Our marriage has felt “off” this week. We had a wonderful weekend as a family, with a high school graduation and a wonderful dinner together on Saturday. On Sunday, my husband and I enjoyed some afternoon nookie and then went to a movie together. On Sunday night, we got into a huge argument–one of those arguments that was so distressing that I felt like I couldn’t be married to him another minute. I didn’t sleep well that night or the next night, either. Even last night, we were still uneasy with each other. We were home alone for several hours, and neither of us made the effort to connect with the other one.
I’m feeling unsettled, and it brings back many of the feelings I had during some difficult years. I don’t like the physical sensations that accompany many of these emotions. I have no clue how I coped with this for so many years. Feeling this way reminds me of why my heart hurts so much for refusing and gate-keeping wives. I know refused husbands hurt. I know marriages weaken. But I think about how it felt to be me, feeling so alone in a marriage, and I ache when I know another woman feels this way.
I am often asked if there was anything my husband could’ve done to prevent my refusing and gate-keeping or to head it off earlier. This is hard for me to answer, for a couple reasons:
1. As soon as I say there was something–anything–my husband could have done, it puts the onus of my behavior on his shoulders. As much as I believed at the time that it was all on him, I know now that it wasn’t. Neither one of us was at our best in our relationships with God. Neither one of us was being selfless. We both had needs that were not being met. We are both responsible for the state of our marriage–but the lack of sex was on my shoulders, not his.
2. I honestly don’t know what could have been done, even now. My husband asked me this countless times: What can I do? What should I not do? Just tell me. I’ll do anything. I couldn’t even allow myself to think of this, because I was afraid that my answer would be used to create an expectation of sex. You said that you needed me to do x, y, and z. I’ve done those things, and you still don’t want to have sex.
At no point did I actually allow myself to really think through why I didn’t want to have sex. I could remember being obsessed with sex when I was younger. I frequently felt arousal, even during our dark years–only to have that arousal squashed by a word or gesture or look from my husband.
Looking back, it’s hard to know what I wanted or needed. I don’t remember why it began. It isn’t like I woke up one morning and made an actual decision that I would begin to deny or restrict our sexual activity. Refusal and gate-keeping grew, one little piece at a time, over years.
I’ve spent some time this week trying to write through some of my key memories of our relationship–feelings I had when I refused him, the memories that came to mind then. I have several pages of notes and scribbles about the things he did that related to me feeling emotionally disconnected from him. While I don’t intend to share that here, I will say that this activity has brought many of those feelings to the surface. I remember, in a physical way in my gut and heart, how I felt sad, unloved, unknown, and alone much of the time.
Now that I am out of the fog of that existence, I can see that my husband had these same feelings. We were both miserable. We both needed to make changes.
But someone needed to take the first step. Because I started the journey of change for selfish reasons (so I wouldn’t have to live with a sad and depressed husband), I have no illusion that I was being the bigger person or taking the higher road or doing anything noble. But the fact remains that a first step was still taken. And that made it easier to take the second step, and the third, . . .
Many steps later, I’m sitting here on a break at work, thinking about what it will be like to be home alone with my husband this evening while our kids are working and with friends. When I felt unsettled in this way in our bad years, I would have come up with a project that justified us being in separate rooms or a friend that needed me or something to maintain our separateness while I was feeling so fragile. Many of the times I felt this way, I would wonder, “Is this the beginning of the end?”
But now, tonight, it is different. Now, I know that the solution to this unsettled feeling isn’t to stay separate and try to recover within myself. I know that what will settle me is a physical reconnection with my husband. I know that this is not the beginning of the end but just a blip. I know my husband, and I am known. I am sad that we argued, but I am not unloved; I am certainly not alone in this marriage.
I wish I could visit the earlier version of me and reassure that wife that things could be okay, that she wasn’t alone, that God had given her a man with arms to hold her, that she needed to accept and embrace the gift of the husband God gave her for her sake as well as for his, that feeling unsettled would not always feel like the end of a marriage, that true and full intimacy was worth the effort and the vulnerability, that even in rough weeks like now, their marriage would be good.
I never thought I would be able to say that our marriage is good. It is good. Praise God.