Nearly three years ago, our marriage was in a sad state. My husband was depressed. I was at a point where I felt apathetic many days. I wondered whether our marriage would make it; to be honest, I didn’t always care whether it did or not.The journey to recovery that has healed our marriage began as one of sexual restoration. I’ve thought that our journey was over. We’ve done the work, and we’re both happy in our marriage. Job well done, right? Well, right….but maybe there’s more.
I’m going to simplify for a moment where my husband and I were just a few years ago. He needed sexual connection to feel loved. I needed emotional connection to feel loved. Neither one of us was experiencing the connection we needed, and we both felt starved of love.
I’ve written about how the road from sexual refusal to restoration is a process, with a husband and wife having different experiences as they make this journey. Sexual connection was what my husband needed, and once I realized how I’d been hurting him, it became my goal to work toward a sexually healthy marriage.
The beginning of the path toward sexual healing was particularly bumpy. As I tried to unlearn old behavior and learn new ways of responding, there was a lot of trial and error. Sometimes, the very act of trying to respond intentionally rather than reactionarily (close my eyes and take deep breaths) would push my husband away. There were times when I’d made a huge leap in effort and my husband would complain about what I still was not doing rather than enjoying what I was doing to him. I fell down many times, and it was always hard to get up. Sometimes, I felt like I’d been floored, with the wind knocked out of me. I would make a genuine effort, and my husband would respond out of years of frustration–and then it made me harder to try again the next time. I was unsuccessful more often than not in the beginning. It’s been hard work. Our marriage’s sexual growth hasn’t been easy for either of us–even for my husband, who acknowledges that I’ve done much of the work and he’s been the recipient.
The sexual connection my husband needs is complete. He feels loved as never before. He knows he is desired. He sees me doing hard work to strive to be respectful of him. As the tension has largely faded away in our marriage, I now feel greater emotional connection as a by-product of the sexual connection. So we both get what we need, and we both feel loved. He needed sexual connection, and I learned to provide it. I thought our journey to recovery was over and that we could now just work on maintaining what we’ve achieved.
Recently, however, I’ve been sensing that we may be on another leg of the journey. I have observed my husband making a point of paying attention to my emotional state in ways he never has before. Opening my heart to him sexually has resulted in greater emotional vulnerability on my part. If I am weepy, he holds me. When his actions or words are followed by my tears or a visible attempt to control my response, he pauses to think about what he’s just said or done. He apologizes when his actions or words hurt me. He is making an effort to change in how he interacts with me on an emotional level.
Nearly three years ago, I began to be intentional about improving our sexual connection. Is it possible that my husband is beginning to be intentional about improving our emotional connection, the thing I need in order to feel loved? Or has he been doing this for a while and I’m just now noticing?
For a few years, we’ve been traveling a path of me working to provide something he needed and him working to learn to accept it. Have we taken on different roles now, with him working to provide something I need and me working to learn to accept it?
My husband is trying to unlearn old behavior and new ways of responding emotionally. There is going to be trial and error. He is going to make mistakes. He will fall down, and I need to remember to respond with gratitude for the effort rather than with the frustration of having felt emotionally disconnected for so long.
In a recent conversation, my husband was quite growly about something sexual. I found myself wondering why I’d gone to all the effort to put myself out there, to learn to meet my husband’s sexual desires, to do all the work I’d done of changing myself. Why did I even bother?
But now I can look at that conversation and shift my point of view. I was seeing it as a response to my efforts of sexual change. However, when I look at it as a sign of his efforts at emotional change, I recognize that it was my husband learning how to connect emotionally. Instead of feeling frustrated and useless, I feel loved and honored by his effort.
I know my husband and I will both make mistakes. This next leg of the journey will challenge me as I learn to accept my my husband’s work. When I look at how far we’ve come in three years of effort so far, I’m excited to think of where we are headed. The journey that I thought was over will take us places I never imagined our marriage would go.