Your heart has softened, and you’ve begun to understand how much your refusal has hurt your husband.

You’ve decided to change your approach to sexual intimacy, with a goal of no more refusing. You know that your husband receives your love best through sex, and you’re determined to make sure he knows you love him.

You’re committed to doing better. Whew! It took a long time to get to this point, but now that you’re here, things should be easy going. Maybe you’ve even tried to change before, but this time, you’re really committed to making it stick.

So you go along the way, learning to identify what triggers your anxiety, fear, hurt, and anger. You’re learning some strategies to deal with these feelings, and you’re generally successful. You’ve initiated a few times, and you’ve even managed to step outside your sexual comfort zone once or twice.

You’ve learned to extend your husband some grace and allow for his own healing process, even though you sometimes wonder if he’s even noticed all the work you’ve been doing on yourself.

At times, you think you can even glimpse God’s purpose for sex in marriage. You’re feeling closer to your husband, and he even seems less tense or sad than he used to.

All in all, you’re feeling pretty good about what you’re doing. Yay, you!

A Stumble

And then, one day, it all seems to fall apart:

You fall back into an old way of reacting to your husband’s sexual advance. You roll your eyes. You ask him how he can even think of sex when you still have two loads of laundry to do before bedtime and you both have to get up early in the morning. Your husband gropes at you and you brush his hands away without even thinking about it.

You notice that your husband has become complacent and stopped wooing you. At least when you were refusing, he tried to romance you—but now he’s like a kid in a candy store and is always talking about sex, sex, sex and never seems to think about what you would like.

Maybe you’re feeling unloved because all the while you’ve been learning to meet your husband’s needs, your needs have been piling up, unmet. When do you get what you need?

Or you’re feeling worn out and just want to go back to the feeling of being in control and not having to meet other people’s needs all the time. You soak in the bathtub and long for the days when a bubble bath was a truly relaxing preparation for sleep instead of a precursor to sex, again.

Or both of you respond out of old habits and the next thing you know, you’re having a fight about sex like you haven’t had since you were refusing.

It’s enough to wear a woman out. You’ve been working so hard, but here you are, feeling the same old feelings you had before.

You can’t help but wonder,

Has it all been for nothing? Have I been fooling myself? Is our marriage just as bad off as it was before? Why do I even bother?

You know in your head that you’re doing the right thing, but your heart is hurting and you don’t know how to move forward—and you aren’t even sure you want to go forward.

What’s a wife to do?


We can find ourselves easily discouraged when we stumble.

It can feel like a failure. Shouldn’t sex come naturally? It’s bad enough that I have to be working at this in the first place—and now I’ve failed. Again. 

It can remind you of how much work you still have ahead of you. It can feel like you’ve made absolutely no progress at all.

It can make you want to give up. In fact, the very questions that pop into your head about whether it’s been worth it can make it even harder to believe that getting back on track is the right thing to do.

When you stumble, how can you reboot yourself, dust yourself off, and resume your journey?

  1. Allow yourself to explore your feelings if that’s what you need to do. I know that if I wallow in self-pity for more than five minutes, I sink to a new level of sadness—so I limit myself. And yes, that means I set the timer for five minutes. During that time, I cry, I pour out my sorrow onto God’s shoulders, I release all those negative feelings.
  2. Go back to the same things that helped you begin to change in the first place. For me, the two big things that helped me grow most were praying and breathing. I prayed for perspective and or our marriage to stay firm. When I stumbled, I took several deep breaths and reminded myself of the truths about marriage and the many ways my marriage is so much better now than it used to be.
  3. Pull yourself back together and go to your husband. This was hard for me at first. Early on, there were times I was so full of hurt and anger, and I would almost be sick to my stomach at the thought of being loving to my husband when I felt the way I did toward him. I discovered that the more I did this, the easier it was the next time. Sometimes going to my husband meant that I would offer the very thing I had just refused to do. Other times it meant I offered a heart-felt apology. It has always included a verbal expression of my love and an attempt at a physical connection (even if not a sexual one).
  4. Praise God for having helped you get moving again. Sometimes my negative feelings were too big for me to have moved past them on my own. It was only through God’s help that I could pull myself up out of my quicksand of self-pity.

I Still Stumble

Today marks four years since I began my journey to change. During the first few months, I fell. A lot. Despite my good intentions, I would still say no, or I would start making the grocery list in my head—and I forced myself to get back on track.

Since then, I’ve stumbled a lot. I will find that old feelings resurface, and I have to give extra effort to working past those feelings. I still have to go back through the process of giving myself a five-minute pity party, praying and breathing, going to my husband, and thanking God.

Most of the time now, my journey is pretty smooth. From time to time, though, I still stumble . . .

. . . and when I stay “I still stumble,” I mean “earlier this week I stumbled.”

For the first time in four years, Big Guy and I had a fight about sex.

I don’t even know how it happened.

We had both been anticipating sexual and emotional intimacy throughout the day, with teasing, flirting, touching, and flashing.

Big Guy made a specific request. I asked him to help me get my mind in the game. My words weren’t a whole lot different than they used to be, and they tapped into the part of him that hasn’t yet healed from my refusal.

Before I knew it, we were having an argument about sexual and emotional needs and expectations. Because of the work we’ve both been doing, the outcome was entirely different than it used to be—but the physical and emotional experience of having that argument was all too familiar.

It was rotten.

I was right back in the experience of feeling used and unloved while I was physically trembling as I faced the prospect of sexual activity. I didn’t even know I could still feel that way.

The feelings I experienced were disheartening, to say the least:


At one point, I was sitting alone in our bedroom crying my eyes out while my husband was downstairs trying not to hear me—and I admit that I wasn’t exactly trying to cry quietly.

For a few minutes, I confess that I wondered why I had ever made the effort to change. Has it all been for nothing? Have I been fooling myself? Is our marriage just as bad off as it was four years ago? Why do I even bother?

I allowed myself my five minutes to cry. I took some deep breaths. I prayed. I asked God for perspective and for our marriage to stay firm. I asked Him to remind me of all the ways my marriage is better now than it used to be (and it is, in so very many ways).

I dried my eyes and walked downstairs. My husband was sitting on the couch, looking as sad as I felt. As I approached him, he opened his arms and just held me. We made up.

Moving Forward, Again

Four years into this journey, it’s hard knowing that I can still stumble.

Every single aspect of our marriage is better—communication, respect, affection, spirituality, comfort, joy, connection, and love.

Despite the fact that we still have plenty of work to do in all these areas, it feels like we now are in the marriage God wanted us to be in all along. We had veered so far off His path for us that we lost sight of it for years—but we found our way back and are moving forward.

But even four years into this journey, I still stumble.

Fortunately, I know that a stumble is just a snag, not a defeat.

It isn’t always easy, but I pick myself up and get moving again.

If you’ve committed to this journey, you can get moving again, too.

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13

Image courtesy of artur84 at

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11 Thoughts on “A Stumble Is Not a Defeat

  1. I so appreciate the honesty here. And I can relate too. There is excellent advice for both wives AND husbands contained in your thoughts here today. Instead of trying to be “right”, there are times to simply open our arms and hold our spouse, without another word. That action by itself speaks far more than any combination of words & phrases could.

    Thanks Chris. I appreciate this post more than you know.

  2. I have told my husband, “A silent hug is never the wrong response.” When we allow each other to mess up and then both reach back to each other, things are so much better than when it mattered who was right.

  3. Thanks for being so honest with us all. It’s good to know that even the experts still stumble. 🙂

  4. Heavy Heart on September 6, 2014 at 6:12 am said:

    Hi, agree like the silent hug! Thanks for sharing this. It’s like an emotional storm cloud rolls into our thoughts and rains all these doubts. It’s great to sit it out in prayer. I like to think of God of being jealous. He wants my affections, and will do anything to get my heart right with Him. He’s my first love, and without Him I can do nothing.
    Exodus 34:13
    For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
    Gills Exposition:(copied off of bible hub)

    for the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God; his name and nature answer to one another; he admits of no rival or competitor in worship; he will not give his glory to another god, or one so called, nor his praise to graven images; and in this he is distinguished from all nominal and fictitious gods, who have many joined with them, and are rivals of them, which gives them no concern, because insensible; but it is otherwise with the Lord, who knows the dishonour done him, and resents it, and is as jealous of any worship being given to another, as the husband is of the honour of his marriage bed; for idolatry is spiritual adultery, as is suggested in the following verse.

  5. What do you do when for whatever reason– you’re half asleep and can’t seem to wake up or really stressed at the moment–and can’t seem to “jump in”, but willing to serve. Then your husband sees that as refusal (which it’s not) so he gets angry and won’t have anything to do with you for the rest of the day? That been happening with us a lot lately. It seems he gets angry instead of sad. The works it out, but it still hurts.

    • For the first year after I stopped refusing, I ran into this kind of thing quite a bit. My husband wouldn’t respond in that particular way, but he would be surly and grouchy at me for a while.

      I did a lot of praying for the ability to extend grace. For my husband, this was part of his healing process. Anything that reminded him of his fear of me rejecting him would be perceived as rejection–even when it wasn’t. His responses actually got worse for a while, which I later realized was a sign that he was beginning to feel safer with me emotionally.

      If you used to refuse and now are not, your husband’s anger may be a delayed reaction to the hurt he had been feeling before–or perhaps it’s anger that was there all along and he only now feels safe enough to allow it to surface.

      It does hurt, and even if you determine that it is understandable, you need to decide whether or not to address it. My choice was to address it–when I knew I could do so with love, respect, and grace and not while I was hurting. I would go to my husband later in the day or the next day and ask to talk with him about what happened. When we talked, I would remind him of what I was trying to work on and explain what I had thought I was doing when I couldn’t get my mind into the zone. I would ask him what he had thought I was doing and whether that matched my recent actions. I would always ask him how he would prefer I deal with not having my mind in the zone (or whatever the situation was). Sometimes he would decide to do just as I had–and in the future, I could remind him that I was acting in a certain way because it’s what he requested.

      Have you asked your husband how he defines refusal? Do you ask what words or actions lead him to think that you are refusing?

      Even if you refused your husband for a long time, you still have the right to let your husband know that his response hurts you.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. I hope it’s just a short phase of his healing.

      • Thank you. : ) I’ve never refused him in the 34 years that we’ve been married – as I’ve seen it, but I have been “not totally there” so to speak. I’m most always fine to just “serve him” and not worry about me. That’s what I’ve really been trying to work on and praying a lot about, I think that is what he’s felt was refusing.

        I’m dealing with a lot of hormonal issues which he and I have talked about, but sometimes these issues have hit so fast that I don’t even know what I’m doing. Menopause is not what I thought.

        I appreciate the insight you’ve given. I will ask him how he defines refusal and what words or actions lead him to think that I’m refusing him.


        • Many husbands say that they would rather have no sex than have duty sex–so good for you to be working on this! Refusing, gate-keeping, giving duty sex, etc. are so similar in how a man experiences them emotionally–and they all came out of the exact same part of my heart.

          I hear you about menopause being a surprising experience. My body simply doesn’t do what I think it’s supposed to some days, and I don’t handle it with much grace, I’m afraid.

        • Thank you!

  6. Its amazing – I have been working on my anxiety levels and panic attacks for a while now as this has had a devastating impact on my marriage and intimacy with hubby. And when all is going swimmingly well, out of the blue, I would start feeling anxious and panicky. For no reason at all. I have learnt though to quote scripture and to focus on God’s truth and they don’t seem last as long as previously. And I have learnt – sorry, I AM learning, to focus on where I need to be, despite my feelings.

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