Throughout most of 2009 and 2010, we were in a nearly sexless marriage. A sexless marriage is a marriage in which sex occurs ten or fewer times per year. Our frequency wasn’t quite that low, but we were close during this time due to health problems and a series of very stressful events in our lives.
We were spiraling away from each other with each passing week. Our unhealthy communication patterns had gone from bad to worse, we spent almost no time with each other, and we had lost some of the energy to even argue with each other.
The other day Big Guy and I had one of those conversations that reminded me just how much our marriage has transformed from the way it was then.
In A Moment of Hard Truth, I invited you in to the moment I realized how much I’d hurt my husband with my sexual resistance and refusal.
There was a time before that, though, when I didn’t realize the impact of what I was doing.
I’d like to open a window into this time—when our marriage was difficult and I felt emotionally disconnected from Big Guy.
What was going through my mind and heart then? How can I use these memories as I continue to grow now?
After I would have sex with my husband, I could always count on having a few days “off”—days when I knew he wouldn’t bug me for sex, presumably because he wasn’t horny given his recent orgasm.
But several days in, I would start to feel the tension again. He would be more obvious about looking at me or trying to grope me. He would say things like, “We could go to bed early if you want” or “Wanna get lucky?”
Yeah, those are phrases that make me want to jump your bones. Not.
“No, not tonight, honey.”
He would ask me, “Why not?” and I would try to explain.
At first, I told the basic truth: I don’t feel like it.
And it never really made sense. I didn’t fully understand myself, and even when I did, my words never seemed adequate. He wanted to know how to make me feel like it. Even if I’d wanted to feel like it, I wouldn’t have known what would work.
So I began to use excuses.
There I would be a few days after our last sexual encounter, starting to pay attention to things I could use as excuses so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard. There was always some truth in the excuses, but excuses is what they were. I knew it then, even though I didn’t realize how wrong I was and even though I was carrying deep hurts that I thought justified my “no.”
I had so many reasons I couldn’t have sex.
- I was tired.
- I had cramps.
- I had my period.
- My husband asked me in a way that was about him and not me.
- My husband wasn’t attending to my needs.
- I needed to get up early the next morning and needed sleep.
- I didn’t feel loved.
- I wanted to be more important to him than sex as.
- And so on and so on.
Unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand what the problem was. I thought that these things really were the problem—sometimes.
Other times, I knew that our relationship wasn’t right, and I just couldn’t bear to speak what I’d begun to think: I don’t love you. I’m not attracted to you. I deserve better than this. Why can’t you just leave me alone?
Not knowing how to say something that would devastate my husband, my excuses were my attempt to spare him a little pain and spare me a heap of guilt. Besides, it was easier to go through the same arguments we’d had before than to go through new ones that I feared would lead to big decisions that I just didn’t have the energy to carry out.
Please, Love Me for Me
I didn’t understand that I wanted my heart to be fed or that I wanted to know that he loved me. I would sometimes say that I felt like I was nothing more than genitals and boobs to him and that I needed him to pay attention to me. He would try, although he didn’t really understand what I was asking for and he didn’t want to ask for fear I would think he was stupid.
Although I realize now that his efforts to do what I’d asked didn’t succeed because I hadn’t been honest enough with myself to even know what to truly ask for, at the time his attempts seemed half-hearted to me—and my hurt would feel fresh. How can my own husband not love me enough to want to connect with my heart?
I would feel myself pull away from him emotionally, which translated to pulling away from him physically as well. How can he not see how desperate I am to be loved? How can he pay me all this attention when he wants something and then ignore me the rest of the time? Am I really that unlovable?
I would ask him to help me with the kids or with the household chores—not so much because I needed the help but because I needed to see that he was invested in our shared life. I needed to know that he valued what it was we were trying to do together.
Trying to do what I’d said I needed, he would get the kids to bed, or unload the dishwasher, or take the garbage out to the curb after I asked him, thinking that he had found the things that would earn him some sex. It rarely worked—because what I’d asked for wasn’t what I truly needed.
He would get tenser as he experienced an increase in the physical need for a sexual release, and I would get tenser, knowing that he was going to ask for sex soon and hoping, so desperately hoping, that he would approach me the right way this time. He almost never did.
There were times I was ready to collapse into his arms if only I knew he really loved me. Then I would hear “I’m horny” or some other variation of his request for sex, and I would be reminded that my heart didn’t matter to him.
So I would say “no,” or postpone, or cave in—and he would get short with me and frustrated to the point where his initiation came out all “I’m horny” and none of the “I love you and need to feel part of you” that I craved.
When I would give in to sex, it always took me a looooong time to get into it. For my body to engage, my mind needed to be engaged first. So we’d go to bed and I’d make us talk—for a long time, hoping to feel relaxed enough that I could get past the idea of having sex with a man who didn’t truly love me. I’d done that with other men before I got married, and I didn’t expect to have loveless sex after I got married.
He would humor me for a while, and sometimes it would work. We would have talked past my emotional barrier so I could relax and be sexual with him. More often than not, though, he got frustrated by how long the conversation was taking. When I sensed his frustration, my emotional wall went right back up and we would have to start over.
Sometimes, he would just give up and go back downstairs to have some whiskey since in his view I was stalling and trying to avoid sex. I would lie there feeling rejected, wondering why my husband didn’t love me enough to talk with me even though he knew he would get sex afterwards. Am I that bad a companion that he couldn’t even tolerate me to get sex? Why does he ever want sex with me, anyway, if that’s how he feels about me?
I would cry myself to sleep, feeling sexually frustrated myself (since my relaxing mind usually led to the beginning of arousal) and completely unloved and rejected. As I cried myself to sleep, I would begin to steel myself for the same experience the next night.
Eventually I would cave in, skipping my need for emotional connection just to get sex over with so I could have a few days free of pestering and the reminder that my husband didn’t really love me.
I was stingy about it, though. I figured that if my husband was the one who wanted to have sex, he was going to have to do all the work. No touching or oral from me. I would insist on having sex in the dark. He would insist on having light. I often caved in to that as well and just kept my eyes closed the whole time.
My resistance to sex was because I had to keep myself emotionally safe. Having sex is a vulnerable thing for me. Participating and being sexually giving require my heart to be open—and when my heart is open, it hurts more easily. Thinking that my husband didn’t really love me or care about my heart, this risk was just too big. I couldn’t do it. I had to protect myself.
I would lie there while my husband went through the motions of trying to arouse me. And physically, I would get aroused. As we were in the middle of intercourse, I would usually feel my heart start to settle just a little, remembering that I didn’t hate sex as much as I always thought I did and thinking that I might be able to actually get into it and maybe my husband at least liked me a little. I would begin to join in—and the fact that I had responded at all managed to push my husband over the edge. It was over as soon as I finally showed up.
My husband would tell me he loved me and then would roll over and go to sleep. I would lie awake, sexually frustrated and wondering what was wrong with me that my husband didn’t even think I was worth the time of relaxing and connecting with me before making his moves.
This added another negative sexual experience to my collection, with each negative experience altering my view of sex, one negative experience at a time.
The next day, the cycle would start all over again, with a reprieve of a few days before the tension began to build again.
On and on we went, spiraling away from each other, repeating the same cycle, with each turn pulling us further apart.
Looking back at my own words here, I can recognize how different my perspective was then. I know my husband was hurting, too. I see now that the thing I was withholding out of my own hurt was the very thing that healed us–sort of a twisted Gift of the Magi.
I understand so much more about what my husband was experiencing during that time that I no longer see those experiences through my eyes alone.
There was so much I wanted my husband to do differently then. I wanted him to emotionally connect with me away from the bedroom and not just when he wanted sex. I wanted him to ask me questions and really listen to the answers. I wanted him to slow down with sex and take the time I needed to get involved.
I was desperate for these things during our bad years, and every instance of him not doing them just strengthened my views that he wanted me only for sex and that he didn’t love me for who I was—only for what I could do for him.
During the past year, we’ve faced serious health problems and events that are even more stressful than those we experienced during the time we were in a nearly sexless marriage. Yet I now see all those things I craved before—emotional connection, Big Guy’s time and listening heart, slow hands, and a gentle voice. I yearned for these things for years. Now they are mine.
It is strange to hold these memories that are so different from the thoughts and feelings I have today. I barely recognize the memories as my own.
Looking back from the marriage we are in now, better than I ever imagined it could be, I see the memories of our nearly sexless marriage as a reminder of the scope of the transformation we have experienced. My gratitude for the state of our marriage now deepens when I remember where our marriage once was.
What do you remember about saying “no” to your husband? What are the changes you have seen in your marriage?