Your heart has softened, and you’ve begun to understand how much your refusal has hurt your husband.
You’ve decided to change your approach to sexual intimacy, with a goal of no more refusing. You know that your husband receives your love best through sex, and you’re determined to make sure he knows you love him.
You’re committed to doing better. Whew! It took a long time to get to this point, but now that you’re here, things should be easy going. Maybe you’ve even tried to change before, but this time, you’re really committed to making it stick.
So you go along the way, learning to identify what triggers your anxiety, fear, hurt, and anger. You’re learning some strategies to deal with these feelings, and you’re generally successful. You’ve initiated a few times, and you’ve even managed to step outside your sexual comfort zone once or twice.
You’ve learned to extend your husband some grace and allow for his own healing process, even though you sometimes wonder if he’s even noticed all the work you’ve been doing on yourself.
At times, you think you can even glimpse God’s purpose for sex in marriage. You’re feeling closer to your husband, and he even seems less tense or sad than he used to.
All in all, you’re feeling pretty good about what you’re doing. Yay, you!
And then, one day, it all seems to fall apart:
You fall back into an old way of reacting to your husband’s sexual advance. You roll your eyes. You ask him how he can even think of sex when you still have two loads of laundry to do before bedtime and you both have to get up early in the morning. Your husband gropes at you and you brush his hands away without even thinking about it.
You notice that your husband has become complacent and stopped wooing you. At least when you were refusing, he tried to romance you—but now he’s like a kid in a candy store and is always talking about sex, sex, sex and never seems to think about what you would like.
Maybe you’re feeling unloved because all the while you’ve been learning to meet your husband’s needs, your needs have been piling up, unmet. When do you get what you need?
Or you’re feeling worn out and just want to go back to the feeling of being in control and not having to meet other people’s needs all the time. You soak in the bathtub and long for the days when a bubble bath was a truly relaxing preparation for sleep instead of a precursor to sex, again.
Or both of you respond out of old habits and the next thing you know, you’re having a fight about sex like you haven’t had since you were refusing.
It’s enough to wear a woman out. You’ve been working so hard, but here you are, feeling the same old feelings you had before.
You can’t help but wonder,
Has it all been for nothing? Have I been fooling myself? Is our marriage just as bad off as it was before? Why do I even bother?
You know in your head that you’re doing the right thing, but your heart is hurting and you don’t know how to move forward—and you aren’t even sure you want to go forward.
What’s a wife to do?
We can find ourselves easily discouraged when we stumble.
It can feel like a failure. Shouldn’t sex come naturally? It’s bad enough that I have to be working at this in the first place—and now I’ve failed. Again.
It can remind you of how much work you still have ahead of you. It can feel like you’ve made absolutely no progress at all.
It can make you want to give up. In fact, the very questions that pop into your head about whether it’s been worth it can make it even harder to believe that getting back on track is the right thing to do.
When you stumble, how can you reboot yourself, dust yourself off, and resume your journey?
- Allow yourself to explore your feelings if that’s what you need to do. I know that if I wallow in self-pity for more than five minutes, I sink to a new level of sadness—so I limit myself. And yes, that means I set the timer for five minutes. During that time, I cry, I pour out my sorrow onto God’s shoulders, I release all those negative feelings.
- Go back to the same things that helped you begin to change in the first place. For me, the two big things that helped me grow most were praying and breathing. I prayed for perspective and or our marriage to stay firm. When I stumbled, I took several deep breaths and reminded myself of the truths about marriage and the many ways my marriage is so much better now than it used to be.
- Pull yourself back together and go to your husband. This was hard for me at first. Early on, there were times I was so full of hurt and anger, and I would almost be sick to my stomach at the thought of being loving to my husband when I felt the way I did toward him. I discovered that the more I did this, the easier it was the next time. Sometimes going to my husband meant that I would offer the very thing I had just refused to do. Other times it meant I offered a heart-felt apology. It has always included a verbal expression of my love and an attempt at a physical connection (even if not a sexual one).
- Praise God for having helped you get moving again. Sometimes my negative feelings were too big for me to have moved past them on my own. It was only through God’s help that I could pull myself up out of my quicksand of self-pity.
I Still Stumble
Today marks four years since I began my journey to change. During the first few months, I fell. A lot. Despite my good intentions, I would still say no, or I would start making the grocery list in my head—and I forced myself to get back on track.
Since then, I’ve stumbled a lot. I will find that old feelings resurface, and I have to give extra effort to working past those feelings. I still have to go back through the process of giving myself a five-minute pity party, praying and breathing, going to my husband, and thanking God.
Most of the time now, my journey is pretty smooth. From time to time, though, I still stumble . . .
. . . and when I stay “I still stumble,” I mean “earlier this week I stumbled.”
For the first time in four years, Big Guy and I had a fight about sex.
I don’t even know how it happened.
We had both been anticipating sexual and emotional intimacy throughout the day, with teasing, flirting, touching, and flashing.
Big Guy made a specific request. I asked him to help me get my mind in the game. My words weren’t a whole lot different than they used to be, and they tapped into the part of him that hasn’t yet healed from my refusal.
Before I knew it, we were having an argument about sexual and emotional needs and expectations. Because of the work we’ve both been doing, the outcome was entirely different than it used to be—but the physical and emotional experience of having that argument was all too familiar.
It was rotten.
I was right back in the experience of feeling used and unloved while I was physically trembling as I faced the prospect of sexual activity. I didn’t even know I could still feel that way.
The feelings I experienced were disheartening, to say the least:
At one point, I was sitting alone in our bedroom crying my eyes out while my husband was downstairs trying not to hear me—and I admit that I wasn’t exactly trying to cry quietly.
For a few minutes, I confess that I wondered why I had ever made the effort to change. Has it all been for nothing? Have I been fooling myself? Is our marriage just as bad off as it was four years ago? Why do I even bother?
I allowed myself my five minutes to cry. I took some deep breaths. I prayed. I asked God for perspective and for our marriage to stay firm. I asked Him to remind me of all the ways my marriage is better now than it used to be (and it is, in so very many ways).
I dried my eyes and walked downstairs. My husband was sitting on the couch, looking as sad as I felt. As I approached him, he opened his arms and just held me. We made up.
Moving Forward, Again
Four years into this journey, it’s hard knowing that I can still stumble.
Every single aspect of our marriage is better—communication, respect, affection, spirituality, comfort, joy, connection, and love.
Despite the fact that we still have plenty of work to do in all these areas, it feels like we now are in the marriage God wanted us to be in all along. We had veered so far off His path for us that we lost sight of it for years—but we found our way back and are moving forward.
But even four years into this journey, I still stumble.
Fortunately, I know that a stumble is just a snag, not a defeat.
It isn’t always easy, but I pick myself up and get moving again.
If you’ve committed to this journey, you can get moving again, too.
And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13