As my sexual gate-keeping and refusing developed over a period of years, I developed habits of word and behavior in response to my husband’s sexual advances and as a way of deflecting and avoiding sexually-charged conversations or situations. These habits were so ingrained that I was barely aware of them.
When my heart changed and I wanted to be a better wife, I still had to figure how to actually do that. How do you learn to not say “no” when it’s a gut reaction? How do you get comfortable touching your husband’s body when you’ve tried to avoid naked touch for years? How do you learn to welcome sexual activity in a way that is more inviting than, “Fine, let’s get it over with”? How do you initiate sex when you’ve avoided it for well over a decade?
When something is a habit that is deeply ingrained, it isn’t an easy thing at all. Wanting to make the change is an important first step—and for some women, this is enough.
For me, though, I needed to work at learning how to be a different kind of wife. I worked so hard. I had to unlearn bad habits and replace them with good habits.
I was intentional in making changes.
Several women have written to me lately to say, in essence, “I want to change but I don’t have a clue what to actually do.” Here’s what worked for me.
- Identify some of the habits you think might be worth changing. One of the first things I did was not to actually change anything but to just pay attention to what I was doing and how my husband would respond. I had spent so much time not letting myself be fully aware of those things, so my first step was to pay attention.
- Make a list of some habits you’d like to address. You may find that some of the items are related to each other, so you can lump those together. For instance, my reflex response to anything my husband asked of me, sexual or otherwise, was to immediately say “no.” I decided to address making myself take a minute or so before responding to his requests. I made sure the list included the things my husband had spoken to me about in the past as well as things I had noticed in myself.
- Pick one habit to work on first. I decided that my efforts would have the biggest impact if I chose the one thing my husband had complained about the most—my lack of involvement during sexual activity.
- Spend some time praying about this one thing. Pray about what it will take for you to do this thing–courage, deep breaths, or whatever. Look for Bible verses that might encourage you. Invite God into the process of making changes. Ask Him to provide you what is needed. Maybe a day is all you need, or maybe you need a week. Just be sure you are actively seeking God on this and not using prayer as an excuse to put off your efforts. If you have close women friends, you might even ask them to pray about this one thing for you, too. I have a list of wives I pray for, so if there is something you would like me to pray about regarding your efforts to change, feel free to email me.
- Be intentional about working on that one thing. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Set an alarm to remind you to think or pray about it. For instance, if you have decided that the first thing to work on is “think about how I enjoy being held by my husband” throughout the day, then set your alarm and do that. You need to train your mind and body into the habit you want to develop. One of the early things I decided to work on was how to respond to my husband’s efforts to indicate sexual interest. I spent a while learning to simply not speak right away. I learned to close my eyes to avoid giving a glaring look. I learned to take a deep breath. Each of these things was a step of its own–but the first step was to just not speak after he said or did anything sexual.
- Go slowly. I’ve always heard that it takes three weeks to make a habit. Give yourself six weeks to two months instead. Each step needs to become a habit of its own and become automatic. But here’s what more time gives you: an opportunity to develop confidence about that one step. I figure the first three weeks makes it a habit, while the next three weeks helps you learn how to get good at it.
This all sounds much more methodical and linear than it actually was for me, but it is essentially the process I used.
Other thoughts to encourage you:
- Take one step at a time. Don’t worry about what the next step will be (although looking ahead might be a good idea). Just focus on the one step you’re taking.
- Remember that slow progress is still progress.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. You may stumble on this journey. (I still do sometimes.) There may be moments when simply standing still and not back-sliding is a huge accomplishment.
- Know that as you get more comfortable with this work on yourself, it gets easier. I found that the more progress I made, the more encouraged I was to do more. I loved seeing a better version of myself emerge.
- Don’t expect your husband to change as a result of your efforts. He may—but you will be more successful if you pursue these changes as a way of making yourself a better wife. I didn’t notice any difference in my husband’s interactions with me for about six months, and that was only because I had changed the things he was having to respond to. It is only in the past six months that I have seen him working to grow and change as a husband—more than three years after I began my efforts.
- Continue to pray about your overall journey.
Please read some of these stories and insights from other women as you embark on your own journey:
- Sex, Lies and the Pursuit of Truth, The Generous Wife
- When My Marriage Seemed Hopeless, What Made Me Stay?, Hot, Holy & Humorous
- 3 Things You Need to Bring About Change in Your Marriage, One Flesh Marriage
- A 365 Day Journey, guest post from Robyn at Up With Marriage.
- Journey of Change, guest post from Janna Allen (you can find the rest of her story through the links at the end of this post)
- Confessions of a (Reformed) “Generous Gatekeeper,” guest post from Addison Ray
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net