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By Ginger Kolbaba (Adapted from Surprised by Remarriage)

Sally and Matthew had their first argument on their honeymoon, and it was about sex. “I had this assumption that all men were sex maniacs,” she says. “I was ready to go, and he wasn’t ready to give that part of him. I finally asked him, ‘What is your problem?’ Our sex life went downhill from there.”

Matthew was still struggling with his ex-wife’s betrayal.

“It was difficult when people would joke, ‘Oh, those honeymooners, having sex all the time,’” Sally says. “I could never say the truth, which was, ‘No, actually, we’re not. Thanks to his ex-wife.’ There was no one to talk to about it.”

Sex is different after a divorce. Because sex is the most intimate thing you can share with a spouse, sex can take the hardest hit in a new marriage. Trust, betrayal, anger, hurt—all are things that affect intimacy. Thus, this is one area that needs the most attention in a remarriage.

Because of betrayal issues in Gina’s first marriage, intimacy was a rough go for her remarriage. She and her husband had to work through a lot of trust issues, which could often leave both of them feeling frustrated and hurt. “We’d have sex, but it felt as though she was holding back,” says Andy. When he’d bring up the issue to Gina, she’d admit he was right, but would say, “It’s not you.”

“It’s difficult to believe that,” Andy admits, “when I’m the person she’s being intimate with.”

Finally, they decided to seek professional help to deal with her sexual baggage from the first marriage.

“I discovered it really isn’t about me,” says Andy. “It was her ex-husband’s unfaithfulness that knocked a hole in her spirit, and it was going to take some time to heal.”

In a recent national Marriage Partnership survey, we asked respondents, “In your remarriage, which of the following have posed challenges in the sexual relationship between you and your current spouse?” Thirty eight percent said, “difficulty trusting” and 20 percent answered, “fear of rejection.”

Sex the second time around encounters a handicap before the couple even gets started. Usually, once a couple gets to the point of divorce, the sex is no longer really great—if it’s there at all. So couples may enter remarriage believing their spouse is going to fulfill all their sexual desires. It becomes quite a jolt, then, when that doesn’t happen.

According to Christian sex therapist Robert Roop, for some people, especially men, sex becomes the priority in a remarriage. A man desires to get back to having a sexual relationship because he was used to that. So he may place pressure on his wife. “Men move too quickly into the marital intimacies because they want to move back into the comfort zone,” Roop says. “So they marry and never really take the time to bond in other ways. Add to that the pressure of the husband not having a good experience with his first marriage. He thinks, I want to make sure we have a good sex life because I’ve been disappointed in the past. That’s why second marriages can be disastrous.”

Also, women may enter into a second relationship with certain anxieties that men may not necessarily have. If she’s had children, for instance, she may have more of a body image issue than in her first marriage.

If you and your spouse are struggling with intimacy issues, there’s hope. Here are eight things to keep in mind.
  1. Kids kill spontaneity. The first time you were married, you didn’t have children—the passion was free to flow whenever, however, and wherever. Christian sex therapist Shay Roop tells of a conversation she’s had on several occasions with her remarried clients, in which the client complains that sex with her first husband was better than with her second.

    Dr. Roop: “Did you go into that first marriage with children?”
    Client: “Well, no.”
    Dr. Roop: “So, you could have sex in any room, any time of the day or night. You never worried about anybody listening, did you?”
    Client: “No.”
    Dr. Roop: “Well, gee, things are kind of different now, right? You have to wait for a special time. You may be ready to go at 2 o’clock, but if little Johnny has some friends over, you and Hubby are probably not going to retire to the bedroom.”

    “It’s amazing how a little perspective can make a big difference in a couple’s intimacy and expectations,” Shay Roop says.
  2. Guard your sex life. When my husband’s daughter was living in our home, her bedroom was right next to ours. So those three years she lived with us—the first three years of our marriage—were lean in the sex department. The thought of a teenager sitting on her bed, listening through thin walls . . . you get the picture. While that made her life much less creeped out—escaping the possibility of having to listen to her father and her stepmother—it could have wrecked our marriage. My husband and I had to become creative and make finding time for sex a priority. If she went out with her friends or to visit her mother, bingo! Early in the morning—and quietly!—while she was still asleep. Quickies. Seize the opportunity!

  3. Guard your sex thought life.Many remarried spouses live with an unspoken insecurity about their previous relationship. In essence, we allow the ex to come to bed with us. After all, says Dr. Harry Jackson in In-Laws, Outlaws, and the Functional Family, “former couples were attracted to each other enough to marry. Many fear that the adage, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ just might come true. Some new spouses may wonder if there’s lingering sexual attraction for the ex-husband or ex-wife.”

    The reality is that you’re probably thinking more about his ex than he is! Don’t allow the ex to ruin what belongs to you and your marriage.

    The goal is to erase the old mental tapes from your previous marriage and re-record new ones with your spouse. One good way is to do a reality check. “I’m not Jill, I’m Brooke. I’m not your first wife.” Sometimes that helps you both to realize that was then, this is now.

  4. Talk about sex. Sex, in itself, is a form of communication. Therefore, it’s a topic that we need to talk about with each other. This is a wonderful step to having a great sex life with your spouse. If you have never had this discussion, it’s not too late to start.

    Talk about what you like and dislike. Talk about your erogenous zones. Talk about the things that were turn offs in your former marriage. Explain, “This is a major turnoff to me. If you did this, I would want to spend the rest of the night in the bathroom. I’d feel betrayed.” (One caveat: don’t talk about the things your former spouse did that you liked. Your current spouse doesn’t need the pressure or to fill his mind with thoughts of comparisons.)

    You could even start with the top three turn-ons and the top three turnoffs in intimacy. This is especially important if your previous spouse asked or forced you to do things that were uncomfortable for you. Let your current spouse know. Be upfront and honest.

    If you’re uncomfortable or shy discussing sex with your spouse, then write it in a letter and pass that to your mate. Write an agenda, “This is what I’d like to see in our lovemaking.” Another option is to purchase a good Christian sex book and mark the sections you want your spouse to read. Then pass the book, earmarked, and ask your spouse to read them. If he’s more comfortable responding in a letter, let him!

    Do this with sensitivity, though. Be aware that men are more sensitive in this area. The more you talk or “write,” the more comfortable you’ll become.

  5. Make foreplay an all-day event. Greet each morning with affection. Hug in the morning. Call each other during the day. Lock eyes and hold that gaze for several seconds. Take a shower and be clean! Shave your legs (or guys, shave your five o’clock shadow if your wife doesn’t like facial hair). Take an interest in each other’s day. Touch each other — a squeeze on the shoulder when you’re walking past, a quick kiss on the neck. Hold hands just because.

  6. Schedule sex. The unfortunate reality in remarriage where kids are around and the career is more established is that spontaneity goes out the window. If you want to have a sexual relationship with your spouse, you are going to have to schedule sex. Pick a night, put it on the calendar, and stick to it. That way you know it’s a sex night and you can prepare for it.

  7. Know when to seek counseling. Talking to a professional, Christian sex therapist is essential if an ex had an affair. The entire trust level has been lost. If your spouse does not want to have a sexual relationship, has an aversion to sex, or struggles with sex, seek counseling to work through that. “You can read all the self-help books you want,” says Shay Roop. “But they aren’t going to help. Dealing with sexual issues goes deep and can bring intense pain, and that’s simply not something that a person will be willing to do on his or her own without help.”

    Shay suggests that you backtrack a bit. Say, “I understand it’s not personal. There’s a stumbling block in our relationship. I understand that you need to work on this and I’m willing to put sex on the back burner for a while.”

  8. Don’t give up! If your sex life is still dragging along, needing CPR, don’t bury it yet. Start praying about it. That’s what Janie did. When their sex life was struggling, Janie decided, If God asks me to pray about everything else, I’m going to start praying about my sex life too. So every day she prayed for her husband. “I prayed that God would bless him and our sex life. That God would work a miracle there.”

    Then she sat back and waited. “I started to see little sparks,” she says. “That was exciting! They were small, but they were there.” She readjusted her expectations and committed to praying daily for her sex life. “While it’s still not earth-shattering sex, it’s much better than it was. And we’re enjoying each other so much more now that I’ve let God worry about it.”

Adapted from Surprised by Remarriage. 2006 by Ginger Kolbaba. Used with permission of Revell Books.