My decision to work on the sexual intimacy in my marriage was made at the moment I realized how deeply I’d been hurting my husband throughout years of sexual rejection, duty sex, disrespect, and making him a low priority in my life.
It is probably the least self-centered decision I’ve made in my life. At the time, I had only a vague idea of how to proceed. “Have more sex” was about all I could come up with at the time. Since we had an essentially sexless marriage, even once-a-month sex on a consistent basis would be an improvement—and just the thought of that overwhelmed me.
I had no idea how any efforts would actually affect my husband other than figuring that he would at least not complain about sex anymore. I didn’t expect that he would change. I didn’t even think our marriage would change other than that we wouldn’t be fighting about sex anymore.
Dying to Self
I was keenly aware of how my efforts would affect me. After all, I knew how I felt about sex. I knew how I felt about the lack of emotional connection in our marriage. I knew why I avoided sex.
Working to change something without getting what I needed required me to die to myself. I didn’t know if I could do this, even though I knew that I would have to figure it out.
When I made the decision to begin to work on sex, I did so having resigned myself to a few things:
- Sex is never going to be what I would like it to be.
- My husband will never love me like I want him to.
- Sex will be the sacrifice I make in order to make up for the ways I’ve hurt him by being so controlling over our sex life.
- I will always feel just as alone as I do right now in this marriage—but maybe if I just accept that instead of fighting for it to be different, I’ll at least be able to get used to it.
I had to accept my own choice to suppress my relationship needs out of guilt to my husband for having hurt him and a desire to give him a wife he deserved instead of the one he’d stuck with for so long.
With a heavy heart, I decided that I would learn how to suppress those needs graciously, although I also decided that I would give myself permission to grieve and adjust during the process.
Comfort for the Grieving?
I mourned mightily. I had to face the reality of how wrong I had been and how much I had hurt someone who hadn’t deserved to hurt. I had to work through my guilt and learn how to lay my burdens before Christ. I had to remind myself that the sacrifice of my dreams for my marriage was a decision and a gift on my part and not a punishment.
I wish I could go back to comfort the woman I was then. I would want to assure my former self that . . .
- My husband loved me with his whole self and that sexual connection with me was the very thing that strengthened his emotional connection with me.
- Every single area of our marriage would improve.
- I would come to understand what it means that a man and wife become one flesh and that this was far more than a physical and sexual thing.
- I would come to welcome my husband’s groping and waggling eyebrows.
- I would learn that I can enjoy being a sexual tease
- I would become sexually uninhibited and free.
Yet if I were to go back, I’m pretty sure that version of me would have accepted no comfort.
Much of my emotional experience during those first months was one of grieving—acknowledging that I had hurt my husband and mourning the loss of the dreams I’d had for our marriage—which actually were dreams I’d had for me.
It felt like a loss to me. I hadn’t been happy in my marriage for a long time. I felt tired, neglected, and uncherished. With the clarity of hindsight, I can look back at think the decision to change was such an obvious one.
At the time, all I saw was that as unhappy as I was, I at least knew what to expect. I knew that we would fight about sex a lot. I knew that I would cave in every week or two or three. I knew we would be snapping at each other all the time. I knew that in the middle of the night, my husband would hold me if I had a bad dream. I knew that there is comfort in routine. I knew that I didn’t deserve a happy marriage (due to my premarital sexual sin).
I thought I knew what life had in store for me from one day to the next. Life had a structure, and I knew how I fit into it.
Leaving that life behind—the structure, the predictability, the comfort—was a loss that I grieved.
Grieving was a process that took time, and it happened while I was beginning my work on learning a new normal.
The only comfort I sought was that God would get me through each day and each sexual encounter. That was all the comfort I wanted at the time.
The actual work of change—first by becoming an active participant in sex and then by saying “yes” more often—was a struggle every single day. I hadn’t been aware of how much time and energy I’d been spending on avoiding sex. I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent more time thinking about avoiding sex than my husband did having it.
Every sexual encounter was a battle between my flesh and my will. All my feelings about sex and our marriage were still right there on the surface, and I had to push through them in order to do what I had committed to doing.
I felt like I’d been through a battle before I even got to the first kiss.
I had to grit my teeth and drag myself to the bedroom. I had to take so many deep breaths just to calm myself enough to go through with sex. I had to remind myself of things out loud—the fact that I’d hurt Big Guy, the fact that sex was supposed to be part of marriage, the fact that I kind of liked sex once we got into it, and the fact that I had been selfish and it was time for me to put away my selfishness.
For months, every sexual encounter felt like a sacrifice on my part.
The first couple months were infused with a strange combination of deep grief at my loss and the quiet joy that comes from knowing I was doing what God had called me to do.
Around six months into this process, I realized that some of our encounters happened without an undertone of sacrifice and grief. Some of the tension in our marriage had eased up. Big Guy and I learned how to laugh together again.
Sex wasn’t what I wanted it to be and my husband wasn’t loving me as I’d always wanted. However, sex didn’t feel as much like a sacrifice and I didn’t feel quite as alone as I used to.
I was shocked to realize that although I’d resigned myself to giving up the hope for my desires for our relationship, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected it would be.
The End of Grief
Time went on and my efforts continued. A year in, it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time my husband had complained about our sex life.
My sacrifice of sex had given me a marriage that was not only tolerable but somewhat pleasant.
I realized that my time of grieving had passed.
My husband and I have experienced such transformation in our marriage, in our relationship with each other, and in our faith journeys. I didn’t know such a change was possible for me. I didn’t know that it could get better, much less that it actually would.
The decision I made to work on sexual intimacy began with a decision to give up my desires. In return, I received far more than I gave up.
Has grief been part of your own efforts to improve the sexual intimacy in your marriage? How have you worked through that grief? What other emotions have been part of your journey?
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net