I knew that my years of refusal and gate-keeping had taken their toll on my husband. Much of the work I’ve done in changing, then, has naturally been focused on trying to undo this damage to him. I’ve worked to make it up to him. I’ve judged progress largely by his experiences and views. When he said he felt more married than he ever had before, I knew that something was working. When he asked me for something new sexually for the first time in a couple decades, I sensed that he felt largely healed.
Somehow I kept forgetting that my years of refusal and gate-keeping had taken their toll not just on my husband and on our marriage, but on me as well. I didn’t trust my husband. I never felt like he truly saw me. When it came to our sex life, I felt like it was all for him. His pleasure was primary, and mine was an afterthought. I got so used to suppressing my desire for sex that I nearly lost the ability to recognize it for what it was. Basically, I lost touch with my sexual self.
I had much to unlearn, and that was what provided most of my husband’s healing. Simply changing how I responded to him (and by “simply,” I do NOT mean “easy”) assured him of my love and commitment. Once that was mostly done, I still had a lot of re-learning to do for my own sake. I had to learn how to trust, how to give, how to ask, and how to receive. I am still very much a work in progress. I’ve especially struggled with these things:
Knowing that I have the right to request sexual activity. I’m not talking about initiating a mutual encounter here. That I can do. I’m talking about feeling an itch and wanting it scratched even when my husband would rather do something else (e.g., sleep). I have been working hard to get out of the patterns that developed out of guilt that told me I didn’t have the right to pleasure after denying my husband so much pleasure over the years.
Asking for what I want. Even when we are in a mutual sexual encounter, I often struggle to ask for something specific. Do I not know what I would like? Am I not comfortable saying the words when they matter so much? Do I not fully embrace my sexual self? I suspect it’s a bit of all these things.
Receiving graciously. The part of me that has turned down lovely offers of assistance from friends during times of family crisis pulls the same “oh, don’t bother, it isn’t necessary, I’ll be just fine” garbage in bed with my husband. If he tries to provide me with pleasure because it’s what he wants, no problem. But sexual activity that is focused on me alone? Nope. Just not something I’m comfortable with.
I have been working on all these things, digging into root causes, spending a lot of time with God, practicing doing and saying the things that make me uncomfortable. I see glimpses of progress here and there, and that encourages me to keep going.
I’ve had a bad body image week. God has been surrounding me with opportunities to think hard about my body with several online discussion forum threads, blog posts, a book I’m reading, and a marital videotaping experience that I’m still trying to figure out how to write about. As we went to bed last night, I found myself thinking I wanted some sexual connection, but I felt more like a slug than a sexual being due to the body image baggage I dragged upstairs with me. I decided I wanted to get right in my head before initiating anything (knowing that might be a couple days), so I lay in bed next to my husband and said nothing. My husband rolled over and started to fall asleep.
I learned that my husband knows me better than I’ve sometimes given him credit for. I had tossed my legs over his, so apparently my body knew I needed to ask even though my mind was struggling with my body. He reached over and started touching me–because he recognized that I needed something. He wanted nothing for himself. I was so overcome with gratitude for this man who knew what I needed and simply gave it to me. I found myself asking for very specific things, which he happily did.
All these things I’ve been working to learn as I’ve tried to reclaim my sexual self in our marriage happened naturally, without any particular effort on my part. I closed my eyes and thanked God for giving me a man who would do this for me. I thanked Him for allowing me to just soak in the blessings from my husband.
My prayer of gratitude led to a feeling of such peace and restoration. As I lay curled up on my husband’s chest in my afterglow a bit later, I knew that I had been healed of the damage caused by my own refusal and gate-keeping.
It was three years ago today that I first recognized how I’d been hurting my husband. It is appropriate that today is the day I wake up and know that I, too, am healed of the damage I caused. I have been given the gift of my husband, all over again. Our marriage has been given the gift of healing.
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