How can you turn discouragement into encouragement for your journey toward healthy sexual intimacy?

When you’re on a difficult journey to renovate the sexual intimacy in your marriage, it can be easy to feel discouraged.

Discouragement can come from many things.

The work can be hard. In my head, it sounded so easy to think about having sex. But then my husband would initiate, and I was fighting down all my feelings, taking deep breaths, and struggling to do what had once seemed so natural. There were times I was emotionally drained before we even kissed. I was constantly wondering, Why is it so hard to get myself to have sex? By the time we were having sex, I was so sapped of energy that the act of sex became harder, too.

Mistakes are frustrating. One of my goals early on was to stop having an immediate reaction of “no.” My “no” had become so automatic that often I would say it even at times when I myself had been thinking that we could have sex. I worked on taking deep breaths before answering, and I made myself learn to ask for just a couple minutes to think about it. But for a couple months, I blurted out “no” more often than not. Before I tried to work on sexual intimacy, I often felt like a failure as a wife—but it was a vague feeling that was eased by thinking “but since I’m not actually trying to be a better wife, it isn’t really a failure.” Making mistakes while I was actually trying to improve made me feel like a much more specific failure.

Growing pains are real. Changing my habits required me to change my thinking, which compelled me to understand what had led to all that thinking, which forced me to recognize some difficult things in my heart. I had to face my past experiences, my low feelings of self-esteem, and my feelings of not being worthy even of God’s love. I’d expected it to be hard to work on sex. I had not expected it to be so painful.

Progress can be slow. Unlearning bad habits and negative thoughts while replacing them with good habits and positive thoughts took longer than I thought it would. I remember lying in bed after sex one night, months after I’d begun my efforts to change. My husband was asleep, and I was crying. Why is this still so hard? I’m emotionally wiped out from just agreeing to have sex, having sex is hard, and I’m lying here feeling alone and overwhelmed. Why doesn’t it feel better? Why isn’t this fixed yet?

Some things got harder. I could be making a lot of progress in general, but there were some things that actually became more difficult for a time. Touching my husband between the legs was one such thing. After years of doing the minimum, being able to touch him was one of the early things I accomplished—but then it got more difficult again.

Some efforts didn’t seem to work. I often would go through all the effort to do something, only to find that it was just as difficult as it was before I’d made the effort—or it was even harder. There was one sexual activity in particular that my husband had always wanted me to do. In the past, I’d done it on occasion, but it was emotionally and physically difficult for me. As I began to work on sexual intimacy, I would go through all my mental gymnastics to enable myself to do it—and it was still emotionally and physically difficult. I’ve gone through so much to get here. Shouldn’t it be easier? Why isn’t it working?

Giving more than you’re getting isn’t enough. My selfishness rose its ugly head time and time again. I’d begun this journey with the sole goal of helping my husband be happier. As I saw him begin to relax into contentment as he began to feel connected with me, I knew that my efforts had been making a difference. Still, some of my sexual resistance had been connected to ways he had neglected my emotional needs at times in our marriage. I was, quite frankly, annoyed to see him feel content while I was still not having my emotional needs met. What’s in it for me? and When is it my turn? and This is so unfair! ran through my head. A lot.

A husband’s negative reactions can add to the difficulty. I remember one time lying in bed, doing something that my husband had begged me to do for years. Instead of enjoying the experience, he made the comment, “This is nice enough, but what I really wish you’d do is  . . . “ So there I was, having worked incredibly hard to do something that he wanted me to do, and his reaction was to tell me that it wasn’t enough. Once he recognized and acknowledged that I had been making efforts, any time I stumbled and resorted to old habits, his response was along the lines of, “Great. Nothing’s different after all. Your experiment is over, and I need to resign myself to a sexless marriage.” A husband who catastrophizes a stumble can add another hurdle to the journey.

A husband’s positive reactions can be difficult, too. As my husband began to sexually trust me again, he began to ask for more than I was ready to give. Sometimes he wanted to stock up on sexual experiences in case my change was short-lived, and other times he was finally finding courage to ask for something he’d wanted for a long time but was afraid he’d be shot down. It gave me even more to conquer than I’d started with.

Fortunately, it is possible to find encouragement for all these things. In fact, I discovered that understanding each of these areas from a new perspective revealed a way to encourage me.

The work can be hard—but it got easier over time. When I would hit a stumbling block, I remembered that I’d stumbled only because I was trying. Thinking of the other things I’d already conquered helped me remember that this, too, would get easier. And it did!

Mistakes are frustrating—but I learned to measure my progress in new ways. Instead of focusing on whether I was getting it right all the time, I looked at whether I was getting it right more than I was a month earlier.

Growing pains are real. Realizing that my pain was both emotional and spiritual, I looked to God for comfort. Many Psalms refer to God as a comfort and a refuge, and those helped ease my difficulty. When I was really struggling with emotional discomfort and pain, I would read the Bible verses aloud to myself.

Progress can be slow. I realized that slow progress is still progress. Working slowly at first gave me time to fully internalize my new habits and thoughts. Progress also builds momentum, and the rate of progress can change over time. The more progress I made, the more I wanted to get to the next step. Even as the work got harder in some ways, I began to push myself more because it felt so good to have made it so far.

Some things got harder. I was able to recognize this as a sign of growth. By paying attention to my feelings as they were happening, I saw that most of these things were harder because I’d begun to allow myself to feel more vulnerable with my husband. It was more difficult to do some things while I was emotionally open than it had been when I’d had emotional walls up. The difficulty was frustrating, but knowing that it was the result of emotional progress on my part was an encouragement.

Some efforts didn’t seem to work—so I redefined what it meant for something to work. I decided that whether or not something became easy for me or resulted in me being able to follow through with what I’d intended, I would look instead at what I could learn about myself from each experience. Even if the only thing I learned was that having sex with the lights on still made me think about not liking my body, this pointed me to areas where I needed to do more work. Changing my standards for determining if something worked helped me feel more confidence in what I was doing.

Giving more than I was getting wasn’t enough, so I had to look even harder for what I was gaining—and what I found was immeasurable. I was learning to be less self-centered. I had begun this journey for my husband’s sake, and even when it felt like a sacrifice, I had a sense that I was doing the right thing—even though I was frustrated for myself. As I kept digging in to the roots of my sexual resistance, difficult things rose to the surface. As I dealt with my baggage and my issues, I realized that this journey was about my own healing even more than it was about my husband. My relationship with God was growing. I began to see my husband with new eyes. I realized that although he was not giving in a way I had wanted, he was giving in ways that I hadn’t recognized before. I began to see my growth as for me as much as for my marriage.

A husband’s negative reactions can add to the difficulty. I decided that my husband was allowed to have his feelings. I’d begun my journey out of recognition of the emotional pain my husband was experiencing as a result of little to no sexual intimacy in our marriage. His emotional healing was a journey that would take some time, and I needed to be okay with that. Indeed, the fact that he felt safe enough to express those negative thoughts was itself a sign of progress. I made a decision that when he expressed those negative feelings, it was especially important for me to continue with the progress I was making (even though I would want to curl up in a ball and quit). I decided that I would not let his reactions determine my continued progress.

A husband’s positive reactions can be difficult—but I realized that his positive reactions were evidence that my work was actually making a difference. I didn’t like being asked for things I didn’t really want to do sexually—but I did like the fact that he felt safe enough to ask. I’d damaged his confidence and his trust in me, and every time he had a positive reaction to my changes, I decided to look at it as a positive sign of his healing instead of just one more thing for me to work on.

Discouragement on the journey to improve sexual intimacy is normal. Most of us hit stumbling blocks, wonder if our efforts will ever pay off, experience frustration as things don’t work or seem harder, and struggle with a husband’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to our work.

For each area of discouragement you experience on your journey, see if there a new way to understand it so it can become a source of encouragement instead.

What has encouraged you throughout your journey toward healthy sexual intimacy?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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4 Thoughts on “Dealing with Discouragement

  1. Hello Chris. All of your words remind me of my own struggles, growth and healing between me and my husband. One thing that helped me when I started feeling like I was giving, giving and giving and left feeling lonely while my husband slept next to me feeling fulfilled, was that God called me to crucify myself every day and that its not about me and that God will bless me for serving my husband.

  2. IntimacySeeker on October 15, 2015 at 8:19 am said:

    What has encouraged you throughout your journey toward healthy sexual intimacy?

    This and other blogs have encouraged me significantly. Knowing we aren’t alone is deeply comforting. What I most appreciate about your messages, Chris, is that we recognize, honor and validate our own feelings. That we pay attention to our instincts and not automatically assume they are wrong if they don’t line up with what we are hearing or reading.

    What has encouraged me most lately is acceptance. For so long I felt a sense of failure because sex (on its own) did not do for me what it did for my husband. We cause trouble for ourselves when we set unreasonable expectations, don’t we?

    The other thing that comes to mind is to celebrate progress rather than seek perfection. I have made commendable progress and my marriage is stronger than ever before. Thank you for your part in that, my friend!

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