“Why do you get to control our sex life?” my husband would ask.
The answers made perfect sense to me, whether or not they were spoken:
- It’s my body that’s being invaded.
- If I don’t, who will?
- I’m afraid of liking sex so much that I come to rely on it. If you leave me/betray my trust/hurt me emotionally, I’ll completely fall apart.
- I don’t completely trust you with my heart.
- Your insistence on sex is a sign that you lack self-control.
- My ability to say “no” is a sign that I am morally superior and somehow more godly than you.
I admit it. I have control issues. I always want to be in charge. I want things to make sense to me. One of my greatest frustrations is not understanding something–how it works, why someone did or said something, etc. Control is, in part, about creating a predictable structure that makes sense to me.
My control issues stem from junk I’ve been dragging around since childhood.. I promised myself that a man would never control me. By extension, that also meant that a man’s sexual desire would never control my sex life. My difficulty in trusting is tangled up in there as well. If I come to rely on something, that something will disappear.
I have to be honest. The first part of 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul talks about self-control over one’s sexual self as an ideal, didn’t help me much either. I thought this meant that the inability to control your sexual desire was wrong somehow. If self-control over sexual desire is ideal, then I thought that was the goal we should all strive for.
My husband would point out the sexual imagery in Song of Solomon. I would dismiss this as being in the Old Testament and therefore less relevant than what Paul said in the New Testament. I would point out that it was written by a man, so naturally he would write about sex in general and oral sex in particular (“his fruit was sweet to my taste”). Besides, what does a man with 700 wives and a bunch of concubines know about intimacy in a monogamous marriage? To me, this was just another example of a man trying to convince wives they needed to have more sex. Solomon was just another man trying to control me.
And then there were the fairy tale princesses in the movies of my childhood. The princesses would lie in some magic-induced slumber and would be awakened by a gentle kiss from Prince Charming. Before puberty, this was the height of romance in my mind, and it was nearly non-physical. Prince Charming had self control, and he never asked for anything his princess wouldn’t be willing to do. That image stuck with me for years.
Meanwhile, as I continued to control our sex life, I was beginning to lose my husband’s heart. My marriage was fading away, yet I continued to justify the importance of controlling our marriage bed.
It would be so nice if I could tell you that I was convicted that my control was wrong and that I immediately set out to change my ways. That would be lying.
My journey of sexual change did not begin because I recognized that my need for control was out of control. In fact, it began because I was trying to control even more. My husband was depressed, and sex was the only thing I could think about that a) might work, and b) was in our price range (free). I was trying to control his mood.
I began to make my changes. First, I participated in sex more actively (no more duty sex). This was relatively easy. Second, I worked to stop saying “no.” This was a bit trickier. As I thought about learning to say “yes” instead of “no,” I realized that I was running smack dab into my control issues. I kept finding myself thinking those same responses that I’d had to my husband’s frequent question of why I got to be the one to control our sex life. I realized that in order to work on being able to say “yes,” I would have to face my control issues. I still didn’t think my need to control was wrong, exactly, but I did recognize that it was interfering with my sexual plan.
An important step in learning to be less controlling of our sex life was to acknowledge that I was doing it. For a while the most I could do was acknowledge with qualifications: “Okay, yes, I’m controlling, but I have to be because [insert justification of choice].“ That acknowledged the behavior but not the fact that it was a problem or unfair to my husband.
Letting go of control required a huge shift in my thinking. I had to force myself to think about my husband’s point of view. This was NOT easy for me to do. Even being able to say, “I’m controlling” without adding “but” to it was progress. I began to understand that this control thing of mine had a negative effect on our relationship–outside the bedroom as well as inside.
I’d like to be able to say that this was a first step, but I confess that while I’ve made much progress, it is an on-going effort. I still believe that I’m always right, and I still think I need to be in control of many things. The big difference now is that sex is no longer one of those things I try to control.
My control issues come from my attitude. Even while I worked on that in my heart, I knew I needed to change my behavior. Specifically, I needed to learn how to change my responses to my husband’s sexual advances, as that’s when he was most affected by my control issues.
The first piece of changing my behavior was simply to become aware of when I was being controlling. If I found myself thinking, “But I was going to do laundry, “Turn the lights off,” or “I don’t know why we can’t just do regular x instead of y,” I tried to notice what I’d done.
At the beginning of my efforts to control my control issues, I would give my same old responses, which would elicit the same old reactions from my husband. When I would realize later that I had responded in a controlling way, I would muster up the courage to go apologize. “I’m sorry I flipped out when you said you wanted to have sex. I was being controlling. I was wrong. If you’re still interested, I’d like us to take you up your offer.” Oh, was this humbling! I forced myself to do it, though, because I knew there was no other way for me.
Slowly, I became able to identify my efforts to control while I was still in the middle of a sentence. And I would stop, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and say, “Okay, but could you give me five minutes?” I was still controlling the time frame, but I was learning to let go of my immediate “no” response while also working on not controlling every aspect of the encounter.
Eventually, I was able to simply say “yes” to any sexual advance he made toward me. I no longer tried to change the timing, the frequency, or activity in order to be controlling.
As I began to let go of my insistence on control, I was able to recognize the stranglehold it had on our sex life as well as on me. So many small choices I made throughout the day were attempts to control my husband’s sexual desire or our sexual activity. Until I let go of control, I didn’t see how much time and energy I had put into being in control. I was able to see that “our” sex life should not be controlled by one person–even me. As I became more comfortable in our sexual relationship, my ability to trust my husband grew. I began to reframe my thinking so that instead of feeling like my body was being invaded, I could feel like our bodies were being united. I started to experience sex as fun playtime with my husband. I recognized that I, too, sometimes wanted to have sex, that this was a desire that came from God, and that the loss of self and control during sex could be absolutely delicious.
My “reasons” for controlling our sex life had begun to fade away. My husband and I have ups and downs, naturally, but in giving up control, I gained so much: my husband, trust. and my marriage.
I know quite a few women who admit (or sometimes take pride in the fact) that they are controlling. I hear variations of the same things I used to say to my husband to justify my control.
Are you one of these women? Does the thought of giving up control frighten you? Do you have a list of reasons why you need to control your sex life? Do you know what it would take for you to let go?
Losing control can be scary–but when you lose control, you have so much to gain.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net