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.
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.