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.

What should you tell your husband about your plans to work on sexual intimacy in your marriage?

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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21 Thoughts on “Bring It into the Light

  1. Yep, I told him. There were times he told me maybe I should just stop because he saw how upsetting it was for me. I think he felt a bit helpless in the whole thing. I told him that I can’t just give up because I felt convicted to work on that part of our marriage. He’s pleased with the results of course. 🙂

  2. Janna A on November 30, 2014 at 6:01 pm said:

    I believe I told my husband within a couple of weeks from my decision, but I apologized almost immediately. From my apology he knew something was up, and he asked about it, but I wasn’t ready to tell him everything.

    Me telling him was a huge help. Because I know me so well and knew that old habits would rise, I gave him permission to push through it. That helped my flesh not to win but the spirit.

    • Your husband became a vital part of your effort. I had times when I found myself hoping that my husband would push through my stubbornness so I could get to a point of wanting to have sex. Instead, he just gave up.

  3. Good post Chris
    It definitely would be better knowing. The guessing game is torture, never being sure of how far I can go. Afraid of doing or saying something that will lock the gate for weeks. Things are better than a year ago but it is incredibly difficult to stay upbeat and there are days when the darkness threatens to overwhelm me.
    It felt like a roller coaster this weekend.

  4. At this point, even if she told me, I wouldn’t believe her. Its been a year since we last had sex, and 8 times in the last 4 years. I’ve given up long ago. I’ve learned and been burned enough not to trust in any promises.

    I hate to say it, but if she told me, at best I’d say “Thats nice.” Or “Ok, whatever”. I wouldn’t be mean about it, but you know what? I won’t jump for joy either. This old dog has been smacked enough times to learn that lesson.

    • English Dave on December 1, 2014 at 7:55 am said:

      I agree. There comes a time when enough is enough. You can hear, ‘I want to change’, so many times with no difference. I do feel for you. I thought I had been in a dry spell, but 8 times in 4 years. My heart bleeds for you.

      • When your wife has said she wants to change, how have you responded? When I would speak those words, my intentions were good and my words weren’t empty–but I just didn’t know how to follow through. I remember one time telling my husband that I wanted to change, thinking, “Just once I wish he would ask me how he could help me do that.” You cannot make your wife change–but you can look at what she needs to have in place in order to change, and you can remove barriers to her growth. You can do all the right things and not have any results–but when she has said she wants to change, perhaps she is looking for a particular response in order to help her get to the next step.

    • David M on December 1, 2014 at 8:07 am said:

      My situation has not been that bad…but I am so tired of the I-promise-to-do better and its-not-you-it’s-me lines. At the end of the day things have not changed and I have just given up hope of it getting much better.

      • You know, every time I said “I promise” or “it’s me, not you,” I was stuck because I really didn’t understand what my problem was. Has your wife done anything to work on understanding herself and what she contributes to your marriage issues? For that matter, is this something you’ve worked on for your own sake as well, just to see if there’s anything you can do to address what your wife would perceive as barriers to intimacy? (I’m not talking about washing the dishes as foreplay, either.)

    • That was the response I feared from my husband. I told him far too many times, “I’m working on it” or “I’ll see what I can do.” This was too vague, and the words were empty. Had I shared an actual plan, I might have gotten the same response from him initially–but I think that within a couple weeks he would have seen that I was making an actual effort for the first time. Still, it’s why I recommended talking with someone first if the marriage has been damaged or a husband has withdrawn.

      In some marriages, it might work better to put some real work in for a few weeks and then have the conversation. At that point, being able to point to actual effort that has been made (rather than just empty promises) might make it a different kind of conversation.

      I can understand not jumping for joy. You don’t want to get your hopes up. However, a husband’s response can make a big difference in helping his wife stay motivated. Around four or five months after I started to make some changes, I suggested to my husband that I try to do something for him that I hadn’t done before. By that point, he was experiencing the frequency he wanted with the level of participation from me that he wanted. His response, however, was rooted in the years that had come before: “Fine, but I’m not holding my breath for it. I’ll believe it if it happens.” It took me another two years before I could find the courage to try the thing I’d promised. Every time I tried, all I could think about was his words and his tone, and it sent me right back into the land of feeling unloved. So while I understand a less-than-joyful response (especially if you’ve heard the same promises before), I will also suggest that you might want to take a big deep breath and think about your response. Maybe rather than words, a hug and a kiss on the forehead might be good. And I pray that you have this opportunity soon.

  5. Janna A on December 1, 2014 at 9:54 am said:

    @the husbands, are you still praying for your wives? I have a marking point where it seems like I went from gatekeeper to generous over night. That was 18 1/2 years into our marriage. @John, I was a refuser like that for around 8 years, with a year on no sex at all.

    As I look back I can see the process, that took years to get me to where I am. I remember feeling twinges of conviction during my refusal years, but I ignored them because I felt justified. Then I had health issues and that changed me back from refuser to gatekeeper, but it was almost 8 years later that I was convicted on my gatekeeping and became “generous”.

    My husband had a rough 18 1/2 years, sexually speaking, and really our whole marriage was filled with tension and fighting. It was a love/hate relationship. Now, he says it was worth the “sticking it out” and staying committed. It grew him in his own relationship with the Lord. And because we had such bitter years, the sweetness of the past 1 1/2 years is all the more sweeter. It’s wonderful to see the shock in people’s eyes when they find out we have been married 20 years.

    Don’t give up on the Lord. Draw near to Him. Have hope in Him. And then wait on Him. He could be doing a work in your wives you don’t even realize, and that SHE may not even realize. Often times it’s not a quick fix. Even Abraham waited 25 years of the fulfillment of the promised son. Perseverance and faith should definitely be part of the mix.

    And I agree with Chris, how you respond to your wife, WILL make a difference in and for her. It’s not wrong to have those doubts, but keep them to yourself or better yet, take them to the Lord. But say nothing that does not build up or encourage her, if she comes to you saying that she’s trying to change.

    Those are my thoughts.

    • I agree, Janna. I know my husband prayed for me to get “better” sexually. What he didn’t do was pray for my spiritual development and faith journey. His prayers for himself were not for his own growth, either, but simply for patience. Patience doesn’t have to be a passive thing. It can be actively prayerful, filled with work on your own growth. That doesn’t mean I think refused spouses should just sit back and wait, twiddling thumbs and watching Netflix.

  6. I certainly understand how these guys feel. I’ve been there myself. Still am in many ways.At e same time,I have my own sin to deal with.God commands me to be loving to my wife, regardless of her behavior. Perhaps it would help to consider the story of Hosea and Gomer, when tempted to b unloving. You have not yet resisted sin to the point of shedding blood.

    • Thank you for this comment. We do all need to deal with our own sin–not for the purpose of getting our spouses to change but because it’s what we need to do for our relationships with the Father.

      It is hard. What I now understand was my sin of sexual refusal I used to see as a response to my husband’s sin of what amounted to emotional refusal. While our individual pain makes our actions understandable, it does not make them right.

  7. IntimacySeeker on December 1, 2014 at 11:02 am said:

    Immediately after my “aha” moment, I apologized to my husband and told him I would never refuse him again. That was 20 months ago. Five months later, he asked me to also address my eating issues, which were actually coping mechanisms for unresolved trauma. He supported me seeking counseling and we have talked through some intense emotional issues. I give thanks that he saw I needed healing and was not focused solely on his needs being met. I cannot imagine the past several months without him knowing some of what I was facing.

  8. Chris & Janna A, If I had not read your stories from earlier I might of given up and walked away from my marriage. But I understand now that it is God who does the changing of hearts.

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