My husband and I have made amazing strides in approaching the intimacy in our marriage. I have worked very hard and intentionally and have seen significant growth—but I am still on a journey like many other women. My path is rocky in places. There are times I walk around a bend and find something unexpected or confusing. Sometimes I wander in circles and end up back where I was before. Every step of the way is an opportunity for more growth.
The Resentful Heart
About six weeks ago, after Valentine’s Day didn’t go the way I had wanted it to, I had a few days of feeling resentful. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got out my phone and was reading on various sites what other men had done for their wives for Valentine’s Day. I found myself feeling bad that Big Guy wouldn’t think to do such romantic things for me.
Then I found myself thinking that he would do those things, with no consideration as to whether I would actually enjoy them. Then I realized that I was crying in the middle of the night over a stupid holiday. My husband woke up and asked me why I was crying and I told him it was because Valentine’s Day wasn’t very good–all because I’d had expectations that I hadn’t even communicated to him and because I was comparing him to other husbands.
The resentment stayed with me so much that the next time my husband made a sexual advance, I thought about saying “no.” (I didn’t do it, but I thought about it—and I had to fight hard to get myself to engage sexually.)
For the most part, I have learned to control my feelings (rather than them controlling me), and my husband has become a good partner in this when needed. We communicate more thoughtfully and respectfully now, and our intimacy has been deepening in all ways. But I let myself be so thrown by my momentary desire to say “no” that I didn’t bother to identify or work on my own issues.
In fact, I managed to completely forget that I’d been feeling resentful—until last week.
I am wearing something sexy and flowing that highlights body parts I like and hides the rest. He twirls me around to admire me. He slowly reaches out and . . .
. . . I wake up. One morning last week, before my eyelids were even open, my mind was filled with images of things my husband will likely never do—romantic gestures, things that I desire him to do to help me feel cherished, words it won’t occur to him to say.
Without a doubt, I know my husband loves me. Deep romance is there. My husband loves me more than he loves anyone else. He loves me far more than I deserve. I am special to him.
So why was I letting myself be all worked up over the surface stuff? Why was I wiping tears away before I even got out of bed?
With a resentful heart, I began to think of all the things I have done to grow in intimacy with my husband, taking credit for everything. I fixed our sex life. I made plans to prepare for some of our sexual encounters: I knitted a boa, I looked up and practiced burlesque moves, I bought throat-numbing spray and chocolate syrup to help me with oral sex, and I did a bunch of other things that I’m not going to share here. I thought about how often we approach sex in the way he wants rather than how I want.
Lying there in bed, I couldn’t think of a single thing he’d contributed. (I allowed myself to ignore the smell of the coffee my husband was brewing for me.) I took full credit, in my resentful heart, for every single thing that makes our marriage work. Any negative stuff was heaped on my husband’s shoulders. I couldn’t seem to find any unselfish way to see things.
My resentful heart started to ache. The thought, “I suppose he’s going to want sex tonight” popped into my head, along with a sigh on my part.
I don’t like feeling this way—yet I know this was how I felt for so many years. My past, major events in our lives, and this frequent feeling of resentment constructed the bricks and stones I had used to build the walls around my heart.
My work is not done
It’s easy for me to be smug some days and think I have this whole marriage thing figured out. I look at where we were and where we are, and I know that we are miles away from where we used to be. I read about other people’s marriages, and I sometimes pat myself on the back for how far we’ve come. I hear about marriage troubles and allow myself to think, “Well, at least that won’t happen to us.” I get emails from readers saying they hope they get to where I am in my marriage, and I delude myself into thinking my work is done and that I’ve somehow arrived at The Place Where Marriage Is Perfect.
My husband and I—both of us—are working hard on the spiritual component of our relationship. We are working on serving each other, even when we don’t feel much like it. We are both learning and working.
But I know, all too well, that we are still a work in progress—that I am still a work in progress.
That afternoon, after I awoke to my own tears, I spent some time with God trying to hear His wisdom and cleanse my heart of the resentment it had dragged around all day—and for several weeks.
God, why is this stuff bugging me right now? And what does it mean that this surface stuff is what’s getting to me?
When my kids were little, sometimes I would see them learn a new skill—one that was a milestone and potential game changer. They would learn the skill, be all excited about it, and then . . . revert back to an earlier stage of development for a few days. When my daughter learned to use the toilet, she paraded her accomplishment for two days—and then spent a week insisting on using her diaper. She sensed the immensity of the change she was experiencing. One of my sons learned to walk—and then went back to crawling for a few days. It was almost as if their minds needed to catch up with what their bodies had learned to do.
Over the past months, my husband and I have grown so much in intimacy. Sometimes I’ve sensed that we’re on the verge of a whole new version of us. We have reached a new place in our marriage, and my mind just hasn’t gotten caught up to the reality of it yet. I think I might even be a little afraid of this new level of intimacy in our marriage.
This stuff is bugging me now because I haven’t dealt with it yet. Maybe God wants me to take care of all this stuff in order for me to be prepared for what He has next for me. And maybe God was telling me I was getting too smug.
I thought about the specific images that I awoke to. I thought about the things that had bothered me after Valentine’s Day. Every single gesture, move, and phrase on my mind was something that would fill an emotional need (read, insecurity) I have—my need to feel special, to be noticed, to be beautiful.
God pointed out to me that I was unfairly placing the burden for meeting these needs on my husband. I was resenting my husband for not being everything to me.
God spoke to my heart. You are special. I see you. You are beautiful. Come to me. The words drifted in during my prayer. I knew that I needed to change my expectations that my husband will fill all these needs. These insecurities and emotional needs are things I should be taking to God, not to my husband. I asked God to pull me closer to Him and to help me not hold my husband to expectations that he can’t possibly meet.
I had awakened unhappy with my husband, thinking he had some work to do. God showed me how wrong I was.
The areas where I was unhappy with my husband do not point to things he needs to work on. Rather, my resentment points to areas where I need to do some work.
My own selfishness and fear were responsible for my resentment, not my husband. My resentment showed me where I need to work on my Christian walk.
On the surface, I was upset about things my husband may or may not ever do. I was upset about images in my mind as I awoke. The emotional responses I have to things said and unsaid, done and undone, show me absolutely nothing about Big Guy. My emotional responses show me the areas where I need to cling to God.
The surface stuff wasn’t just surface stuff at all. It was a guide to the deep stuff I still need to tackle—and an important reminder that I continue on a journey.
It bugs me that I still struggle sometimes. I need to remember, though, that each struggle is an opportunity for growth in my relationship with God. Each struggle may look like one thing on the surface, but that’s just like the tip of the iceberg. Deep beneath the surface, there is so much more. The deep stuff is about my yearning for God.
What are the struggles in your own heart as you consider your marriage? What is the deep stuff these struggles point you to? Do you expect your husband to meet the needs that you should take to God?