Twice in my life, I’ve experienced earthquakes. They weren’t the big dramatic kind that get shown on the news and cause major disruption in people’s lives. They were both the kind where everything feels shaky and rocky for a few minutes, like your entire foundation is shifting—and then it settles and life feels normal again but somehow you know something happened. I may have experienced another seismic shift this past weekend, and it was in our marriage.
As I’ve dug into the roots of my sexual refusal and gate-keeping, I’ve learned that much of it was my response to what I sometimes think of as emotional refusal. I didn’t trust my husband to care for my heart. This was no more intentional on my husband’s part than sexual refusal was on mine. (I’ve written about it here and here and here.)
When My Walls Came Down
One of my major efforts has been to knock down the walls I’ve had between my husband and me. Built to protect my heart from what I perceived as my husband’s emotional disconnection, I had to demolish them in order for any growth to happen. With my walls down, I now view my husband as part of myself and see the ways he helps me be a better version of who I am. I show him that I trust him. I allow myself to be vulnerable with him.
Over the past year, I’ve noticed that my husband has softened toward my emotions. He has made an effort to hold me when I’m upset. (I’ve often told him, “Hugging is never the wrong choice.”) He is more patient when I’m talking through my feelings about something. As our intimacy has continued to grow, my ability to be trust him with my heart has grown as well. He has handled my heart gently as I’ve become more vulnerable; he knows that my walls are all down. This has happened slowly, but I see it as progress on his part. It is more emotional support than I had for much of our marriage, and I am grateful.
Because it is what I need in an emotionally intimate relationship, I often try to describe things to my husband in emotional terms. When my husband’s words or actions fill an emotional need, I’ll tell him that he has helped me feel comforted, assured, safe, or content. I say this because it helps me to name the feeling and remind myself that my husband meets my emotional needs.
Another Set of Walls?
Although he has become more careful with my emotions, my husband has never been one who seems too aware of his own feelings. I will sometimes ask him how he feels about something, and his answers are pretty basic. Whereas I might say I feel conflicted, distressed, or irrelevant, he would say he feels bad. His emotions have always fallen into the categories of happy or not happy. I have appreciated that when I ask him how he feels now, he at least takes time to try to think about his emotional state before he tells me whether he’s happy or not happy. He says he does this because he knows it matters to me.
My husband, the out-of-touch-with-his-emotions/I’m-either-happy-or-not-happy/why-is-it-always-about-feelings-with-you-anyway guy, needed me this weekend. On Saturday, he said he needed to sit with me on the couch to remember that everything that matters is okay. On Sunday, he asked if we could go to bed a few hours early for naked cuddle time. He asked for something sexual—not because he was, well, horny, but because he was feeling anxious about some things at work and knew that being with me sexually would help him feel less anxious.
Yes, he actually said this. I about fell off the bed in shock. For so many years, I yearned to feel needed emotionally. And now, not only was I needed emotionally, my husband recognized that he had an emotional need and knew that I could meet that need for him.
Maybe I wasn’t the only one who had built walls.
I’ve put a lot of effort into understanding and tearing down my own walls built in response to emotional disconnection. Why hadn’t it ever occurred to me that perhaps my husband had built walls in response to sexual disconnection?
As is the case with many men, sex was the way my husband connected with me emotionally. When I denied him sexually over time, year after year, with a mostly reluctant contribution of my body but not my heart to our sexual encounters, perhaps he learned to not express emotions or even to recognize his own emotional needs. The pain of not having them met would be, perhaps, just too deep.
A Shifting Paradigm
My husband’s expression of need for me is a paradigm shift of seismic proportions. I remember one time throughout our relationship when Big Guy said, “I need you.” Once. When we experienced three major shocks within twenty-four hours. Once, in twenty-seven years. And now, twice in one weekend?
The very ground beneath me was shaking.
In one of my early posts here, I wrote about how trust grows:
I always thought that trust was a necessary condition of saying yes and being a sexually generous wife, but it turned out that the intimacy that developed from generosity created the condition in which trust could grow.
The changes in my own behavior prepared the soil where my trust could grow.
My changes prepared other soil as well. Somewhere along our recent road, our marriage has become a safe place for my husband.
I knew my sexual changes had created the condition in which my trust could grow; they also created the condition in which my husband’s trust could grow. I already knew that he trusted me with all his sexuality.
His sexual trust laid the foundation for emotional trust. He had emotions. He named them, out loud. He told me he needed me. And he accepted what I offered him.
Even in the midst of slow progress, though, all it takes is one giant step to move you to a whole new place. My entire emotional foundation was shaken this weekend. Things are normal between us again, yet it all feels different somehow.
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When women have been sexually refusing or gate-keeping for a long time, it can be difficult to maintain the momentum and keep pushing ourselves to keep making the effort to change.
Keep pushing yourself anyway.
As best as you can, let go of the expectation of some return on your investment. Yet rest assured that everything you do to build your own ability to trust can in turn create the condition in which your husband’s trust can begin to grow as well. This requires effort on your husband’s part as well—but if you don’t do your part, you’ll never know.
Are you willing to take a chance to rock your world?
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