Gerad at Mission:Husband hit a nerve a few days ago in his post “Five Things Your `High Drive Spouse’ May Never Tell You.”
His intention, I believe, was to help low-drive spouses better understand their high-drive spouses’ thoughts and feelings about sex. The comments on that post have been interesting. He has elicited some strong reactions. [Note: The previous sentence has been edited to correct an unintentional misreading of comments on the Mission:Husband post.] I confess: although I no longer refuse my husband, there is still part of me that understands every one of the comments he’s received.
His post and the ensuing comments have gotten me thinking about some of the mantras I used to justify my refusal. These were sacred cows, assumptions that I did not examine and that were not open to questioning:
1. He needs to deserve it.
2. I am not a sex object.
3. He and I are on opposite teams.
4. My feelings should dictate my actions.
Every time my husband attempted to initiate sex, these four mantras would spin through my head and provide a standard against which all was measured.
1. He needs to deserve it. I put the responsibility for my sexual interest entirely on my husband’s shoulders. I had expectations (some that I communicated and some that I’m sure I did not) about what kind of husband he should be, how he met my emotional needs, what he did around the house, how he parented, etc. If I couldn’t check off the entire list, he didn’t get sex.
2. I am not a sex object. Like many women, I was often not interested in sex until I was already in the process of having it. Therefore, when my husband expressed interest, my honest answer was always “no.” I didn’t want any, not at all. After expressing my lack of interest, any persistence on his part would be seen through my lens of, “I’ve already said I’m not interested. Since he is pressuring me, that means he doesn’t acknowledge or care about my feelings, and therefore he sees me as just a sex object.” This interpretation was then applied to the first mantra as evidence that he didn’t deserve it.
3. He and I are on opposite teams. We didn’t want the same thing. He wanted sex. I wanted emotional connection. Our needs and desires were in contrast with each other, I thought, so sex became a battleground.
4. My feelings should dictate my actions. If I don’t feel like having sex, how could he expect me to actually do it? Why would he even want to have sex with someone who didn’t want it? What kind of man was he, anyway? (And this applied as evidence that he saw me as a sex object.) I pointed out to him many times that having sex when I didn’t feel like it was like being a prostitute. One day, he finally snapped back at me that at least a prostitute would pretend she was interested. Ouch.
How did I begin to slaughter these sacred cows? I am pretty sure that it was largely due to desperation. My husband was depressed, and I was beginning to see apathy from both of us. It was clear that our marriage was broken–not beyond repair, but broken and in need of healing. Living with a sad man with no physical or mental energy frightened me. Something felt off. I knew that something needed to change. And the only thing I could think of to snap him out of it was sex. The one thing we’d always fought about the most just might be the path to healing.
First, I slaughtered #4–but not right away. Rather than thinking about my feeling of not wanting sex, I would think about my feeling of fear that our marriage would fall apart. This feeling made it easier to follow through with the actions. As the actions became more normal and less of an issue, the feelings began to change. I didn’t begin to want sex at first, but I did come to feel that sex was comforting and not negative. Around this same time, I read an article that included a phrase I hadn’t seen in years: “Love is not a feeling. It’s a daily decision.” I turned that over in my mind and decided I could use that. Love wasn’t about how I felt; it was about what I did. As I looked at love and sex as action rather than feeling, the feeling began to grow.
The second sacred cow to go was #3. I hadn’t known it would happen, but as I began to perceive sex less negatively, I began to experience more emotional connection. This led to a feeling of being married and part of the same team. I didn’t have to slaughter this sacred cow. It just faded away on its own.
Then I realized I was facing #2, that I was just a sex object. By the time I realized I was dealing with that one, I realized that I was kind of good at sex–or at least good enough that I was seeing my husband respond in some pretty interesting ways. I’d never realized how powerful my breasts were. Simply taking my top off would make him crazy. Touching him, and letting him touch me, elicited amazing compliments. It was like sex was my newly-discovered superpower. I realized that it no longer bothered me to be thought of as a sex object. I was good at being one, and I rocked it. Plus, by that time, I was starting to realize that even raucous take-me-now kind of sex was more than just sex; it was part of a full relationship.
And the sacred cow that was left was #1. And I knew that it no longer mattered. He didn’t need to deserve it. By then, I’d read enough and let go enough of all these mantras to know that it wasn’t about him or me. It was about what our marriage needed. When my husband married me, I promised I would have sex with him, and he promised he would have sex with me. He sometimes didn’t deserve it–but deserving has nothing to do with needing.
I can still connect with the feelings behind those sacred cows. I remember them, in a visceral sense sometimes. I can read one comment from a refused husband that sounds like something my husband once said, and I find my shoulders tensing and my irritation rising up in my belly. But then, I breathe, and I choose to set those feelings aside. I remember that because I made a decision to do better and be more sexually generous, our marriage as a whole has grown and strengthened. My husband and I have both benefitted. We both deserve the physical and emotional intimacy that grows from sex. Every day, he shows me–and my eyes are open enough to see–that he sees me not as just a sex object but as a whole person. We are on the same team.
Most important, marriage is not just about feeling. It is about doing. It is about serving. It is about honoring my covenant to God. It is about making a decision that what God has joined together, I will work hard to keep together.
And there go all my sacred cows. Are you ready to slaughter yours?