How to advise a drowning person

    How do you advise someone who is drowning? 

    You don’t. You jump in and rescue them. 

    When someone is drowning, giving them constructive criticism about their swimming techniques is foolish. 

    • First they need solid ground. 
    • Then they need to rest and get their wits. 
    • Then they need to recover and process the trauma. 
    • Then they need encouragent and support to feel safe swimming again. 
    • Then they need to actually start to swim and not drown. 
    • Then they need to struggle a little and realize they need help. 

    THEN AND ONLY THEN are they ready for advice.   (Unless they actively ask for it first.)

    Any earlier borders on cruel.

    Before you (HS spouse) give advice to your LD spouse, maybe you need to first consider whether they are drowning first. 


    In my marriage, I was HD and she was overwhelmed. And the more she pulled back, the more I wanted and the more I kept asking. Viscous cycle. It  got ugly. 

    I could have demanded she do her part and not withhold, but that would not have shepherded her heart.  She would have begrudgingly given me her body, but her heart would have been cold towards me. Not any of our goals. 

    So instead I gave up my ‘rights’ and stopped asking for sex all together. I told her I was going to love her and support her and give her time to heal. I would loving and patciently wait for her to offer. 

    She needed to recover and find firm ground not demands for sex. It took many months before we got anywhere near regular sex again. 

    The last 2 years have been slow growth. She is beginning to enjoy love making a little. But it has been slow with many update and downs. 

    However, now I’m sharing little tidbits of advice every blue moon and it’s just now starting to stick a bit more. We have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction.


    Hopefully that helps someone with perspective in the midst of the storm. Maybe you should first jump in and save the one you love. That may take sacrifice and selflessness. But isn’t that Christ’s example? And isn’t that what love is? 



    I get the analogy but there could be a better comparison but allow me…

    If my assumptions from the narrative above are true;

    Kevin Lehman once said that women who experienced childhood trauma AND enter into marriage do NOT marry to have sex, they marry to avoid sex. I pondered this for awhile as my wife’s trauma has many parts to it but she is very capable to heal but I once said, “childhood trauma is not something you forget nor deliberately eliminate as a memory. It’s more like having an amputation, you know the limb is gone and you live with it daily and you accomplish daily tasks and in those daily tasks the missing limb (childhood trauma) is a visible and horrible thing that limits your ability to live a normal life. But you do live with the missing limb and continue doing those tasks despite the difficulty that the missing limb causes.” My wife once said that her difficulty having sex due to the childhood trauma was something she told me before we married. So I therefore should be ok with her difficulties. Well, when you reveal your childhood trauma to your 19 year old boyfriend, chances are he has no idea that 10 years into the marriage, she will have such difficulty with the sexual relationship that she may stop having sex altogether. One could go ahead and reveal those trauma facts to the young boyfriend and then, 3 years later, just before they get married, tell him all about this sex problem that she will develop later. He might do one of three things; 1) assume he is a hero and she will see that he is a hero and have no problems, or 2) he will assume later in the marriage that therapy will cure any trauma, or 3) postpone the wedding and/or decide NOT to marry her since the fact of a wounded wife from childhood trauma will mean a damaged or doomed marriage later.

    The assumption that anyone, as in your case, will just “heal” with patience is a fantasy that will reveal itself in due time. Her doing nothing to heal will prove the obvious. My wife can heal and has mostly healed, but her childhood desire to be a good mom as opposed to a bad mom (like her mom), eats away at her. Her fear of losing me in a divorce is minute because she would accuse me of a lack of empathy toward her as a victim. Psychological therapy, which forces many patients/clients to remember details is no better. Healing is a matter that frees the victim from the past and allows her/him to live in the present with new memories and with a secure and loyal loving husband. It’s never perfect, but it is SO possible!! One last thing to you, the husband of a possible childhood or adulthood trauma… you too are a victim.    

    on September 19, 2020.

    @cj, “drowning” does NOT equate abuse or trauma.

    on September 19, 2020.

    I’m sorry, above it says, “She needed to recover and find firm ground not demands for sex. It took. ” and “support her and give her time to heal.”

    My assumptions, as I stated above that, “If my assumptions are true.” Anyway, clarification makes the story longer. I just assume too much from too little in the narrative. Sorry. Disregard.

    on September 21, 2020.

    CJ – thanks for your thoughts.  In my situation, it is not childhood trauma or abuse.  We have not walked down that road and I am heartbroken that you have had to walk through that.

    My post assumes no past serious trauma.

    on September 23, 2020.
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      My wife can heal and has mostly healed…

      @CJ – according to your own posts that is so far from the truth and it’s sad; on the other hand, it’s folly that you’d even think & then write it here after all you’ve shared.

      Her fear of losing me in a divorce is minute because she would accuse me of a lack of empathy toward her as a victim. Psychological therapy, which forces many patients/clients to remember details is no better. Healing is a matter that frees the victim from the past and allows her/him to live in the present with new memories and with a secure and loyal loving husband.

      Really? Psychological therapy and counseling is no better? Seriously? That is hardly fact and so far from the truth. Having a quality, trained professional would be the thing that would help the two of you. Truth, CJ, you have been a loyal husband, committed to your wife and serving her for years…but to say secure? You regularly spout off about all your insecurities and career losses, let alone your Eeyore-like attitude about life, and treating your wife’s behavior tit-for-tat  is hardly the positive influence needed for change in your wife, let alone yourself.

      We can all add value from sharing but at times, you seem to lecture about how right you are and how wrong every else and their situations are without seemingly making room for introspection. Every time solid advice is given around here you ignore it or down play it because you know-it-all and have all the answers. Your situation is completely different than the original post and there are deep-seeded issues in you, your wife, and marriage that you have chosen to ignore over the years and the wisdom shared here from people who want to see you and your marriage thrive as God designed. 

      PS – next time, CJ, please put your answer in the discussion area, not in the comments.

      Under the stars Answered on September 20, 2020.
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        @c. Joseph it’s not all about you.

        I’m not sure the original post was necessarily about the effects of previous abuse. It was about a spouse feeling overwhelmed and out of control when having sex. That might be as a result of abuse, but I think there can be other causes too.

        On the floor Answered on September 20, 2020.
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          The drowning analogy might work for some people/couples. But not all. So, for those for whom it works, I hope it brings hope and a path to consider for themselves.

          But from what I have learned over the years on TMB, many spouses are not drowning but comfortably watching from their perch well away from the water living an ungenerous life, or  on their own little island living their own self-focused life, or in their boat unwilling to truly connect with their spouse, or in the lifeguard chair officiating and gatekeeping, or adrift on their floating mattress totally unaware of what they are doing to their spouse.

          Each couple needs to find out how they can best communicate with each other. Then work on their relationship and then deal with the issues in their marriage and marriage bed for those things to have a chance of not drowning.

          Under the stars Answered on September 20, 2020.

          Tracker, clearly you are in a difficult position and high frustration in your marriage. The sarcasm and anger is quite strong in every comment you made under this question. Maybe you would be willing to start another post and ask a question or share what is bothering you so much so we can listen, pray and offer any encouraging words?

          on September 20, 2020.

          Thanks OWM for your thoughts.

          My post assumes a spouse who is ‘good natured’ and willing to work through things so that the ‘main’ issue is sex and can be addressed.

          I agree, that some spouses will be ‘on their own little island living their own self-focused life, or unwilling to connect’.   That’s a very serious, but separate issue.  In just about any area of life I would hope that if I came to my spouse and said ‘hey this is a really big deal to me can we work on it’ and they responded repeatedly with ‘I dont care’, then the issue is much bigger.  That larger issue must be dealt with first before addressing the original problem.

          on September 23, 2020.
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            So, I have a question:  if you just stopped requesting sex, how did you prevent yourself from becoming resentful?  I find that in those times when I decide just to stop asking, I then go down bad thinking paths and get angry at my DW.  I am much more open to bad thoughts during those times, so I’m interested in knowing how you prevented that.  Did you basically think of her as a very sick person who needed to heal?  Was that enough?

            Twin bed Answered on September 21, 2020.

            Thanks for your question.

            So I suggest you read my post here:

            It contains my story and answers some of your question.  I’ll paste a couple of paragraphs here and then add some more at the end.

            “Breakthrough came as I sat one day talking to my pastor. I could find no easy solution, but I knew I could not continue like this. It hurt too much.  I couldn’t change her so I could only change me.  That day I decided that I loved my wife more than I loved sex and so I would just give up my rights and desires for sex.  If my very desiring her sexually was painful for her, then I would stop.  I deeply love my wife and in Ephesians 6 Christ calls me to lead her towards holiness. I embraced Christ’s call to die to self in Luke 9 and Galatians 5.  I embraced Christ’s call in Philippians 2 to put the needs of other above myself.  I gave it all up NOT with a self-righteous, pouting attitude, but with a desire to grow my wife towards Jesus and towards healing.

            “In that moment, God healed me.  It is by far the most miraculous healing I’ve ever received. He gave me the strength to genuinely find joy in serving my bride and leading her towards wholeness and healing.   He took away the insatiable burning I felt when I laid next to her in bed.  Like in Romans 12, when I offered my body as a living sacrifice, he renewed my mind.  When I took my eyes off my ‘rights’ and what ‘she owed me’ and instead focused on loving and building her up, I found a deep satisfaction in serving my wife.”

            I ABSOLUTELY resonate with you about negative thinking and anger and resentment.  And honestly, I’m still fighting that 2 years later.  I’m still working on it.  I’m not the man I want to be…. but praise God I’m not the man I used to be.  So I’ll share what I’m thinking with the understanding that sometimes my selfish sinful heart wins.

            1. For me it begins with the foundation that I love my wife and am called by Christ to serve her (Phil 2:3-4, Eph 5:25-30).  Christ literally died to love his bride.  So if I am to imitate Christ, that’s a no brainer.  I love her.  Like really really I can’t contain it, I’m absolutely crazy about her, head over heels in love with my amazing wife.  If she asked me to climb a mountain to get her a rare flower I’d do it with bells and whistles on.  So why not give up sex in a way that leads her towards healing?   The only reason sex feels different is because its something I WANT.  I want it i love it.  And if I’m honest, mostly I’m a spoiled little boy and I want it and I want it now. Why are you so selfish not giving me what I want when I want it?
              And please don’t hear me making any assumptions about you in the least. I’m trying to share my struggles. And I have to remind myself to grow up. I have to remind myself of the JOY God promises for those who serve and sacrifice.  And I have to remind myself that my job as a man is to do the hard thing to serve my wife and lead my family.   I desperately need that perspective because I get tunnel vision of I WANT SEX.
              When I go down bad thinking paths, I spend a lot of time confessing it to Christ.  Sometimes minute by minute. And sometimes I confess it to my wife as well.  When I get particularly grumpy, I end up taking it out on her all day and she doesn’t deserve it.
            2. Second, I just came to a place one day and its like the clouds parted and I saw clearly:
              My ‘need’ for sex is causing us both deep wounds almost daily.
              Something HAS to change (we can’t meet in the middle – both have stretched beyond ability)
              I can’t change her (my explaining / pleading didn’t fix it)
              Divorce is never ever ever ever on the table.
              If I hold on to my ‘need’ for sex its going to poison/destroy me.
              The ONLY logical conclusion is to give up my ‘need’ for and ‘right to’ sex.  It’s literally either that or continual pain/suffering/anguish/strife.
              I love my wife more than sex so sex has to go!

              It’s like all that came together in about 5 seconds.  Truly – the Lord just healed me in that moment. I was FREE! It was amazing.
              That thought – I love my wife more than sex made the decision so easy.
              Now – this is all emotional.  Mentally – my brain was still jumping up and down ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?!?’  But the freedom my heart felt was unspeakable.  The burden that had been lifted was immense.
              I could lay next her and just ‘turn off’ my sexual desires. I loved her more than sex.  So I’m going to bless you tonight. I’m going to cuddle and caress and kiss with ZERO expectation that anything happen.   I was free because I didn’t NEED you to give me sex to fulfill me.  Christ is enough.  And yes I know how cliche that sounds – but it’s like I stepped into God’s freedom and he just did a miracle in me. I embraced selflessness and he healed me.
              Again – that was how it started. It certainly got harder. I certainly fell back into selfish patterns and thoughts.  But my new foundation of freedom was now something I could go back to!  Now I knew what freedom felt like.

            3. I still remind myself of the above 2 things over and over and over and over.
            4. I consciously choose to bless her. Like real authentic extra kind niceness and serving.   I’m going to do the dishes and buy you flowers.  I’m going to treat you like royalty because I love you like crazy.
              I dont feel it. I dont want to. I feel angry and self-righteous.  In my head I’m screaming about your selfishness.  But it’s not about me.  And something about serving her helps me to let go of that self-centeredness.  At night I pray for her out loud as I hold her.  I pray like I feel as in love with her as I have ever felt.   And somehow through the praying and in the serving, the Holy Spirit helps that narcissism to drain out of my toes.
              For me, that’s faith.  God says it’s more blessed to give than receive. That means I’m happier if I give.  And in faith I choose to believe with my actions.

              Before, my delight in her and my sexual desire for her were inseparable.  Somehow God did a miracle in me.  Truly. He unwound them.  And now I’m learning to delight in her without a NEED for sex to accompany it.

            5. I spent many months when this started talking through things with her. Calmly, outside of romance time, just telling her how I feel. No expectation that she give me sex tonight. I just want you to know whats going on in me.   I have found that after 2 years, she is able to receive those conversations in a new way.
            6. Last, I try and find compromise.  Is she ok with giving me MS.  Or can I rub against her? Or even her caressing me as I MB.   Trying to find emotional connection with her.  That’s what my heart is after.
              After more than a year she started to be in a place where I could ask for that when I really needed it and it was ok.  We had the conversations and I just point blank asked ‘can I please ask you for something when I’m really struggling.’  She has said yes to that.  But that took a while for her to get there.
            on September 23, 2020.
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              @rwprice, I hope that @peachrings comes back in the near future and answers your questions from his experience and perspective.  Until then, I will share a few thoughts from my experience.  First, the question becomes, “Is my spouse drowning?”, and then those questions that @LuckyInLove shared could be critical on determining what next steps are appropriate to take.  And as others have mentioned, there’s a difference between “drowning” and those who are complacent in sitting in their own muck and mire….that too will determine what steps are appropriate to take.

              If the person is truly drowning, I do think you have to remember that this is only temporary, as you work at “rescuing” them and as they “recover and heal”.   Yes, sometimes you have to look at them as a “sick”, or my preference is to say “injured” person.  If they had a physical injury, like a broken femur, how quick would you expect them to get back to living and walking normally?  Would you bemoan them when they can’t go run or swim with you?  Would you find them a whiny fool when they shared that their leg hurts, or that they are frustrated by their limitations?   A “drowning” person has internal injuries that take time to heal.  Hopefully, they have the hope that they can be healed, and the desire to do what they can to find that healing.

              Under the stars Answered on September 21, 2020.

              Agreed.  I like the ‘injured’ analogy!   It takes time.

              on September 23, 2020.
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                To take it a step farther, I think you need to first figure out why the person is drowning:

                Did they never take swimming lessons (no sex education)?

                Did they have poor swimming lessons (bad teaching or abuse)?

                Were they ok swimmers at first, but lost confidence along the way (poor self image, body issues)?

                Did their swimming partner start to weigh them down (this could be anything from frequency to fetish requests)?

                On the floor Answered on September 20, 2020.
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                  There’s a lot of wisdom there!  I have been in that “drowning” place, so I can speak from experience.  And this wisdom isn’t just for a (HD) spouse, that’s for any of us who want to just shower advice on people and tell them how to change, or that they “are wrong/sinning”, without knowing where they are at and where they are coming from.

                  I will add too…. if when “drowning”, the spouse isn’t the one working at “rescuing”, the recovery may take longer.  The message that has been given is that we must “self-preserve”, because no one else is looking out for us.  That means when “drowning” or those triggers/memories of “drowning” return, we aren’t going to be thinking of the needs of others first, we will be doing all we can to try to “keep our heads above the water.”

                  Under the stars Answered on September 19, 2020.

                  as much as I can agree with a patient spouse who waits, many marriages tend during this wait. And as I said before, the spouse who is not a victim of the trauma the other spouse experienced, is also a victim now.

                  There are now, 2 victims of trauma. The rescuer always endures their own trauma is two ways.

                  on September 19, 2020.

                  I don’t think we are fully talking about the same thing.

                  on September 19, 2020.
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                    This is helpful for me. I don’t know about others, but I do not want to constantly talk about the lack of sex in our marriage. I would like the time and trust that I will change on my own in time if it is meant to be or my husband will learn it is not such a pressing matter. Some folks just don’t like to swim as much as others.


                    Queen bed Answered on September 23, 2020.
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