When a wife stops sexual gate-keeping and refusing, she takes a big step on a journey toward a healed marriage. She may have her own healing to do as she works through feelings of hurt, unlearns bad habits, and learns how to walk in God’s truth for marriage.
A wife isn’t the only person in her marriage. As she works on her marriage, she will do better when she thinks about what her husband is experiencing, too.
Her husband is walking his journey as his heart heals and he learns to trust again. With his consent, I’d like to share with you one piece of my husband’s journey.
The Lessons He Learned
Sexual gate-keeping and refusing send messages to our husbands. Along with “no,” “not now,” and “not like that,” they hear more subtle messages: “Your desires are wrong.” “You aren’t worthy of sexual love.” “Actions speak louder than words, so clearly I don’t really love you.” “You must earn sex.” “You cannot trust me with your sexuality or your core self.”
For so many years, I held my husband’s sins and mistakes against him as well as his healthy and godly sexual desire for me. (Paul has written about healthy and godly sexual desire at The Generous Husband.) I had standards of perfection and ways I wanted things done Every time my husband didn’t meet these expectations (and honestly, who possibly could?), I felt let down. When he didn’t express his love in a way that I would best receive it, I was hurt.
My intention was never to punish him by withholding sex—but that is exactly how it felt to him. I was so busy feeling that my husband had let me down that I couldn’t bring myself to be sexually open to him at the very time he most needed to know he was loved.
As my husband absorbed all the lessons my refusal was teaching him, he learned that when he messed up, sex would be withheld. In order to have a chance at feeling loved by his own wife, then, he learned not to share his innermost fears, self-doubt, or even the normal “oops” moments that happen throughout the day. He needed to present his best self to me, because he had learned that his authentic self wasn’t good enough.
Like many men, my husband receives love most fully through sex—so when his mistakes and sins led to no sex, what he learned was that he was unloved and unlovable.
A Guarded Heart
I recently learned that my husband didn’t tell me about an incident that occurred several weeks ago. It was a small thing and not sinful at all. When I learned about it from someone else, my first reaction was to feel hurt. (My first thought was to think of how it affected me. It highlights yet another area where I need to grow.) Why didn’t he tell me? I’m his wife! How could he not trust me, especially since it was such a small thing?
As I thought about how to talk to my husband about this, I asked God, “What did I ever do to him that made him not trust me?” God reminded me of the kind of wife I was for so many years, and I knew the answer to my own question.
He had learned his lessons well. He was responding within a template I had pounded into his heart long ago that told him I won’t love him if he makes mistakes.
Even as I thought about how I’m so different now, I have to admit that if he had told me about this incident when it took place, my response might have been more “I told you so” and less “I respect you for sharing this with me.”
If I were Big Guy, I might not have said anything to me, either. He says he didn’t tell me because he was embarrassed. He has been working hard to grow in his leadership in our marriage, and he was afraid that my knowledge about what happened might affect my view of his leadership.
My love and respect for him are not contingent on whether or not he makes mistakes—but at a gut level, he wasn’t ready to trust me not to change what I think of him. A small part of him doesn’t yet feel completely safe with me.
I clearly have more work to do on rebuilding my trustworthiness. Still, the fact that we have been able to talk about this and that he could tell me what he was thinking shows me that he is making progress on his journey of healing.
A husband’s recovery from sexual refusal and gate-keeping can take time. I have watched my husband move through stages of disbelief, tentative enjoyment of regular sexual activity, and relaxation in the fact that he no longer has to wonder if he was going to be able to have sex. He has trusted me with his sexuality enough to request some activities that we had never done and that I had shot down years earlier.
For so many men, sex is about their hearts as much as it is about another part. The wonderful chemical connections concocted through orgasm pull us deeply into their hearts. It seems as though our sexual connections with them become part of how our husbands see who they are.
A healthy and vibrant sexual relationship with his wife feeds a man’s heart. A husband who experiences celibacy or a restricted sex life because of his wife’s refusal or gate-keeping, however, has a heart that is starved. He learns to protect his heart in many ways. The constant rejection, the lack of the one way they best feel our love, the restrictions, the drama, the eye rolling, the duty sex . . . all of it hurts. Their trust in us is damaged.
My husband’s heart has more healing to do. He has un-learned most of the lessons my refusal and gate-keeping taught him about sex.
Sex, however, isn’t just about sex. The scars we leave are more than sex-deep. They’re heart-deep.
It is easy for me to wallow in my own feelings of hurt. When I step outside my own feelings, though, I can see my husband’s heart more clearly. Some of the wounds I inflicted are still in the process of healing. These wounds show me where I need to do some work on myself. My husband’s journey directs me on my own, even as we move forward together as our marriage grows.
Have you thought about how your husband’s heart has withstood the hurt you have inflicted on it? Can your husband trust you? Does he feel safe with you? What do you need to do to help this happen?
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