After twenty years of selfish sexual gate-keeping and refusing, my husband and I were both miserable. I was finally on the right anti-depressant and could think and respond more clearly, and he was experiencing depression related to his unemployment and our financial situation. Neither one of us found joy in our marriage. I am convinced that we were headed down a path that would lead to either divorce or living in misery.
Once I began to pray to find a way to help my husband, even though it was for selfish reasons, life began to change. I was simply browsing on CNN and saw an article on Christians on hot sex. Huh? I was about to bypass it, and then I remembered that I had decided to at least stop fighting my husband about sex. It wouldn’t hurt to read an article. And the article included links to Christian marriage blogs and to a discussion forum. I followed the links in the way that I always do, and I ended up reading post after post after post. One thread that caught my eye due to the clever title was where a shift began to occur. It was the thread that made me first realize what my husband was experiencing as a result of my refusal. It was what made me take the first step out of refusal. It was what gave a name to what I thought was just my right to my own body and feelings. Refusing.
I hated the name “refuser” and knowing that everyone on the site would think of me in that way–but I forced myself to read the posts, thinking that as a wife, I could at least make an effort to understand my husband’s point of view. It was easier to read the experiences of people I didn’t know than to hear it from my own husband, with his sad eyes and our baggage. I was stunned to see that the men in this forum were using the same words and expressing the same concerns as my husband. So I decided to pray for me to have a change of heart. At the same time, although I still avoided sex, my first goal was to be a more active and engaged participant when we were having sex. It was a baby step.
And then I started to read posts from women who were refused. I will always be thankful to them. Reading about the experience of refusal from a woman’s perspective, I was finally able to hear my husband’s pain in language I could relate to. It broke my heart to realize what I had been doing to him. I stopped refusing. I couldn’t get my husband out of unemployment, but I could at least help him feel loved. And I began to know how much I truly do love the man God has given me.
What helped real heart change happen, though, was when I opened myself up to the blogs and articles I found. Instead of just reading about how refusal hurts, I began to read about the great joy that comes with a good sex life. I was seeing models of what could be, and I began to want some of that. Instead of trying to make changes because what I’d been doing wasn’t working, I began to make changes because I wanted some of the joy that people were describing.
I never, ever would have thought I would be where I am now. In fact, if I had set out on a journey intending to try to get where I am, I would’ve turned around and run the other direction. Making changes with any kind of goal in mind would have forced me to admit that I was wrong. In fact, even after I began changing my sexual availability and participation, it was a long time before I would let myself fully relax and feel emotionally intimate with my husband.
The changes happened slowly, but they happened. We are now at a point that stuns both of us. The past few months have seen us try some new things in our bedroom. I initiate more than he does. And despite physical challenges from weight gain, menopause, and other results of middle age, our marriage bed is the best it’s been in almost 22 years of marriage.
I crawled on the journey out of the pit of refusal. It was a two-year process, filled with ups and downs,and at no point did I allow myself to think of it as being on a journey, with a goal. In my mind, it was just a series of steps and experiments. Even when we don’t have a destination in mind, every journey ends up somewhere.
In other posts, I’ll share some of the ups and downs, as well as some of the things we’re still figuring out. But here are some lessons I’ve learned:
- Slow progress is still progress.
- Putting something off never makes it easier.
- Sometimes, acting the way you think you’re supposed to can lead to the feelings you thought had to be in place first.
- Married sex, when both partners are completely present and feel sexually safe with each other, is more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.
Hearts really can change. Mine did. Just ask my husband, who just this morning told me he’s felt more married in the past few months than at any time during our entire marriage.
Image credit xandert | morgueFile.com