Not Your Average Headache

The topic of intimacy in marriage is not the easiest thing to talk about let alone write up a whole post and throw it on the world wide web for all to see.

We may joke about that side of marriage with a sister-in-law or whisper about our questions with a friend while our kids play on the playground or maybe even laugh with a group of married couples from church as everyone shares a funny story or marriage memory. All in good, clean fun, of course—reminding each person in the room that we are all normal, all walking through a marriage journey.

We laugh and joke and kid around; but honestly, the subject of intimacy in marriage is a very difficult topic for many couples.

When thinking about this post, I kept coming back to the old saying of “Not tonight… I have a headache.”

That seems to be to be the coded, universal “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH ME” phrase, right?

What about when it isn’t just a headache?

What about when intimacy is hard?

What about when there are huge challenges and major obstacles standing in the way of connecting with your spouse?

What about when you live half way across the globe and there isn’t a trusted friend to talk to or a sister to laugh with or a church group to make your troubles seem normal?

What about when it isn’t just an average headache but a world of hurt crashing down around you?

When you’ve battled geckos in the house and ants in the kitchen and sand on every surface and 3 languages at the market and 4 taxis to get home and a house helper that stole from you and a national church that isn’t accepting you and on and on the challenges go?

Feelings of isolation, hurt, pain . . . so many unknowns, stresses, and differences define your time.

There are days filled with these many struggles for you AND your spouse and you are supposed to connect in a very real, physical way at the end of the day?

Throw in humidity, mosquito nets, cranky kids, weird rashes, unexplained sicknesses, stomach issues and bathroom trips, dirty spaces and the smells of animals or loud music coming in the window, sometimes no running water, failed electricity and a seemingly broken house . . .

That sounds like not your average headache, yes?

It sounds like reality.

But it collides with another reality. We are married. And marriage thrives only with connection, intimacy, quiet conversation, sweet laughter and open sharing. Marriage desperately needs the distractions and troubles and “headaches” to fade so that it can grow.

So, since we are not dealing with just your average headache, our marriages need even more attention, thought, purpose, and care.

Marriage is fragile after all, and Satan would like nothing more than to break it for good.

I want to encourage you… you really are dealing with more than the average headache. You have valid excuses and reasons and truly, so does your husband. You both can exclaim at the end of the day, “I just need some sleep.” The stress is that overwhelming.

I also want to challenge you… your marriage needs you both to engage, to push past the struggles and the hurts and the challenges and the overwhelming things standing in the way of intimacy. Your marriage needs you to connect in every way, especially physically.

A few things you can do:

1) Go on a date! Find a coffee shop for conversation, do things you both love to do. Ask another worker to keep your kids overnight or for the day, mark off dates on the calendar that are meant for connecting with your spouse. Purposefully create an entire day that will help you both get a break from the headaches of life.

2) Leave it at the door of your bedroom. Go to bed early, turn on the air conditioning, read a book, take a shower, relax… talk. Reconnect. Leave troubles, issues, and annoyances outside the bedroom. They will be there tomorrow, I promise. You can walk back out the door in the morning and face them together.

3) Remember who your spouse is. They are your friend. Your confidant. Your helper. Your lover. Remember the years you’ve had together, the fun, the joy, the good times. Look at pictures, laugh, and love.

4) Remember who your spouse is not. They are not God. They are not perfect. They are not able to fix your entire world. Let them fail and make mistakes and frustrate you. And keep God at the center and look to Him for your every need.

5) Remember who you are both becoming. EVERYTHING in marriage changes on the field. We’ve been married for 15 years and in many ways, it feels like we are starting all over. New roles, new customs, new ways of life. Give yourselves the grace and trust and time that it is going to take to relearn how to be married to this new person. God is doing something great—give Him space to work!

So, while we all have great and valid excuses NOT to be intimate, our marriages need us to take a step back, rethink and decide to be purposeful.

If we don’t, life will fly by and before we know it, days or weeks or months will have passed without any kind of real connection.

I’ve included a few links with some other thoughts on marriage and living overseas, but I’d love to hear your thoughts/ideas/tips/helps/challenges in the comments of this post.

Let’s spur one another on, encouraging each other from afar: to laugh, whisper and help each other remember it isn’t just your average headache, but we can move past it, grow and thrive in marriage overseas.

What has been a challenge for intimacy for you on the field?

What has helped to protect marital intimacy?


  1. Amber September 13, 2016

    Good thoughts Jenilee. I could tell this was you as I read it. I’ve struggled with anxiety since the earthquakes last year and intimacy is gravely affected. There were also times it was literally too cold to touch and we said don’t touch me a lot! I’ve seen how important it is and how much everything suffers when our marriage isn’t what it needs to be. Thankful for these words of wisdom.

    1. Jenilee September 14, 2016

      you could tell it was me? lol love it! Thanks for sharing your heart… I’ll be praying for that with you!

  2. Juanita Frankamp September 13, 2016

    An old friend gave us a secret romance recipe. It is the one, two, three rule. Once a week have a date. A real planned food and romance date, no kids. Get a sitter. (If you can’t afford this, you are living too poor, trade kids with someone, get more support, do something to make this happen).Nursing infants, the exception.
    Two: get out of town for two days and one night (monthly or every six weeks).
    Three. Once a quarter go for two or three nights away to play, pray, and plan. Mostly to readjust the load. Check your future calendar. Make sure you’re on the same page and still enjoying the journey. Schedule your next date. Don’t compromise this investment. When all your ministry is over…will you still have your loving spouse?

    1. Jenilee September 14, 2016

      All such good advice! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    2. Ashley Felder September 14, 2016

      Ohh, this is good. Sounds difficult, but, I agree, worth the effort and good to re-focus on what we’re investing in. We’re going on a date on Friday, first one in…I won’t share ;)….but maybe we can discuss future dates and nights away! Because we LOVE them every time we get them!

      1. Jenilee September 14, 2016

        yeah for planned date night!!!

  3. Janet Graham September 14, 2016

    Wow! Heed all this great advice ladies. Seriously!!

    Years ago, in my ‘previous’ life, I became a follower while living in Hong Kong as a corporate expatriate couple, and by the time we moved to Singapore the next year, I was surrounded with believing older married women twice a week.
    But no one EVER shared any of these nuggets with me about marriage and intimacy.

    Sadly, years later while living in Indonesia, the marriage disintegrated a few months after we (successfully) survived a political coup.and had to evacuate the country urgently.
    We’d just had 2 babies in 18 months and had also started a new business with our life’so savings — right before the economy crashed. A LOT of pressure.

    Date nights?? Weekend getaways? Definitely not enough to stay connected — as the last one I remember was nearly a year prior.
    Two years later, after a long struggle, the marriage ended — on different continents — a week shy of 15 years, and with 3 devastated children.
    The foundation was not there at the beginning of the marriage (since we were originally not followers) and without a foundation, you know that a house cannot stand, no matter how much faith the woman/wife/mother has.

    Sorry to be such a downer, but this excellent post gives me a chance to say a word to the “younger me” (or you!) as the hit song says right now.

    1. Jenilee September 15, 2016

      Thank you for sharing your story with us… I’m sure it is not an easy story for you to tell. But I’m thankful for your encouragement to us to build foundations even in the midst of overseas life!

  4. Monica F September 15, 2016

    It got so cold where we lived that for several winters we slept in our own sleeping bags on top of our bed. Not super romantic, I know, but it made us laugh! Snuggling was definitely a challenge- ha! Great post- and good, good advice!

    1. Jenilee September 15, 2016

      that’s so funny!! we have the opposite issue where it is just TOO HOT! 🙂

  5. Tracy May 3, 2017

    This is a great topic, but my question is how do you do these things in a different culture, married to someone from that different culture? I feel like I need those date nights and talking, but my husband is from a culture where that is just not important. It’s hard for us to talk deeply, and I feel like I am the one always battling to make him talk or go out or even just spend time together. I’m in a place where I just feel stuck and alone. Anyone have any great ideas for someone adjusting to a new culture with a husband from a different culture? Thanks!

    1. Ruth June 28, 2018

      I hear you. My husband and I also grew up in different cultures and while I love that, it does come with challenges. We don’t really have date nights but we make time as a family to do special things sometimes it is as simple as taking a walk down by the ocean. We also occasionally read books together or watch a movie together. While dating we talked through things like he doesn’t get the whole point of buying flowers, but he often comes home with chocolate ice cream or cheese so I’m good with that. I think a lot of marriage is learning the other person and letting go of expectations. For example my husband didn’t grow up with Valentine’s Day so I’ve learned not to expect much there but he always makes an effort to appreciate and celebrate anniversaries. It’s such a learning experience for sure. You just have to be flexible and find what works for your family.

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