A habit of sexual repression and restriction rather than sexual expression and freedom took me to a point where I was expending more energy avoiding sex than I would have having sex. I was exhausted trying to get my husband to connect with me emotionally in a meaningful way.
Our marriage was stuck in a cycle of self-protection, disappointment, and blame. I wasn’t willing to make any sexual changes because I felt hurt and emotionally disconnected from my husband (and the reverse was true for him). As it turned out, making those changes despite that disconnection started a journey that led to not only a joyful sex life for both of us, but to a stronger and deeper emotional connection as well.
Frankly, it’s hard to be the one to make the first move when you’re in a place of hurt. We had sexual problems and relational problems.
If your husband has expressed unhappiness with your sex life and if you feel emotionally disconnected from him, consider this: is it possible that the sexual problems have contributed to the relational problems?
The possibility that some of our emotional disconnection resulted from our sexual disconnection never occurred to me. I wish it had, because I might have been able to do something about that. But what? What could I have done to improve the emotional climate in our marriage?
Is it any different from what my husband could’ve done to improve the sexual climate in our marriage? If I think about what he could have done to help me change, perhaps that will give me some clues about what I could have done to help him change.
Most of the time, I think there was nothing he could have done. Until my heart was ready to change, I was too stubborn to budge. But then, I wonder, “What if . . . ?” What if there had been something my husband could have done to help soften my heart?
What Could My Husband Have Done?
I go back to the memory of the emotional disconnection between us and it’s hard to imagine that anything could have cracked through the walls I’d built.
In Serenity, I shared the things I sometimes say to refused husbands:
- You can change only yourself; you can’t change your wife.
- Work on your own walk with Christ and do what God calls you to do.
- Pray for and support your wife’s relationship with Christ.
- Be married to the wife you have, not to the wife you wish you had.
But I think there might be more. While there is nothing my husband could have done to make me change, there are some things he could have done to cultivate an environment in which I would have felt loved and safe enough to take risks, understand myself, try, and know that I could make mistakes.
The things that I think would have made the biggest different for me are these…
Help me grow in my walk with God. At the time when I was most involved in church and a small group, our marriage bed was fairly good. As I continue to work through my own issues, I am noticing that my Christian walk is strengthening as well. I wonder sometimes if there is a connection, at least for me. Trusting God and trusting my husband are both reflections of my own heart. Would my husband’s help in developing my trust in God have helped my heart, which would in turn have helped me trust my husband?
Demonstrate care for my feelings. Of all things my husband said or did, what hurt most was when he said I was wrong for feeling as I did about something. I would have just opened my heart to share with him, and I experienced this as a rejection of my vulnerable self.
Demonstrate a willingness to do hard work for our marriage and for me. Much of the time during our bad years, my husband would say that I was the one who needed to make some changes. I just couldn’t wrap my head around this. HE was the one who had a problem with our sex life, and he expected ME to be the only one to change. This made no sense to me. The one time I asked if he would be willing to go to counseling with me, he said he would only to figure out what was wrong with me. After that point, I refused to consider counseling.
Share his heart and feelings with me, and not just about sex. He did share his feelings with me and made himself very vulnerable—but only when the subject of sexual intimacy arose. I therefore thought that one of two things was true: 1) sex was the only thing he had feelings about, or 2) he didn’t care about me enough in any other way to share his feelings about anything else. Therefore, all he was after was sex.
Do not withhold affection. My husband was hurt by my sexual inattention. Deeply hurt. As a result, it made it harder for him to be affectionate and loving in ways that mattered to me. While I understand this, I also know that every time I said “no” and he withdrew, it validated my view that he valued me only for sex.
Stay calm in the face of the storm that was me. My immature emotional reactions would trigger his immature emotional reactions–which then gave me something to focus on other than myself and my behavior. The times I wanted most to be a good wife for him were the times when he would stand, steadfast, in response to my wild emotion. This calmed me and helped me see what I truly needed in him.
Acknowledge progress and effort. Slow progress is still progress, even if it’s one baby step at a time. There were times I tried and failed. My husband was as disappointed as I was, but it would have been good for him to encourage me and let me know he appreciated my genuine effort. We were both so focused on the final product that we forgot to pay attention to the process.
Continue with these efforts even past the point of change. If my husband had done these things, leading to a softening of my heart and the sexuality that he wanted to see in me, he might have stopped, thinking the problem was solved. That would have given me confirmation that I was right, that he really didn’t want me for anything other than providing him with orgasms. It would have confirmed that all his demonstration of caring for me emotionally was just a means to an end.
What Could I Have Done?
I’ve said before that just as much as I refused my husband sexually, he refused me emotionally. I spent a long time hurting because he wouldn’t share himself emotionally. How can he expect me to open up sexually when he denies me emotionally?
Ladies, this was exactly what was going on inside him, only flip-flopped: How can she expect me to open up emotionally when she denies me sexually?
Here’s what I could have done to create an environment where my husband would have felt safe enough to take some risks with me:
Help him grow in his walk with God. At the same time as I was in a good small women’s group at church, my husband was involved in a small men’s group. Our marriage bed was decent—and so was our emotional connection. We both were doing something to grow spiritually. We were both part of groups in which we prayed for our spouses. Once we began to have problems, I wish I’d thought to look for ways to encourage him in his Christian walk.
Demonstrate care for his feelings. I look at what I wrote about my husband hurting my feelings: “Of all things my husband said or did, what hurt most was when he said I was wrong for feeling as I did about something.” I am ashamed to admit that this is what I did to my husband. I would feel upset and rejected because he told me I didn’t need to feel a certain way—and then I turned around and did the EXACT SAME THING to him when I told him he wanted sex too much. I was not caring for his feelings.
Demonstrate a willingness to do hard work for our marriage and for him. Just as my husband expected me to make sexual changes, I expected him to make emotional ones. I had a problem with our emotional connection, yet I was doing absolutely nothing to improve it.
Share my heart and feelings with him, including sexual ones. I did have sexual desire, but I let my feelings about our relationship get in the way of sharing that part of myself with him. The only time I shared myself sexually was when he would be emotional with me.
Do not withhold affection. I was hurt by my husband’s emotional inattention to me. That made it harder for me to be affectionate in a way that he experienced my love (sexually). When I withheld my sexual affection, it validated his view that I was rejecting him.
Stay calm in the face of the storm that was him. His immature emotional reactions would trigger my immature emotional reactions–which then gave him something to focus on other than himself and his behavior. The times we was most loving and emotionally connected were when I simply chose not to make an issue of his words and actions.
Acknowledge progress and effort. Although my husband was not intentionally working on making any changes in his emotional connection with me, there were moments when he gave me what I needed. I could have thanked him, praised him, and acknowledged these moments. It would have built him up and it would have reminded me that our marriage was not devoid of blessings.
Continue with these efforts even past the point of change. This is where we are now. Now that my husband feels emotionally safe with me, I see great effort on his part to do better in this area. We are now at the point where I’d wanted to be all along—and I continue to acknowledge, thank, and praise.
There are some things my husband could have done—intentionally, consistently, and lovingly—that would have made it easier for me to change.
I was just as unhappy as he was, and I can see now that there are things I could have done that would have made it easier for him to be emotionally connected with me.
How Can You Change the Climate in Your Marriage?
In our marriage—and in many others—sexual and emotional disconnection go hand-in-hand. No matter how it started, or why, or by whom, both spouses should do what they can to work on themselves and to create a climate in which it is easier for the other person to grow.
My husband and I both failed at this for a long time. If either one of us had made an effort to do what we could without expecting the other person to do all the work, our marriage would have been stronger years ago.
When marriages get stuck in the cycle of self-protection, disappointment, and blame, someone needs to start making some changes. Had my husband done these things, or had I, there is no guarantee that anything would have been different—but not doing these things guaranteed stagnation for a long time.
I know. Better late than never, right? But why wait?
If you are experiencing disconnection in your marriage, what is stopping you from taking the first step toward connection? What can you do to change the climate in your marriage?
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