Leap of Faith

Do you believe that you deserve love and joy in your marriage?

Recently, a friend expressed his feelings of rejection by a wife who won’t even hold his hand, kiss, or hug him–not to mention make love. “Why won’t she let me love her?” I thought for a while about many of the women I know who work so hard to protect their hearts. They are wounded women. “Perhaps she feels unlovable or undeserving of love,” I said.

I’m Not Worthy

In my own life, one of my struggles has been low self-esteem. Self-esteem isn’t just how you perceive or define yourself; it is how you value what you see.

Some experiences in life are an acid that eats away at our self-esteem, leaving us raw and feeling worthless. Some of these experiences result from decisions we have made; others result from the actions and decisions of others.

Low self-esteem is an insidious enemy that attacks us at every corner. We develop scripts about ourselves that are woven into the very fabric of who we are and how we interact with others. Our marriages are not immune to this enemy.

I’ve heard quite a few of these scripts from women I’ve known throughout the years as they talk about marriage.

  • My sexual feelings are dirty and painful.
  • My feelings and wishes don’t matter.
  • I don’t deserve to feel sad after what I did.
  • I am unlovable.
  • No man will ever want me.
  • Even a man who loves me will leave me.
  • I brought a disease into the marriage, so I have no right to complain if my husband brings the images of other women into our bed.
  • I am good only for sex.

I’m Being Punished

In my case, I did something as a young woman that I knew was wrong; it hurt others. It triggered a series of events that contributed to another woman’s unhappiness in her marriage. The script that developed in my mind was that I don’t deserve to be happy in marriage. So I wasn’t.

I truly believed that I didn’t deserve to find joy in marriage. I have a memory of standing in the living room of our first home after we married. I don’t remember what our conflict had been about, but I remember feeling miserable. Just as I was trying to figure out how to respond to the situation, words ran through my head: “I don’t deserve to be happy in marriage. This is my punishment.”

Yes, I thought my marriage was a punishment.

My certainty that I was undeserving of marital happiness became a self-fulfilling prophecy. At decision points, I usually took the path I felt I deserved–which led to unhappiness, which confirmed that I was undeserving. I sabotaged my own marriage because I felt so unworthy.

Sadly, this happens in too many marriages. Women feel they don’t deserve the joy in marriage, so they act against it—or, at best, they don’t pursue it.

Dragging Him Along for the Ride

Unfortunately, many of us may not even be aware of these scripts of our unworthiness. Or if we are, we are so caught up in believing the words that we are unable to see how our beliefs about ourselves affect others–especially our husbands.

Several years ago as I began to recognize that my marriage was not a happy one, my husband and I were having an argument (probably about sex). I heard the script in my head: “I don’t deserve a happy marriage. This is my punishment.” I happened to be looking at my husband at the time, and this time, there were more words: “But he shouldn’t have to be punished, too. My punishment has sucked him in. He didn’t deserve to be dragged along for the ride.”

In some cases, a woman may have married a man who contributed to an experience that was central to her low self-esteem. Even there, does the man who he has become and is now deserve to be punished for what he did as a younger man?

How many women are like I was, so caught up in feeling unworthy that they’ve sucked their husbands in and caused them the same suffering? If you feel your sexual feelings are dirty and shameful, have you convinced your husband that his are, too? Are you so convinced that your husband will leave you that you’ve pushed him to wonder if he should leave, or that you’ll leave him? Do you feel so unlovable that you have made your husband feel unloved as well? Has your self-esteem become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

A woman who truly feels unlovable will find it hard to believe a loving husband who says, “I love you. I’ll never leave you. Your sexuality is beautiful. I want you. I rejoice in you. I want you to experience joy.”

Rewrite the Script

I can sit here and say all sorts of encouraging things about taking baby steps, choosing joy, being generous and giving, and stepping outside your comfort zone. But when you’re wounded and feeling unworthy, it’s so very hard to move even one inch from a place that feels familiar and known. It’s hard to feel deserving of anything better. And after years of accepting or pursuing the negative, trying even one positive thing is a completely foreign concept.

I know that there are some women reading this who know all too well what this is like. They may read my suggestions and think, “She makes it sound so easy.” It isn’t.

A wounded woman struggles to trust. She struggles to believe. She struggles to let herself be vulnerable, to fully let a man into her heart. And even when she knows it is the right and good thing to do, the scripts in her head can keep her caught in a cycle of believing that she doesn’t deserve the good outcomes that can result.

How do we invite our husbands into our hearts when our minds are swirling with negative mantras about our value?

Sisters, I have no wise words or formulas for you. You must take a leap of faith. Even if you feel that you don’t deserve better than what you have, pursue it anyway. Choose to overcome the negative scripts in your head. Replace them with words that cancel out the negative ones.

My script was that I didn’t deserve a happy marriage. My first stage of overcoming that was to simply recognize when I was hearing that script. I would let the words flow through me and acknowledge where they came from. Next, I would force myself to think the words, “But my husband does.” I first began to seek joy in marriage not for my own sake but for the sake of just stopping the cycle of negativity. Then I began to replace these words with positive ones: “I am a daughter of the King. It won’t hurt me to at least try.” Over and over and over, I learned to speak the positive words more loudly than the script in my head.

You are created in the image of God no less than anyone else.

Tell yourself that, over and over and over, until you believe it.

You deserve love. You deserve joy. You deserve intimacy. You are worthy. You are lovable.

Take the leap of faith.

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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26 Comments on “Leap of Faith”

  1. Thank you for another very thought-provoking post. I really admire your analytical skills as well as your writing skills. As I understand it, the main message today is that you had a feeling like “I don’t deserve it” (i.e. to be happy) and, therefore, you did not let your husband into your heart. It certainly makes sense.

    Since, however, I am a very regular reader of your blog, I remember another post: “Digging Deeper” (June 17). The message here was that gate keeping/refusal is not about power and control. It’s about protection. As a refused husband I always search for reasons, and in everything I do, I try to be logical (even though I probably fail miserably when I deal with very emotional issues). In my logical analysis of the refusal I could only see few logical reasons for my wife’s behavior:
    1) Power and control (and what could possibly be a more efficient way of exercising power and control)
    2) She considers me completely worthless. This is not a nice thought and if it was true, it should be visible in many other ways as well. Fortunately, I don’t see any other indications confirming the theory. In all other ways we have a very loving relationship. I honestly think that we do have a happy marriage.

    Having left option 2 out of the equation only option 1 was left: Power and control! But then your “Digging Deeper” post gave me a light bulb moment: There is a third option! She may be protecting herself! The good question is, of course, from what? But that’s the next puzzle to solve.

    Back to today’s post: “I don’t deserve it”. My question is how you relate those two posts? “I don’t deserve it” is not the same as “I want to protect myself”. Or is it? Do you say that there were two reasons for your unhappy marriage? Or do you see the two statements as mutually related? Do they in some way have a common root?

    1. I think they are related. Being wounded in some way can lead to feelings of unworthiness as well as a need to protect.

      Sometimes I see contradictions between my different posts. That certainly happened as I was writing this one. They are not contradictions as much as complexity and multiplicity. Refusing and gate-keeping resulted from more than one thing in my life–need for protection, feelings of unworthiness, etc. These things work together in developing the bad patterns.

      When I write a post, I try to focus on one issue rather than many. If I wrote about all my complexity in one post, then it would be so specific to me and my life that another woman might not be able to relate and it would detract from the ministry.

      So, as for your marriage, which of the things I’ve written about do you think might be true for your wife? Maybe it is time for you to begin asking for support on specific challenges you face.

      1. Kudos for efficiency! I submitted a comment and had an elaborate answer within 11 minutes!

        And with regard to your last comment: Point taken! 🙂

    2. I would add this as well: you are using logic to try to understand something that probably grew subconsciously out of an emotional landscape. I don’t recall ever hearing a woman talk about their restrictive sexual patterns as a result of logic or even a conscious decision.

      My guess is that many women don’t understand for themselves why they do what they do. I tend to be fairly reflective and think about things a LOT. My mother still points out that I over-analyze everything.

      Use logic to try to figure things out, but also understand that logic will not be sufficient for reaching your wife’s heart.

      1. FW: “I don’t recall ever hearing a woman talk about their restrictive sexual patterns as a result of logic or even a conscious decision”.

        No the logic is certainly not applied consciously, but still there must be some kind of logical explanation. What does a woman get out of refusing? If there was no “reward” in SOME sense she wouldn’t do it. You have presented (at least) two “rewards”: Self-protection and self-punishment. So, if you know what the “reward” is, it will be easier to do something.

        FW: “understand that logic will not be sufficient for reaching your wife’s heart”

        Funny, because my wife has actually said almost exactly the same (she blamed me for being too mathematical in my thinking). Fortunately I think I have already reached my wife’s heart even though I must admit that there is still at least one corner which is closed.

        1. Once you know what the reward is, how will you know what to do? Let’s say that a woman refuses out of self-protection. What would you do about that? You can’t simply say, “You’ll be safe with me” and expect her to decide that you’re right.

          Another way to think about it: What would be the logical reward for a woman to step outside her protected and safe version of life to take a risk and open herself up to all the sexual intimacy can bring? When a woman has seen sex as negative in any way, how can she see that there might be a reward for pursuing that? What is the reward for being sexual with her husband?

          A man should not try to use a flow chart to understand a woman, her heart, her actions, or her decisions. 🙂

        2. Of course you are right (again), but still it seems obvious (to me) that the appropriate means will depend on the nature of the reward. Another aspect is that it would actually be a huge relief in itself just to know the reason even if I can’t do anything about it.

          What a pity that such a flow chart doesn’t work with women! The minute I saw it I spotted a fantastic business opportunity: If I could replace “Lamp” with “Woman” and work out the right chart and sell it to frustrated husbands I’d become a millionaire in no time! My only problem would be that I don’t know what kind of advice to give to those ending up with the “Repair lamp” option. It seems to me that the chart only helps with the easy cases …

        3. Yes, so there is still a long way to go for my part!

          You are probably better off. After all, that’s what your blog is all about. Are you sure you should share it for free? 🙂

  2. I am really struggling with my entire marriage being a huge mistake from day one. On the day we wed I was not looking forward to a life with a man who respected me, even when I deserved it. He has finally admitted after 43 years that he forced himself on me and finally raped me when we were teens. My husband also now admits he was angry with me all these years. I gave him sex when he wanted for the most part up until the past few years, and then not at all as agreed along with our Christian marriage counselor. I understand his being angry and frustrated over that. Our entire marriage boils down to my not having any physical attraction towards him. He says that is where his lack of respect came from, how do I get him to understand that that ship had sailed long before our wedding day. He has been a wonderful provider, father, and grandfather. I have failed him in so many ways, but I prayed and put my whole heart into being the best wife I could. I believe I put his needs ahead of my own until recently, making our home a haven for him as best I could. I always thought of how he would think or feel about my behavior. I failed miserably, but I really put my all into it. Since we were teens he has belittled me, saying things like I don’t know what I’m talking about, or telling our children and grandson not to listen to me because “she’s crazy, and doesn’t know what she is talking about”. It hurt but I was used to it and had learned a long time ago the only person I could change was myself, so I just started to ignore his comments. I had become so inured to them I no longer realized he was doing it. My family sure noticed when they saw us together (which isn’t very often as they live far from us). It took a text from my grandsons mother asking me if I was ok to get me to realize how bad it had become, my then 7 year old grandson said he didn’t like the way his grandfather was always being so mean to me. I didn’t even notice anything out of the ordinary, but we had him on vacation without anyone else along? Now I am being asked to start over and try anew all the things I have been trying until recently in hopes that I will develop a physical attraction to my husband. In truth I have completely lost all of whatever respect he may have had for me (because of an affair last year) as well as all trust he may have had in me. Even before he learned of the affair he thought I was in his words, the most selfish, mean spirited, conniving, liar he had ever thought possible. All he wants is to have a marriage bed relationship with me, something I fear I may never be able to deliver. I am tired of pretending, I can enjoy the physical act but not the kissing and foreplay, I have sincerely tried to ” let go and let God”. Everything all boils down to sex, and intimacy which we have never shared. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Effy, I am not a counselor, so I have no idea what words would lead you to a healed heart. You were one of the women in my heart as I was writing this post; I’m glad to know you’ve read it.

      Since you’ve commented here and on some other posts, I might be able to make some observations and ask some questions. I recall you mentioning that you’re seeing a counselor (or is that someone else I’m thinking about?), and perhaps what I say here can give you some things to talk about with your counselor. So let me pull out some things you’ve said.

      I am really struggling with my entire marriage being a huge mistake from day one. On the day we wed I was not looking forward to a life with a man who respected me, even when I deserved it. He has finally admitted after 43 years that he forced himself on me and finally raped me when we were teens.

      This is important. I suspect this was something you really needed to hear. It set the context for your entire marriage. Now what? Having him admit this doesn’t make you happy. Can you work on forgiving him? Is he still the same boy he was then? For him to acknowledge to himself and to you that he was wrong takes a lot of courage.

      My husband also now admits he was angry with me all these years. I gave him sex when he wanted for the most part up until the past few years, and then not at all as agreed along with our Christian marriage counselor. I understand his being angry and frustrated over that.

      Do you think your husband has a right to these feelings, or did he forfeit that right when he forced himself on you as a teenager?

      Our entire marriage boils down to my not having any physical attraction towards him. He says that is where his lack of respect came from, how do I get him to understand that that ship had sailed long before our wedding day.

      What do you mean by “physical attraction”? Do you specifically mean sexual desire for him, or are you talking about whether you find him nice looking? My experience was that as I began working on things in my marriage–starting by being more engaged in sexual activity and then working on my heart and our emotional relationship–I began to feel more love and more attraction for my husband.

      He has been a wonderful provider, father, and grandfather.

      Does he know you think so? I’ve had men tell me that these things are what they believe are most important–that if they’re doing these things, they’re doing their job. Now, being a wonderful husband should be a goal, too, but what you’ve just said is no small thing. Does this mean something to you?

      I have failed him in so many ways, but I prayed and put my whole heart into being the best wife I could. I believe I put his needs ahead of my own until recently, making our home a haven for him as best I could. I always thought of how he would think or feel about my behavior. I failed miserably, but I really put my all into it.

      These are important things as well. It sounds like both of you spent a lot of years doing what it was you thought you were supposed to be doing. Let me ask you this: have you prayed for your husband? You prayed about being a good wife; did you also pray about your husband growing in his relationship with God?

      Since we were teens he has belittled me, saying things like I don’t know what I’m talking about, or telling our children and grandson not to listen to me because “she’s crazy, and doesn’t know what she is talking about”. It hurt but I was used to it and had learned a long time ago the only person I could change was myself, so I just started to ignore his comments. I had become so inured to them I no longer realized he was doing it. My family sure noticed when they saw us together (which isn’t very often as they live far from us). It took a text from my grandsons mother asking me if I was ok to get me to realize how bad it had become, my then 7 year old grandson said he didn’t like the way his grandfather was always being so mean to me. I didn’t even notice anything out of the ordinary, but we had him on vacation without anyone else along?

      This behavior is on him to change. Has he shown any indication of working on these things or trying to understand how they affect you? It is hard to feel belittled, especially over a period of years. I certainly can understand learning to ignore the comments. But now you’re in an unhappy place in your marriage, and it sounds like you want something to be different in your life. Are there different ways you could respond when this happens? Is he willing to work with you on developing new patterns of interaction?

      Now I am being asked to start over and try anew all the things I have been trying until recently in hopes that I will develop a physical attraction to my husband.

      Who is asking you to start over? You can’t ever start over. What’s done is done, and it’s in your life. It’s become part of your marriage and part of how you see yourself. What have you learned about yourself as a result of all of this heart-hurt you’ve experienced? How can you use what you’ve learned to build new patterns? I think that physical attraction may not be the best goal to have; rather, work on other things, and you may find that physical attraction is a by-product of those things.

      In truth I have completely lost all of whatever respect he may have had for me (because of an affair last year) as well as all trust he may have had in me. Even before he learned of the affair he thought I was in his words, the most selfish, mean spirited, conniving, liar he had ever thought possible.

      What is he doing to work on these feelings about you? Are you two still in marriage counseling?

      All he wants is to have a marriage bed relationship with me, something I fear I may never be able to deliver. I am tired of pretending, I can enjoy the physical act but not the kissing and foreplay, I have sincerely tried to ” let go and let God”. Everything all boils down to sex, and intimacy which we have never shared.

      I’ve come to think that sex means something different to most men than it does to most women. For many men, sex is the one way they experience love. If all he wanted was an orgasm, he could take care of that himself–but he wants to be with you. That shows that there is something in his heart for you, that sexual connection with you fills his heart in some way.

      Any help would be greatly appreciated.

      You have a lot of your life invested in this marriage. You’ve raised children with this man. That’s a lot to throw away. Are you willing to work on your marriage, or are you going to let it just fade away into the sunset or cut your strings? He is never going to be able to change what happened before you were married or during all the years that followed. He can’t un-rape you or un-belittle you. You can let those things have power over your life, or you can choose to learn from them and decide to move forward. What are you willing to work on? What is he willing to work on? What are some concrete and specific things he can do that will demonstrate genuine effort on his part? It sounds to me like you both have some forgiving to do. Work on your own relationship with God. Support your husband in his relationship with God, and ask him to support you in your relationship with God.

      What is your counselor telling you? If a counselor is not helping you understand and grow, it may be time to find a new one.

      I wish I knew just what to say. My guess is that your husband isn’t any happier than you are. You have a lifetime of hurting each other to work through. This is bound to be a slow process. You and your husband continue to be in my prayers. I believe that healing can happen, but not on its own. You’re going to have to do some serious reflection, talking, praying, and doing in order to heal. I know it’s hard to imagine what that could look like from where you are, but you and he both are children of God.

      Blessings to you, dear.

  3. I neglected to add that my husband informed me that in light of my lack of sexual desire I have not held up my end of the bargain and all I have done for him counts for nothing. Still he says he loves me and wants me back. We separated about a month ago. I am very puzzled by this.

    1. A marriage is not about keeping score. He wants you back–in what way? Does he want to return to the way things used to be, try to build what he thought things should be like, or build new version of your relationship by moving forward in forgiveness?

  4. I appreciate this post more than I can describe. I have thought a lot about the subject of deniers/gatekeepers over the years. I have formed a lot of different theories during that time, but I never thought about this as being a possible cause. I think it is a likely problem in at least some cases.

    It kind of reminded me something a good friend of mine told me when she was dating this guy back in college. She said that she really liked him, but, “He just treats me too good.” I never understood that statement until now.

    I posted a writing today about the need to let a husband pamper his wife, since I know some wives do not like being pampered. (Yes, mine is one.) I will add a link to this article in the post-script. I believe your post will give them something to think about and maybe they will follow your advice and make some changes in their behavior.

    1. A woman who doesn’t feel she deserves to be treated well might be suspicious of the man who pampers her. “I know I’m not worth the attention, so the only reason he could be treating me nicely is that he wants something from me.” It’s a huge leap to move from a place of feeling undeserving to being able to enjoy the blessings from one’s husband (sexual or otherwise).

      I’ll take a look at your post later, too. 🙂

  5. I spent forever answering your last replays to me and lost them. Thank you for your quick response and I have given your questions and insights a lot of thought and consideration. Thank you

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