November 14, 2018

God Made Us Needy

Gary Thomas — 

A blockbuster quote from a blockbuster book (Unwanted) by Jay Stringer unmasks what I have seen but been unable to describe in marriage:

Few of my male clients recognize any needs they have except for sex. This puts a tremendous strain on their partners to be sexual in order to experience intimacy. The pressure men put on their partners inevitably erodes desire. How can a partner desire the very thing she is pressured to offer? Attunement and containment allow sex to become something other than the release of tension or the solo symbol of commitment. Eroticism between a couple is strengthened through being woven together with holistic passion, pleasure, and care.”

If a man isn’t aware of his relational and spiritual needs, the dopamine hit he gets from sex becomes his only cure whenever he’s down about anything, which makes his wife his only “rescue” for everything. Sex then becomes inherently selfish and a crushing burden on the wife.

To be a healthy husband with a healthy sexual relationship with his wife, you have to look at your life far beyond your sexual desire. You have other needs—intimacy with God, fun and laughter, meaningful work, respect, recreation, adventure, beauty, and rest. Get in touch with those other needs. Recognize it’s not selfish to pursue and fulfill those needs.

If you neglect yourself entirely to serve your wife and family, you can “give” your way into becoming selfish. So that you don’t miss that last sentence, let me restate it another way: if you try to keep giving without regard to your own basic needs, you can turn yourself into a selfish person because, for starters, you’re not God and can’t give infinitely, and secondly, eventually you’ll become desperate and demanding of at least one need (often sex, but also perhaps food or gambling or an out-of-control hobby). If that need isn’t met, your spouse will live with either a bully or a sulking adult who more accurately resembles a toddler.

All of us are “needy men” because God made us that way. We’re not miniature gods. We need food or we’ll starve. We need water. No one shames a person for these needs. Nor should we be shamed for wanting meaning, recreation, relationship, respect, occasional fun and sexual pleasure.

One of the greatest weaknesses of my life so far (there have been too many to count, so this is saying something) has been the neglect of self-nurture. I’ve felt guilty my entire life asking for anything. But that stupid philosophy taken to an extreme doesn’t make me less needy—everyone is needy—it just makes my demands passive (which makes them sound and feel even more pathetic). It asks others to step up as I think I’m stepping up. And when they don’t? Bitterness, resentment, and withdrawal (sorry, Lisa).

Men, recognize your needs. Name your needs. Don’t apologize for having needs. Of course, all this has to be done while recognizing that our wives have similar needs and we need to make sure theirs are met as well. Our needs aren’t more important than our wives’ needs, but they also aren’t non-existent, selfish or shameful.

Seek a “full” life. For me, a good day means my mind has to be stimulated, usually with thought-provoking reading about God early in the morning (the Bible, a Christian classic, and a chapter from a contemporary book) and an interesting history, biography or novel in the evening. I like to connect “significantly” with at least one friend every day. Exercise is pretty essential to my sense of well-being. Meaningful work matters to me, as well as the occasional risk-taking vocationally (being an introvert, that happens every time I speak publicly). I don’t care that much about food, but I do need a down day now and then and could do a much better job of planning (or taking) vacations.

Most men need adventure. I like the fear at the beginning of a marathon. Some men prefer their “fear” at the tee box, needing to score a strike for their bowling team, or playing a round of darts with their buddies after work. A man without some challenge is a man who is setting himself up for an addiction (so wives, encourage your men to seek their own adventure).

Here’s the point: a “full” man who manages his own needs is able to give to his wife and family more than a man who ignores his needs and becomes passively demanding.

All this is true for women as well, of course, but I’ve never heard a counselor tell me that “Few of my female clients recognize any needs they have except for sex,” so forgive me for playing to stereotypes for one blog post here. Women can be just as prone, however, to giving and giving and giving, neglecting their own needs in a martyr-like spirit that ultimately doesn’t serve the family long-term.

The Bible talks plenty about enjoying life. The Feast of Tabernacles in 1 Kings 8 was a fourteen day celebration in which Israel was basically commanded to party.

 

The psalmist praises God’s nurturing gifts:

He makes grass grow for the cattle,

and plants for people to cultivate—

bringing forth food from the earth:

 wine that gladdens human hearts,

oil to make their faces shine,

and bread that sustains their hearts (104:14-15).

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes affirms a life of enjoyment: “Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God” (5:19).

If it’s good, it’s from God: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).

If you’re dealing with unwanted sexual behavior, Jay Stringer’s book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals our Way to Healing could be a game changer. If you need help learning how to pursue a bit more self-nurture, I’d point you toward my own book Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good?

For the purpose of this post, let me ask you, what are your needs? Give yourself permission to think about them. Talk about them with friends and your spouse. Name them. Be more intentional about mapping out a strategy to meet them. Sex is a very legitimate need, but it’s not your only need, and in a full life, it may not even feel like your most important need.

For instance, when a man needs respect but isn’t getting any, whether his wife says “no” or “yes” to any sexual encounter may not have as much to do with the sexual act as it does about whether she is going to “respect” him by her answer. There are other ways to get respect than through a spouse’s sexual willingness. Don’t just “take it” when your wife talks down to you; explain to her in a quiet but clear way how it feels to be so disrespected in front of others or even in private. Become a respectable person at work and with your friends and kids. If I’m respected by everyone around me and disrespected by one, I’m going to question the judgment of that one instead of myself, even if that “one” is my spouse.

Here’s what I’ve tried to say in the past that Jay Stringer’s quote uncovers: when a marriage is doing well, sex isn’t that big of a deal in marriage. It’s pleasurable, it renews affection, both spouses look forward to it and enjoy it, but it’s not a central focus. It feeds the marriage, certainly, but it’s not what the marriage is primarily based on. When the sexual relationship is broken, however, the marriage seems to become primarily about sex, at least in the mind of the disaffected spouse.

In a healthy marriage, sex is seasoning, not the main course. Life would be much blander and much less enjoyable without it, but it’s not the primary nutrient feeding the relationship.

So, guys, become more aware of your overall needs as you keep on respecting your wife’s needs. Figure out a way to get those needs met. You’re responsible for your own needs. You may need to learn how to say no to other demands in order to meet your own needs, maybe for the first time in your entire life. That’s okay. In fact, that’s healthy.

Your goal is to create a “full” life out of which you can give to your wife, sexually and otherwise. The more your wife feels pleasured and fulfilled in your sexual relationship, the more likely she is to want to experience it, so your own sexual need gets met even more—not because it’s demanded, but because it’s desired, which, to a healthy man, is even more fulfilling than a coerced “mercy” encounter.

Your needs aren’t the problem. Demanding that those needs be met by one person in one way—that’s the problem.

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7 responses to God Made Us Needy

  1. I must confess that I didn’t like the title and I was quite prepared to take a contrary view, but after reading the article, I agree with it all. Sad to read Mr Feelinglost’s comment. Been there. Eventually I had to walk away to find my balance. Sad to lose my marriage, but I am so much better off and my family and friends have benefited too.
    Sex can be like Chinese food. You’re hungry again in an hour. Moving away from an environment where sex is the main reward exposes a person to a variety of needs which can be met in much more fulfilling ways. A hug from a special person, a hand-written letter, an unexpected kind gesture can provide dopamine memories for years, not a few hours. But in the right relationship sex is still nice.

  2. I love this one . . . thank you.

  3. Very well written Gary. Clear, concise, and it covered a lot of bases. I particularly like the paragraph about “feeling guilty for having needs” and the bitterness and resentment that can come if those needs are not being met. It helped me to see things in a different light and enabled me to understand more clearly why I sometimes feel frustrated with others. Regarding this, I’m considering your article in a broader sense, ie: between family members and friends as well as a spouse. Thank you for your wisdom infused articles which help us readers to learn and grow.

  4. This spoke a lot to me. I never think about my needs. Im anonymous so I can say this but I neglect a lot of my needs. I spend all my days doing chores and working. I wake up early to make chores from the day before. Then I go to work. I come home and do more chores(the dirty clothes never stop coming), take care of the kids and then my wife comes home and I take care of her as much as I can. If she can she cooks or else I do it and then I got to bed and start over again.

    I may check my facebook or watch a movie while doing the dishes but usually its under stress(have been trying to see the new netflix movie about Robert Bruce for 5 days). I dont do much more than try to focus on my wife and kids. And yes sex is a big deal to me. I dont know if I hurt my wife last sunday but I had as usual been doing everything at home. I had spent 4 hours just cleaning while she was at her dads place. I wanted to serve her so she doesnt have to do chores because she is studying. we were going to have sex but she finished but was too tired to let me finish. It hurt me deep. I didnt talk bad about her but I just couldnt be happy around her. I felt so rejected and used. Maybe I would ahve reacted different if I had other needs met but I really needed that. But maybe thats it I need to get my other needs met.

    Altough I must say that sex fulfills my emotional needs too. I wasnt hurt because I was sexually frustrated. I could easily finished myself and she has given me permission to do that whenever I want (altough I dont like it, I prefer to share that with her) but it was her unwillingness to meet my need that hurt. We have talked about it but I am afraid that she doesnt want to be intimate with me anymore because I got upset. I didnt scream or nag or anything. I just told her that I felt hurt. But again, maybe this is what I need. I need to find somewhere else to fill some needs. I just dont know where. I dont have any friends, no hobbies(I dont feel that I have time for it) ,nothing I really enjoy. I feel guilty if I sit down and play a videogame when everyone is sleeping. I wish I could do something. Travel would be nice but my wife hates it. And I dont want to go alone because I am scared that it would separate us emotionally. Maybe thats why I dont find any hobby or something else to satisfy me because I am scared that I will one day feel that I dont need her. We barely have time for each other. We never have date nights and I get scared that me not being there for her all the time would mean that we would be separated from each other to much to find our way back. But maybe that needs to be done.

    Sorry for the long rambling. A lot of feelings right now and a lot of thoughts. I have felt a little lost lately and maybe this is part of finding the right way.

    • Hello, Mr. Feelinglost!

      I found myself in reading your comment and felt for you right away. I feel what you are suffering so much. Since a few years I am struggling to get Mrs. Feelingfound. And as far I can say at the moment, considering my experiences in the past, I guess it is the biggest mistake to expect everything of just one person in either way. He/She can never meet all our needs. And so can’t we.

      Maybe I can break down everything to two points I found out:
      Point 1: freedom. We need it ourselves and our spouse needs it too, to develop our personality. That always means spare time too. That’s maybe why she is studying. But what do you do for yourself? Keeping the house and going to work is necessary, but does it serve your development? Don’t be anxious your relationship could break up emotionally. If it is strong it will last even if you care about yourself and not just about your spouse. (That even can get very tight for her because she may be stressed by feeling guilty to give you back what you do for her and maybe she just can’t – at the moment?) And if it isn’t, you can’t hold on to your relationship alone, even if you do everything for it with all your strength. It’s giving and taking on both sides and no one way road for just one of you?! (That’s where I went stuck!) And everything you do for your needs will richen your marriage – if it is shared.
      Point 2: giving everything you have to your spouse and your family means nothing left for God, nothing left for you! Is he in first place where he belongs in our life? Do we focus on him or something/-body else? After him comes everything else. A big mistake I made. I expected from my husband what only God can give: total join-up, total eclipse of two hearts. First meet Jesus, then meet yourself, then your spouse, children, friends … – something I had to learn the hard way and what I still have to practice. (But HE was worth it) Everything else leeds into mischief and harm. We just can give what God gives us. And if we share what God gives us, then we are really rich. Otherwise we miss his blessings.

      Having family, going to work, studying at the same time is very tense. That are situations we have to face for some times in our life. But they aren’t everlasting. And maybe there are ways you can ease some things so you can find time for yourself and your relationship.

      God bless you and your family