Over the past fifteen months, I’ve frequently been asked why I decided to change how I approached sex. What I’ve often wondered, though, is why it took me so long to get to that point?
Since writing this post a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how much I have walked in fear throughout my life. As I think back on the time leading up to my decision to work on sexual intimacy, I clearly see why it took me so long.
The reason is simple: I was afraid.
Sex on My Mind
For several years before I realized how much I had been hurting my husband and made a commitment to change, our sex life had been on my mind.
My husband and I would argue about sex or have one of our serious conversations about it. I would focus on my own emotional hurt and strengthen the walls that held him at bay.
For the next few days, I would spend a great deal of time thinking about sex. I would wonder what was wrong with me that sex had become such a battleground. I had always enjoyed being a sexual person, and even though sex didn’t often lead to an orgasm for me, I loved all the other sexual feelings.
Why did I have this huge emotional barrier up between my husband and me? Why couldn’t I figure out how to deconstruct what I had constructed? Why couldn’t I simply let go?
Every time I would think about the possibility of doing better with sex, I felt the physical sensations of fear. Thinking about making changes in sex triggered a flight-fight-freeze response, whether I was with my husband in the midst of a discussion or thinking about it alone in the car.
I suppose this sounds silly to some people: after all, how hard can sex actually be? There was part of my own mind that thought the fear was ridiculous, too—but that didn’t change the reality of my fear.
Fear of Change
What did I fear? Lots of things, I suppose:
- A loss of the comfort I found in routine and knowing what to expect. What would life be like if sex weren’t in its assigned compartment?
- Exposing my true self to my husband. What if he decided he didn’t love me once he knew me? I felt so unlovable anyway that I was pretty sure that would happen.
- My husband’s sexuality. Whenever he persuaded me to try one new thing sexually, it always seemed like another something was just around the corner. If I gave him what he wanted (say, sex once a week), then how long would it be before he wanted sex three times a week? I was afraid that if I encouraged him to feel more sexual than he already did, he would keep pushing and I would never, ever be enough.
- Being proven wrong. If I made the effort to change and it actually made a difference, then I would have to admit I’d been wrong all those years. I didn’t think I could bear that.
- My own feelings. I was afraid that if I allowed myself to fully experience my sexual feelings, I would unleash all sorts of other feelings, too. My sexuality was tangled up with feelings of self-esteem, my value in a relationship, and even my faith. If I began to untangle one piece, what else would spill out?
- Failure. What if it turned out that I really couldn’t do sex in a way that made my husband happy? I would have proof that I was a failure as a wife and as a woman. I would rather fail for lack of effort than have proof of my shortcomings.
- Success. What if I made an effort on sex and it actually worked? What if I ended up happy? How would I know what to do with a happy marriage? It was an unknown, so it scared me.
Even before I knew how wrong I was to withhold sex from my husband, I actually wanted to work on sex—but I was too afraid.
Just thinking about making sexual changes scared me. This meant that before I could think about how to make all those changes, I first had to face the fear.
The Fear That Made a Difference
So why did I finally change? Why did I finally face the fear?
I would love to say that it’s because I found courage. Although this journey has required a lot of courage, I didn’t get an extra dose that gave me the boost I needed to get moving.
My husband had become depressed. Our kids were in their teens, and I could see glimpses of the times my husband and I would be alone together after the kids left. We had little friendship left. Although we enjoyed spending time together with friends, we didn’t enjoy spending time with each other.
The future I saw was bleak—and I was afraid that after the kids left, the surface of our marriage would dissolve just as the core of it had seemed to.
My fear of the future in front of me became bigger than my fear of change.
Is fear holding you back from even thinking about the possibility of working on sexual intimacy in your marriage? Do you know what you fear?
Fortunately for me, not only was my fear of the future bigger than my fear of change, so is God. I didn’t get an extra dose of courage—but once I saw what I needed to do, all I needed to do was reach out to God to help me through it.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net