Dandelions are lovely little flowers, all full of sunshine and happiness—until they turn to seed. Then they become eyesores. They are considered weeds by quite a few folks, despite some medicinal and nutritional value.
My grandfather used to come visit us for long stretches of time during my childhood. He always took on the job of rooting out the dandelions. I would count all the dandelions to see how many we had to do. Then, my grandfather would sit on the grass next to me with a dandelion digger, roll up his sleeves, and tell me, “If you don’t get the whole taproot out, the dandelion will just grow back. Dig all the way down until you see the end of the root—and when you pull the plant out, take a look at the root and make sure you got it all. If you didn’t, you need to keep digging until the root is gone.”
So we would sit on the grass, moving from one dandelion to another, until they were all gone. I remember getting blisters on my hands and mud below my fingernails. I also remember looking at the bucket full of the dead dandelions and knowing that we were making progress in ridding the yard of weeds.
The Roots of Refusal
I’ve explored the roots of my sexual refusal a great deal. To someone who has not been a sexual refuser, this may seem a pointless exercise in frustration. Every reason, experience, or feeling I identify comes across as, well, an excuse.
To a refused husband, sex seems like such a simple thing for his wife to do—and the fact that she doesn’t do what he perceives as simple makes his hurt even deeper. How hard can it be to lie back for five minutes right?
In a way, it is a simple thing. A refusing wife is sinning, and she should stop. So does it even matter why she’s doing it, if we know it’s wrong?
Does the “why” behind her refusal even matter?
I believe it does.
But why? Why does “why” matter?
Sin Is Heart-Deep
When Jesus tells us that a man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart, it is pretty clear that our hearts are at the heart of our sins.
It sounds simple to say that a refusing wife should stop refusing—but if she stops refusing, has she automatically stopped sinning as well? If her behavior is right but her heart is wrong, is she still in sin? If her behavior is right and her heart is right, then is that all there is to deal with?
Once I began making changes, it was clear that my behavior was right (most of the time) and my heart was right. I was moving out of sin—so why was it still so hard? On the surface, the sin was gone—but something remained beneath the surface.
Why did it sometimes take so much courage for me to touch my husband? Why did I have to take so many deep breaths just to agree that we could have sex? Why did I find myself having anxiety attacks in the bathroom before sex sometimes? Why did it take me so long for me to get myself mentally ready for some sexual acts I didn’t want to do at first?
My sin was heart-deep, not surface-deep.
It is only in digging into the roots of my refusal that I have been able to get untangled enough to develop a healthier view of sex and my sexuality. Digging into the “why” uncovered some difficult things about my childhood and my young adult experiences. It opened a window to explain some of my heart’s feelings about my husband. It showed me that sexually refusing my husband was an outgrowth of things that really had nothing to do with him.
It was only when these things were brought into the light that I could work through them. Knowing why I’d been refusing showed me a path for true and deep healing.
My sexual changes began with my heart in the right place and my behavior adjusted. With my heart problems still intact, though, I don’t know how long the changes would have lasted. Maybe the changes would have lasted but my heart problems would have led to other problems. Maybe I would have continued to feel resentment boiling below the surface. Maybe everything would have been fine.
On the surface, the weed of refusal was gone. However, the taproot remained.
If the weed has been pulled but the taproot remains, it will simply grow back.
When we talk about the “why” of our sexual refusal, it can sound like a list of excuses, a justification that what we did was the right thing to do.
I laid most of the blame on my husband and the things he did or didn’t do. My avoidance of sex was a response to things that I perceived as truth. When I acknowledged that my response to these things was a sinful response, I was only pulling the top part of the weed away. The root was still there. Some version of the dandelion would have grown back.
As I exposed the roots, I learned that my refusal and gate-keeping weren’t responses to my husband as much as they were reactions based on some baggage I’d dragged around since childhood. And as that baggage came into the light of day, I was able to dig down until it was completely exposed—and then root it out.
The Process of Digging
Sexual refusal is rooted in different things and how we react to them. For me, it was about childhood insecurities and my premarital sexual experience. For other women, there may be a key relationship event that caused a breach of trust. Some women have bad teaching about married sexuality to root out. Others have to dig out trauma.
Listing the reasons behind our refusal is an important early step in the process of healing. It may sound like excuses or justification—and if you stop at a simple list of reasons, that’s really all it is.
True understanding goes far deeper than making a list. A list is on the surface only. It goes only as far as just counting the dandelions.
You have to keep digging below the surface, below the reasons as you understand them, to get to the real root of your refusal. Keep asking yourself, “Why?” at every step.
My list was something like this:
- My husband wasn’t sharing himself with me emotionally.
- He’d had a harsh tone of voice and didn’t deserve sex.
- He didn’t really love me and only wanted sex.
- I couldn’t be sexual with him because he wasn’t sharing himself with me emotionally, he had been short with me and didn’t deserve sex, and he didn’t really love me and only wanted sex.
Every time my husband asked me why I wasn’t interested in sex, I gave him some variation of this list. To him, it sounded like excuses. To me, it was the truth as I perceived it—yet when we tried to address those things, I still wasn’t interested in having sex with him. What I saw on the surface didn’t even touch the roots—but it did show me where to start digging when I was ready to do so.
Digging looked like this:
My husband had a harsh tone
►Harsh tones made me feel like I was in trouble.
►► Being in trouble as a child made me feel unloved and unworthy.
►►► I didn’t know how to open up sexually when I felt like my husband didn’t love or value me.
And that was what it all boiled down to: I didn’t know how to open up sexually when I felt like my husband didn’t love or value me.
That was the exposed root. Digging it out meant that I had to learn two things: 1) how to believe that my husband loved and valued me no matter what tone he used, and 2) how to open up sexually despite my feelings. These changes were on me to do, not on my husband.
Even when we know that our refusal is a sinful response, the weeds are not going to go away until we can pull out the taproot.
I want to be clear: my belief is that the sin isn’t as much in saying “no” as it is in refusing to address the underlying problems. I don’t believe that a woman whose heart is making a genuine effort and working to do the best she can–even if the best she can is to be able to respond with a “yes” and no panic attack and the sexual variety needs to be very limited–is not in sin. In the case of a woman who has survived childhood sexual trauma, for instance, I would say that the sin of refusal would not be in refusing to have sex but in refusing to work on her own healing and growth for the sake of her self and her marriage.
Our hearts will not mend, our minds will not learn good teaching, and our bodies will not develop positive patterns of response until we dig out the roots.
Digging isn’t easy. It’s bound to leave some blisters on your spirit, and you’ll likely come away with some of the dirt still clinging to your skin.
My old feelings and habits sometimes try to poke their heads through—but they are the kinds of weeds that can be yanked out quickly because their real roots are now gone. They are now just superficial habits.
The real work of recovering from refusal involves digging out the taproots so you know the weed is gone. Still, you have to know where to start digging, and “why” shows you just where you need to go.
Look at the reasons behind your refusal. Yes, they look just like excuses—and if you never dig down, that’s all they will be.
So let your reasons be more than excuses. Let them be a step in the process. Let them show you where to start digging—and then roll up your sleeves and dig.
Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net