I recently began to reread Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (free for Kindle!). Ebenezer Scrooge is reminded of his past, sees that others around him rejoice despite their trials, and looks ahead to see the outcome of his life if he makes no changes.
I see many parallels to the growth in my own marriage bed. (Confession: I see parallels to the growth in my marriage bed just about everywhere I look.) From Scrooge double-locking himself against his fear to Marley’s description of his chains (“the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself”) to the revelers’ decision not to quarrel on Christmas day to the specter of what was yet to come to the awakening to joy, A Christmas Carol speaks to my own journey of sexual transformation in my marriage bed.
The Spirit of Marriage Past
Like Ebenezer Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Past, I was haunted the other night by the Ghost of Marriage Past. Let me open the curtains around the Big Guy and Forgiven Wife marriage bed just a bit.
My husband and I had been in something of a sexual dry spell compared to our frequency level over the past few months, and things felt a little awkward at first as they always to when it’s been a while. He was going through usual foreplay activities with me, and I was having a hard time getting into the arousal zone. I gave guiding comments a few times (a couple “it feels good when you do x just like that” and “don’t stop that” and a couple “slower” remarks)–just like I always do.
He stopped cold turkey and said that we might as well talk because he was doing everything wrong and that he thought we’d figured out how to do this “sex thing” but apparently he had no clue what to do. I said that it wasn’t about him doing anything wrong but about the fact that I was a woman with a woman’s normal sexual response, and he told me he didn’t need a clinic. He realized he’d hurt me and held me to try to comfort me—but when I didn’t immediately stop crying, he gave up.
He rolled over to go to sleep. I was in tears, feeling very unloved and not worth his paying attention to. One result of my sexual progress is that with all the walls down, I am much more vulnerable emotionally all the time—and during sexual activity, I am at my most vulnerable. When something happens that hurts during sex, my heart gets especially bruised.
His dismissal of my words and his rolling over left me feeling emotionally neglected in way I haven’t felt in several years. I had no idea why things had occurred as they did, but I was not in a good place emotionally.
I was so hurt that I put underwear and a t-shirt on and got back into bed. (I usually sleep either naked or in a nightgown and no undies at all.) I really couldn’t bear to be so naked after he’d hurt me. What I wore represented how I felt. It’s hard to explain how his tone had made the words so much worse. Although I realize now that this was about him and not me, at that moment, in my emotionally vulnerable state, I was crushed.
The Spirit of Marriage Past was reminding me of how I felt so often, over a period of years. I lay back in bed and covered up and kept on crying–quiet sobbing, really. Oh, how many nights I cried myself to sleep during those years! Just as my clothes were a way of helping me feel less vulnerable, all the walls I’d built up had accomplished the same thing. I’d walled out my husband to protect my heart. It was never that my husband intended to hurt me. We had never learned to communicate well, and neither of us could dig past our own feelings to be able to serve the other. I lay there crying, remembering all the hurts behind my sexual refusal and gate-keeping. I’d been dragged right into the past and was seeing things that had mattered, and hurt.
The Spirit of Marriage Present
My husband was rolled away from me, with his breathing in its usual sleeping rhythm. He didn’t react at all when I stood up from the bed, and he made no indication that he was aware that I was putting anything on. I lay back down in bed and covered myself up. I continued crying, somewhat more subdued than I had been. I reminded myself that for several years, I had hardly cried at all. My walls had been so thick that very little got through to me. I told myself that being able to cry was a sign of growth.
Big Guy rolled over toward me and put his arm around my waist. I thought about how even in his sleep, he holds me. He has healed enough that he knows he will not be pushed away if he touches me in bed. Even in his sleep, his body now knows that touch is okay. This, too, reminded me of how far we’ve come.
His hand encountered my t-shirt. He put his hand underneath it and drew on my back: I ♥ U. It is part of his going-to-sleep process every single night. He marks I ♥ U on my back or shoulder. He lifted my shirt up—not to expose my breasts, but to get skin-to-skin contact. He touched my hip and encountered underwear. He scooted it down. He pulled me toward him, needing to feel my skin against his.
I felt my heart settle. My husband recognized that the clothes were a sign of a barrier between us, and he didn’t want that any more than I did. He needed us to be connected, just as I needed the same thing. He held me tightly. I began to breathe easily and my crying stopped.
And then, he rolled me over toward him and started things up again. Not only did it all go nicely, he did some things that I had mentioned weeks ago that I would be interested in. Hmm. It turned out that he’d been hearing much more than I had realized.
Despite the trials of that evening, we rejoiced in our togetherness at last.
The Spirit of Marriage Yet to Come
As my children moved through their teen years, I saw the specter of what our marriage might become. My husband and I rarely communicated about anything other than our children’s needs or what needed to be done around the house. I looked ahead to the time our kids moved out of the house. My daughter once asked me, “Mom, when we’re all gone, what will you and Dad do?” I was stunned, not only by the fact that she recognized that her dad and I connected with each other about so little other than the kids, but also by the sick dreadful feeling in my stomach as I imagined our future together.
I saw us living largely separate lives. I thought of all the things he did that annoyed me and realized that I would have more rooms in the house to escape to. I planned an office in one of the kids’ rooms, knitting in another, and I thought I’d let my husband have the third one for something. In no way could I see the two of us truly together.
This specter of the future was a wake-up call for me. Thinking of the marriage I had ahead of me for many years to come, I realized there was nothing other than our vows to keep us together. I wondered if it would mean divorce, or if it would just mean two people living under the same roof, neither one happy.
The other night, I realized that one of the consequences of my years of refusal is that our marriage bed will always be haunted by the patterns laid down in our past. Those patterns rise to the surface far too easily. It is hard, sometimes, to understand how to balance between “these are natural consequences of my sin” and “I deserve this so just accept it and stop trying to grasp at joy.” The past lays the foundation for the present and the future.
I also recognized, however, that the trajectory of our marriage has altered. In the past, the fallout of our communication failure and frustration would have been that my husband would have headed downstairs for whiskey. I would have buried myself in a trashy romance novel and felt self-righteously neglected. My husband wouldn’t have dared to touch me for at least another week. If we had talked about it at all, the words would have been mean (on my part, not on my husband’s).
Although the patterns of the past easily surface, the patterns of the present respond to the past patterns differently. We carry our past with us, but we are in a different marriage now so we respond differently. My husband and I have both experienced the glory of one flesh, the lack of barriers between us, and the total uninhibited joy of the marriage bed. We now carry that within us, too, and it will continue to counteract the patterns of the past.
The Beginning of the Future
Our Christmas tree went up a few weeks ago. I finally started my shopping (yes, yesterday, three days before Christmas, which is pretty early for me). We have an absolutely beautiful coat of snow on the ground after about nine inches over the past couple days on top of what was already a good foundation. It will be a white Christmas indeed.
As Ebenezer Scrooge makes his decision to live differently, he says, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
Likewise, the past, present, and future of my marriage shall strive within me as I am open to the lessons I need to learn.
Ebenezer Scrooge learned; he decided to live differently.
Consider your own marriage. What are the lessons you learn from the past? What is your present marriage like? What will your future marriage be like if you continue with the patterns and habits that you have carried up to this point?
Scrooge says, “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
What courses in your marriage need to be departed from, so that the ends will change?
God bless our marriages, every one!