I was unbearable. I snapped at my husband. My words dripped with sarcasm all day long. I vaguely recall rolling my eyes several times. It was one of those days when I couldn’t even stand myself.
As much as I’d like to tell you that this was years ago, the truth is that it was just this past weekend. My husband and I have been under some stress as we are both in job searches. We’ve each had some rough days, and we’ve generally been good at extending each other some grace as we move through this time.
That day I felt the stress and anxiety of our current situation more acutely than I have for some time. It was too much, and while my stress was understandable, my behavior went beyond anything that should be tolerated. Still, my husband put up with me throughout the day.
At bedtime, as Big Guy was taking care of some things I had left on the bed, I walked into the bedroom complaining about something he’d asked me to do. (He was taking care of my mess, and the thing he’d asked me to do was a wrap-up of something he had done for me a few minutes earlier.) The next sound I heard was the snapping of his last nerve.
He rebuked me—as well he should have. While his rebuke had undertones of his own frustration (no surprise there—he’s human, after all, and I had pushed all day long), he said things that I needed to hear, as much as I didn’t want to.
I sat on the edge of the bed, tears pouring down my face as I listened to his words. I was full of remorse and ashamed of my behavior. A bit later, as my husband held me while I sobbed, I felt the burdens lift from me. And then my heart and mind flashed back to the countless times we’d been in nearly the same place, with my husband rebuking me and me crying on the edge of the bed—about our sex life.
If you have been withholding sex in your marriage, it is likely that your husband has approached you already about the matter. More than once.
We had sex conversations many times, over years.
My husband was miserable. Deprived of intimacy, many of these conversations occurred only when he felt pushed to his breaking point. Because my refusal was connected to what I saw as him depriving me of emotional connection, I thought I was justified in withholding sex.
We were two hurt people who were hurting each other. Our sex conversations were usually confrontations that resulted in arguing. We were both hurling accusations at each other, complaining about things that had nothing to do with the bedroom, defending our own words and actions, and insulting each other in pretty awful ways.
There were times, though, when my husband approached me gently, allowing me to see his pain without pressuring me. I realize now how incredibly difficult this must have been. Those times, though, were the ones that led me to sit in tearful remorse on my side of the bed, wondering why it was so hard to want to have sex with my own husband. Those were the rebukes that made inroads into my hardened heart.
The Bible tell us that when someone is sinning, we need to be gentle in helping the person leave the sin:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. Galatians 6:1
My husband’s gentle and sincere rebukes were the only ones that got my attention.
How do you respond?
No one likes to be corrected, but the Bible calls us to accept rebuke as well as offer it. The fact is that whether or not you think your sexual withholding is sin, your husband has a right to call you out on things you do that hurt him. (You also have a right to all him out on his sins—but doing so as a counter-rebuke isn’t going to get you anywhere.)
When your husband has approached you to discuss the lack of intimacy and sex in your marriage, how have you responded? How should you respond?
Do you . . .
- Defend your refusing or gate-keeping, or deny that you’ve been doing anything hurtful?
- Assume ill will on your husband’s part and respond on this assumption?
- Attack your husband for how we approached you, or for wanting sex at all?
- Point out things your husband has done (or not done) and use them to blame him for the lack of intimacy?
- Dissolve into tears to the point of being unable to hear his words?
- Run out of the room and refuse to discuss it?
- Completely shut down, tuning your husband out until he finishes?
As Dr. Phil asks, “How’s that working for you?”
For years, my responses to my husband’s attempts to discuss our sex life were variations of this list. It never worked—for me, for my husband, or for my marriage
Sometimes, my response would elicit raw emotion from my husband. With the presence of the emotional connection I’d been seeking, sometimes our arguments would lead to sex—but it was rarely satisfying. We would both be distracted by the frustration of wondering why we had to fight to experience any intimacy at all. Most of the time, though, my response would result in one of us leaving the bedroom to escape the difficult intensity of the room.
A Better Response
When you are hurting, full of emotion, confused, or feeling pressured, it is understandable that you want to respond out of that experience. As much as those feelings are understandable, these kinds of responses resolve nothing. They leave you both feeling worse than before.
Let a righteous man strike me–that is a kindness; let him rebuke me–that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers. Psalm 141:5
My response the other day was a much better response than I had for all those years. What worked?
- I was pretty frustrated with my behavior myself and knew I needed to be called on how I’d been acting. I knew my words throughout the day were indefensible, so I chose not to defend them. Basically, I was not in denial about the fact that I’d been obnoxious and hurtful.
- I assumed the best from my husband rather than the worst. Although I got the frustrated version of Big Guy, I also decided to dig past that to the love I know he feels for me.
- I focused on his message and not how he delivered it.
- I took the blame for my behavior and sin on my own shoulders.
- Although I was in tears, I simply let them happen rather than become the focus of my response.
- I sat and listened, even though it wasn’t particularly pleasant.
- I took deep breaths and listened until my husband was finished.
I allowed myself to be discerning rather than reactive. I was open to the idea that I had been wrong.
A rebuke impresses a discerning person more than a hundred lashes a fool. Proverbs 17:10
For all those years, my responses to rebuke had drowned us both in my emotion and resolved absolutely nothing. The other night, my emotions were just as intense. After all, I hadn’t been a jerk all day because I was in a good mood.
The difference was that I made a decision to respond intentionally rather than reactively.
The result was dramatically different. I apologized, with genuine remorse and repentance. The rebuke and my repentant response led to reconciliation rather than a night with one of us on the couch.
My husband was pretty frustrated with me the other day. (In other words, he yelled. I had pushed too far.) I found myself ready to take a breath to start in on how it wasn’t my fault. Instead, I took a breath and . . . decided to just breathe and listen.
After I apologized, I launched myself into my husband’s arms. As he held me, I found myself wondering what would have happened during my refusing years if I had taken this more mature and Biblical approach to rebuke. When my husband’s rebuke was most gentle, my response was closest to what it should have been—but my response was always my choice.
Experiencing the reconciliation that comes with a right response served as a reminder of how wrong my responses had been for so many years.
When your husband approaches you to discuss intimacy, perhaps even to provide some rebuke, how do you respond? Do you react, or do you choose a response that leads to reconciliation and deeper intimacy?
Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17
Photo courtesy of morgueFile.com