“In your anger do not sin”:
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
and do not give the devil a foothold.
Our bedroom was anything but a sanctuary.
During the years when sex was a source of tension in our marriage, our bedroom was a place of conflict.
The bedroom was where he frequently turned to me in bed, only to be rebuffed or have me pretend to me asleep. It was where I would sometimes cave in, only to be flooded with feelings of brokenness for not wanting sex more or for not standing firmer in my “no.” It was where I sometimes cried myself to sleep, wondering why my husband didn’t love me enough to pursue my heart, not just my body.
In our bedroom, we fought far more than we loved. Even a simple conversation about sex became a treacherous path of he said/she said, his needs/her needs.
We saw disunity, disquiet, dissatisfaction, masks, and sadness rather than unity, rest, fulfillment, authenticity, and joy.
I associated the room with tension and difficulty. Simply walking into the room filled me with anxiety and dread. It was not a place where I felt emotionally safe and secure. It wasn’t a place where I felt calm. My husband probably felt the same way.
We both experienced disconnection in that room.
When I began to work on sex in our marriage, I expected to struggle with my thoughts, actions, and tone of voice. I did not expect that our bedroom would be a problem as well.
Outside the bedroom, I would have good intentions. I’d be full of resolve. I would think about anticipating sex. I would focus on feeling close to my husband.
But then, wham! Just about every time I stepped foot into the room I’d associated with tension and difficulty, I would begin to experience anxiety and doubt. I was already trying to dismantle my emotional walls. The room itself was just one more wall to deal with.
As I began to work through all my issues—my negative thoughts and self-image, my willingness to trust my husband, and my reflexes related to sexual interaction—I also worked to conquer my feelings about the bedroom itself.
In order to do this, I had to be intentional about making it a place of joy for both of us.
I adopted three rules to help me transform my bedroom from a difficult place to a positive one. They made such a difference that I still try to follow these rules.
1. Don’t argue in the bedroom.
We used to argue a lot, so this was a difficult principle to adopt—but it had a big impact. When I knew we needed to have a conversation about something that was likely to turn into an argument, I made a point to initiate that conversation somewhere else—usually in the car, the kitchen, or the laundry room. When Big Guy would start a conversation in the bedroom, I worked extra hard at being kind and positive in my responses (and let’s be honest—that was an area I needed to practice as well).
There were a few times I said, “I don’t want to argue in the bedroom. Can we go downstairs?” Then I would just walk out of the bedroom and head downstairs, figuring that he would either follow me and we would continue talking or he would stay in the bedroom and fall asleep, thereby postponing the argument. He usually followed me—and the time it took us to get downstairs was usually enough to help us both calm down.
At first, we weren’t arguing any less—but we were no longer adding new experiences of conflict into the bedroom.
2. Talk about sex outside the bedroom.
In the past, most conversations about our sex life were about what one of us was doing wrong. Naturally, this typically meant that one of us was talking about feeling hurt or unsatisfied while the other felt defensive, unvalued, or incompetent. To keep these negative feelings out of the bedroom, I asked to have those conversations elsewhere, just as I did any time we were talking about something that might become tense or argumentative.
This principle was also helpful as sex began to improve and our sex conversations weren’t all negative. When we would have a positive sex conversation in the bedroom, he often wanted to put our conversation into practice right then and there. (“Hey, there’s a bed right there. Let’s give it a whirl!”) It was easier for me to feel fully heard when I knew the presence of the bed wasn’t a distraction to him.
3. If you break rules #1 or #2, follow up with love.
Avoiding conflict in the bedroom helped reduce the feelings of tension. Unfortunately, as soon as there was another incidence of conflict, the tension-o-meter was filled right back up. So I made an effort to cancel it out by flooding our bedroom with something positive, as immediately as I could. Sometimes it meant cuddling, but usually it meant sex. By then, I’d been learning that many men viewed sex after conflict as a way of confirming that the relationship was still okay. Following up our conflict with a loving act reduced the tension that I was sensing from him. It wasn’t easy by any means, but I found that it helped restore our relationship when I did it.
Slowly, this combination of decreasing conflict and adding love in the bedroom bore fruit.
Anxiety, doubt, and other negative feelings were no longer waiting for me every time I walked into our bedroom with good sexual intentions. This helped me think of sex more positively, and it helped me see our bedroom as a good place rather than a difficult one.
Disunity, disquiet, dissatisfaction, masks, and sadness grew into unity, rest, fulfillment, authenticity, and joy.
Disconnection grew into connection.
Our bedroom had become a sanctuary. Finally.
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