Is the way you avoid sex adding to the emotional disconnection in your marriage?

My hormones have been wonky lately as I head into menopause. Part of this has included an increase in vivid dreams. Sometimes the dreams relate to what I write about on this blog.

Recently I had such a dream that has stayed with me. Read More →

What does emotional disconnection look like to you?

I spend a lot of time here writing about our husbands.

That grows out of my own experience. I’ve written about the difficult moment when I realized how deeply my husband had been hurt by my sexual rejection of him. Many women have shared that they, too, just didn’t understand.

It was only when we were able to understand on an emotional level what sex means to our husbands—and how the lack of sex hurt them emotionally—that we were able to take that first step toward improving the sexual intimacy–and the overall intimacy–in our marriages.

Understanding our husbands and having compassion for them does not require us to set aside our own feelings. It doesn’t mean that our husbands are more important than we are. Read More →

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The Scales of Justice

One evening last month, I received several messages from a man who had found my blog. Unsigned (but with a valid email address), he proceeded to tell me what he saw in my posts:

  • I am a tool of Satan in hurting my husband.
  • In his failure to address the fact that we were unequally yoked, my husband “has given in to his own sense of damnation, deciding he doesn’t deserve any better.”
  • I view my compliance with my marriage vows as bestowing a blessing on my husband. I am a forgiven wife “for being kind to a pet that used to be a man.”
  • I am still married only because my husband surrendered and makes no choices. What I see as forgiveness is “nothing more than the mewling plea for mercy of a slave.”
  • I defrauded my husband of the purpose of marriage; I destroyed the marriage.
  • While I’m clear about the fact that I was wrong, I fail to admit that my husband (“the hapless man you cheated”) was right. I show no gratitude or respect. I show no contrition, and I broke my husband.
  • The only thing of value in my posts is “the caution that a self-centered woman remains so even when she starts acting otherwise.”
  •  I am the source of my husband’s eternal doom, I am forgiven by my husband only because every dog is happy at feeding time, and I haven’t groveled enough in apology to my husband.

He told me about a genre of fiction that focuses on revenge against cheating wives—women who intentionally defraud their husbands of sex, engage in affairs or casual sex with other men, and spend the money earned by their hard-working husbands. He told me, “More often, we men who read them fantasize about being strong enough to resist and reject the pleas for forgiveness of such wives.”

I briefly wondered why he’d included this information in his messages to me. After all, I didn’t cheat. I did, however, defraud my husband of what his marriage could and should have been for a long time. Still, isn’t it a little strong to compare that to blatant infidelity? To cheat is, among other things, to deprive of something expected. In marriage, sex is expected, so I couldn’t outright dismiss the comparison. The fact that his mind had made the connection between outright cheating and refusal stayed with me.

Reading this reader’s messages and a couple revenge stories I found online made my heart heavy. What happens that makes a man so bitter that he writes stories of such horrible revenge? What happens that makes a man see refusal as something comparable to infidelity? What is it about refusal that twists a knife in a man’s heart and lets hatred loose?

Which Is Better?

I recently invited husbands to participate in a survey about duty sex (sex in which the wife lies there waiting for it to be over rather than fully participating). (I’ve written about the results in several other posts, linked at the bottom of this one.)

One of the questions elicited evenly divided responses: Which is better—duty sex or no sex? I haven’t known what to make of the responses. Since I opened the survey, the ratio has been consistent. About half the men surveyed said they would prefer duty sex due to the need for a physical release and the occasional hope that they could persuade their wives to participate as they went along.

The fact that half the men said they would prefer no sex at all is what has me puzzled. It has forced me to recognize that for these men, sex clearly isn’t about just a physical release—and that’s what the other half of the respondents said, too, even though they preferred duty sex to no sex. Still, it is important to note that for half the men who did this survey, real, fully engaged sex is so fulfilling that a substitute for it is undesirable and unacceptable. When their wives don’t fully participate, these men feel deprived of what married sex should be.

They are deprived. They are cheated. It isn’t about the sexual release. They’re cheated of a deep emotional and transforming connection with their wives.

It is easy for women to underestimate what sex means to their husbands. Many of us may have a lower drive than our husbands. We may truly believe that our men think about sex too much. We have emotional connections in so many areas of our lives that we don’t see that for our husbands, the only emotional connection may be us. I think we get more non-sexual touch than men tend to as well. When we sexually refuse or restrict, we deprive our husbands–even if we don’t feel any deprivation at all.

Becoming Bitter

In an earlier post I wrote about what some of the men said in their survey comments, I wrote, “When we provide duty sex, we damage our husbands’ hearts.” I’d like to look at that same idea from a different perspective:

When we deprive our husbands of sex, we damage their hearts.

Sometimes, I think this damage happens right in front of my eyes. I see comments posted on various marriage blogs. I’ve looked at the #sexlessmarriage tweets on Twitter. I’ve seen the heartbreak conveyed in emails to me.

I see men who are full of despair. They say their wives’ sexual control (including gate-keeping and outright refusal) is the most difficult thing in their lives. They feel powerless, disrespected, unmanly. They plod through their days, feeling they’ve sacrificed so much of the joy they could have had. They have a roommate rather than a wife.

Some men work on themselves and try to be the best husbands they can, convinced that they have the power to change the sexual refusal. Other men may give up completely, resigned to a life without sex and all the deep emotional intimacy it brings. They come to terms with facing a shell of the life they should have. Some men make escape plans with the intention of leaving once the kids are out of the house, or their wives finish their degrees and become employable, or they pay down one more debt so they can afford a divorce. Or they stop caring for their health. They become careless with their lives, thinking that maybe they will escape the chains of the misery they’ve found in their marriages.

Or maybe they become very, very bitter. They fantasize about revenge.

A Sad Story

I think about the man who sent me the messages about how I broke my husband. I wonder what his story is. I’ve prayed for him several times to find peace, and to find God. I’ve prayed for him to see forgiveness and grace in his life.

What is it about refusal that twists a knife in a man’s heart and lets hatred loose?

When we deprive our husbands of sex, we damage their hearts.

At the end of one of his messages to me, this man with a damaged heart said, referring to my husband, “What a sad man, and sad story.”

Indeed.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Other posts related to the survey:

tree heart

I’ve dug deep enough now to uncover the roots of my refusal and gate-keeping. I felt emotionally disconnected from my husband, I had control issues, and I dragged a lot of baggage into the marriage. Plus, sex just wasn’t fun for me as we were getting started. We had three kids in three years and I worked full time. I was tired. I had lots to do. It was hard to find time or energy for sex.

Building the Wall

In my first post on this blog, I talk about some of these issues. Things had been getting progressively worse for years, but I can pinpoint the period of time when wall I’d been building between us became solid.

Ten years into our marriage, we relocated for my husband’s job. Adjusting to our new home and my new version of life was much harder than I expected. I needed my husband emotionally more than I had at any other time. He was trying to navigate a new job and felt guilty about having relocated us and indirectly causing the problems we were having–so he wouldn’t let me talk about what I really needed to. It was too hard for him.

I’d left a stable job that I loved and where I had worked hard to earn a solid reputation. I took a large pay cut when we moved, going to a job where I needed to start from scratch. I had no friends other than my husband. I looked for things to participate in at church, but there was no child care and I didn’t know babysitters. My husband’s schedule was too unpredictable to commit to anything on a regular basis. The kids had a difficult transition to a new school, too, and I was the one who was providing the support they needed. After a summer of being a single parent while my husband started his new job and I tried to sell the house, I had absolutely no emotional reserve left in me.

I desperately needed emotional support. I needed to be able to talk and to cry. I needed to be able to work through the stresses that had built up during the summer. My husband was so happy to have his family with him again and just wanted to move forward. He didn’t understand the purpose of hashing over my experiences from the summer. And he couldn’t bear to have me share what I was going through after we moved, either. Seeing my pain made him feel guilty, so he verbally dismissed my feelings or deflected them or told me I should pull myself together and move forward. I understand now that he did this out of his own feelings about having uprooted his family. At the time, however, I felt desperately alone, unloved by the only friend I had in my life.

For over a year, I tried to talk with him about this. And every single time, I felt dismissed. And every time, I added another brick to the wall. As he became less available to me emotionally, I became less available to him physically. I simply couldn’t bear opening my body to this man I couldn’t trust with my heart.

A few years later, my refusal had become a pattern. At one point, he asked me if I knew why it had happened. I tried to explain. His response was that it was in the past and I should be over it.

In that moment, the last brick fell into place.

The Journey of Letting Go

Part of my journey of sexual healing has involved working through all this. I learned how to ask my husband about what was going through his mind during all those conversations. I thought about his point of view. I worked to forgive him for the hurt I felt. I understood that the fact that I felt hurt did not mean that he had intended any hurt. I let go of this time in our lives.

I now can communicate (usually) my emotional needs in a way that my husband understands. I can look beyond my feelings to see his intention and effort. I know that sex can restore the emotional balance. When I least feel the emotional connection, we most need to have sex.

What I know about myself, my husband, and our marriage is light years ahead of what I could see when the refusal was becoming a pattern.

The memories have stayed inside me. They no longer hurt, but I remember the loneliness and the sadness of that time. I let go of the need to share this all with my husband. I figured if he ever asked, I would tell him—but I also accepted that if he never wanted to know, I would be okay. The past was finally in the past.

Healing

This afternoon, I asked my husband about what it was like for him when I was refusing. As we talked, our conversation meandered into when the refusal had started. He was able to identify when he first felt the intense burden of my refusal and thought it had started then.

I said, “No, it was before that. I know exactly when it was.” “Tell me,” he said. So I did.

I said all the things I tried to say all those years ago. I was able to do it without tears. He heard me, all the way through. He heard me as I shared my pain but also as I expressed an understanding of what he had been experiencing at the time.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

The words I’d yearned to hear all those years ago, said out of genuine feeling and regret, were freely given to me today.

His words were all the more precious because I had accepted that I would probably never hear them. The words reached into my heart and healed a place I didn’t know was still hurting.

Right there, in between writing the grocery list and unloading the dishwasher, I was healed of a hurt I’d held onto for years.

I am not the only woman who has let hurt from long ago affect her marriage bed. For some of us, the decision to take even one step toward changing sexually includes an acknowledgement that we somehow have to set those hurts aside.

Changing sexual behavior was hard. Letting go of my emotional hurt was so much harder. Once I realized that my sexual change had started to knock down the wall, I had to make a decision to either keep part of the wall intact or to let it go. I made a decision to let it go.

And today, while I was sitting at the kitchen table, healing happened.