I went to college back in the day before cell phones, when giving a guy your phone number usually meant writing it on a piece of paper and handing it to him. One time I was asked for my number by a guy I wasn’t interested in at all—but a) he was a guy, and b) he asked for my phone number. It was easier to write it down for him than to try to come up with a polite way of turning him down. I didn’t want the poor guy to feel rejected, after all.
I’ve had self-esteem problems most of my life. I thought I was too thin, too fat, too tall, too this, too that, too anything that wasn’t like everyone else. I compared myself to others and found myself lacking.
With low self-esteem, I found that I had two tendencies that were unhealthy:
- When I heard any negative comment about something I’d done, I took it very personally as a condemnation of my whole self and a rejection of me.
- When I received a compliment, I didn’t believe it because it simply didn’t match my own view of myself.
I didn’t handle any rejection well, and I couldn’t possibly do that someone else, even though I didn’t like him that much.
It turned out that I was the one who was rejected that evening. About an hour after I gave him my number, the guy handed me back my phone number because, as he explained, he “didn’t like my aura” and couldn’t see himself going out with me.
Ouch. Rejection hurts, even when it’s by someone whose opinion doesn’t matter to you anyway.
Rejected by My Husband?
When the rejection comes from someone who matters, it hurts all the worse.
What happens when the rejection you feel comes from a comment from your own husband?
Many men have told me to never underestimate a man’s ability to say or do the wrong thing at the worst possible time. Here are some real life examples (not from my life, thankfully):
- A new husband doesn’t understand that the question to “Do these pants make my butt look big?” is NOT “Well, maybe but just a little.”
- A husband makes an off-hand comment about cellulite, weight gain, or a mole he has just noticed on his wife.
- A husband notes that the scent of his wife’s sexual arousal smells different than usual, especially if he uses a word like “funny” or “strange.”
- “You should ask my mother how to teach you to cook.”
- A husband doesn’t speak up enough in her defense to his or her mother.
How long do those comments and actions live inside us as part of how we see ourselves? How long do they stand for how we think our husbands feel about us?
I can think of two things my husband said when we were dating that shaped my understanding of what he thought of me for years.
On our second date, my husband told me I wasn’t pretty (and no, I don’t know why there was a third date after that comment). For years now, he’s told me I was beautiful—but since I didn’t believe it myself and he had already said I wasn’t pretty, it was very hard for me to believe him.
During my teen and early adult years, I fancied myself a writer of poetry. Showing someone my writing was inviting that person into my inner world. So, when things began to get serious with Big Guy, I showed him my poetry. Instead of saying it was good or thoughtful or even interesting, he asked me why I wrote such depressing things.
Now, he’s right. Most of my poetry was depressing and dark. He was asking a sincere question, genuinely wanting to know why. Instead, I heard a judgment where there wasn’t one. Even though I understood that almost immediately, that one question became part of how I saw myself as a writer. I haven’t done creative writing since then—and honestly, even having him look at my blog posts makes me uneasy sometimes.
Rejection During Sex
When we hear negative comments during sex, when we are especially vulnerable, it is even worse.
- A wife whose husband asks her to do something outside her sexual comfort zone hears, “You aren’t good enough as you are.”
- A wife whose husband judges her sexual response using his own response as a standard (how long it takes for her to reach orgasm, the fact that arousal precedes desire rather than the other way around, or pushing her to have an orgasm when she doesn’t want one) might feel that something is wrong with her.
- A wife whose husband complains that he doesn’t get enough sex feels that he is rejecting who she naturally is.
When I am being sexual with my husband, I am at my most vulnerable and, well, naked. Feeling rejected during such a state of vulnerability is so hard to overcome. But it can be done.
Ask questions. It’s easy to assume there are hidden meanings to what our husbands say. We may hear an emotional component to his words, when really, he is just communicating what he sees as facts or observations. A relative shared with me once that her husband had dared to point out that she had droopy breasts. She spent days in tears, assuming that this was a negative commentary on her body. When she finally asked him why he’d said something so hurtful, he was confused. He always thought droopy was the perfect shape for breasts, and he thought he was expressing his pleasure with her body.
It is easy, too, to assume that an answer that comes too slowly means something we won’t like. If a man hears, “Do you like how I give you oral sex?” he may honestly think we are telling him that we think what we’re doing isn’t good and that we are asking for honest feedback—so he pauses to think about it before saying, “Yes, I do!” or, “Well, I didn’t like it as much when you did this one thing.” (Asking clear and direct questions might be a good idea, too—as well as asking questions we’re willing to hear answered.)
Tell your husband what’s on your mind and heart. Relatively early in my efforts to make sexual changes in our marriage, my husband said something that hurt me. I was doing something he’d begged me to do in the past, and instead of being grateful, he told me something else he wished I were doing. (I wrote about it here.) I waited until the next day so I could be a bit distanced from my hurt, and I told him how I had felt when he made his comment. He began to defend himself, and instead of reacting to that (which would have led to an argument), I said that understanding his feelings didn’t change mine. I explained that doing something I hadn’t done in a long time made me feel vulnerable and that I needed encouragement, not complaints.
Remember your true worth. There are times when asking questions and opening your heart don’t seem to make a difference. You may still feel rejected for who you are and what you think, feel, or believe. This is hard, but remember one very important thing: Your truth worth comes from Christ, not from your husband. While my husband’s acceptance is far more important than any other person’s, it is not more important than Christ’s—and that acceptance is already mine.
The Source of Rejection
My own feelings of my husband’s rejection have either been cases of me hearing something that he wasn’t actually saying or comments that grew out of his own hurt from my sexual rejection of him. The words he’s said haven’t always been the best words, but I assigned ill intent where there was none. My feelings of rejection came from within me, not from him at all.
If you are holding on to hurt from your husband, are you sure that what you heard was what he meant? Have you developed habits out of response to your own feelings of rejection and hurt? Have you remembered to considered that perhaps your husband is speaking out of his own hurt, his lack of knowledge, or simply his masculine point of view? Have you remembered that your true worth is in Christ?
It is hard to hear what we think is a negative comment from a husband. And depending on his past words and our own self-esteem, it can be too easy to dismiss his admiration. It isn’t always easy, but it’s good to believe what your husband says—without making assumptions about what he means. If he says you’re beautiful, believe him. In his eyes, you are beautiful. If he says he’d like you to try something new in bed, it is not a rejection of you. It is simply that he wants even more of you. If he says words that come out of his own hurt, consider whether it is pain that you can soothe.
My husband has said some things that have hurt me over the years. But you know what? I’ve said some things that have hurt him, too. And my sexual rejection of him hurt him more deeply than I realized for a long time.
As our marriage continues to grow, I find that I am slowly letting go some of the words that I let hurt me for so long. My marriage is worth it, and so is my husband. After all, he isn’t the guy who gave my phone number back to me.
And you know what? I’m worth it, too.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:13-15
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net