Before I made the decision to work on sex in our marriage, God had been working on my heart.
I’d begun to experience brief moments of empathy for my husband. A couple friends sent me links to sermons about marriage and sex. I started noticing articles and blogs I’d been able to ignore before.
The last year or so before I began my journey was especially challenging. I sensed that the time to address sex was approaching. I began to feel guilty even before I believed I had done anything wrong.
I resisted growth with every fiber of my being, desperate to avoid change and the work I suspected would be required of me. God had to drag me kicking and screaming. I felt afraid, angry, frustrated, and trapped.
My emotional walls were weakening as I began to catch glimpses of my husband’s heart, and my sense of guilt and budding awareness of my husband’s pain were seeping through the cracks in the walls.
I didn’t recognize then that it was God who was pricking my conscience so often. All I knew was that I felt I was under attack. I didn’t like it.
Until then, my resistance to sex had mostly taken the form of avoidance and deflection—but this was no longer enough.
Resistant to change, I tried to push my husband away so I didn’t have to actually face the issues with sex. Desperate to maintain the emotional protection I’d built around myself, I escalated my refusal strategies as a way of lessening my guilt.
I began a phase of “the best defense is a good offense.”
My desperation made me a shrew of a wife toward the end of that dark season of our marriage.
I often lashed out by blaming my husband, attacking the way he responded to my “no,” and even dealing with situations in a way that not only would avoid sex at the time but would also prevent any hint of an obligation for sex in the near future. I would jump on any possible disagreement or poorly expressed comment on his part to start an argument. If we were fighting, I thought he couldn’t possibly ask me for sex.
Even When I Tried . . .
At the same time, remorse was beginning to creep in and I began to wonder how I could deal with this big sex problem in our marriage.
I had begun to reread some of the articles on sex and marriage that my husband had sent me.
One frequent piece of advice was to think about sex during the day. Not only did that not work, it made things worse. Instead of getting me excited about sex, it led to anxiety. As the evening began to wind down, I would freak out—picking fights, babbling on about anything at all so my husband couldn’t find a chance to break in and mention sex, and crying for no apparent reason.
My anxiety would often lead me to an upset stomach that made sex a somewhat risky prospect. So yay, I avoided sex! But then I would be upset by the fact that even when I had good intentions, I couldn’t follow through.
I was a failure even when I tried.
On our 19th anniversary, I had been mentally gearing myself all day to have sex that night. For a few hours, I was actually looking forward to it. But as the time approached, my anxiety worsened and I developed stomach problems.
Instead of getting to make love on our anniversary, my husband had to deal with a crying wife. I cried about how sorry I was because I’d really planned to have sex that night. Truly, I had planned on it—this time. But he had no reason to think I actually meant it.
I didn’t feel as bad about it as I should have, though. My thinking was this: if my husband knows that I wanted to but just couldn’t, he can’t be mad at me because it isn’t my fault. If his anger can’t be justified, then he won’t be able to pursue an argument with me. Plus, I get credit for having wanted to have sex, right?
I could avoid not only sex, I could avoid conflict as well. It was a win-win for me, other than the fact that my stomach distress continued for a couple days.
“Are you pouting?”
Even as I began to recognize that my sexual rejection hurt my husband, I couldn’t bring myself to ask him if he was upset when the answer was no because that might force me to admit that I’d hurt him.
So when I said no with a justifiable reason like stomach upset, I would ask him if he was pouting. In my mind, it was a way of checking in with him–but it was also an intentional wording that would focus on his behavior.
And there’s no right answer: “No, I’m not pouting” says that he doesn’t care much about the fact that we haven’t had sex, and it opens up the option of me making him feel guilty about not wanting me enough to be sad. “Yes, I’m pouting” makes him sound like a petulant child and like a beast for wanting sex even though I was genuinely ill.
There is no good answer–but I could give myself credit for having acknowledged that he might be affected by my refusal.
As much as I’d rather not admit it, I was proud of myself for thinking of that question. It was an attempt to make him feel guilty about his own disappointment as being unjustified, and it would set the stage for him feeling undeserving of sex for at least another day or two.
“Are you pouting?” is the perfect example of the conflict I was experiencing, with a genuine concern emerging in my heart along with enhanced defenses against growth and change.
In the Dark
My desperation to hang onto my emotional walls and life as I knew it led me to do things that must have seemed mean to my husband.
I was mean to him at the end. I was afraid to change, and I wanted to lash out at him because I thought he was the source of the guilt and pressure I was beginning to feel, not realizing that God was at work in me.
I felt cornered and was in full fight-flight-freeze mode. Years of resisting sex and fighting about it had worn me down enough already. A year of escalated refusal strategies on top of that had taken every last bit of emotional energy I had.
I couldn’t do it anymore. I was done fighting and began to think of flight. I looked at the cost of divorce lawyers. I estimated the cost of getting an apartment on my own. I imagined how we would tell our kids and parents that we were ending our marriage.
Fortunately, flight would involve too much change, and not being a lover of change, I decided I would stay put for a while so I could catch my breath.
It was a bad time, and I regret so many of my words during that time.
That last year was when our marriage was at its darkest. It was a precursor to the greatest growth I’ve ever experienced.
Since then, I have seen this pattern play out in my life several more times, although it is never dark in the way that time was.
As I have continued to work to heal my heart, each area of healing has been hard. I have struggled to let go of old thoughts and feelings as I learn to replace them with God’s truth.
The process of growth is often a painful one for me. Maybe it’s growing pains. Perhaps it is the enemy trying to hold me back from growth and healing.
But here’s the wonderful thing I have learned about these times when darkness rears its head: the darkness is followed by the dawn.
When I experience an escalation in my struggle, it is a sign that healing is just around the corner.
~ ~ ~
Working to make changes in sexual intimacy can be difficult. Many of us are frustrated when we have worked so hard only to find ourselves struggling again. Old thoughts and feelings re-emerge, we suddenly find ourselves overwhelmed by sex again, we feel used for the first time in months or years, or we wonder if we’ve made any real difference at all.
Persevere. When you notice the darkness, remember that a new day may be right around the corner
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. Proverbs 4:18
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