When you are full of insecurity and have low self-esteem, it isn’t easy to do what is necessary to have a healthy, functional marriage.
Vulnerability is incredibly difficult. It means that you are letting someone see into your feelings of insecurity and into your belief that you aren’t valuable or lovable. It is like inviting someone into the place where you are least protected and handing them the most damaging weapon.
Hiding Our Vulnerability
Many of us who have struggled with these feelings have developed coping mechanisms that compound the problem.
We over-volunteer, stepping into thankless tasks so others will appreciate us.
We become people-pleasers, thinking that if we make others happy, they will value us.
We become perfectionists.
We try to control our lives and surroundings to avoid things that might shake our equilibrium.
We attempt things only when we think we can do them well (although we often feel like a fraud anyway)—partly so others won’t see our low worth and partly so we don’t have to experience confirmation of what we already believe about ourselves.
We avoid growing if it will involve digging up any of the mess we are sure is inside us.
We build walls around ourselves. Rather than be authentic with others, we pretend. We present the demeanor of someone who is happy and competent. We withhold sharing our deepest pain.
All these things are bound to have an effect on our marriages. They did on mine, anyway.
I took on extra responsibilities at church and at work—which took away from my time with my husband and family.
I would have sex with my husband only to make him happy, not because I enjoyed sex for myself or valued its benefit to our marriage.
I had grand expectations of how sex was supposed to be—with romance, candlelight, and that swept-away feeling. When circumstances weren’t perfect, I wanted sex completely off the table (and not in a good kind of way).
I controlled as much as I could, including my husband. This included my willingness to let him see my nakedness as I gained weight. I couldn’t seem to control my weight, so I’d try to keep it out of his sight (and mine).
I avoided sexual activity that required me to make an effort or try something new. I was terrified of doing it wrong and proving that I was a failure.
I refused to go to counseling. I was terrified that I would be forced to face how screwed up I was.
My walls prevented me from sharing my real feelings with my husband unless I thought he would be understanding. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of him seeing how messed up I was and walking away from me.
My Inauthentic Wifely Self
I used to struggle to believe my husband when he would tell me he loved me or that he thought I was sexy or beautiful.
For many years, I told myself it was because he couldn’t be trusted to be honest. The truth, though, was that I didn’t believe him for two different reasons, neither of which was that he couldn’t be trusted.
One reason was that I didn’t allow myself to trust him. I’ve written here about how when I thought I was teaching him to be trustworthy, I was actually teaching myself to choose to trust.
The other reason I didn’t believe me is this: I knew he was working with incomplete information.
I told myself for years, If he really knew me, he wouldn’t love me.
My husband didn’t know the real me because I didn’t let him. I was so afraid of him rejecting me that I built and maintained strong walls for many years. I’d spent most of my life feeling unlovable and not good enough. The stupid sexual decisions I made as a young adult cemented those feelings.
I couldn’t even stand to let myself know the real me. Why on earth would I show that self to my husband? I refused to be vulnerable—emotionally, physically, spiritually, or in any other way that mattered. Being vulnerable was asking for pain.
I kept my true self from my husband. I was inauthentic.
Even when I knew that he truly believed what he was telling me, I also knew that his belief was based on a false and incomplete version of who I was. How could I believe something that wasn’t based on my true inner self?
I might believe that he loved the illusion I had created of myself, with all the qualities that I wanted him to see—but what he loved wasn’t real, so I couldn’t feel truly loved.
When we allow our spouses to see only an inauthentic version of ourselves, we may get the words and actions of peace and love—but we will never truly believe them because we know the truth that our husbands don’t.
My insecurity made me desperate to know I was truly loved and valued—and it also kept me from allowing my husband in enough to do just that.
Learning to Be Authentic
I have always been insecure. I suspect I always will be. However, within the boundaries of my marriage, I have challenged myself to be real and authentic.
What does it mean to be my authentic self with my husband?
It means I give him the truth of who and what I am, even if it is something I am ashamed of or that I know will be upsetting to him. It means that I allow him to see even those things that make me look bad.
I tell him things I used to never share:
The temptations I face and the sins when I succumb to temptation.
My struggles to feel beautiful and loved.
My worries and fears.
My questions about my value to others.
My real feelings.
When you are insecure and have low self-esteem, it isn’t easy to do what is necessary to have a healthy, functional marriage–but it IS possible!
I didn’t just wake up one day and start to share all these things. Instead, I took small steps.
- I began to allow myself to think about these things in my husband’s presence. I imagined myself telling him. I would then look at him and see that he wasn’t having a negative reaction (because I had told him only in my imagination, not in reality). This helped me start to break my fear of his response, because I associated the telling (in my mind) with him being stable and not rejecting me.
- I started to share more about experiences that brought out some of my insecurity. I wasn’t yet telling him my feelings, but I was allowing him to see some of what was taking up space in my mind. At the same time, I began to share positive feelings with him, as I shared experiences where I felt good about myself
- I began to share difficult feelings that weren’t as significant to me as other things. I couldn’t share, “I feel like I’m a horrible cook,” but I could share, “if I were judged on the basis of this one dish, people will think I’m a horrible cook.”
- I began to express the deeper and more difficult things, with lots of prefacing: “I would like to share something that makes me feel very vulnerable. I would like to just tell you about it and then have you tell me you love me and hold me. If you would like to respond to what I say, I would like you to wait for an hour. I’m feeling very anxious about what you will think about me, and a calm and loving response from you will help me feel reassured.”
- When my husband would sometimes respond in a way contrary to what I had asked (after all, he was still learning to receive my vulnerability, just as I was learning to offer it), I took deep breaths while he spoke—and then went and put his arms around me so I could get my hug.
- As Big Guy and I both grew more comfortable with my vulnerability, I began to share about the things that really mattered to me: my feelings about my body, my lovability, and even my sexual desires.
The Blessings from Authenticity
It has not always been easy to be vulnerable and authentic with my husband. There are times I have to take a long deep breath and steel myself to speak. I’ve said many prayers for God to make the words come out of my mouth.
My vulnerability with my husband has proven to be a blessing in several ways:
- I know—deep in my heart and my bones—that my husband truly loves me. He knows the truth of who I am, so when he tells me he loves me, I know it is based on full information, not on an illusion.
- This knowledge has helped me feel more secure. Although I will likely always deal with insecurity to an extent, I find that it weighs me down less than it used to. I have a place in my life where I feel completely secure. That knowledge has helped me be less bothered by insecurity in other areas of life.
- Big Guy has returned my vulnerability with his own. My authenticity and trust have invited the same from him. Our intimacy has increased a hundredfold.
Has insecurity been a barrier to intimacy in your marriage?
Are you willing to take a step toward authenticity?