The moment it hit me how much I’d hurt my husband by my years of resisting sex in our marriage, I made a commitment to really change. I stuck with it, and it worked.
This time, it worked. You see, it wasn’t the first time I’d tried to work on sex.
Every time before, I gave up practically as soon as I started. It was so much harder than I thought it would be.
People around me made marriage look so easy from the outside, and I had no idea that sometimes marriage requires a stretch of hard work. Every time I tried, it was hard.
Not only did it not make things better, it seemed to make things worse. My husband was still grouchy the next day and was asking me for sex again just a couple days later. Meanwhile, the effort had made me even more vulnerable than usual, so his grouchiness hurt me even more than it usually did.
On top of that, sex had become progressively more difficult for me over the years. Like many women, frequent sex makes it easier for me to desire sex and to get aroused during sexual activity. The lack of sex, however, makes these things much harder. It was almost like my body had completely forgotten how to have sex, so every time we did it, I was figuring it out all over again. I often thought of the expression “use it or lose it”—but it took so much out of me that the thought of using it more (in other words, having sex more frequently) was distasteful.
Eventually, the string of all my failed attempts to make improvements became another hurdle to jump over. I already know it will be hard and that I’ll probably fail. Is it really worth the effort?
All these things worked together against my frequent good intentions. I would try to do better because I knew that our sex life as a problem somehow, but every time I made the effort, the hurdle got higher. Every. Single. Time.
What had once been a small hill to climb became an ever-growing mountain looming in front of me.
Instead of doing the hard stuff, I gave up.
I have arthritis in my knees and lower back. When I’ve been sitting in one position for too long, it hurts to stand up.
This past weekend we traveled to visit Big Guy’s family. I sat for hours—in the car on the way there, in the restaurant, and in the car again on the way home. Each time, the experience of standing up and just being still was painful. I don’t know how awful my first steps looked, but I felt like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz as he shakes off the last of his rust and lets the oil begin to do its work.
It’s always like that. If I am in sitting position for too long, it hurts to move again. It hurts, but I do it anyway. (However, if my leg collapsed beneath me, moving might create more damage. I have to be smart, and some pain shouldn’t be walked off.)
It’s hard to move, but I do it—and then it aches and feels swollen for the next couple days. And then it feels better.
Yesterday morning I got up, and while I could move, I still felt stiff. A friend took me out for breakfast (thanks, you!) and we sat for over an hour trying to get caught up on each other’s lives.
I went to stand up, and again, ow.
My doctor tells me that the best thing to do for my arthritis at this stage is to walk, even though it may hurt. It won’t take away my arthritis, but walking will do all sorts of good things—rebuild my joints, help me lose weight, and strengthen the muscles that support my knees. Walking helps long-term and short-term.
Walking hurts, but it is also the thing that will help me the most.
So yesterday afternoon I took a walk. I thought about turning around several times. Other people dashed past me on their walks and runs while my knees ached. At one point (halfway up a hill I’d forgotten about), I briefly wished I could call someone to come give me a ride home so I could skip the rest of my walk. When I got to a small park, I sat on the bench for a couple minutes to stretch and rest my knees. I looked at the view in front of me and reminded myself that I could do this and I would be okay. Then I stood back up (ow) and started moving again. Once I got past the worst of the hill, things were easier. When I saw that I was on the home stretch, I felt energized and accomplished.
I knew my knees would be sore, and I knew that I would come home feeling all achy. I was right. I came home and sat on my chair with my legs propped up and stretched out after taking some ibuprofen. I expected some soreness—but I also knew that taking a walk after being stuck in the same position for so long the day before would serve me well in the long run.
I was right. Today, although I still have some lingering soreness, my knees are not in pain. It doesn’t hurt to stand up.
I am better today because yesterday I did something that was hard.
This is exactly how it was for me once I committed to truly working on the sexual intimacy in our marriage.
I was discouraged because I didn’t see that people I knew were actually working on their own marriages. Everything about sexual intimacy was hard because I’d been stuck in the same position of “no, thank you” for so long. My body had to learn how to respond sexually after years of distaste. My mind and heart had to relearn, too.
Just like when I stand up after extended sitting, my first few steps toward intimacy in my marriage were a little lurching. It hurt to get moving again. Even after I got started, everything felt a little awkward.
One thing made a difference this time: I stuck with it even when it was hard and I wanted to give up.
The hardest habits to develop—praying about intimacy, taking deep breaths before responding, learning God’s truth about sexuality, and letting thoughts rather than feelings control my actions—are the very things that helped me the most.
I kept at it, and I saw results: I rebuilt connections in my marriage. I began to shed the weight of all the baggage I’d dragged into the marriage. I strengthened many of the things that continue to provide support as I grow even now.
As I began to see that I was past the most difficult parts, I found even more energy to keep going until I arrived. I wouldn’t say that I’m entirely there yet, but I’m close.
If you are beginning the journey toward better intimacy in your marriage, know that it may be hard for a while. Know that you may encounter a few unexpected hills along the way. (If it hurts too deeply, or for too long, there may be deeper issues that need to be addressed. Some pain shouldn’t be walked off, after all.)
Don’t retreat at the first sign of difficulty. Emotional growth often includes growing pains.
Be encouraged, sweet sister, and know that it will likely get easier as you go along.
For many of us, our marriages will be better tomorrow because today we put in the effort to do something hard.
Know, too, that it is okay to take breaks to catch your breath while you’re on your journey.
Keep your eyes on the horizon, and then get moving again.
It may be hard, but you can do it.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10