Learning to Walk

We expect some things in life to be hard—learning to drive, learning to play a musical instrument, making difficult financial and medical decisions, parenting, caring for a loved one who is sick, and so on. But sex shouldn’t be hard. Right?

Sex was a lot easier when we were young and didn’t have years of baggage and bad habits behind us. As I began to recognize that my sexual gatekeeping and refusing had hurt my husband and was wrong, I knew it would involve training myself out of bad habits and into good ones. I just had no idea how hard it would be or how long it would take.

My first step toward healthy marital intimacy was to fully participate when we had sex. No more duty sex–lying with my eyes closed, mechanically doing all the moves that I knew would finish things quickly as possible. It was easy to tell myself, “Well, if you’re going to take the time to have sex, you might as well get something out of it, too.” I enjoyed this first step out of the pit and felt very accomplished, like things were going great.

And then I got to step 2: say “yes,” not “no.” You know what? It isn’t as easy as it sounds. My reactions had become subconscious. “Hey, hon, you wanna get lucky?” My responses included glaring, rolling my eyes, yelling, or at the very least, feeling my shoulders tense up. I wasn’t even aware of this pattern until I tried to change it. I had to remind myself, “Chris, breathe. Breathe before you speak. Close your eyes so he doesn’t see that you just rolled them.” When I was learning to not say “no,” I made a point of breathing intentionally for a moment before responding. Or, I would say, as calmly as I could, “Will you please ask me again in five minutes?” I tried to break myself of the knee-jerk reaction that had become automatic, and I did this by adding in something (breathing deeply) that would delay this response for a moment. There were times when “no” came out anyway, and by the time I’d realized it, we were in a fight because he’d reacted to that and our ingrained patterns of interacting had reemerged.

Healing is a process. Even if a woman wants to, very much, it isn’t likely that she will be able to flip a switch and suddenly be the wife her husband has longed for her to be. She needs to rebuild the ways she responds—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unlearning long-time habits and rebuilding new healthy ones takes time. Each step was small, and it wasn’t always easy. I was making myself vulnerable in many ways. Each time I said “yes”/touched/responded/initiated/etc. took a great deal of courage and effort on my part. While it shouldn’t have, it did.

I am concerned sometimes when I see a man who is hurting so much and hoping so much for an overnight miracle that he is unable to see the step-by-step progress that God is working in his wife. After years of worsening intimacy, he wants to hold and be held by his wife. He wants what he’s yearned for. When any progress is made, he may be anxious to speed it up, to get to where he’s wanted to be for so long. But friends, this is a time for grace. Once a wife has begun to make the journey, hold her hand, walk beside her, help her keep from stumbling—but please, don’t try to drag her behind you while you rush or she may just give up.

Husbands complain about “duty sex,” wanting to be desired. So let’s say a woman decides to try to make some changes at begins by not saying “no.” For her, even if her response to his initiating is duty sex, in her mind, she is actually being available and not saying “no.” Although he may feel rejected because she isn’t expressing desire for him, it may feel like a huge step to her.

A woman trying to reform herself should extend grace as well. Just as I had to relearn how to respond and react, so did my husband. It wasn’t an easy process, and he wasn’t always gracious about it.

When I was finally starting to venture into my early stages of re-engaging with my husband sexually, there was a time when I was doing something he had been begging me to do for several years (just touching him, which I’d avoided). I was lying there thinking about what a big step that was for me, to be touching him and actually enjoying it. I said a prayer of thanks for letting me have that experience again, and then my husband said something along the lines of “feels nice enough, but what would be really nice is if you would give me a BJ.” So there I was, having made what felt like a huge step, and instead of having it acknowledged and appreciated, I was reminded of yet another way I was failing him. I wondered why I’d even bothered to make the step I had, if all he was going to do was remind me of how I was till failing.

I understand now that my husband was hurting, that he wasn’t able to let himself fully relax and enjoy the experience because he was still unable to trust that even touching would happen again. Even 2 ½  years into our healing journey, my husband still has times when he assumes that I won’t want to have sex, such as when I say that I’m tired or that I have a long day coming up. I’ve had to gently take my face in his hands and ask, “When is the last time I said `no’ to sex? When is the last time I didn’t want it?” And neither one of us can remember.

A full healing of a sexual relationship can take time. It took me two years to change from a wife who refused to the wife I am now. And that was without any outsider telling me it was what I should do, and I didn’t feel we were at risk for a divorce. It was me deciding, on my own, to change, and we continue to relearn how to be truly and fully one flesh.

The shared journey to sexual healing builds intimacy, even when the journey is very slow.


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18 Comments on “Learning to Walk”

  1. The BIG key there is it takes a person to admit there exists a problem.
    Next Big key is the person must CHOOSE to do something to change the problem.

      1. After reading a few of your posts I decided to start from the beginning to see what I thought. Would it help to recommend this to my wife? My reaction to this post is that if I had been your husband I would have been fine if it took you some time BECAUSE of your description of your decision to make a change. At least the way you portray it you can identify a specific experience where you really realized that you attitudes had been wrong, you felt terrible about it and were determined to make a change. Not wishing, not hoping not preferring, but determined. And I would guess (is this right?) that you approached your husband, acknowledged your mistakes, sincerely apologized, and then set about taking concrete, specific and frequent steps. What I read in your words is not reluctant and slow reformation, but sincere and sustained and heart felt repentance. Obviously heart felt remorse followed by sustained and determined action should be rewarded with patience.
        For many years my wife’s response to my complaints ranged from tears to anger. If tears that was usually followed by about two weeks of trying a little (not too much, but some), after which she would go back to her old habits and attitudes. She has often insisted that she was making a little progress all the time, but the truth is I can’t see in her mind. I can only see what she does and listen to what she says. And on that basis, no net change after two weeks. Certainly the frequency did not go up. The number of evenings she didn’t collapse into bed didn’t go up. The number of evenings she initiated didn’t go up. The first 18 years of our marriage I am sure I initiated at least 95% of the sex and probably 98% or even 99%.
        My wife’s refusal in the past is mostly neglect, and being busy, sick, tired, busy, sick, tired, busy, sick, tired, etc. ad infinitum. I think for a long time she felt that she had no responsibility for sex: sex was something a man did to a woman for the man. Oh, almost all the time she had an orgasm. I made a great effort in that regard.
        I have had a habit of episodically bringing flowers. However one time when I brought her flowers she got angry and accused me of only bringing them to her as a means to manipulate her into sex. How about that for a smash in the face? So since then I only buy flowers the day after sex. I am not going to be accused of that again. But that is one of the things that really makes me sad. When we were dating (no sex until marriage), and the first year we were married until our first was born, affection and sex were so easy and so happy and so wonderful. I felt so lucky to married to such a beautiful and loving woman. And then our son was born and after that it was busy, sick, tired, etc., and a bad or reluctant attitude on her part, and starvation, rejection and frustration on my part. We used to be able to talk about everything and we couldn’t talk about this so terribly important subject because she wouldn’t talk.
        The last few months, since around December, things are suddenly somewhat better. The attitude is positive. But I don’t know why. There hasn’t been a big apology, certainly not an emotional or tearful one. I don’t have any solid basis for believing that there is real understanding and real sorrow for the years of neglect and rejection. I am hopeful, but not more. Why did I put up with this for so long? The children. I love our children. If it were not for our children I would have found someone else a long time ago.
        Congratulations on your epiphany.

        1. My growth was not nearly as clean and thoughtfully done as it sometimes sounds.
          You say,

          And I would guess (is this right?) that you approached your husband, acknowledged your mistakes, sincerely apologized, and then set about taking concrete, specific and frequent steps. What I read in your words is not reluctant and slow reformation, but sincere and sustained and heart felt repentance. Obviously heart felt remorse followed by sustained and determined action should be rewarded with patience.

          Nope. I recognized that I was hurting him and started to take some steps to change it. I don’t think we really talked about it until more than a year had passed.

          In “Crawling Out of the Pit,” I try to describe this:

          In fact, if I had set out on a journey intending to try to get where I am, I would’ve turned around and run the other direction. Making changes with any kind of goal in mind would have forced me to admit that I was wrong. In fact, even after I began changing my sexual availability and participation, it was a long time before I would let myself fully relax and feel emotionally intimate with my husband.

          My actions spoke my repentance long before my words did and long before my mind could fully acknowledge my sin.

          Have you thanked your wife for the wonderful changes in your marriage bed and asked her why these changes happened?

        2. Yes, I have thanked her. Several times. But as I have written elsewhere when I asked why her answer was that she didn’t make any big changes late last year, there has just been little changes all along. Not from my perspective. That gets back into whether the changes will be sustained or not, whether there is real recognition or not, whether there is real repentance of not. And frankly that has always been her line: I am trying, which usually lasted two weeks and then it ended. Somewhere on your site someone suggested keeping a log so they have a clear record of whether or not they have been better. If she had ever done that she would know.

        3. If she sees that she is making small changes and it’s been happening since the end of last year, it seems that this is not the same old pattern of changing for a couple weeks and then going back. This sounds to me like genuine change not just a line.

          Let me ask this: If she is never able to express repentance to you, will you be okay with that? Many women slide into refusal and gate-keeping without full awareness of what is happening or why, and it may be that many women move out of refusal and gate-keeping in the same way. Will you spend the rest of your marriage waiting for her recognition and repentance if she doesn’t do these things on her own?

  2. I am so glad I found this blog. This is exactly the kind of teaching I have been looking for to have a better relationship with my wife. I don’t mean it is bad, because it is actually very good. She loves me with more devotion than I deserve.

    What I am reading here is how a woman’s (at least yours anyway) mind works and most likely anyone’s in a self-improving situation like this. Like your husband, I too would be anxious that the change was possibly to be short-lived or be too slow-progressing and would be guilty of pushing my agenda forward. I can now see how demoralizing that would be. I flashed back to when I was a teen and trying to do better like all kids will do to please and be accepted by their parents. You think, “They’ll really be proud of me for this,” and then they say something like “Wow. Four A’s and a B. You almost had 5 A’s.” You think “What’s the point. Nothing I do will be good enough,” and lose your desire to continue working on the change.

    It also reminded me of the coconut breaking and buffet scenes in the movie Castaway. Chuck is starving and desperately, relentlessly trying to get the coconut open but is becoming frustrated when his efforts are failing. This may be the only food he can find and his patience is wearing thin. He is both hungry and thirsty and knows both needs will be met by the coconut if only it will cooperate. Then he learns to fish. He now knows his hunger needs can and will be met and he can focus on other things. Later at the welcome home party in Memphis at FedEx, his hunger need has been met so well for so long that all the rich seafood on the buffet, of which he has had plenty while being marooned, holds no appeal for him. It is the ice, and later in the hotel room, the light from the lamp and the lighter he now appreciates and covets.

    When we have hungered for so long, it is difficult not to reward our senses and overindulge when that which we crave is there before us. We are not sure the abundance will continue or that we will be invited to dine on that particular delicacy again. Like Oliver in Oliver Twist, we stretch out our hands and plead “Please…I want some more.”

    Now I get it. Thank you for sharing that experience which explained that dynamic so well. If I learn nothing else from this blog, that alone will be worth the price of admission. Well done, both here and in your marriage.

  3. This is a book written my a journalist I recently read on a whim. The couple had no pre-existing relationship issues so this is not like your situation. I am recommending it because it was the wife who suggested the premise of the book and because of the effect the commitment and the doing of it had on their relationship in unexpected ways. In some places the language is a bit direct and there are situations that are descriptive in a way that may make some uncomfortable but I wouldn’t call it pornographic or erotica, just adult if it were a TV show or movie. R-rated. It’s a pretty breezy easy read. No, It is not a just a journal of 101 sexual encounters. They actually serve to tie the things that matter together throughout the book. Let me know what you think if you read it.

    Title: Just do it : how one couple turned off the TV and turned on their sex lives for 101 days (no excuses!)
    Author: Brown, Douglas J

  4. “After years of worsening intimacy, he wants to hold and be held by his wife. He wants what he’s yearned for. ”
    This is where I am at, not asking for sex but just to hold even her scantily clad body and be held by her. I miss it so much and I get a lump in my throat just writing about it.

    “When any progress is made, he may be anxious to speed it up, to get to where he’s wanted to be for so long. But friends, this is a time for grace. Once a wife has begun to make the journey, hold her hand, walk beside her, help her keep from stumbling—but please, don’t try to drag her behind you while you rush or she may just give up.”
    Thanks for these words. I m trying hard to not be in a hurry but some days it really hurts.

    1. Has she begun to make the journey? If she has, and if each month is further along that the month before, then work to focus on the fact that there is progress. If she isnt moving at all, then it’s a different issue.

      1. I feel she has, but it’s only been about 7 weeks or so and we have not been intimate for the past 8 years. I doubt she considers that she is a refuser. I’m trying to figure a way to get her to, at least, read the first few posts of your blog, but I’m a bit scared of a set back if I approach it wrong. I already got ahead of myself a couple of weeks ago with a suggestion on what I thought would be a way to return to sexual intimacy and it didn’t turnout like I hoped it would.

        1. Chris is right, ElovesC. Progress is progress. I can empathize with your frustration though. I don’ have this problem in my marriage so my empathy doesn’t lie there. I can; however, empathize with feeling impatient with the speed of the change. I am seeing desired change in some places in our marriage too. When you get to square one, it is natural to want to move on to square 2, and as quickly as possibly. You want to get to square 2 before she changes her mind and backs off or you want to keep the momentum moving forward as quickly as possible, especially after so long a wait. I get that for sure. The thing is, and isn’t there always a thing, you can’t rush the process to meet your timetable. I know that’s painful and frustrating to hear and do, but if you push to hard and too fast, she will shut down and you will loose ground at the least, or turn her away from change at most. Chris may have some input on this. I am wondering if the degree of improvement comes easier and quicker as women get comfortable with the change process because of the benefits reaped and the trust growing stronger as things progress. Said another way, does the change come easier and quicker as the partner’s confidence builds in their spouse and the process. How about that, Chris or anyone else?

          As difficult is it is, don’t push to meet your schedule. There is a difference in gently “pushing” her to stretch, grow and mature if that is what is really needed, but pushing to get it done quicker can subvert the process.

        2. The first few steps I took were very slow. I would make a tiny change, and I would stay at that stage of growth long enough not only to make it automatic but also to “perfect” it and grow confident with it. After these first few slow-growth stages, I decided to fully commit to the process. Subsequent growth happened a little faster. Some of these early stages were more about heart and attitude. I don’t know that any of that growth was even visible to my husband.

  5. Thanks for adding this, Chris. It is likely true that the heart and attitude changes slipped under the radar initially or were read as a fluke until repeated on a consistent, though perhaps infrequent basis. Also, as I have said before but maybe not here, I am often hesitant to shine too bright a light on the changes when I notice them. I fear giving her the impression that our intimate and sex life is about “:only” those things that changed and making her feel like if she is uncomfortable and has to back off for a bit. I will be disappointed or upset.You have to be careful that recognition or praise under those circumstances is received as encouragement and is not being seen as self-serving comments toward your desired end. Perhaps it’s not as delicate a balance as I think, but I don’t want it to sound like I’m training a pet to do my will: “:Good, girl!” No disrespect meant. Only an analogy. You also wonder when is the time to acknowledge change. During the moment can make is sound like you are waiting and observing a process instead of sharing love.It is really quite intimidating because you don’t want to upset anybody;s applecart and bruise the fruit. I get the feeling that “God, your fantastic,” is much better received than “:Yeah, that;s the way I like it,” depending upon the circumstances. Any input on when and how to compliment your spouse on “improvements?” Sounds like a post to me, Chris. If you feel so, don’t answer that part here and steal the thunder for later.

    1. I know it has been awhile since you posted…. but i am reading this now…

      my husband says it’s like Disneyland…..my change towards sex.

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