Several months ago, I surveyed my readers to learn about their experiences with sexual refusing and gate-keeping. One of the questions I asked was, “If you are the refusing or gate-keeping spouse, what reasons or experiences have led to your refusing or gate-keeping?” In The Greatest of These, I wrote about some of the responses specifically related to relationship problems.

I want to dig into that just bit more. In Be Still, I wrote about how I hung onto hurts and wouldn’t let them go: “A black hole absorbs all the light around it and keeps light from escaping. The cataloging and repetition of hurts became a black hole in my heart. It collected more and more hurt, even seeking it out when it wasn’t actually there. My heart never let any of the hurt go. I just absorbed it all.”

In looking back at the survey responses as well as the emails I’ve received and comments posted to the blog, it’s easy to see that I am not the only wife who has hung onto hurts. When a heart is so used to hurting, it’s hard to know how to be any different. When we hurt, we build our lives around that hurt. Pretty soon, we’ve developed patterns of behavior and interaction that make no logical sense at all, simply in response to our hurt.

What hurts do we hold onto in ways that can lead into sexual gate-keeping and refusing?

Emotional disconnection. I include this one first because this was the biggest kind of hurt I hung onto. I needed my husband’s emotional support, and for reasons I now understand, he pulled back from me. Some women hurt because their husbands don’t hold and encourage them except for when they are interested in sex.

Sexual selfishness. When a woman has sex and her husband doesn’t tend to her pleasure as well as his, it hurts. If a woman is exhausted or upset and her husband wants to have sex, she might hurt because she feels like he is placing his physical needs ahead of her emotional needs.

Hurtful comments. Maybe he has said (or not said) things not intending to hurt you. He paused after you asked, “Do these pants make my butt look big?” “I like my mom’s potato salad better.” “Wait until the commercial.” Or maybe your husband has said words that were intended to hurt. “You aren’t the only girl I could’ve married.” “You’re just like your mother.” “You married up.”
He’s been negative—maybe not all the time, or maybe not anymore, but if it’s there in the past and it hurt you, you still hear those words in his voice.

Previous sexual experience—his. You think he compares you to previous lovers. You wish he’d saved all his sexuality for you. You hate that someone else has ever seen his orgasm face. When you meet a female acquaintance of his you wonder if he had sex with her. When he asks for a new sexual position or activity you wonder if his ex-girlfriend did it.

Previous sexual experience—yours. You had sex before your husband and you don’t like the person you were then so you try to be different. You feel guilty about not staying sexually pure until marriage. When your husband requests something new sexually and you say, “No, I don’t like doing that,” you see the look in his eyes when he realizes you’ve done it with someone else. Maybe you’ve been married before, and your heart carries wounds from that into your marriage bed.

Pornography. You know your husband has watched porn or continues to watch it now. You’ve caught him masturbating to porn. You’ve seen the history on his computer or phone. You wonder if the new way he grabbed you was something he saw in porn. You wonder what he sees in the women on the screen that he doesn’t see in you. You feel that if you don’t dress like a lingerie model or act a certain way, your husband won’t want you.

Masturbation. You’ve caught your husband red-handed, so to speak. You don’t understand why he prefers his hand to you. You suspect he thinks about someone other than you while he is masturbating. You are hurt that he cared so little about you that he didn’t even try to hide the fact that he’d been doing it.

Infidelity. Your husband has had an emotional or physical affair with another woman. Even though you’ve forgiven him, you frequently worry about it happening again. You find yourself have sex or having it in ways you don’t want just to keep him from straying. If he is late coming home from work, you think “here we go again.”

Your childhood. You were sexually abused or beaten by those who should have cared for you. Your husband doesn’t hurt you, but his words and actions are triggers for difficult memories.

Abuse. Your husband hurts you physically or emotionally and controls what you do and who you see. You walk on eggshells because you don’t know what will set him off. You feel like you don’t deserve a better life. He always says he’s sorry after hurting you, and then you think you’re a bad wife for not being able to forgive and take him back. Maybe there was verbal abuse long ago, and your heart still remembers its hurt.

What hurts are you holding onto?

Although I haven’t experienced all of these hurts, I’ve experienced many of them—and I’ve hung onto them, struggling to let them go out of fear of becoming vulnerable again and opening myself up to that same hurt one more time.

How do you let go of hurt? It’s easy to say, “Let go and let God.” “Forgive your husband.” “Forgive yourself.” “Give it to God.” It’s easy to say those things, but it isn’t so easy to do them.

Remember that healing is a process. I think forgiveness is a process as well. But forgiving doesn’t happen all on its own. You need to decide to forgive, and you need to get started.

Let them go.

Spend time in prayer. Write your hurts on paper that you then burn. Do therapeutic journal writing. See a pastor or counselor to talk through your hurts. Be safe, and begin to see your husband (or someone else who has hurt you) as a child of God, just like you—imperfect, sinful, with a hurting heart of his own.

Imagine your heart hurts as grains of sand. Hold them in your hands. As you reach for God, begin to open your hands and let the grains of sand go. And remember that God is greater than all the sand and hurt in the world. And you are with Him.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. Psalms 139:17-18 ESV

Image courtesy of usamedeniz at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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11 Thoughts on “Holding On

  1. trixie1466 on September 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm said:

    Great post Chris. Your timing is excellent. Thanks!

  2. Also, I found that it bolstered my flesh (like it needed any help); but there you have it. There is kind of a sick twisted pleasure in continuing to ruminate on evil done to us. I think it feels like it’s soothing, somehow. Tasty little morsels of forbidden that always end up rotting in our stomachs.

    “See how very bad he is and how very bad he treats me?” Our flesh believes that his poor treatment automatically makes us good. At least that’s the best I can figure out.

  3. You are right Chris, healing and forgiveness is a process and it takes time. I was thinking earlier about writing something on forgiveness and patience, not sure if I should now. It is easy to think that people should be able to forgive and forget, but for us mere humans it is a process. It helps when both spouses are working in it, one forgiving and one changing the behaviors that extend the problem. When only one is trying, that is twice as hard!

    • Forgiving doesn’t have to mean forgetting.

      • True, I think only God can do that. I think it means we don’t hold it hold it against them anymore.

        • We don’t have the right to hold anything against anyone – just like no one has the right to hold anything against us. Forgiveness means to literally cancel the offence. The only way to humanly move through forgiveness is for God to hold onto it, but if we are holding it in our memory – this actually reactivates the memory – every time we think of it. The process of remembering an offence causes toxic chemicals to be released in the brain. Every time you think about it, it shoots a little bit more which then grows the memory (kind of). The only way to deal with the memory of an offence is to continue to take the memory captive and cast it to God (“forgetting”) and covering that toxic memory with a good memory.

        • I agree with you that we don’t have a “right” to hold anything against anyone… simply because we aren’t God. He alone is the one who has been sinned against – anything good that comes our way, is more than what we deserve.

          However, I don’t agree with you in your blanket statement about forgetting being required and the process of remembering being toxic. I don’t doubt that remembering may have a toxic affect for some, but not for everyone.

          For example, I can clearly remember “offenses” committed by my dad – against me, my siblings, and my mom. I have forgiven him completely and have nothing but love for him and gratitude for what good he did provide.

          My heart toward him changed one ordinary day when my oldest son was four years old. That day while my son was sitting on the floor playing, thoughts of my dad came to mind. (My son looks like my dad a little bit, I think it was something about his eyes.) Feelings of love and forgiveness and gratitude for my dad began to flood my heart as I realized that once-upon-a-time my dad was a little boy, just like my son, and someone didn’t treat him very kindly. He had tried to be the best dad he could, with what he had. I understood that the “offenses” he had committed weren’t about anyone else but about what was going on inside of him – he had acted out in pain.

          I personally know it is very possible to remember offenses, but to remember them wearing different glasses. Instead of wearing self-absorbed glasses (everything is about me, taking everything personally, thinking we deserve better, etc.), we can choose to look at any situation though glasses of compassion and love. And that’s not to excuse the behavior – AT ALL, but to understand it. We tend to extend a lot of grace to ourselves in our own weaknesses, failures, offenses, when we act out what’s going on inside us and judge and “hold it against” everyone else in theirs.

  4. One of the places I’ve gleaned this scientific research is from Dr. C. Leaf. She been researching the mind and the effect of our thoughts in our brains since 1981 and has some made some amazing discoveries. According to her research, this a normal pattern of all human brains/minds.

    You used the word “blanket” and you are quite right. I believe we are to want to cover the sins done to us. This is what God tells us to do when He says, love covers a multitude of sin. We know that we can’t hide (cover) anything from God, He sees everything, right? So who are we to cover the sin from? It’s the sin done to us. We are to literally COVER it FROM ourselves, thereby causing the offence to be further and further embedded – hidden, in love (the good memories or good things about them or that they do or have done) causing us to thereby forget it. Unless of course we consciously choose to remember it and meditate. Then that’s a whole other story.

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