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
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