I encourage you to attend to your marriage relationship. Over the years I have sadly seen many marriages die, simply out of neglect. It is so easy to take each other and your relationship for granted. Also, pray often for God's blessing on your relationship and for the strength to keep trying even when you do not feel like it. Each month I try to put something in my column about marriage. If you have a good article that you think you would like to share with me to consider for my column, please send it to me and I promise I will consider it. The following piece is an excerpt from an article on Sex and Affection found in a magazine called Marriage Mar/April '02 edition. The article is from Willard Harley's book His Needs/Her Needs.

Sex Begins With Affection

Over the years I have seen nothing more devastating to a marriage than an affair. Sadly enough, most affairs start because of a lack of affection (for the wife) and lack of sex (for the husband). It's quite a vicious cycle. She doesn't get enough affection, so she shuts him off sexually. He doesn't get enough sex, so the last thing he feels like being is affectionate.

The solution to this tragic cycle is for someone to break it. I made my reputation as a marriage counselor convincing wives that if they met their husbands' sexual need, their husbands would be willing to meet their need for affection in return, and any other needs, for that matter. It worked so well that I built a thriving practice overnight, so to speak.

But it can also be done the other way around, having a husband meet his wife's need for affection first. I've discovered that when her need is met, she's usually much more willing to meet his need for sex. I recommend that if your need for sex is not being fulfilled, take the initiative by learning to meet your wife's need for affection first.

Affection is the environment of the marriage while sex is an event. Affection is a way of life, a canopy that covers and protects a marriage. It's a direct and convincing expression of love that gives the event of sex a more appropriate context. Most women need affection before sex means much to them.

Because men tend to translate affection into sex so readily, I put emphasis on learning sexless affection. I try to teach a husband to make affection a nonsexual way of relating to his spouse. He learns not to just turn it on and off to get some sex. Whenever he and his spouse come together, a big hug and kiss should be routine. In fact, almost every interaction between them should include affectionate words and gestures. I believe every marriage should have an atmosphere that says, "I really love you and I know you love me."

When I talk about sexless affection, many men become confused. What is he supposed to do with his natural feeling of sexual arousal, which can be triggered by almost any act of affection? He wants to know if he has to "take cold showers" to keep cool. I point out to him that when he was dating, he was just as sexually aroused as he is now, even more so! But he showed plenty of affection and attention that did not include groping and grabbing. He treated the young lady with respect and tenderness.

Many husbands remember the passionate encounters of their courting days and want to know, "Why doesn't she get turned on the way she did before we were married?"

I patiently explain that he isn't treating her the way he did back then. After marriage he thought he could do away with the preliminaries and get right to the main event. But it turns out that the "preliminaries" are not only required for a fulfilling sexual relationship, they're also needed in their own right. In many cases what he thinks are preliminaries are her "main event."

In most cases, a woman needs to feel a oneness with her husband before she has sex with him. A couple achieves this feeling through the exchange of affection and undivided attention.

Her need for this one-spirit unity helps us understand how affairs develop. In the typical affair, a woman has sex with a man after he has demonstrated his love for her by showering her with affection. Because her lover has expressed such care for her, the physical union is usually characterized by a degree of ecstasy otherwise unknown to her in marriage. She concludes that her lover is right for her because she doesn't feel the same way when she makes love to her husband.

In truth, any marriage can have the sizzle of an affair if it has that strong one-spirit bond. It's a tragic misperception for her to think that her husband is not right for her based on a comparison of feelings at a moment in time. If he were to lay the groundwork with affection, their bond would be restored and the affair would be seen for what it really is: a misguided effort to have an important emotional need met.

When your marriage is struggling sexually, look for the missing element of affection. Without the environment, the sexual event is contrived and unnatural for many women, All too often she reluctantly agrees to have sex with her husband, even though she knows she won't enjoy it. In an affair, the conditions that guarantee fulfilling sex-the bonding that comes with affection-are met. Her lover has taken time and action to create the right environment for sex. Consequently, she feels sexually aroused at the very thought of him.

Most of the women I've counseled crave affection. I try to help their husbands understand the pleasure women experience during sex, forms a vital part of a romantic relationship. Without it, a woman's sexual experience is incomplete.

Many husbands have this all backwards. For them, sexual arousal makes them feel more affectionate. They try to explain to their wives the importance of having sex more often so that they'll feel like being affectionate. But that argument usually falls on deaf ears. Some women will have sex with their husbands just for the affection they receive while making love, but it tends to leave them resentful and bitter. As soon as sex is over, their husbands go back to their unaffectionate ways, leaving their wives feeling unloved. They feel that all their husbands want is sex, and they don't really care about them in any other way. That attitude destroys their feeling of intimacy and the bond of unity. But that attitude can change if their husbands learn to create an environment of affection by learning habits that produce a steady stream of love and care.

Just as men want their wives' sexual response to be spontaneous, women prefer their husbands' affection to be spontaneous. There is a certain spontaneity to our behavior once it's well learned, but when we try to develop new behavior it seems contrived and unnatural. At first, efforts to be affectionate may not be very convincing and, as a result, may not have the effect of spontaneous affection. But with practice, the affectionate behavior eventually conveys accurately the feeling of care that husbands have for their wives. That, in turn, creates the environment necessary for a more spontaneous sexual response in a woman.

A woman's need for affection is probably her deepest emotional need. But all that I've said here will prove of little value if a wife fails to understand that her husband has an equally deep need for sex. In my book I confront the woman in an effort to explain why, for men, sex is not just one of several ways to end a lovely evening. To the typical man, sex is like air or water. He can't do without it very well.

If a wife fails to understand the power of the male sex appetite, she will wind up having a husband who's tense and frustrated at best. At worst, someone else may step forward to meet his need and, tragically enough, that happens all too often in our society. But it can all be avoided if husbands learn to be more affectionate and wives respond with more eagerness to make love. As Harley's First Law of Marriage says:

When it comes to sex and affection, you can't have one without the other.

Reflection Question

What spoke to you most in this article?