unfaithfulness, He’s been faithful to guide me toward that place of quiet rest in my relationships with my father, my husband, and myself. This was not an overnight trip from chaos to peacefulness, but a long process — one that continues to this day.
Excerpted from Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional Fulfillment by Shannon Ethridge. Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved. Published by WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO 80921. Used by Permission. Not to be copied without Publisher’s prior written approval.