Have you ever been on a trip that seems to take forever? Your journey is so exhausting that when you finally arrive at your destination, all you can do is crash for a while before you can appreciate the fact that your journey is over.
I experienced that on a trip with my daughter last year, as I described here:
By the time we arrived at our destination, we were both sweaty, headachy, and generally feeling yucky.
We each grabbed a water bottle and poured the contents into our bodies until we’d had our fill. I thought I could feel all my cells soak up the fluid. I drank for a long time, and I began to feel like myself again.
After I’d recovered from the difficulties of the journey, I was finally able to appreciate the fact that I had arrived at my destination.
The journey to improve the sexual intimacy in my marriage wasn’t so different. I’ve written about the moment the journey began for me.
When did I know I’d arrived?
The Long Drive
The first year of that journey was a difficult one.
For the first six months, I was fighting my old habits constantly. Responses to my husband had become so ingrained and automatic that I had to put real effort into being aware of them, not to mention changing them. Years-long habits of eye-rolling, “no,” and “let’s get this over with” did not stop overnight.
It felt like I was a trapped in a maze and was fighting to get out.
I. Worked. Hard.
During the second six months, I had begun to develop new habits, so that aspect of the journey wasn’t so difficult—but dealing with my husband was a challenge. He finally believed that things were really changing, and he began to express some of the frustration and hurt he’d been feeling for all those years (and in him, those kinds of feelings tend to come out through anger).
I had stopped shoring up my emotional walls, and what remained of them took a beating as I allowed my husband to have his feelings without my reacting to them.
I had to be strong and persistent. With God’s help, I managed to do just that–barely.
By the end of that first year, I was completely worn out.
Crash and Recover
Fortunately, while I had been working so hard to train myself out of old negative habits and learn some good new ones, I’d made more progress than I realized.
The first six months required constant navigation on my part. The second six months often felt like I was stuck in a traffic jam with no air conditioning.
By the time the second year of rebuilding our sexual intimacy arrived, I didn’t even realize that that our marriage had changed—but it had.
My efforts to develop new habits paid off. I was no longer rolling my eyes and having to take deep breaths before responding to my husband. Not only was I not avoiding sex, I had actually begun to initiate—for my own sake and not just as a way of making things up to my husband.
I had reached a point of healthy and mutual sexual intimacy without even knowing it.
For the entire second year into this journey, I coasted. I continued with the new habits that had developed because they no longer felt new, but I didn’t try to grow in any new ways.
At some point, I recognized that I had let go of my old behaviors and that I was no longer refusing. Only then did I allow myself to see that sexually depriving my husband had been sin. (See this post where I talk about refusal as sin and this post where I talk about how a healthy marriage should be able to handle “no.”) Even when I came to this realization, though, it involved little more than a sense of relief that I wasn’t refusing anymore. True repentance and seeking my husband’s forgiveness were months away.
Gradually I noticed that things had changed: I wasn’t having to work as hard as I had been. Things between my husband and me were easier and not as tension-filled as they once were. I no longer cringed when my husband reached for me. We laughed together.
Sex felt more natural—less like an extra thing that we did and more like it was a normal and regular part of our marriage.
Our marriage felt more whole.
When I began my journey, I had only the vaguest destination in mind: a better place than where we were.
I didn’t have specific goals or plans, just a mental list of the things Big Guy had complained about regarding our sex life. I’d plugged away, not paying attention to where I was going other than dealing with what was immediately in front of me.
A little more than two years after my journey began, I was driving to work on a morning that had begun with lovemaking. It was a beautiful autumn morning, with the sun shining through red and yellow leaves. The air was practically glowing. So was I.
I realized I was smiling as I thought about how my morning had started.
I found myself saying (out loud, actually, because I talk to myself in the car), “Sex is so awesome. What a great way to start my day. I love my marriage and I love sex!”
“I love sex!”
Whoa. Seriously? Me? When did that happen?
I was so overcome by shock that I had to pull off the road. For so long, my words had been “I hate sex,” and now I was saying that I love sex? I had done a complete turn-around. I had escaped from the maze that had trapped me for so long.
My quest for a vague “something better” had led me on a journey I hadn’t fully realized I’d been on. I’d been so worn out by the first year of effort that it took me another year to settle into a sense of normalcy again.
Something that began as a selfish effort to change my husband had become a journey that had changed me.
I sat there in a drug store parking lot, amazed. Did I really do it? After all those years of fighting about sex when I thought I’d get around to working on it some day, is it possible that I actually did it?
I realized that yes, I had done it! I had worked hard and asked God for help, and now I was seeing the fruits of that effort. I had been on a journey and arrived at a place that mattered.
Here I was, with a version of me—and my marriage—that I hadn’t realized was possible. I loved sex, and my marriage was good.
My journey has continued since then as I have dug into the reasons I refused in the first place, worked through one issue after another in my heart and in my relationship with God, and watched my husband begin to work on his own growth now that he was able to trust me again.
I had arrived at a place that was not my final destination at all, but it was an important stopping point.
Our marriage wasn’t perfect, and I knew we still had some things to work on—but on that autumn morning, realizing that I could honestly say I loved sex, I felt like my life had been turned upside down.
It was the moment when I knew that our marriage had been healed.
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