This is the second of a three-part series about how to begin to make changes in sexual intimacy in your marriage.
Some of us made the decision to change in an instant. A realization or conviction can be a lightning strike paradigm shift. Others of us had the decision creep up on us like thunder that rumbles far away long before you realize a storm is on its way. Not everyone embraces what the storm brings, either. While some of us stand with our hearts ready to accept the waves of change that will wash over us, others try to fight off those waves with an umbrella.
No matter how you got here on this journey, here you are. Now what?
Whether the decision to change came upon you like a lightning strike or a slow approach of thunder, learning to live the change takes time for most of us. Once we know what we’re supposed to be doing and decide to do it, the doing should be easy, right? Sadly, not so for most of us.
Years of deflection, avoidance, resistance, and outright refusal take their toll. Even with the best heart-felt intentions, long-time habits of thought, feeling, and behavior can be hard to shake. I was barely aware of many of these habits in my responses to Big Guy. I had to pay attention to realize that I was rolling my eyes. It took me a few weeks to recognize that my “no” happened without my even thinking about it. It was only when I recognized what I was doing that I could begin to change it.Long-time habits of thought, feeling, and behavior can be hard to shake. Click To Tweet
In Out of the Swamp, I talked about taking some steps that have nothing to do with sex. You can take some non-sexual steps to help your heart adjust its attitude and for you to get used to the idea and process of change. Just getting into the habit of paying attention to how you interact with your husband can be hard.
At some point, though, you’re going to need to make some changes that are sexual in nature. You may have quite a list of things to work on for your husband’s sake: tone of voice, expanding the menu of sexual activity beyond your usual, exposing parts you prefer to keep hidden, wearing sexy undies or nightgowns instead of your long-time protective gear, initiating sex, having sex with the lights on, allowing sexual teasing through the day, etc. And then there are changes that are more clearly for you, too: acknowledging your sexual desires, learning to talk about sex, allowing yourself to let go, and more.
How in the world are you supposed to get started on all this?
Fortunately, there is no one right way to make these changes.
Some women jump right into the deep end of sexual change and face everything right up front. Practically overnight, they try to stop staying no, agree to every non-sinful sexual request, and look for opportunities to sexually bless their husbands. A wonderful example of this is in a series by a guest writer chronicling her Journey of Change (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). She writes about how she attempted all her changes at once. This can be quite a shock to the system—but it does allow a woman to get a taste of everything she is about to be working on. It makes known the unknowns.
Diving in does not mean that everything is easy or that it is fixed overnight. Women who dive into all the changes still fight off feelings of resentment or being used, still have to do the work of putting on the sexy undies rather than the granny panties, and still have to actually have sex with the lights on. It will take time to get acclimated to all the new changes. They start all the changes at once, but they will still have to learn to actually walk through those changes.
Other women take their time. One little bit at a time, they slowly walk into the waters of change. They allow themselves to acclimate to each change before taking a step toward the next change.
This was the approach I took. My sort-of-sexual first step was to stop rolling my eyes when my husband approached me for sex. It took me several weeks just to get that under control. My first actual sexual step was to try to participate in sex rather than just lie there and hope it would be over quickly so I could get back to my book. While I was working on that, it was the only change I was trying. I worked on just one habit at a time. I always heard it takes three weeks to make a habit: I took twice that long just to make sure I was completely comfortable and confident. Only then did I start thinking about the next step. (You can read about this process here.)
A woman who takes the wading in approach also faces struggles as she tackles the realities of accepting sexual intimacy as part of marriage. Each sexual step required me to unlearn some bad habits and then replace them with good ones.
Testing the Waters
Others step into the water a bit and then just stand and figure out the lay of the land, not wanting to go any further but willing to accept change if it is thrust upon them. They try a change for a while and do well—but then they are overwhelmed by everything the change means. They realize they have to give up some things that have become a familiar and predictable part of life, and they are afraid—so they go back and stand on the shore for a while before they try the water again.
This was my daughter’s approach the first time we went swimming in one of the Great Lakes on a family vacation. She had gotten comfortable in our backyard pool. She could see all the way to the bottom, she knew exactly where the shallow end was and where the deep end started, and she was facing only a small area. There were no waves.
When she encountered Lake Erie, there were sand and waves. She couldn’t see all the way to the bottom. She couldn’t even see the other side of the lake. She would go stand just at the edge of the water. Then she waded in a little until her feet lifted off the ground just a bit. Afraid, she ran back to shore to stand with her feet solidly on the ground. She tried a few more times, each time running back to stand and get her bearings. She watched the waves, tried to understand how her feet could stand on the sand, and refused to go in—until she gleefully plunged into the water.
A woman who is testing the waters of changing sexual intimacy may attempt a change or two and seem to do okay. Then she withdraws and seems to go back to her old habits of restricting sex. Sometimes she may get even worse in those old habits for a while. Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of change, she digs her heels in as she tries to prepare for another attempt at the water.
If she continues to keep her goal at the forefront of her mind and if she continues to make a genuine effort from time to time, she can get to a point where she is truly ready to embrace the water. And then there is no stopping her.
Whether you’re diving in, wading slowly, or testing the waters, persevering is what makes the difference. Continue to pray about sexual intimacy, be intentional about pursuing your changes, and persist even through difficulties.
What matters isn’t how you make the journey. What counts is that you make the journey at all.
- Part 1 of the series: Making Sexual Changes: What Is Your Story?