Sexuality is inherent to a man’s sense of self.

This is the first in a series of posts in which I discuss six points husbands have expressed about the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriages. I first discussed these points in this post several years ago. Please read the introduction to this series here for background and a list of caveats.

This post discusses the first point: Sexuality is inherent to a man’s sense of self.

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What does emotional disconnection look like to you?

I spend a lot of time here writing about our husbands.

That grows out of my own experience. I’ve written about the difficult moment when I realized how deeply my husband had been hurt by my sexual rejection of him. Many women have shared that they, too, just didn’t understand.

It was only when we were able to understand on an emotional level what sex means to our husbands—and how the lack of sex hurt them emotionally—that we were able to take that first step toward improving the sexual intimacy–and the overall intimacy–in our marriages.

Understanding our husbands and having compassion for them does not require us to set aside our own feelings. It doesn’t mean that our husbands are more important than we are. Read More →

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This past weekend, my daughter and I went to see a performance of Wicked—you know, the musical that gives us the Wizard of Oz story with the Wicked Witch of the West as the heroine. I’ve always been a sucker for other perspectives, for the people we don’t hear much about. What happened to Hagar after she was sent away from Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac? How did Judas feel when he betrayed Jesus? Was Eutychus embarrassed when Paul returned him to life? How would they tell their stories?

As much as other points of view intrigue me, there were some years when I refused to step outside my own point of view. As far as I was concerned, I was the only one who could write the story of our marriage bed.

During my refusing and gate-keeping years, I didn’t do such a good job of paying attention to any perspective other than my own. Countless times, my husband became vulnerable and shared his heart with me about how the lack of physical intimacy in our marriage was affecting him. My walls were so strong that I didn’t absorb his words or feelings. If a discussion hinted at our sex life—or hinted at anything that could potentially lead to a discussion of it—I put the brakes on. I got defensive. I attacked. My intent was self-protection. I couldn’t let my husband fully into my heart. My goal was not to hurt him, but sometimes hurting him was the only path I could see to protecting my own heart. I would not let myself see his point of view at all.

The moment my walls were penetrated will always stay in my mind. I had landed in an online forum, smack dab in the middle of a thread where refused spouses were sharing how refusal and gate-keeping made them feel about themselves. Reading these comments—many of them using the same words my husband had used—was like getting knocked over by a 2×4.

The words of these strangers showed me how my sexual resistance had affected my husband physically and emotionally. It broke me—and that’s when my heart was able to change.

How would you tell the story of your marriage bed? Some women reading this blog are not yet at the point of being able to make any changes. If this applies to you, I’d like you to try to set aside your own point of view, just for a few minutes. I know. You have a heart that hurts. Sometimes sex takes courage. You’re tired. Life feels out of control. Everyone needs something from you, and nobody nourishes you. Your husband’s always on your case about the lack of sex. I know. That’s your perspective.

Now I want you to think about these things, which are true for most men:

  • Sex is a physical need for most men—not just a desire.
  • For most men, sex is the way they experience love. You can express love in a thousand other ways. Sex with you still counts for more than those thousand ways together.
  • Your husband has one legitimate sexual outlet—you.
  • When you deny your husband sex, you are denying him a physical need. You deny him access to feeling loved.
  • You alone in this world can do for your husband what no other person can do. You have the power to make your husband feel loved, and you have the power to make him feel like the most unloved and unvalued person he knows.

How would your husband tell the story of your marriage bed? Read these words, from husbands who have posted comments on this blog or who have sent me messages. If you can’t open your heart to your husband, open your heart to these brothers in Christ. Hear their anguish.

Having been married for 30+ years, with my wife basically gatekeeping for that time, I have, unfortunately, begun realize that it isn’t going to change. I have tried to express the hurt a few times in the past, but it never ends well. . . . I pretty much gave up ever initiating about 7 months ago. . . Too painful to consistently be rejected.

The feeling of abandonment and put at the bottom of my wife’s priorities list has been going on for years and nothing I have said, no matter how kindly, has moved her to acknowledge my point of view. Is this what marriage is supposed to be like?

Yes, you can spend a lifetime waiting for the right moment …

I am a husband of a woman who has yet to start a sexual recovery. She has been stand-offish our whole marriage and it has killed me inside.

She knows that I will never leave her unless she cheats on me and even then, I doubt that I would leave her, because I think that would be even harder on the kids.  Sometimes I think she uses that knowledge for her benefit and knows that I would never leave her or cheat on her.  However, I have to say, the longer that she denies me, the more I find myself checking out other women and having to fight having a fantasy life with other women. (I fight against those things because I know they are wrong.  It is just harder to fight at times.

It is the most difficult thing in my life.

As it stands, affection, attention and compassion is all but gone in my marriage. . . Holding out on the things that your spouse has sworn to seek only from you, does nothing but seal the demise of the marital relationship. . . . A dead and cold marriage does more damage over time, and passes on to the next generation (they will repeat what they grow up with). Dealing with hurtful issues is painful and hard, but that is the only way to get past them.

If you have been gate-keeping or refusing, chances are pretty strong that these words could have been written by your husband. (Who knows? Maybe they were.)

I know. You are hurt. Or angry. Or just plain confused about why your husband is so different from you. If you aren’t that interested in sex, meeting your husband’s sexual needs just sounds like another item on your to-do list.

Your husband has been broken and in pain—by you. You have the unique ability to heal him in a way that no one else on this earth can do.

A Samaritan found a man on the road, broken. He set aside his own travels to care for this broken man. Jesus tells us to go and do likewise. Can you show your own husband as much mercy as the Samaritan showed a naked and broken stranger?

Can you rewrite the story of your marriage bed?

Image credit http://clipart.christiansunite.com/ 

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Women who become sexual gatekeepers or refusers don’t all walk the same path to get to that place. We all have our reasons. Although they may sound like excuses to others, they are the result of real feelings and issues in our lives. I would venture to say none of us end up on the refusing path as a result of joy. Once we’re on that path, not only do we still have the issue that landed us there in the first place, we also have the challenge of figuring out how to step off that path. The longer we’re on the path, the harder it is to leave.

As I read the journeys of wives who are striving to do better, to be better, I see common threads emerge of things that helped them move from the path of gatekeeping to the path of joy in marriage. If you are trying to figure out how to take that first step, you may find some encouragement in what has worked for other women.

Heal your past wounds. Whether it’s really heavy baggage from your childhood or less heavy stuff from another time in your life, do what is needed to let it go. If it’s slowing you down or keeping you from moving at all,  heal it. Speak with a pastor. Work with a counselor who specializes in your brand of baggage. Ask your family and friends to pray for you to heal. The healing process can hurt, but the only way to the other side of the pain is to go right through it.

Get healthy. If you are ill or in pain, work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan.  If gynecological problems are causing you pain or discomfort, work with your doctor to learn about your options and determine what is best for you. Be intentional about asking how treatment options (including the option of doing nothing)  will affect your sexual response and sex life. Attend to your mental health as well. So many women have shared that their sexual transformations happened after getting on the right anti-depressants. That was the case for me. Getting my brain chemistry balanced allowed me to respond to other issues and to our relationship in a normal fashion. While anti-depressants didn’t change my life, they did make it possible for me to change it.

Let go of control. Have you heard the expression, “Let go and let God?” Maybe it isn’t easy, but let life be messy sometimes. Your marriage involves two people, not just you. Your needs are no more and no less important than your husband’s. And yes, sex is a need, not just a want. You aren’t in charge of the marriage. Give God a chance to work on both of you. 

Live in your real life. You are married to the husband you have, not to the prince in the Disney movies from your childhood. Your husband is a child of God. He is human, and he’s going to mess up sometimes. Extend some grace, as you would have him extend grace to you when you mess up. Accept that your husband is different from you. Stop trying to mold him into a male version of you. Allow yourself to see the good and unique things in your husband and your marriage. The reality of a strong marriage is far better than I could have imagined it would be, even though it doesn’t match what I’d thought it would be.

Open your heart. Allow yourself to really hear your husband’s heart. If your husband says, “Your lack of desire for me makes me feel like less of a man,” let yourself feel his hurt. Imagine how you would feel if he never desired you, listened to you, did the things that you need to feel loved and nurtured. If you don’t love your husband, then who will? Do you truly want him to feel unloved, unable to experience even physical affection from the one person in this world he is allowed to share that with? Can you be the one to take the first step, suck it up, and do what he asks without thinking about whether he deserves it? Can you just do it because he’s another human and you have compassion for him, even if you can’t bring yourself to do it because he’s your husband and it’s what you vowed to do?

Embrace your sexuality. God created you to be a sexual being. Sex is good. Your sexual parts are beautiful. Your desire for your husband is holy. Let good words about sex drown out messages that tell you “sex is bad,” “good girls don’t,” “a Christian woman would never,” and the like. Sex is good. Good Christian wives do. Marriage is better when you celebrate your sexual self with your husband. No matter what you think of your body (‘cuz, you know, we women often have body image issues), learn to rock it. Get your sexy on and enjoy using the body God gave you for being sexual.

I have in my heart now the wives who are still like I was—sexual gatekeepers and refusers. It is a Saturday night, and over the past several hours I’ve heard from husbands and wives on both sides of refusal. The heavy heartache they all experience shows all too clearly that this path is one of sadness, not one of joy. It’s hard to change direction once you’re on a path. It’s hard to leave the familiar, even when we know it isn’t good. The first step of a journey is the hardest. Please, take the first step.

Peace be with you.

Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I refused my husband for several years. The frequency was far below what he wanted, I rarely participated, and I looked at sex as just one more thing on my to-do list. And I also rejected any physical signs of affection. I didn’t want him to get the idea that I was sexually available, after all. 🙁

Just about every Christian marriage blog I’ve seen has addressed the effects of sexual refusal on the refused spouse. Maybe you’ve read some of those blog posts. Maybe you’ve started to wonder if you really are the one who needs to make some changes.

When I first ran across some of those posts, I was in tears reading through all the pain from men and women whose spouses were, well, like me. I had no idea how much I was hurting my husband. If you are starting to wonder how to make change, that is a good first step. Your heart is where it needs to be.

But now what? I would think that a two-pronged approach would help:

1) Try to understand why you are refusing your husband. When you do have sex, are you able to experience orgasm? Is sex painful? Is your husband asking you to try sexual activity that you aren’t comfortable with? Then, as you start to figure out different pieces of what is going on, make a way to address them. Maybe it means that you ask your parents to take care of your kids for two hours on Saturday mornings so you and your husband can be alone together. Or you commit to have sex three times a week and then have one more time during the week when it is just naked cuddle time with no sexpectations so you can feel your husband as a source of relaxation and a sanctuary for you from your busy life.

2) Even more important, even while you try to understand why, try to change your actions–and let your husband know that’s what you are doing. In my case, I began first by being more engaged when we were having sex (instead of just lying there and waiting until he was done). My next step was to stop refusing. Did you know that it is normal for a woman to not want to have sex until she’s already having it? My husband’s go-to pickup line was something like, “you wanna get lucky?” My answer was always no. I didn’t feel arousal and sex wasn’t on my mind–but I began adding, “but I’ll let you convince me.” And as my husband got more confident that he wasn’t making himself vulnerable every time he tried to initiate something, he was able to be more comfortable approaching me in ways that were more pleasing to me.

Whatever it takes for you to change your heart and help you and your husband enjoy your marriage bed is completely worth the effort. It truly is. As I have become the wife my husband always needed in the bedroom, our emotional intimacy has grown. I never understood what was meant by the idea of a husband and wife becoming one flesh. I get it now. We are part of each other in ways I never could’ve imagined. I feel closer to my husband–and to God– than I ever have before. Whatever it takes, do it, and you will be blessed for it.

It isn’t an easy journey to move from where you are to where you could be, but the destination is worth every step.

Today I was asked how I would have responded to my husband if he had pointed out that I was sinning and then showed me in scripture where that was explained.

The way I responded when my husband pointed this out was not pretty. Not pretty at all. My religious upbringing was not one where sin was discussed. My parents never talked about anything as sinful, and church, Sunday School, and youth group rarely mentioned it. We talked about choices, but everything was laid against a backdrop of what was best for us and how our lives would be affected later by our bad choices at the time. Even now, I have to be intentional and methodical in thinking about sin. So for me, naming my sexual gatekeeping sin would’ve bounced right off me.

So, here’s what I said, with multiple variations over several years.

  • Now you’re throwing the Bible at me? Do you want me to hate God now, too?
  • Who are you to judge me and tell me I’m sinning? I want God’s forgiveness, not yours, and God understands perfectly well why I dont’ want anything to do with sex.
  • So now you’re picking and choosing which verses justify your obsession with sex. What about the ones that say you’re supposed to die for me and sacrifice? Why do you get to pick which verses matter?
  • Why is it that the only thing you can see is my so-called sin? Why is it that you don’t see/appreciate the laundry, the fact that I’ve put up with [insert all his annoying behaviors] over the years, the fact that I get along great with your parents, the fact that our kids are generally happy and healthy? Why can’t you see the rest of who I am/what I do?

As I explained this, I was shaking–because thinking about this brings to mind other things I said that I can’t bear to see in print and don’t like remembering–things against God, direct and indirect insults about various aspects of my husband’s body and character.

I was a gatekeeper for the first ten years of our marriage and a gatekeeper/refuser for the next ten years. I can’t truly remember the first time my husband said anything about it to me, although I do remember a conversation ten years in, and at that time, I had the “oh, great, here we go again” thought in my head so I know it wasn’t the first time. My husband suffered for a long time just from the lack of sex and intimacy; when he pushed and I pushed back, he suffered even more.

I will never understand why he stayed with me, when I was trying so hard to push him away and not have to truly let him in. I certainly don’t deserve him. But what he put up with in me over the years has modeled Christ’s sacrifice for me in a personal and real way.

Truly, his forgiveness of me has demonstrated God’s love more than any other single thing in my life. I told him that this afternoon. I was crying the whole time (I’ve been doing that more as the barriers between us continue dropping), and he just held me. That unconditional love was what I’d been seeking from him without even knowing it.