As I look back on my journey to improve sexual intimacy in our marriage, I can see a lot of things that I did a lot of things that worked well.
I gave myself permission to move slowly. I didn’t look at small failures as a sign that I couldn’t do it. I remembered that change is a process and not just a destination. I practiced a lot of things (deep breaths, sex-positive self-talk, etc.) in order to get better at them. I celebrated small successes. I found patience for my husband’s healing process.
If I needed to do it again, I’d do it the same way—except for one thing: when I began to work on sexual intimacy, I didn’t tell Big Guy what I was up to.
Why I Didn’t Tell
I thought about it—but I kept rejecting the idea for various reasons.
I wasn’t sure I could follow through. Although I knew I wanted to change, I had no clue how to do so. I was pretty sure I was going to mess up and I was pretty sure it was going to be hard enough to handle my own disappointment without adding my husband’s disappointment on top of it.
Selfishly, I wanted some wiggle room just in case I changed my mind or it got too hard. Basically, I was trying to avoid any accountability. I didn’t want him bugging me if I wasn’t changing as fast as he thought I should. I wanted to own the process for myself.
It also occurred to me that it would give me some stealth evidence. I was pretty sure we would have more arguments about sex, and I thought about how handy it would be to be able to be able to have a counterargument to prove that Big Guy was wrong about me. (See? Selfish. And pretty immature of me, too.)
Mostly, though, I didn’t tell him because I wasn’t sure my heart could bear it. I feared failure—and I worried about comments he might make or his disbelief in my decision. I wondered if it was too late to really turn things around.
Plus, I figured it wouldn’t take too long to fix things, and I thought I could surprise him with my progress.
Why I Should Have Told
Although I understand my decision not to tell my husband what I was working on, if I were to do it again, I would tell him.
My concerns about my husband’s comments and my frustration with my own mistakes were understandable ones. Nonetheless, they would have been overshadowed by what we would have gained in the telling.
I needed support and protection. There was so much that I struggled through all on my own. There were many times when he initiated sex and I responded with a “no”—and then sat by myself in anguish because I couldn’t figure out how to say “yes.” He would often respond to my “no” with a negative reaction (based on years of a pattern of “no”). What if he had known that he just needed to stay calm for a few minutes while I did my mental gymnastics to get myself into a sexual frame of mind?
My husband was always in prayer for our marriage to heal—but he also would have prayed for my healing and effort. The enemy is happy when a marriage is struggling. As I look back now, I see a lot of ways my weaknesses worked against my growth. My fears of failure and my husband’s responses led to many delays in my efforts. My husband’s prayers of protection would have been helpful.
My husband needed to heal. It was nearly a full year before my husband accepted the fact that things were different. Although he’d noticed something different fairly early on, he had no idea that it was the result of actual effort on my part. (He thought it was a fluke.) During that year, he was still holding in his heart a vision of me as the wife I no longer was. He could have begun his own healing much earlier if I hadn’t held in the knowledge of my efforts.
Our marriage needed us on the same team. For so long, we had been two opposing forces. Telling my husband what I was working on—for him and for us—could have helped us reframe our relationship as being on the same team in fighting the sexual problems. We got to this point eventually, but our marriage could have been strengthened earlier.
What I Would Tell Him Now
If I were to do it again, I would tell my husband what I was doing. And if you are working to change sexual intimacy in your marriage, it is what I recommend for you as well. (If your marriage is very damaged or your husband has withdrawn from you, you may want to discuss this with someone who knows both of you to decide what the best approach is.)
Give him the basics. If you have an overall plan, tell him what that plan is. If you have just a first step in mind (as I did) and a thought about the second step, tell him what those steps are. If you are reading on a marriage forum, doing a Bible study about marriage or sex, or reading certain books or blogs, let him know. Invite him into the process, even if he is more observer than participant at first. If he has been anxious for your marriage to improve, knowing that you are serious enough about change to have a plan may set his mind at ease.
Ask for his support. Let him know what your struggles are and ask him to pray about those things for you. Tell him what you’re trying to work on and let him know what to expect. For instance, one of the things I did to train myself out of an automatic “no” was to force myself to go apologize to my husband for every “no,” even if it was an hour before I could bring myself to do it. Big Guy was confused about what was going on (on top of all my other flaws, I rarely apologized to him). It would have been less unsettling to him to know that this was all part of an effort to be a better wife. He also would have had the opportunity to control his negative reaction out of respect for my process.
Communicate regularly. So much of my growth was internal. By the time Big Guy witnessed anything different in me, my mind and heart had been through the wringer as I tried to work myself up to whatever it was. I would be struggling for weeks on one thing—during which time he would have observed absolutely no change at all. However, there was a lot I could have communicated to him had I chosen to. I could have told him about a blog post I’d read and what it got me to thinking about, or I could have said, “I’m working on trying to think before I respond to your sexual advances.”
If you aren’t comfortable communicating about this face-to-face, use text messaging. Husbands who have felt deprived of intimacy for a lot of years are likely to be antsy and wanting to see progress. Let your guy know that something is happening even if it isn’t something he can personally observe. Better yet, commit to sending him an update every week or two. Every time you share this with him, it becomes another opportunity for him to see that you are serious about what you are doing.
Our growth can be a confusing time for husbands and a challenging time for us. If you are as stubborn and unwilling to admit failure as I am, telling your husband what you are working can be hard—especially if it is in an area where he has expressed a lot of frustration.
I had valid reasons for not wanting to tell my husband that I was trying to work on sex. He did occasionally make negative comments when I attempted to tell him specific things I was thinking about. I messed up a lot. It took me several months before I really accomplished my very first step. I’m the poster child of “slow progress is still progress.”
Still, I think about what it would have been like to go through the process of growth with my husband rather than what was essentially behind his back. It wouldn’t have been easy to tell him and to have him be part of my growth—but it wasn’t going to be easy anyway, was it?
Changing sexual intimacy was hard—and with my husband on my side rather than as the beneficiary of my stealth approach, I’m pretty sure it would have been a bit easier.
Bringing my process into the light from the beginning would have been the right thing to do.
Did you tell your husband about your efforts? Was this the right choice for your marriage?
For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Luke 8:17
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