Crawling out of the Pit


After twenty years of selfish sexual gate-keeping and refusing, my husband and I were both miserable. I was finally on the right anti-depressant and could think and respond more clearly, and he was experiencing depression related to his unemployment and our financial situation. Neither one of us found joy in our marriage. I am convinced that we were headed down a path that would lead to either divorce or living in misery.

Once I began to pray to find a way to help my husband, even though it was for selfish reasons, life began to change. I was simply browsing on CNN and saw an article on Christians on hot sex. Huh? I was about to bypass it, and then I remembered that I had decided to at least stop fighting my husband about sex. It wouldn’t hurt to read an article. And the article included links to Christian marriage blogs and to a discussion forum. I followed the links in the way that I always do, and I ended up reading post after post after post. One thread that caught my eye due to the clever title was where a shift began to occur. It was the thread that made me first realize what my husband was experiencing as a result of my refusal. It was what made me take the first step out of refusal. It was what gave a name to what I thought was just my right to my own body and feelings. Refusing.

I hated the name “refuser” and knowing that everyone on the site would think of me in that way–but I forced myself to read the posts, thinking that as a wife, I could at least make an effort to understand my husband’s point of view. It was easier to read the experiences of people I didn’t know than to hear it from my own husband, with his sad eyes and our baggage. I was stunned to see that the men in this forum were using the same words and expressing the same concerns as my husband. So I decided to pray for me to have a change of heart. At the same time, although I still avoided sex, my first goal was to be a more active and engaged participant when we were having sex. It was a baby step.

And then I started to read posts from women who were refused. I will always be thankful to them. Reading about the experience of refusal from a woman’s perspective, I was finally able to hear my husband’s pain in language I could relate to. It broke my heart to realize what I had been doing to him. I stopped refusing. I couldn’t get my husband out of unemployment, but I could at least help him feel loved. And I began to know how much I truly do love the man God has given me.

What helped real heart change happen, though, was when I opened myself up to the blogs and articles I found. Instead of just reading about how refusal hurts, I began to read about the great joy that comes with a good sex life. I was seeing models of what could be, and I began to want some of that. Instead of trying to make changes because what I’d been doing wasn’t working, I began to make changes because I wanted some of the joy that people were describing.

I never, ever would have thought I would be where I am now. In fact, if I had set out on a journey intending to try to get where I am, I would’ve turned around and run the other direction. Making changes with any kind of goal in mind would have forced me to admit that I was wrong. In fact, even after I began changing my sexual availability and participation, it was a long time before I would let myself fully relax and feel emotionally intimate with my husband.

The changes happened slowly, but they happened. We are now at a point that stuns both of us. The past few months have seen us try some new things in our bedroom. I initiate more than he does. And despite physical challenges from weight gain, menopause, and other results of middle age, our marriage bed is the best it’s been in almost 22 years of marriage.

I crawled on the journey out of the pit of refusal. It was a two-year process, filled with ups and downs,and at no point did I allow myself to think of it as being on a journey, with a goal. In my mind, it was just a series of steps and experiments. Even when we don’t have a destination in mind, every journey ends up somewhere.

In other posts, I’ll share some of the ups and downs, as well as some of the things we’re still figuring out. But here are some lessons I’ve learned:

  • Slow progress is still progress.
  • Putting something off never makes it easier.
  • Sometimes, acting the way you think you’re supposed to can lead to the feelings you thought had to be in place first.
  • Married sex, when both partners are completely present and feel sexually safe with each other, is more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.

Hearts really can change. Mine did. Just ask my husband, who just this morning told me he’s felt more married in the past few months than at any time during our entire marriage.

Image credit xandert |

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24 Comments on “Crawling out of the Pit”

  1. Setting a goal to be a more active and engaged participant when having sex is no baby step, it’s a giant step! Being active and engaged in any activity will result in a 90% success rate, even if it’s through trial and error.

    I hope you can remember and write about what your thought process was that led you to setting your goal. I’m sure you considered other options, such as simply stop refusing your husband’s sexual advances.

    1. As much as I process and analyze (ad nauseum) most of my life experiences, this was one of those rare situations where it was an immediate emotional and visceral decision. I believe it was God ripping a veil from my eyes; I could see for the first time. And once I could see, I couldn’t un-see.

  2. I am so glad to have found your blog. Your story is me, almost identical. I am just at the starting point of my journey and like you, it has begun as I’ve started reading blogs and realizing the hurt I’ve been causing my husband. It’s like my eyes are open to this for the first time. I agree with Bluemoon “, being an active participant is a Giant step, not a baby step” – lol! But I am at least willing to try and make changes now.

    1. I’ve been in this process for nearly three years. I still stuggle at times, but my marriage doesn’t look anything like it did before.

      I’m glad you’ve landed here!

  3. God bless you, Forgiven Wife. Your husband is a blessed man.

    My now ex-wife and I fought about this for 15-20 years. I think her thought/feeling process in getting to the gatekeeper/refuser place would have been very similar to yours, further complicated by her bad childhood that gave her extra internal resistance to sex (and made her completely non-orgasmic) and by my occasional secret use of pornography, which came to light several years into her refusal and essentially set it in stone (even though the porn use stopped with the exposure). We were in marriage counseling off and on for 10 years. Whenever the counselor(s) would reach the point where they thought it appropriate to begin to work on her part of the sexual issues, she would find an excuse to fire them or quit going. Our last counselor — the one we began seeing as part of our attempt to reconcile after she filed for divorce the first time — told her after more than a year of counseling that she did not have grounds for divorce but that I did because of her long-term sexual refusal (at that point, it had been more than two years with no sex at all, at her insistence), and encouraged her to agree that we could start working on our sexual relationship. She never went back, and about 5 months later she filed for divorce for the second and last time, shortly after our 28th anniversary.

    Ironic (?) post-script: The month our divorce was final, a friend asked me if I thought she’d ever remarry. (She had told me more than once that she had no plans or expectations of remarrying, but being alone would be better than being with me.) I ruefully told him, “Not unless she finds a guy who’s not interested in sex.” Unbeknownst to me, she had already started online dating. Within a month, she had latched on to a recently divorced guy who lived 400 miles away (this was his second divorce). By the time I found out about it 3 months later, they were already talking about marriage. They were engaged 3 months after meeting in person for the first time and got married less than 6 months after that. I have no reason to believe that he is asexual; in fact, I have reason to believe that he has at least a normal sex drive. I am completely at a loss to understand how she thinks she’s going to be able to make that work for more than a short time, or what lies she has told herself and him to obtain the marriage.

    1. I’m sorry you fought this battle for such a long time, although I’m glad your last counselor pointed out a difficult truth to her. Perhaps she has taken that to heart and will work harder at intimacy in her new marriage. Meanwhile, what are you doing now to work on yourself, to put yourself in a better place for a new relationship? Work to heal now so you are truly ready when God sends someone your way.

      And my husband would absolutely agree that he is blessed–and so am I.

      1. Ah, but you see, one of my sins is that, now that she’s divorced me, I don’t want her to take anything to heart or to work harder at intimacy in her new marriage. In my flesh, I want this marriage to fail as spectacularly and loudly as I (in my infinite wisdom) think it should fail, given what I think I know about both individuals.

        Um, I guess that answers your question about what I’m doing to work on myself. Terrible, isn’t it? Actually, one of the things I’m doing to work on myself is to quit wishing disaster on her. I don’t think I’m anywhere near wishing her well; for the time being, I’m working at indifference — not wishing anything one way or the other. If she and I were the only ones affected, that might be a little easier. Instead, it’s made more difficult by the ongoing effects on the kids: in moving away, she took our special needs daughter with her, so my involvement in Sarah’s life has dropped from several times every week, every other weekend, all school holidays, etc. to one weekend/month or less (and daily phone calls); conversely, her move leaves her 400 miles away from our high school junior son, from whom she was already estranged, so he only sees her a handful of times a year, reducing the likelihood that the rift will be repaired any time soon and leaving him without a mother’s influence. And, of course, all the kids, including the two older boys who are out of the house, will forever have to face every major holiday and family celebration knowing that they’ll have to figure out how to split their time between two households. (We have both a high school graduation and a college graduation coming next May — yippee!) I know our oldest already regards that as a hassle that he’d rather deal with by skipping the celebration entirely. My pastor counseled me months ago not to take up the offenses against the kids in the divorce; I’m finding that difficult to do.

        But reading and learning here, at Peaceful Wife, some sites for men, DivorceCare, church, etc. are avenues to healing. I certainly do want to be a healed and better man if there ever is a second marriage. As part of that hypothetical future courtship, she and I will review your blog together to makes sure we’re on the same page going in!

        1. Your pastor gave you good counsel, and my flesh would really be struggling with letting go of things, too. But be sure you are working on your walk with God–not in relation to your ex-wife or the divorce, but in terms of what it means to be a child of God learning to be the best he can be. Be intentional about spending time with God–without your ex-wife in your mind. This all sounds so hard. Your family will be in my prayers tonight.

  4. FYI: The like button does not seem to be working today, for me anyway on our first two posts.

    I have only seen these first two and the most recent. An interesting thing at this point, which may change as I get deeper into the posts, is the preponderance of male gravatars and names in the Like and Comments. I believe it shows you have touched upon a topic that men feel strongly about and is a good thing. Sadly, I see less of women and their comments than I would expect, desire or like. I am hoping that changes as I read further. One upside of this is woman will be exposed to uncensored, no-holds-barred expositions as to how deeply men feel about this issue. Again, you write really good stuff. I am thinking about doing a blog and your style is very much what I would strive to achieve.

    1. The comments don’t necessarily reflect the gender of my readers. I get some incredible private email from women who want to share their stories but don’t want to risk being challenged or recognized by doing so publicly.

      The comments from males that I’ve seen elicit the most comments from women are questions. When men have come here and asked if something is common for other wives or what other reasons/experiences might have affected something, wives come forward to share.

      1. I think it’s really great that all of these men come to your site and especially that other woman respond and provide perspective and advice. Both sexes share in a much needed learning experience in a forum where both are not only welcome but encouraged to participate.

  5. (And then I started to read posts from women who were refused. I will always be thankful to them. Reading about the experience of refusal from a woman’s perspective, I was finally able to hear my husband’s pain in language I could relate to. It broke my heart to realize what I had been doing to him.)

    I am just recently starting on my refusal “recovery”. I have someone in mind that needs to see this as well. Do you remember the blogs you read that made it *click*?

    1. Welcome to the road to recovery from refusal! I’m glad you’re here.

      The primary website that made it click was The Marriage Bed. The articles on the main page helped me begin to understand sex and sexuality from a point of view I hadn’t considered before. From there, you can go to the forum. That’s where I read discussion posts from refused husbands and wives. It was reading there that I had my lightbulb moments

      There were three blogs I found helpful as well, all written by women for women:

      • The Generous Wife showed me an attitude of generosity in marriage (not just in sex) that helped my heart begin to shift. As much as the discussion posts on the forum helped me understand a refused spouse’s point of view, that told me what not to do. The Generous Wife helped me learned what to do instead in attitude and how to think about marriage.
      • Intimacy in Marriage helped me learn about the role of sex in establishing and maintaining intimacy.
      • Hot, Holy & Humorous showed me a woman who was talking about sex like it was, well, normal and healthy and fun! That encouraged me to recapture my own sexuality.

      When I know of a woman who is not yet ready to commit to making changes in her approach to sex, I always recommend The Generous Wife. Lori talks about sex on occasion and will sometimes link to other blog posts about sex, but her blog really is about a woman’s heart for her husband–and that is fundamental in making any sex changes last.

      How is your own journey going?

      1. Thank you so much for the reading recommendations! Gonna look into these.
        As for my personal journey, it is definetly a hard habit to break and is going to take some time and a WHOLE lotta help from the Holy Spirit…… dieing to self, NOT EASY! 1st step down – acknowledgement. I have a path to begin to follow, I’m sure it will be bumpy with lots of turns, but I know it’s one that has to be traveled

  6. Oh. My. Soul. Reading your testimony is like looking in a mirror! Changes in circumstances, yes, but the feelings, actions and hurt are the same. You take the words out of my mouth! We have been married almost 17 years, and I have nearly always held back sex, thinking I was normal, right, whatever…
    About 6 weeks ago, on the edge of divorce, after some counseling (that never mentioned my role in this) I prayed to God for help. I had previously begged him to give me peace for divorce, and he never did.
    This time when I prayed, I began to hear from God…very clearly. “Stop denying your husband. So you feel he doesn’t deserve it, but he needs it. He is broken, too.”
    Seriously, Lord??? Really!??!
    So after I processed that, I told hubby I would not deny him in the bedroom. Ever. First he looked at me like he didn’t believe me and half chuckled. Then he looked at me like I was an alien. Then he saw me. ME. I was serious. I was sorry. I wanted to be a good wife. I really do love him, and I think he could see all of it.
    And I saw my broken, ashamed, weeping , repentant husband. It was at that moment I felt a bit of hope. Like you said, I couldn’t change the circumstances, but I could help him feel loved.
    Aaaand I don’t think he fully believed me. Or maybe he was making good on it before I changed my mind! ;). We made love (yes..MADE LOVE!!) more in the next 3 weeks than we had in the past 3 years. I kid you not. And I never went back on my word. Since then he has leveled out. Sex makes it easier for us to communicate better. We are happier, healthier and healing!! And much less cranky…
    It amazes me what God can do. He has taken us from the brink of divorce to happily married in 6 weeks. It wasn’t all because of the sex component, there has been a lot of counseling, prayer and practicing principles, too. But six weeks ago seems so distant. Praise God!!! And I thank you for this blog! It has blessed me tremendously! God bless!

    1. Thank you for sharing this testimony. So much of what you say resonates with parts of my experience. Realizing how broken my husband was–and how I’d contributed to it–was what broke me.

      The actual change can be a struggle as we unlearn old habits and learn new ones, but a transformed heart makes all the difference in the world.

      I am praying for continued healing in your marriage.

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