Welcome back! This is part two of our condensed intimacy course. Last week, we introduced a framework of stage 1, two, and 3 sex. You can find part one here.
Review of the 3 Levels
This 3 stages of sex framework was developed by Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. As a reminder, stage 1 is very self-centered. Stage 2 is where your sense of self is really wrapped up in your wife and what she’s doing or not doing. Stage 3 is developmental. You kind of grow through stages 1 and 2 into stage 3. That’s when spirituality and sexuality really go together; it’s where you can be fully invested in your wife and her development. Feedback isn’t a threat to you because you’re solid on your own two feet yourself. And this is also where sex takes on its deepest meaning. You make love with your heart, not just your body.
So the meat of today’s discussion is how specifically we’re going to move into stage 3.
I believe men and women are in God’s eyes. Yet when we have conflict, we tend to form hierarchies. You can see this on the macro level, with the way people have treated women over the years.
But also on the micro level (our marriages) we create hierarchies. Hierarchy is when you believe you’re more important or less important than your spouse in your relationship. You think your opinion matters more, or you get more of a vote or a bigger vote because you’re the husband or you’re the breadwinner or whatever.
These create hierarchies cause you to get stuck in whatever situation you’re in. In a conflict, you either go one up or one down. let’s take the example of overspending.
Let’s say you don’t like what your spouse is saying or doing, and you react. You can react in a very “one up” way where you try to control the other person by dominating. You can also react in a “one down” way, which is trying to control the other person from the bottom up in a very weak or needy or resentful way.
When you go one up, your spouse goes one down; or you go one down, your spouse goes one up. We create this one up, one down dynamic, which leads to hierarchies.
Storytime: Our Journey
I have a story to illustrate this. A long time ago when I was working on my marriage with my wife and discovering sexuality, I was very invested in our sexual development. And I was definitely at stage 2 where my sense of sexual self belonged in the hands of my wife. The way she performed and acted sexually had everything to do with how I felt about myself. Of course, I wasn’t aware of it.
So we had a lot of conflict around sex and I would tend to go one up, meaning I’d say I’m superior. I know more than you. I’ve read more books or I’ve listened to more podcasts than you or whatever. And it was creating a hierarchy in our marriage . So trying to negotiate through this conflict, I’m embarrassed to say this, but I said to her, look, I’ve got an idea.
One of our problems was I wanted her to read more books about sex and there was a particular book I wanted her to read, hoping she’d pick up on my highlights and my notes in the margin.
I wanted her to read this book because I thought if she read it, then she’d understand it. And then all of a sudden her sex life would be great! But she said, “ I’m busy with kids. I make dinner every night. There’s no way I can even read a book”. So I said, fine. Let’s make a deal where I will prepare all of the meals for two weeks. I’ll handle the cleanup and I’ll help put the kids to bed. And while I’m doing these things, you’re released from your obligations or whatever you’re doing, and you can go to the bedroom, draw a bath if you want to, and read this book. and she reluctantly agreed.
Another part of the story that’s important to you for you to know is about dinner time. When dinner time is has been a conflict in our marriage. She would usually have dinner done by like seven or eight o’clock at night. And so the kids would go to bed late and she and I were going to bed late. It felt like there was no time for us to be a couple anymore. And I was frustrated; I wanted dinner done earlier. So during these two weeks, guess what? Not only did I prepare all the meals, I prepared all the meals on time.
I kind of took on a superior role, like, “look at me. I work all day out of the house and I’m so good at planning and working ahead and I still manage to get dinner done on time. How come you can’t do that?” Of course, I didn’t say those out loud in those words, but there was definitely this superior air, like I was fishing for compliments.
So do you think my wonderful wife in the bedroom, supposedly trying to read through this book, is reading with the feeling of “Wow. What a wonderful husband I have. Not only is he willing to cook meals for me, he’s really good at doing it on time. He’s so wonderful”. No. She’s thinking quite the opposite, right?
She’s just thinking about how she can get back at me or how miserable she feels and how little investment she can give in order to pass the time. She’s not invested in the relationship because the way I am treating her by taking this one up, superiority over her. The reality is in our marriages, we try to control each other when we have conflict.
Where did I Go Wrong?
And that’s a very stage 1 or stage 2 thing. We feel like we can’t control ourselves. When we can’t control ourselves, you try to control other people. If I can get my wife to read this book, and improve her sexuality, I would feel better about myself. So it was really a selfish move for me to want her to read this book.
It really wasn’t about her and she can sniff that out from a mile away. And the way we played that out wasn’t healthy or helpful for our relationship. It was about control, and manipulation. We’re going to talk about this more in just a second, but I just want to point out “one up” looks like what I did. “One down” is equally as bad. It’s a little harder to see, but when you’re one down, you’re trying to control the other person by appearing weak or needy, or not as committed.
Whereas one up can look very aggressive. one down can look very passive.
“Nice Guy” Syndrome
A form of this is what I call being the “nice guy”. And I put that in air quotes because they’re not really nice. What they’re trying to do is extract something from their wife by appearing to do things that nice guys do.
For instance, let’s say a man wants to have more sex with his wife and read somewhere that chore play is a new foreplay. He believes if he does chores around the house, his wife will be more turned on and want to have sex with him. So he will go and fold the laundry. He’ll make the meals, he’ll put the kids to bed, and help them with their homework. He will find little things to do (like send little notes around the house) with the expectation that she should be so turned on by all the efforts he’s doing that she’ll just fold into him and want to make love to him. Hopefully, the reality is she can track the subtle manipulation in all of it.
Oftentimes , it’s hard to see why this is wrong because it’s like, “Hey, I am being so nice to you. I am being so invested in you on the outside.” It looks like you’re doing the right thing. This was me offering to do meals for my wife. I was being a nice guy. “Look at me. I am giving you a break. I am letting you have some time to yourself and I am taking on far more than my share”. But really it’s a manipulation tactic.
Nice guys get in trouble. In fact, a lot of nice guys have a really hard time facing their wives. Nice guys that have issues with pornography use because they find it easier to have a sense of sexuality in private and darkness rather than really facing the issues head on in their marriage.
Let’s talk specifically about specific strategies people use when in conflict; the ways people try to control and manipulate each other.
I came up with six, but I’m sure there’s like 20 ways. One is judging, shaming, and/or critiquing your spouse. If she always feels criticized when she’s around you (about her body, how she needs to lose weight or about the way she does things) it becomes hard for her to be around you. You’re trying to control her, trying to put her in her place. In the end, it comes back to a preoccupation with how you’re getting love rather than if you’re being loving or not.
Another strategy is withholding. Some people will lead on their spouse just enough to keep her interested and kind of in pursuit of him. But he won’t fully give it to her because he’s afraid if he actually does stand up, grow a pair and fully give love to his wife, then she won’t be interested in him anymore. So he keeps a little bit of distance or a lot of distance with the hopes that she will pursue him, because he likes to be in control. And so not being fully invested or withholding a little bit is a form of manipulation in marriage.
Another manipulation strategy is being accommodating but resentful. So let’s say you two are planning a vacation. You want to go fishing at the lake and she wants to go to the beach. And after some serious discussion you resentfully give in. You go to the beach and the whole time you’re there, you’re mumbling and complaining about the sand and the tourists and how awful the parking is and how hot it is. And so on. You’re resentfully accommodating her idea instead of owning it. A lot of us do this in various parts of our marriages.
Another strategy that I see, especially in very successful high power men, is over functioning. Over-functioning means you take your natural abilities, like getting things done or execution, and you drive it home so far that your spouse, your poor wife, doesn’t do anything.
You hire a maid to clean the house. You take care of the kids so that she can sleep in. You manage all the things that she might normally try to do, and you take it on yourself. You’re over functioning as a way of extracting validation from her. It’s a form of manipulation. You’re trying to get her to do something or be something. If you carry that too far over the months and years, instead of a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife type friendship relationship, it turns your marriage into this hierarchy where it’s more like a father-daughter relationship.
Moral High Ground
The last one I want to mention, is to take the moral high ground. This is where you get really adept at quoting scripture or just portraying your view as morally right. Moral high grounds look like, “well, I would never do that” or “ How dare you even think those things”. One that I’ve seen in my coaching recently is a husband who wants his wife to wear different clothes when they’re out in public. something a little more covered up. He takes a moral high ground in the situation by saying “you’re tempting other men. The way you’re going about it is enticing others to sin”.
This is a control tactic to try to get her to change something that he feels uncomfortable about within himself. He’s not maybe aware or quite articulate in these feelings, but that’s the thing. This is the work. If you can really take a step back and really think about, “What it is that I am doing that is causing us to behave the way we do. In what ways do I try to control my spouse or manipulate her?”
The more clearly you can see this within yourself, the quicker you can address it head on and then make serious improvements and growth in your relationship with yourself and with your spouse.
Application to Scripture
I believe this is what Jesus Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount ( Mathew 7:3-5)
He’s saying what you need to do first is take out your own beam or your plank so that you can see clearly. You have this big thing in your own eye that’s obstructing your own view, your own vision, and you need to learn how to take that out.
So let’s apply this teaching from, from Jesus and see how we can see ourselves clearly. Here’s my homework for you. You can do this just to yourself, journal it, share it with a trusted friend or your spouse
I want you to think about these things. Ask yourself what are your go-to strategies when you want to control your spouse. In what ways do you go one up or one down? Think about a recent conflict you’ve had. In what ways did you try to control your spouse in that disagreement? Ask yourself, what’s it like being married to me when I behave in this way around this conflict?
Would you want your daughter being married to a man like you? What does this say about me?
Now a lot of this takes work. Sometimes you need to talk to a friend about your conflict to really get an outside perspective and to bring heightened awareness to the way you are in the midst of your conflict. Our brains are so good at seeing what’s wrong in other people, but horrible at seeing what’s wrong in ourselves.
And this is why I believe coaching can really help.
The solution to all this is to learn how to take on yourself and be willing to choose a higher path,the path of growth within you. Which is a lot easier said than done. It’s a lifetime pursuit. And this is what I think Jesus taught when He said to first take out the plank or the beam in your own eye so that you can see clearly.
Now that we’ve talked about those things, let’s focus on where we want to get. And I want to paint a picture for what sex can look like at stage 3.
A Picture of Stage 3 Sex
At stage 3, sex can be very playful and it’s full of really deep meaning. It’s the ultimate. Sex feels very free. You feel really free to express who you are unapologetically, and you can be really fully sexual with another person. It’s also very erotic. You have this high, deep, and meaningful connection. In fact, sex takes on almost a spiritual component. It’s connecting you to another person at a very deep level. You’re in your body, but out of your body. It’s a very bodily experience, but it’s also very soulful and connecting. This is also the stage where you can do fun things like role play. You can be really playful and flirty with one another. You don’t mind sending each other provocative photos or sexting each other just to tease.
Sexual Teasing and Touching
You have this sexual teasing going on becuase you like to keep this pilot light lit. You like to keep a low level of arousal between the two of you so that you can quickly step into a sexual realm more easily. This is when,as a man, you recognize that your wife’s arousal zone isn’t just her clitoris or her breasts. You recognize that her entire body, just the entirety of her is one giant erogenous zone.
And your touch communicates deep and profound, loving, longing, and connection.
This is also when sex is very adventurous and collaborative. It’s like the two of you deciding and working together how you want to go about doing sex. In this collaboration, you have more freedom to explore things. And even though your relationship has its ups and downs, you have your own growth cycles and calm cycles, you can handle it really well because fundamentally you’re really good friends.
One of the concepts I like to teach with stage 3 sex is this concept of ravish. And when I say ravish, I’m using this dictionary definition. It says, “to fill someone with intense delight to enrapture”. This is when you’re invested in her as a whole person, not just in sex only. And this is where she feels alive and free in her life. In fact, the energy that you bring in the marriage is almost worshipful, not in a SAC religious sense, but you’re in awe of her beauty and of her essence. What woman wouldn’t want to be treated that way? So magnificently, that’s the level of connection you can bring.
We did this exercise at a marriage retreat that I did. The instructor had my wife and I sit facing each other, close together. One of us was going to touch the other person while the other person received the touch. So I went first. As I was touching her, I think I was touching her forearm just lightly, I was thinking about things I really like and admire about my wife. She was the receiver, her job was to focus on the touch and think about the meanings I’m trying to communicate through touch. The whole purpose of this exercise was to teach that the way we touch each other is a form of communication. It’s very possible to touch your spouse without feeling, meaning without feeling in your heart or without feeling anything.
You can really touch someone deeply with just the energy and spirit you bring about in your touch. Take that energy into the bedroom and the way you touch, cherish, honor, and hold this person because you see depth in them that you admire and desire. That is ravish. To be honest though, in order for a woman to accept ravish from her husband it requires her to develop herself also. You can’t do it for her. You can’t force her to accept your ravish. There are some things that you’ll never be able to do for her, such as her learning how to love herself, just the way she is. Your job then is to really just love her. This is where patience comes in.
How to get to Stage 3?
How do we go from stage 1 to 2, and then from 2 to 3? Just to be clear, sometimes you might be at a 1. Sometimes it might be 2. Sometimes you might be at 3 and then you’ll go back down to a 2 then back up to a 3 and then maybe a 1. The stages aren’t stable, it requires constant effort.
This is a lifelong pursuit to keep pushing and developing through the process.The key, I think, is honest living. That’s how you get to living at stage 3. What I mean by honest living is you’re more concerned about your way of being than exactly what you are doing.
In other words, you can be doing the exact same behavior, but the why behind it is going to be different because you’re more focused on who you are. It’s more like you’re doing things from the inside out because you want to, for the best of reasons, rather than trying to please the crowd or trying to just please another person to get praise from others.
So in my mind, this is the essence of integrity. Integrity is living in line with your highest values. And this leads you to be the author of your own life. It’s your choice.
For example, I go to church because I want to, I think it’s good for me. There’s something that I believe is fundamentally good and brings out the goodness and the godliness within me, by surrounding myself with other people, by partaking of sacred experiences at church ordinances and just being in that environment. This is a very different context than going to church, because if I don’t, God will punish me.
Do you see the difference? One is very self authored. Like I’m doing this because I’m choosing to versus, being fearful of some punishment or getting some reward. I’m more concerned with my way of being than I am about some outcome. That’s what I mean by being the author.
Here’s another example.
I get easily triggered by my kids and have a tendency to use anger as a tool to control my kids’ behavior. But I really don’t like who I am in those moments. And I don’t want to be that kind of a person. So next time I get triggered, I’m going to think hard about why I get triggered so easily. What is it about me that gets me so triggered? I’m going to buckle down and really dig deep into that so I can grow and develop in this area.
Another example is I buy flowers for my wife because I know it means a lot to her and she means a lot to me. It’s not to get some reward or payback from her.
Bowen Theory and Maturity
The essence is honest living and living with integrity. It’s being the author of your own life. And by choosing the kind of life you want to live and living within your highest values, you step forward to stage 3.
Dr. Bowen was a famous psychologist, a brilliant guy who came up with the theory of differentiation by observing families and how they interacted with each other. He noticed that in a marriage, you’re rarely more mature or less mature than your spouse. It’s unlikely that one spouse is way more mature than the other because you wouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. And as you grow and develop your spouse will either grow and develop with you or that marriage will end. If anything, you’re maybe a half step ahead or half step behind your spouse. That’s an important concept because you really can’t drag your spouse into stage 3 sex.
The Patience, and Courage, to Choose
A lot of you may be thinking, “yes, I want stage 3 sex, but my wife is so stuck at stage 1 or 2”. Remember the path forward isn’t about dragging your spouse or taking your spouse with you. This is about yourself, self authoring, that this is the way I want to live, because it matters to me.
This leads me to my next point: to love someone well really means to choose them and invest in them. And choosing our spouse is often challenging. Sometimes, we really don’t actually fully choose our spouse because there’s risk. If we really choose this person, it means we are no longer choosing other people.
A lot of us like to kind of straddle the line. We’re kind of choosing our spouse, but kind of not choosing them. We want our cake and we want to eat it too. If you’re really going to choose and choose fully, then that means you’re excluding all your other options.
If I really invest and choose my wife, I’m excluding the options of everyone else or every thing that I might be able to choose . Sometimes, part of choosing includes grieving the loss of the things you won’t get.
Loving ALL of Your Spouse
Sometimes it’s hard to choose our spouse because there’s parts of our spouse that we don’t. You might face them and realize that choosing them fully means you’re going to have to live with someone that you don’t know, that deals with depression or someone that struggles with self-confidence. There’s a part of you that realizes choosing this person means you’re going to choose the whole of them, including the parts that you don’t like. And that’s why sometimes we’re a little timid to make that full choice. And sometimes we don’t fully choose because we’re not fully sure yet if this is the person we want. So we hold back. We want assurance that they’re the right one for us.
We want to wait for that feeling to tell us that they’re the right one before we act. But paradoxically, that feeling that you’ve made the right choice and moving forward will never come until you make the choice first. So it takes a lot of courage, perseverance and faith to really choose someone.
Your woman wants to see that you stand by and desire her and that you don’t give up so easily. It might take a few months for you to persistently and consistently show this kind of deep love for her. She’s testing you to see, do you really have her back? Do you really have a spine? Do you really have enough balls to choose her and choose her fully?
It takes a little bit of time to invest in someone.
You really want what’s best for them and not just to reinforce your own ego. This investment in your wife is to invest in her happiness. What makes her thrive is absolutely foundational for her to be sexually interested in you.
The Teachings of Jesus: Love Yourself
Jesus taught of the two great commandments.
The first is to love God with all your heart, might, mind and strength. The second is like unto it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Often we leave out the love your neighbor as yourself. It’s so important that we learn how to love ourselves. That is crucial in order for you to develop the capacity to really love another.
There was a time in my life where I really struggled to like myself and it interfered with my ability to have close and meaningful relationships with other people. I always felt inferior to others, or I was stuck on my superiority to others. Not because I have an inferiority complex or some psychological diagnosis, but it was because I really hadn’t learned how to like myself yet.
And learning how to like myself has been a huge key in my growth and development. It has grown my capacity to love other people just as Jesus teaches. Part of loving ourselves is to accept our own humanity and to be okay that we have flaws. That being human is okay. That we make a lot of terrible mistakes and we’re not all the way there. In fact, perfectionism is antithetical to loving someone.
There’s a tyranny with perfectionism.
When we say that we’re never good enough, It makes it impossible to really love ourselves. And in fact, that same goes for our spouse. If our spouse gets this feeling/spirit/energy from you where they feel like they will never be good enough for you, they’re not going to try hard to open up themselves to you.
It’s this perfectionism that interferes so much with our ability to love others. So you need to learn how to accept and love yourself and others, flaws and all.
Okay. We’ve talked about a lot of concepts about stage 3 sex and what it really looks like. There’s a perseverance factor, a ravishing, a way of being, honesty, and integrity.
Storytime: My Parents
I want to close with a little story about what I’ve observed in my parents. So at the time I’m recording this, my mother passed away about six weeks ago and I am mourning the loss of my mother. As I work and sort through my grief, I feel I am more grieving my father’s loss of his wife more than the loss of my own mother because I’ve really seen my father invest in my mom. In her cancer treatments, there was a time when a brand new drug got approved by the FDA and it was unclear if insurance was going to cover the expense of this new medicine that targeted her specific type of cancer.
My dad learned that it was $150,000 for 1 dose and he didn’t blink an eye. He was like,” I will sell my house if I need to in order to buy this medicine for my wife”, even though there were no guarantees that the medicine would work. Seeing my dad being unflinchingly, a hundred percent, absolutely loyal to my mother was incredible for me.
My mom was very fashionable. She really liked her outfits. She has hundreds of matching outfits. And my dad never complained about her spending. If anything, he would joke and say, “thank you, Heather, for buying all these things, because you’re really helping me with my goal to get more airline miles [or credit card points or whatever it is]”.
But he wasn’t joking to, you know, jab her in her ribs. He was really invested in her; in her happiness. He could, you know, joke with her and make light of things. Throughout their life, I saw my dad really invest in helping her thrive; in helping my mom become her best self. Even if it didn’t exactly prop up his own ego or what he wanted for himself.
To summarize, stage 3 sex requires you to let go of your ego. It requires you to really invest in yourself. It requires and demands that you take a step forward in your own development and really work on living a life full of integrity.
And honestly, and that’s how you arrive at a place with great sexual freedom, where sex is extremely deep, and meaningful and connecting.
By Dan Purcell (Edited by Amanda Severson) with Get Your Marriage On!