The other day I received an email from a reader who shared that he is seeing growth in his marriage. His wife has asked the question, “What do you want?” What do you want from our marriage? What do you want in the marriage bed? What do you want from me?
“What do you want?” This email has gotten me thinking about how loaded that question can seem–and how loaded it sometimes really is.
I didn’t ask my husband that question until well over a year into our renewed marriage growth. Asking the question in the first place took a huge amount of courage for me. I’d accomplished my goal of ending my refusal and controlling the frequency of our sex life. I’d become an active (and sometimes demanding) participant. Our sex life was pretty vanilla, but it had become high-quality vanilla. When I asked my husband, “What do you want?” I didn’t know what I was going to hear. In asking the question, I wasn’t promising anything specific but I was making a general offer and expressing a willingness to try to take a step outside my comfort zone.
“What do you want?” Just as it took courage for me to ask the question, it took my husband great courage to answer. He could see the progress we’d made, but he had no idea if his answer would shut everything right back down. Things had been changing long enough that he had moved from hoping we would have any sex at all to dreaming about specific interests. “What if she thinks I’m a pervert? What if she rejects me as a husband for wanting something she doesn’t understand? Can I trust her with my sexuality?”
If you are a wife who has been making some changes in your marriage, I’d like to encourage you to think about three things.
- If you think there is only one right answer, you aren’t ready to ask the question. Sometimes, women ask their husband questions believing in their minds that there is really only one right answer. Their husbands know that it’s a test and that there’s a chance they might fail. If you are at a point in your marriage where there is only one answer that you are willing to hear, don’t ask. If all you will accept is, “Honey, I don’t want anything other than what I already have. Our current sex life is exactly what I want it to be, forever and ever,” then please don’t ask your husband what he wants. If you might judge him for how he answers, your marriage isn’t ready and it isn’t fair to your husband.
- Prepare yourself to really hear his answer. I’ve had many times when my husband has asked me to do something new for him sexually, and my immediate response has been to assume that what I’m already doing isn’t good enough and that maybe I’m not enough. I’ve interpreted a request to try something new as a judgment on me as a wife. It helps to think of it more like my Barbie collection when I was young. Each time I got a new Barbie or accessory, it was the one I played with most for a while; it wasn’t the only one I loved, though. The reason I liked it so much wasn’t because it was Malibu Barbie or Mod-Hair Ken; it was because it was part of my Barbie collection as a whole and it made my whole collection better. When my husband wants to try something new sexually with me, it isn’t because he’s rejecting the other pieces of our repertoire. Rather, he wants to make the whole of our sexual collection better. A desire to try something new isn’t a desire to replace; it’s a desire to expand.
- Respond with love and grace. You may not like what you hear. His most hidden desire might be something that sounds really yucky to you. But he has just taken a huge risk in sharing himself with you. He has made himself vulnerable. He has trusted you with his sexuality; honor that trust with all your heart. Thank him for sharing. No matter how he answered, do not reject the idea. Acknowledge that it is something outside your comfort zone, but promise that you will consider what he wants and try to find a way to see if can do that–and then keep your promise.
I asked my husband, “What do you want?” several times before he found the courage and trust to truly answer. The one thing he asked for was something that not only had I never had any interest in the activity myself, I was slightly horrified by the idea. I first thanked him for trusting me with his desire. Then, after explaining that I wasn’t ready for that activity yet, I promised that I would learn about it and think about how I might be able to accommodate this request. And that’s exactly what I did. It took me months. I read in online forums about other women’s experiences with this particular activity. I found tips and instructions. I researched. I studied. I frequently talked with my husband about what I was learning. I wanted him to know that I was still in the process of moving toward fulfilling his request, one that required a great deal of trust from me.
Finally, after months of preparation, I was able to honor his request. I often say that this was the most intimate moment in our marriage. I’d found the courage to ask, and he’d found enough courage to answer. Fulfilling his request was a concrete demonstration of the new levels of trust we had in each other. THIS is what is important, not the activities themselves.
If you are ready to ask, ready to hear, and ready to respond to his answer with love and grace, you just may discover new depths to your marriage. Are you ready?