I really meant it. Every single time.
Even when I thought my sexual refusing and gate-keeping were justified, I knew my husband was hurting. I really did care about that, and I knew that an improved sex life would help him.
“I promise I’ll do better,” I would say.
And a few days later, when my hurting husband would approach me, wondering if this time would be any different, I would reluctantly try. Or I would deflect and say, “I’m so tired. Can I please start doing better tomorrow?”
Next thing I knew, a week or two or three had gone by, and my husband was saying, “But you promised.” And I would promise again. And once again, I really meant it.
If your husband is unhappy with your sex life, then guess what? Your sex life is a problem. Our sex life was a problem, and I just didn’t know how to do any better.
What’s Wrong with Doing Better?
Why didn’t it ever work? My intentions were genuine. Our sex life had been okay in the past. Why couldn’t I ever manage to do better like I’d thought I could?
The problem was this:
I had no idea what “doing better” looked like.
My husband was unhappy and had expressed several desires: greater frequency, more participation on my part, me initiating sometimes, and oral sex. My mind made all this into a mountain rather than a molehill—and I couldn’t figure out where the path up the mountain even began.
So, rather than flounder and be told that I wasn’t doing better, I would panic and freeze up at the thought of trying.
What’s Better Than “Doing Better”?
I would have been much better off remembering that improvement is a process, not just an end goal.
If you’ve promised your husband you will do better but don’t know how, consider these ideas (some of which I used, and some not):
Pray. Pray about your sex life. Ask God to help you see what you need to do. Ask His help in doing what is necessary and find joy in the effort. If you haven’t prayed about your sex life before, it might feel weird. Remember that God made you as a sexual being. God made your body to fit with your husband’s body. He designed this unique way of building intimacy within marriage. Your sexuality is a gift from God; ask Him to help you use it to strengthen your marriage.
Ask your husband questions. This part may be hard, but it’s important. For one thing, it is a way of demonstrating to your husband that you are making an effort. It also gives you information you need. Find a time when you and your husband are alone and calm, away from the bedroom and anywhere tense bedroom conversations have happened. Choose a tension-free place to have your conversation. Maybe you’ll find it’s best if you’re in a somewhat public space where you can’t be overheard, such as on a walk or in a corner of a noisy coffee shop. The questions can be hard to ask because you may hear things you aren’t comfortable thinking about. Take notes! Don’t judge or even respond other than to ask follow-up questions as needed. Just listen and take notes. Ask your husband about . . .
- . . . the frequency he would like. If he gives you any frequency less than “once a day,” ask a follow-up question: “Is that what you think would be ideal, or is that your effort to seek a compromise with me? After we have sex, how many days is it before you start to notice an urge again?” The sad truth is that your husband may not really know. My husband thought he would want sex every day—because he thought about it every day, because every time I rejected him, he was still interested the following day and the day after that. He thought about it every day because he almost never got to have sex. Ask your husband what he thinks and remember that later on, it may not turn out to be that frequent.
- . . . sexual activity that he thinks would make him content. This is not about his sexual bucket list (“just once before I die, I want to have sex in a coconut tree”). This is about what he would like to see on the menu most of the time. Ask about location, positions, lighting, and body parts. Take notes, and try not to feel overwhelmed.
- . . . what progress would look like to him. As much as he is probably anxious for a speedy improvement, it is good for him to keep in mind that your growth is a process. What does he need to see in order to know that you are making a genuine effort? What items on the list are the most important to him? Ask him to be specific rather than vague. Let’s say that your husband says he wants you to show that you desire him. What would show him? Does it mean that he is expecting you to ravish him as he walks through the door? Does he mean that he wants you to ask for specific things during sex? How often would these things need to happen in order for him to feel desired?
Ask yourself questions. Ask yourself the same questions you’ve asked your husband. Your shared sex life isn’t just for him; it’s also for you. What do you want to see? If you find yourself thinking of answers like “no sex ever again” or “only when I feel like it,” you’re not alone—but don’t write those down. They aren’t going to help you do better, and they certainly won’t improve your marriage.
Plan. The mistake I made is that I had this nebulous “doing better” hovering above me, with no clue what it meant or how to get started. Look at the notes you made. See if you can find a way to group any of these things together. What is most important? For many refused husbands, frequency and full participation are pretty important. Decide what you’re going to work on first and how you’re going to go about it.
Communicate. Let your husband know what your plans are. I didn’t do this. Even once I was genuinely convicted that working on our sex life needed to be a priority, I was so afraid I would fail and I didn’t want my husband to feel let down again and know that I wasn’t even capable of being a good wife. (Yes, I would have preferred that he think I was a witch who didn’t care about him than to have him know that I failed.) Ask him to pray for your efforts.
It might be a good idea to plan and communicate at the same time so your husband is part of this process with you. I know that I was not yet ready to trust my husband with this process. He had a vested interest in the outcome of my efforts, and I was convinced that he would have been pushing me for his sake, without regard to my own processes of growth.
Do it. Whatever you’ve decided your first step is, get started. The posts linked on this page give you some step-by-step ideas for planning and then taking those first few steps. As you move forward, be sure to give yourself some grace. Remember that a mistake is not a failure, and neither is a setback.
What Does “Doing Better” Look Like?
For me, improvement was a slow process. Each stage of growth had enough time to truly become a habit for me. That helped me develop confidence in knowing that I could actually do this.
For each visible step I took, though, there were several internal steps that happened first. Although the process was a bit messier and back-and-forth than this looks, here is a rough breakdown of some of the stages I went through:
Week 1… Read blogs and marriage forums to understand just how much I’d hurt my husband. Feel overwhelmed and cry a lot, wondering if I’d permanently broken our marriage.
Week 2… Try to come to terms with the fact that I needed to make some changes. Continue to feel overwhelmed. Wonder if I can really do this.
Week 3… Make mental list of things I needed to work on, trying not to feel overwhelmed.
Week 4… Realize that looking at the whole list at once is going to make me freeze up. Decide that I can think about just one thing at a time. Decide that the first thing will be to fully engage in sex when we’re having it.
Week 5… Try to be fully engaged. Experience as much failure as success because I have such deeply ingrained habits that I haven’t been aware of.
Week 6… Identify one negative thought/behavior to work on. Decide that it’s going to be to stop rolling my eyes. Decide that when I become aware I’m rolling my eyes about sex, to close them and take a deep breath and think happy thoughts. Smile at my husband and tell him I love him.
Week 7… Put this into practice and realize that it’s going to be a lot of hard work but maybe I can do it.
Week 8… Make this more automatic and less something I have to think about. Decide that next week I might be ready for another step.
Week 9… Decide to stop saying “no.”
Weeks 10 – 14… Repeat weeks 5-9.
Each of these things was hard for me, to the point of experiencing multiple anxiety attacks and having to force myself to do some things. Notice that it would have been week 7 before my husband would have had real visible evidence of my effort. Week 7. Also, notice that I didn’t have a list of specifics because it was too overwhelming. I had one specific at a time.
Some women do all of this overnight. Some of us are a bit slower.
Real change—change that lasts—doesn’t happen on a timetable. In my case, even once my heart was in the right place, growth was slow.
But growth did happen.
As soon as I could see what the growth would actually look like, I finally was able to do better.
If you’ve promised your husband you’ll do better, how are you doing? Do you know what your first step, or your next step will be? What will “doing better” look like for you?