When a wife begins her journey to change her sexual attitude and actions in marriage, she may have some unspoken expectations running around in her head. I know I did:
- Big Guy will be so happy about what I’m doing.
- He will be grateful to me. How could he not be after all the years we’ve fought about sex?
- He’ll treat me like a queen. After all, he’s said to me that he would do anything to just have a good sexual relationship with me.
My reality was this:
- He didn’t even seem to notice what I was doing.
- Not only did he not seem grateful, he seemed even angrier about the things I wasn’t doing yet.
- I am still waiting for my tiara.
Of course Big Guy has loved the sexual changes in our marriage, and he has loved how these changes have led to improvement in other areas of our marriage as well. He craved intimacy with me for years. Now he has it. Our marriage is the best it’s ever been.
But I didn’t see any of this for at least a year after I began to make any changes.
Our First Year
For about six months after I started my improvement efforts, my husband kept thinking that each instance was a fluke. He thought he had finally done whatever the elusive right sequence of things was that would lead to me saying “yes.” He didn’t want to ask about it in case I hadn’t noticed what I was doing, out of fear that I might stop.
The second six months were very difficult. My husband resisted my efforts to make things better. He was finally able to believe that some real change was happening, but a lot of the anger and frustration he’d suppressed began to bubble to the surface. He kept wondering why I couldn’t have made those changes years before. Sometimes he seemed to not care at all. He also wasn’t sure the change would last. I would say it was a full year before he truly believed that things were improving and that our marriage would be different.
For this whole first year, I had to keep pushing without any feedback from my husband to let me know if I was doing things right or better.
Just as my journey was one of recovering from hurt, unlearning bad habits, and training my mind and body into new ones, so was my husband’s.
In response to my refusing and gate-keeping, my husband built up his own walls and patterns of behavior. He couldn’t fully trust me. This doesn’t change overnight. It took time for him.
What is going on with him?
Over the last couple months, I’ve heard from several wives who have begun to make some real changes in their approach to intimacy in their marriage and are frustrated by their husbands’ sexual disinterest in them, worsening moods, throwing themselves into work, an unwillingness to open up, or rejection of their efforts to initiate sex. They worry that they waited too long to change. They wonder if it will make a difference.
Put yourself in your husband’s shoes and think about what he is going through.
What does a husband experience?
- The wife who spent a lot of years depriving him of intimacy is acting differently than she has in years, if ever. Is this real? Is it permanent? As much as he didn’t like the way it was before, it was predictable and familiar. Now he has no idea what to expect–or how long it will last. So he wraps himself up in his job or a hobby because he knows what to expect there.
- If you’ve experienced other cycles in your marriage when there’s been an upswing in sexual activity (due to such things as hormone changes or attempts to conceive) and then you’ve resumed your refusing or gate-keeping, he has no way of knowing that this time will be different. He may be going through the “here we go again” roller coaster he thinks his marriage is on.
- Your husband may simply be afraid that if he believes this is real, he will be deeply hurt because it won’t last. Maybe he rejects you as a way of protecting himself.
- He has to relearn how to recognize normal, healthy sexual desire for his wife. If you have been controlling your marriage bed, he has taught himself to suppress much of his own desire. He has learned not to notice when you are naked since it won’t lead anywhere. He has learned not to trust his own assessment of whether something is a good indicator of sex or not.
- He needs to relearn to trust you. When you rejected him sexually time after time, you rejected the deepest part of himself. It will take him time to open back up.
- If your husband has coped with his physiological need for sexual release by masturbating and/or watching porn, he may be dealing with feelings of shame and remorse about that in addition to adjusting to the new version of you.
- He’s worn out. He may not have mental energy to know how to respond to the new you.
Once he begins to believe that you really are making some changes, he may experience additional challenges as well.
- He starts to allow himself to feel some of the negative feelings about your sexual control and rejection of him, feelings that he’s suppressed for a long time. My husband became grouchier. He expressed more discontent about our sex life than he had in a long time. Yes, he expressed more discontent after our sex life began to improve.
- Some husbands struggle with forgiveness. How do you begin to forgive someone who’s hurt you for years, after all? Do you pretend that the past never happened and just jump for joy about the way things are now? That was my expectation of Big Guy, but it’s something I know I wouldn’t have been able to do myself.
- The struggle to forgive may be accompanied by the thought that we deserve to suffer a bit for what we put them through. I am grateful that my husband is not one to hold a grudge, but this is certainly a normal feeling that some husbands have had to deal with.
I developed expectations for my husband’s response with absolutely no thought about what he would be experiencing. Sex touches men’s emotions in ways that we women don’t always understand. My changes sent my husband off into his own emotional landscape to navigate.
(For more insight into a husband’s experience, see this post at Sex Within Marriage.)
So what can I do?
If you are working hard to make some changes and your husband isn’t responding, what can you do?
- Persevere. Don’t give up.
- My changed sexual behavior was a continual act of repentance. Whether my husband had responded or not, I knew I had hurt him deeply. Doing better was my way of demonstrating my sincere regret and my effort to be a better wife. I did this because it was what my heart needed to do. Be a better wife because it is what God calls you to do, not because your husband shows that he deserves your continuing effort.
- Pray for your husband and his healing process. Pray for the intimacy in your marriage.
- Be as consistent as you can in your efforts to help him learn to trust you.
- Extend him some grace as he tries to adjust to the changes he begins to see. If it seems that he is grouchy, continues to throw himself into work, or complains about sexual things you are not yet doing, try to remember his point of view. Try not to take it personally.
- Talk to your husband. Tell him what you are doing. Acknowledge that you understand it will take him a while to believe and trust that the change is real. Assure him that you are committed to making a change. Apologize for having hurt him. Ask him what he needs from you in order to heal.
- Pray for your own efforts. It is hard to keep going when you begin, but God will help you.
- Give your husband time to see that this is not just a fly-by-night effort on your part.
- Understand that some anger and frustration may simply be part of what he has to go through to get to a place of being able to embrace the new you.
Healing can happen
After about a year, I could tell that my husband was beginning to trust me. Our conversations about sex had become about how much we enjoyed spending time with each other. He began to share sexual desires with me that he had barely admitted to himself. Our marriage had healed from the worst of the damage I had done.
It didn’t happen overnight, . . .
. . . but our marriage did heal.
I’m still holding out for my tiara, though.
Guys, I would love to hear from you in the comments about your own process of healing once your wife began to make positive sexual changes.