The changes I’ve made within myself and in my sexual interactions with my husband have been hard and constant work. I made the decision to make some changes a little over two and a half years ago. Even before that, though, I was doing a lot of thinking about our marriage. I recognized that we were both unhappy, began thinking about what it would be like to be unmarried and living on my own, wondered sometimes what had happened to the sexual self that I’d been way back when, and even wondered occasionally if maybe I was part of the problem. I usually think of the day I clicked on a link to visit some sex-positive Christian blogs as the day the changes began—but this click was the result of months and months of internal turmoil and reflection. The process had begun even before I was aware of it. I’ve had at least a solid three years of effort and growth, and I continue to work on myself.
I was reminded this week of the fact that it is very much a process for my husband as well. I’ve written about it here and there. The Sex Within Marriage blog had a post about this process a few weeks ago. It took over a year for my husband to believe that I was actually making any effort to change. Even a few months ago, he admitted that he still relies on the old patterns sometimes and makes assumptions that I will not be interested in sex simply because those patterns are what allowed him to function over so any years.
We had an unsettling week. A Sunday evening argument led to several days of not feeling right. Two wonderful sexual interludes took the edge off the unsettled feelings, but even yesterday we were still experiencing the remnants of the week’s beginning in terms of what we assumed the other was thinking.
One thing that has been hard for me is getting completely comfortable with my own sexuality and sexual desire. I’ve learned to do and say things in bed that I never would have believed before. The thing I’ve been working on recently is being able to make sexual requests. I am finally able to ask for certain things while we’re in bed together without blushing or stumbling over words. So the other night I took another leap. I brought up a sexual activity that I’ve been thinking about–not something that would necessarily give me pleasure but something I thought might enhance his. It took a lot of courage to do this. What ensued was an abrupt “no way” from him, hurt on my part that he didn’t listen to my explanation of why I was interested, and then an argument. (Some weeks are just like that. Ugh.) Yesterday I asked that we talk about this, and he said two things that startled me:
- I am more sexual than he can handle sometimes.
- Our sex life is perfect and doesn’t need any more variety or experimentation.
I was stunned. Our sex life is fine because he is happy with it? It brought back all the negative feelings I used to have about how our sex life was about him and not me or us. On top of feeling unimportant in our sex life, I felt like a freak, too. (And honestly, it wasn’t an unusual suggestion.) I’ve spent some time now really trying to think through this, asking for input from others about what was going on and praying. I’m hearing God remind me, “Be patient with him. He is my child, too.”
I’ve come to the realization that my husband is still in the process of relearning what it means when I request something new in our marriage bed. After all, he hasn’t had many opportunities to practice dealing with this. I trained him all too well to believe that sexual discussions lead to being in fight-flight-or-freeze mode. This shows me that recovering from long-time refusal takes a lot of time. Just as I couldn’t put a timeline on how long my changes would take, I can’t put a timeline on his recovery.
He spent so many years trying to figure out my moods and what would trigger unhappiness in me; he is still in the mindset that when I ask for something, it’s because I’m unhappy. He has even made comments a couple times indicating that he needs to keep me satisfied so I don’t leave him. This morning, cuddled on his chest while he watched one of his war documentaries, I asked him, “Do you understand that when I say I’d like us to try something new sexually, it doesn’t mean that I’m unhappy or unsatisfied with you? It’s just that I want more of you and more of us.” He asked me to keep reminding him of that.
My gate-keeping and refusal also taught him that our sex life was for him, not for me and not for us. A pattern that grew deep roots over twenty years is not going to just fade away on its own, is it?
I’ve worked so hard on changing myself. Somehow, though, I managed to forget to intentionally help my husband grow in response to these changes. I have grown, but I haven’t done anything to help him grow as well. It’s time for me to learn to grow with him and not just alongside of him.
Our marriage looks completely different than it did three years ago. Imagine what it can look like three years from now with both of us working, together.