I felt like a caged animal, trapped by my feelings and cornered by my husband’s words.
My feelings were my shackles. As a child, my sensitive nature was not welcomed. My parents encouraged common sense over emotion, and I never learned how to process the feelings that were interwoven into the fabric of my life.
As I grew into the grown-up version of my life, I enjoyed the freedom to experience and unleash my feelings. After so many years of being ashamed of my feelings, I responded with the other extreme and let my feelings dominate.
When I felt hurt or neglected by my husband’s actions or words, I didn’t know what to do with those feelings. I didn’t know how to communicate them to my husband without sounding accusatory. He wasn’t especially good at hearing my heart without perceiving it as disappointment in him, either.
These feelings added onto all the other feelings I already had about myself and sexuality. Because I didn’t know how to address them, the feelings festered inside me to become concentrated into a vial of bitterness in my heart.
Trapped by My Feelings
When our marriage became fraught with tension, I knew in my head that something was wrong with our relationship. Sometimes, I could actually think reasonably about our sex life: I know I’m sexual. After we get started, if I let myself relax and participate I often enjoy it. It isn’t a crime to do something nice for my husband. There is no reason we should be having sex more often.
My reading about sex confirmed that it was a normal part of a healthy marriage. I read Song of Solomon and 1 Corinthians 7. I read blogs, books, and articles. I paid attention to how the other women at church hinted at the intimate part of their marriages.
I got it—in my head.
Yet when my husband approached me with sexual attention in any way that did not acknowledge whatever my emotional state was at the time, my feelings stormed through and erased any semblance of reason or intent.
Each time this happened, it added to my belief that my husband didn’t really want me, that he valued me only for sex, and that sex was to be avoided.
Because my feelings were such an integral part of me and had not been valued in my childhood, my instinct was to protect them at all costs.
My feelings interfered with my good intentions. Every. Single. Time.
I was trapped.
Admitting I am wrong is a constant uphill battle for me. My inclination is to do anything I can to spin the truth in order to avoid being an agent of my own actions and mistakes. It takes great effort each time—and that is now, having admitted to myself that this is something I must work on. It was much worse before I admitted this to myself.
When Big Guy and I would have one of our conversations about our sex life, if I could get him angry, I could focus on his anger and use that to place wrong-doing on his shoulders, thereby deflecting it from my own.
Sometimes, though, he spoke calmly from his heart, with honest grief. There was no anger for me to use as a defensive shield. I couldn’t turn it back around on him, so the words broke through to my heart, where they challenged the feelings that were already there.
So there I would be, trapped by my feelings with no way to spin myself out of a corner.
A cornered animal will go on the attack. The fight-flight-freeze response (also known as fight-or-flight ) is a “physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.”
When my husband confronted me with the truth in a way that I heard him, I experienced it as an attack on me and my feelings.
I sometimes responded with flight (leaving the room or the house or preemptively sabotaging things I thought he might see as sexual opportunities) and freeze (he would ask me a question, and my mind would go blank, unable to even understand his words).
Mostly, though, when my husband calmly spoke truth to me, I became awful and launched into verbal rage. I attacked him with words. I would demean him for being unable to control his sex drive. I would accuse him of being a bad husband. I would insult his sexual abilities.
As if refusing to have sex with my husband weren’t bad enough, my response was even worse.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
When I felt trapped, I was quick to peak and quick to anger. Although I often felt self-righteous in my defense of myself, my reactions never produced righteousness.
At the moment of feeling trapped and cornered, attack was the only way I could see out. I wasn’t as interested in producing righteousness as I was in protecting myself. If you’d asked me what I was protecting myself from, I’m not sure I could have told you.
I realize now that I was trying to protect myself from having to face the truth.
To Pray and to Breathe
The decision to work on sexual intimacy in our marriage was one that emerged from both my feelings and my thoughts. It was an intentional effort based on my feelings of empathy for my husband.
I knew the need to make an effort, and I felt the need as well.
Despite my feelings finally being on board, transforming from a cornered animal to a generously loving wife was tough.
I made it, one prayer at a time, one deep breath at a time.
Even now, four years after my journey began, I still have occasional moments when I can physically feel those sensations of being trapped and wanting to lash out. But they are just moments—and I have learned out to reach out to my husband for help at those times rather than lashing out at him in anger.
I opened my Bible to Ephesians this morning and read this:
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4:31
Even though my husband was not in unrepentant sin against me, our conversations about our lack of sexual intimacy would fill me with bitterness, rage, and anger. I resorted to verbal brawling and false statements about my husband. (Fortunately, I never made those statements to others.) And malice? Yeah, that was there, too.
For years, I carried all those things within me. How did I manage to function at all with those toxic feelings inside me?
Each prayer and each deep breath dispelled a bit of the bitterness in my heart. I couldn’t gain control over my feelings by myself, so I asked God for help. At times, the mental effort was physically exhausting—yet I persisted.
My prayers invited God to help me do what I couldn’t on my own. The deep breaths helped my body counteract the fight-flight-freeze response.
Prayer by prayer, breath by breath, bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice began to fade away from my heart.
As these feelings left, I had new space for kindness and compassion toward my husband, and I began the process of forgiveness of others and accepting God’s forgiveness of my on sins.
The cornered animal had become free in Christ.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-3
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