Has grief been part of the process of healing your marriage?

My decision to work on the sexual intimacy in my marriage was made at the moment I realized how deeply I’d been hurting my husband throughout years of sexual rejection, duty sex, disrespect, and making him a low priority in my life.

It is probably the least self-centered decision I’ve made in my life. At the time, I had only a vague idea of how to proceed. “Have more sex” was about all I could come up with at the time. Since we had an essentially sexless marriage, even once-a-month sex on a consistent basis would be an improvement—and just the thought of that overwhelmed me.

I had no idea how any efforts would actually affect my husband other than figuring that he would at least not complain about sex anymore. I didn’t expect that he would change. I didn’t even think our marriage would change other than that we wouldn’t be fighting about sex anymore.

Dying to Self

I was keenly aware of how my efforts would affect me. After all, I knew how I felt about sex. I knew how I felt about the lack of emotional connection in our marriage. I knew why I avoided sex.

Working to change something without getting what I needed required me to die to myself. I didn’t know if I could do this, even though I knew that I would have to figure it out.

When I made the decision to begin to work on sex, I did so having resigned myself to a few things:

  • Sex is never going to be what I would like it to be.
  • My husband will never love me like I want him to.
  • Sex will be the sacrifice I make in order to make up for the ways I’ve hurt him by being so controlling over our sex life.
  • I will always feel just as alone as I do right now in this marriage—but maybe if I just accept that instead of fighting for it to be different, I’ll at least be able to get used to it.

I had to accept my own choice to suppress my relationship needs out of guilt to my husband for having hurt him and a desire to give him a wife he deserved instead of the one he’d stuck with for so long.

With a heavy heart, I decided that I would learn how to suppress those needs graciously, although I also decided that I would give myself permission to grieve and adjust during the process.

Comfort for the Grieving?

I mourned mightily. I had to face the reality of how wrong I had been and how much I had hurt someone who hadn’t deserved to hurt. I had to work through my guilt and learn how to lay my burdens before Christ. I had to remind myself that the sacrifice of my dreams for my marriage was a decision and a gift on my part and not a punishment.

I wish I could go back to comfort the woman I was then. I would want to assure my former self that . . .

  • My husband loved me with his whole self and that sexual connection with me was the very thing that strengthened his emotional connection with me.
  • Every single area of our marriage would improve.
  • I would come to understand what it means that a man and wife become one flesh and that this was far more than a physical and sexual thing.
  • I would come to welcome my husband’s groping and waggling eyebrows.
  • I would learn that I can enjoy being a sexual tease
  • I would become sexually uninhibited and free.

Yet if I were to go back, I’m pretty sure that version of me would have accepted no comfort.

Much of my emotional experience during those first months was one of grieving—acknowledging that I had hurt my husband and mourning the loss of the dreams I’d had for our marriage—which actually were dreams I’d had for me.

It felt like a loss to me. I hadn’t been happy in my marriage for a long time. I felt tired, neglected, and uncherished. With the clarity of hindsight, I can look back at think the decision to change was such an obvious one.

At the time, all I saw was that as unhappy as I was, I at least knew what to expect. I knew that we would fight about sex a lot. I knew that I would cave in every week or two or three. I knew we would be snapping at each other all the time. I knew that in the middle of the night, my husband would hold me if I had a bad dream. I knew that there is comfort in routine. I knew that I didn’t deserve a happy marriage (due to my premarital sexual sin).

I thought I knew what life had in store for me from one day to the next. Life had a structure, and I knew how I fit into it.

Leaving that life behind—the structure, the predictability, the comfort—was a loss that I grieved.

Grieving was a process that took time, and it happened while I was beginning my work on learning a new normal.

The only comfort I sought was that God would get me through each day and each sexual encounter. That was all the comfort I wanted at the time.


The actual work of change—first by becoming an active participant in sex and then by saying “yes” more often—was a struggle every single day. I hadn’t been aware of how much time and energy I’d been spending on avoiding sex. I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent more time thinking about avoiding sex than my husband did having it.

Every sexual encounter was a battle between my flesh and my will. All my feelings about sex and our marriage were still right there on the surface, and I had to push through them in order to do what I had committed to doing.

I felt like I’d been through a battle before I even got to the first kiss.

I had to grit my teeth and drag myself to the bedroom. I had to take so many deep breaths just to calm myself enough to go through with sex. I had to remind myself of things out loud—the fact that I’d hurt Big Guy, the fact that sex was supposed to be part of marriage, the fact that I kind of liked sex once we got into it, and the fact that I had been selfish and it was time for me to put away my selfishness.

For months, every sexual encounter felt like a sacrifice on my part.

The first couple months were infused with a strange combination of deep grief at my loss and the quiet joy that comes from knowing I was doing what God had called me to do.

Around six months into this process, I realized that some of our encounters happened without an undertone of sacrifice and grief. Some of the tension in our marriage had eased up. Big Guy and I learned how to laugh together again.

Sex wasn’t what I wanted it to be and my husband wasn’t loving me as I’d always wanted. However, sex didn’t feel as much like a sacrifice and I didn’t feel quite as alone as I used to.

I was shocked to realize that although I’d resigned myself to giving up the hope for my desires for our relationship, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected it would be.

The End of Grief

Time went on and my efforts continued. A year in, it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time my husband had complained about our sex life.

My sacrifice of sex had given me a marriage that was not only tolerable but somewhat pleasant.

I realized that my time of grieving had passed.

My husband and I have experienced such transformation in our marriage, in our relationship with each other, and in our faith journeys. I didn’t know such a change was possible for me. I didn’t know that it could get better, much less that it actually would.

The decision I made to work on sexual intimacy began with a decision to give up my desires. In return, I received far more than I gave up.

Has grief been part of your own efforts to improve the sexual intimacy in your marriage? How have you worked through that grief? What other emotions have been part of your journey?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 Thoughts on “The Grief of a Formerly Refusing Wife

  1. laurie on October 21, 2014 at 9:33 am said:

    Chris, my devotions today emphasized the “go and share.” You are the person that immediately came to mind and your ‘obedience’ to share. Your journey and your transparency and your ability to share with ‘us’ is astounding to me. I am so grateful for your honesty and for sharing your journey with us. Some days I just want you over for coffee so we can chat! Bless you for teaching me and women everywhere what you have experienced and learned in your marriage so we can learn and improve our own. Who even knows any of this stuff when we start out anyway? I look forward to each and every post you write and am amazed at your ability to put so many thngs into words……that is a true gift you know! Thank you. You are a blessing to me each a d every day. God’s not fnished with me yet, but someday……..

    • This comment is the first thing I read when I got on my computer this morning, and it brings tears to my eyes. Thank you so much. I love, love, love coffee (halfway through today’s first cup right now), and I always appreciate coffee invitations.

      I have to chuckle at this:

      Who even knows any of this stuff when we start out anyway?

      I recently told a friend that it is only now that I finally feel mature enough to be getting married. 🙂

  2. TheHubby on October 21, 2014 at 9:01 pm said:

    I really appreciated your last few posts. They’ve been true for anyone who’s trying to create change in their marriage.

    By the way, the first chapter of Passionate Marriage is, “No one is ready for marriage, marriage makes you ready for marriage”.

    • I share the truth of my marriage and change with the prayer that they point others to God and to change in their own marriages. I’m glad these posts have spoken to you.

      I did chuckle when I finally sat down to read Passionate Marriage and saw that title, since I’d been thinking the same thing for a couple years.

  3. Anonymous on October 22, 2014 at 7:06 am said:

    What a wonderful post…really spoke to me. I have been in in a sexless marriage for a while and I’m in the dying to self stage. So painful. It will be up to me to make the first advance and it will take an incredible amount of courage with so much hurt built up. Not sure when I’ll be ready but your posts give me so much to think about and a little motivation. Thank you!

    • Dying to self as an intentional act in obedience to God is different from being dead to self. When we set aside our own desires and preferences for the purpose of avoiding our own further hurt, I’m not so sure that counts–although it can take such great courage to take that first step. Remember that it is okay to ask others to pray for you in this. They don’t have to know the details, but you can say that things are not healthy in your marriage and that you need prayers for wisdom, guidance, and courage and for your spouse’s heart to soften. Dying to self is not a passive thing. My prayers are with you.

  4. I have been there, done that… Several years ago, in an effort to improve our marriage (and to stop the constant conflict) I began to give our sexual relationship my best effort – I gave up all withholding and gate-keeping. Unfortunately, I believe my efforts caused more harm than good. The fact that he no longer needed to even try to demonstrate love or care in any way, let him off the hook so-to-speak. The result, he has become even more critical, conflict-y, grumpy, selfish, etc. I find I am now developing a true aversion – to sex. I am repulsed by thought of him naked. I don’t know what to do from here. This is not how I had hoped our marriage would be. 🙁

    • Oh, Annie. I’m so sorry. While some husbands do go through a time of withholding some affection (as a test of whether we’re serious about sexual intimacy? out of fear that it won’t last?), after several years, this should no longer be the case. He should be choosing to do and be better.

      What have you done so far to address his attitude and behavior? Have you talked with him about what he is doing and how it is affecting you? Have you spoken with a pastor or counselor to help you develop some strategies for responding when he does these things?

      This is not how marriage should be. I will hold you in my prayers.

      • I have shared with him how I feel. Every time I am given a list of all the rationalizations and justifications as to why his behavior is not a problem.

        We have attempted counseling a couple times (different counselors) without getting anywhere… My husband is extremely outgoing and “charming” (he’s in sales) and very attractive. He quickly becomes very friendly with every counselor and discussions of our marital difficulties become an afterthought – I’m there to try to work things out. He’s there to socialize. I’ve been looking (without success yet) for a counselor in our area who would be a good fit for me, someone I can see alone who perhaps can give me some strategies.

        I have realized over the years that I need to learn boundaries. As much as I understand about withholding and gate-keeping having no place in marriage, I also see a need for some healthy boundaries to be part of that equation. I don’t know the balance.

        • Have you tried Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend? (Yes, that’s a monetized link. You don’t need to use it. 🙂 ) It lays out some principles that you might find helpful. There is also a Boundaries in Marriage book, but you might be best off to begin with the starting point.

          I think it is wise to find a counselor for yourself. The aversion to sex should be addressed before it gets even worse.

          Whether or not his behavior is a problem in a logical sense, the fact that it upsets you means that it is a problem. He should be working toward improving your marriage. Giving you justification for his behavior dismisses your feelings.

          What he is doing is hurtful in and of itself. I can’t imagine how much worse it feels after doing so much hard work on yourself. 🙁

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