A Conversation with Shannon Ethridge

The M Word

Growthtrac talks with author Shannon Ethridge about sexual integrity and her new book, Every Woman’s Battle.

Shannon, tell us what “Every Woman’s Battle” is all about.

“Every Woman’s Battle” is a book written in response to the multitudes of women that were contacting Stephen Arterburn about his book Every Man’s Battle. They were saying, “Where’s the book for women? Men are not the only ones who struggle with their sexual issues.” “Every Woman’s Battle” is a book about the secret battles that go on inside a woman’s heart and mind.

It’s true that women don’t necessarily look lustfully at men. We engage in mental fantasies. We engage in emotional affairs. We engage in unhealthy comparisons of our husbands to other men and become disillusioned.

Would you suggest this book be primarily read by just women, or by women and their husbands?

For married women, I think it’s going to give their husbands great insights into their life. And I think that it’s going to level the playing field. I think for a long time, women have been concerned with their husbands’ roving eye, but they haven’t paid attention to their longing heart. This is going to help women understand their own sexual issues and struggles and it’s going to help men understand exactly what fuels their wives’ passions and so often those things come from outside of the marriage.

Shannon, you write that you’ve had experience with the topic of sexual integrity. If you feel comfortable, can you share some of those experiences with us?

Absolutely. It would probably be more appropriate to say that I had experiences with sexual compromise before I ever discovered sexual integrity. I grew up in a home where I had a very emotionally distant relationship with my father and so I was kind of “looking for love in all the wrong places.” And when I began dating I fell into a lifestyle of promiscuity.

Once I found a great guy, I felt that putting that wedding band on my finger was supposed to fix me. I found out that “Hey, whoa, wait a minute, I’m still having all these fantasies and these emotional longings and these cravings” and I felt that my husband just wasn’t meeting my emotional needs.

Finally one day my husband spoke the truth in love to me and said “Shannon, you have a Grand Canyon of emotional needs. And if every man in Dallas lined up outside your doorstep to spend time with you it would not be enough. Until you go to God to meet your emotional needs, there’s nothing that I nor any other man on the planet can do to satisfy you.”

Even though that truth hurt, it just rang so true in my spirit. I just cried out to God “Show me what it is that’s causing me to feel so empty and so dissatisfied.” That is when God revealed Himself to me as the lover of my soul and brought me in to such an incredible, intimate relationship with Him. It was such a time of healing. He healed so many of those wounds that were from my past.

What questions can a woman ask herself to determine if she’s engaged in this battle for her sexual or even emotional fulfillment?

Do you compare your husband to other men, either physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually? We have a tendency to focus on our husbands’ negative aspects because we live with him and we see “the good, the bad and the ugly” but we compare them to just the good in other people. We don’t see the whole package in other people; we just see their shining qualities.

Another question is — and this one may take you by surprise — do you often think of what your life would be like after your husband is dead? Wondering who the next man in your life could be. I went out on a limb when I wrote that particular question thinking, “Surely I’m not the only woman who has frequently entertained this thought.” But I think that it’s something very common with women that when we feel emotionally dissatisfied, we just think, well, next time around it will be better.

It’s not that we wish that our husbands were dead, it’s just we have a tendency to look way down the road and wonder, “When will I be loved? When will I ever be satisfied?”

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Another question is, is there any area of your sexuality that: 1) is not known by your husband; 2) is not approved of by your husband; and 3) does not involve your husband. For example, a romance novel, soap operas, internet chat rooms, mental fantasies that he knows nothing about, unhealthy comparisons, masturbation.

A lot of women wonder, “Why do I not feel drawn to having sex with my husband?” Well, they’re plugging into other sexual outlets. Then they look at their husbands and the reality doesn’t seem near as good as the fantasy.

But the truth of the matter is, if they could disengage from all those false forms of intimacy and focus totally on their husbands, they would find that the reality is much better than any fantasy.

You pointed out Proverbs 4:23 in your book, “Above all else, guard your hearts for the wellspring of life.” How do you relate this to sexual integrity and how can a woman guard her heart?

So often women think that because they’re not in bed with another guy that they’re acting with integrity. But they fail to look at their hearts. God is concerned about the thoughts and the fantasies that we’re entertaining that maybe we’re not acting out on. What a woman has to understand is that where her heart goes, her body will eventually follow. Maybe she’s not engaged in a sexual affair now, but if she continues to entertain compromising thoughts in her heart, eventually she’s going to wonder, “Why am I so tempted outside my marriage, why am I so disillusioned inside my marriage?”

Shannon, you say that, “After the honeymoon, many couples might easily fall into a rut to undermine their intimacy”. You label those patterns as “intimacy busters”. Can you share some of those with us?

The first thing that women do that undermines or compromises the intimacy in a relationship is that we try to require intimacy from our spouse instead of inspiring it. Women go to bed at night and they expect their husbands to just be, “talk, talk, talk” and men aren’t usually like that. Usually at the end of the day, they’ve run out of words. For a woman to try to drag that out of her husband, she’s shooting herself in the foot.

The “intimacy buster” is requiring intimacy from your spouse. Whereas the “intimacy booster” — the opposite — is “inspiring intimacy” with your spouse. A lot of times, for a woman, that just means let him set the pace. Let him decide when he’s ready. Don’t try to drag it out of him.

Another one is giving in to sex out of obligation or withholding sex as punishment. I don’t think that our husbands want us to be their sexual doormats. And I know that they don’t want us to dangle sex in front of them. That’s not intimacy, that’s not a healthy pattern. So the opposite would be initiating sex out of passionate love. Every man longs to have a wife who wants to give herself to her husband fully: emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. That’s what God intended sex to be; an act of worship shared between two naked bodies, two naked minds, two naked hearts, two naked spirits in God’s presence. He delights in that.

Your book states that there is one secret to intimacy and ultimate fulfillment in marriage that’s more important than all the others. Share what that secret is.

There’s a chapter in the book called, “Retreating with the Lord”. Every woman has got to find time to be alone with the Lord, whether it’s alone on a walk, or whether it’s actually running away on a retreat. We cannot forget to give the Lord time to work in our lives, to take out all the things in our hearts and our minds that are undermining our fulfillment and allowing Him to fill us up to overflowing with a passionate love for Him and for the husbands that he’s given us and for our children and for ourselves. But short of that intimate relationship with God, there is no earthly relationship that is going to satisfy us.

When we get our emotional needs met by God, then our husbands’ love is icing on the cake. We take the burden of responsibility off of our husbands’ shoulders when we look to God to meet those needs. God is the one filling me up, and anything that my husband pours in just overflows.

Copyright © 2004 Growthtrac.

Shannon Ethridge is an inspirational speaker, lay counselor, and advocate for sexual integrity. Since 1989 she has ministered to youth, parents, and adult women on the subjects of purity and sexual restoration.

Formerly a youth pastor and abstinence educator, Shannon founded Women at the Well Ministries in order to teach women the joy of pursuing a passionate relationship with God rather than “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Shannon and her husband, Greg, have been married 13 years and live in a log cabin in east Texas with their two children, Erin and Matthew

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