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.
I was in a house where I used to live. Into the room walked a man. He was one of the husbands who have written to me over the past few years—a man who is articulate and expressive in discussing the emotional disconnection he experiences in the face of his wife’s constant avoidance of sex.
He sat down and watched me, saying nothing.
I glanced up from what I was doing. I put down what was in my hands.
“How are you?” I asked.
He began to weep. “My wife avoids me so much,” he said, “that I can’t remember the last time she asked me how I was. My own wife doesn’t care how I am.”
At that point in my dream, his wife walked into the room, took one look at him, said that he must be complaining about sex again, rolled her eyes, and walked away.
Having been the wife who often rolled her eyes and walked away, I saw myself in this woman. I understood the feelings of annoyance and anxiety when a husband is expressing dissatisfaction about the marriage in general or about sex in particular. I understood how a man’s tears can feel like an attempt at manipulation. I understood the pressure that a wife can feel about sex.
In my dream, I saw myself in the wife—and I also saw the husband. His words stayed with me long after I woke up.
I can’t remember the last time she asked me how I was.
It got me thinking about how I’d treated Big Guy.
Avoiding sex became a special talent. With all the attention I put into avoiding sex, I was probably more sex-focused than I accused my husband of being.
Feeling guilty about giving a direct “no,” I preferred to prevent him from asking me altogether. I was preemptive by making him feel guilty about pressuring me, making him feel bad about himself, or letting an argument develop where none needed to be.
I minimized visual stimulation in order to not give him any ideas about sex. I donned my “don’t touch me” pajamas, low-cut tops were a thing of the past, I stopped wearing anything he complimented me on, and I made sure I didn’t bend over in his presence (or, if bending was unavoidable, I would angle my body in a way that would minimize his view).
These preemptive strikes were directly related to our sexual connection, but there was something else I did that was worse:
I avoided communicating any care or concern at all for Big Guy.
I can’t remember the last time she asked me how I was.
At one time, my husband could have said these same words.
I was afraid that if Big Guy thought that I really cared about how he was doing, he might see it as an open door to sex. Protecting myself from sex had become more important than treating my husband with more than a distant civility.
I thought I was just avoiding sex—but my approach to avoiding sex hurt my husband’s heart as much as the sexual disconnection itself did.
My husband rarely heard me express care or concern for him. I can’t imagine what it is like to go through the day, day after day, never hearing your life partner caring about how you are—yet that was his reality for quite a while.
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus tells us, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” I had failed at the golden rule with my own husband.
The husband in my dream showed me what my husband must’ve felt for so long. He wept the tears of a man who was lonely and knew that he always would be. He had a look in his eyes that I had often seen in Big Guy’s eyes—a look that spoke of sadness, loneliness, and feeling unlovable. It is a look I wish I could un-see.
In my dream, the man’s wife left the room. I saw what the man, in his own sorrow, could not.
On the other side of the door, she dropped to the floor, arms wrapped around her knees, her own eyes full of pain and tears. She, too, as lost and lonely, feeling unloved and unlovable. Her avoidance of sex to the point of avoiding any expression of concern or caring had deprived her of the same things she denied her husband.
In my strategic avoidance of sex, I eliminated almost all pathways of emotional connection with my husband. Why would a man who feels his wife doesn’t love him want to reach out to her?
I craved emotional intimacy yet made it impossible to find.
Like the wife in my dream, I often sat alone, full of sorrow and oblivious to the fact that I was preventing the emotional connection for which I yearned.
Wives who avoid sex often do so for reasons that are complicated and difficult to understand.
The process of untangling it all can be overwhelming and slow. It may take a while just to decide to even make the attempt to work through it all.
If you are still trying to figure out how to work on sex, you may be employing the same avoidance strategies that I once did.
Even if you aren’t yet ready to commit to addressing sex, I want to encourage you to consider this question:
Is your avoidance of sex interfering with non-sexual connection as well?
Is the way you avoid sex adding to the emotional disconnection in your marriage? Are you inadvertently making things worse?
Asking your husband how he is won’t solve problems of emotional disconnection—but it can be a step in the right direction.
Most husbands find that sexual connection is the pathway to emotional connection with their wives. Words of love and concern without sexual action seem hollow—but imagine what it is like to not even hear the words.
Speaking the words of care and concern are as much about you as they are about your husband. Small acts of love and care can lead to regular habits that can lead to real, lasting heart change.
Speaking words of care can help your heart grow in genuine love and care for your husband.
Next time you see your husband, make an attempt to connect. Pause. Look him in the eyes. Ask him, “How are you?” And then open your heart to listen to his.
Could your husband be the one who sat and sobbed in my dream? Could you be the wife who sat and cried on the other side of the closed door?
Even if you aren’t yet ready to reach out and touch your husband, perhaps you can at least reach out and ask him how he is. Keep the emotional pathway open.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net