The Next Leg

Nearly three years ago, our marriage was in a sad state. My husband was depressed. I was at a point where I felt apathetic many days. I wondered whether our marriage would make it; to be honest, I didn’t always care whether it did or not.The journey to recovery that has healed our marriage began as one of sexual restoration. I’ve thought that our journey was over. We’ve done the work, and we’re both happy in our marriage. Job well done, right? Well, right….but maybe there’s more.

I’m going to simplify for a moment where my husband and I were just a few years ago. He needed sexual connection to feel loved. I needed emotional connection to feel loved. Neither one of us was experiencing the connection we needed, and we both felt starved of love.

I’ve written about how the road from sexual refusal to restoration is a process, with a husband and wife having different experiences as they make this journey. Sexual connection was what my husband needed, and once I realized how I’d been hurting him, it became my goal to work toward a sexually healthy marriage.

The beginning of the path toward sexual healing was particularly bumpy. As I tried to unlearn old behavior and learn new ways of responding, there was a lot of trial and error. Sometimes, the very act of trying to respond intentionally rather than reactionarily (close my eyes and take deep breaths) would push my husband away. There were times when I’d made a huge leap in effort and my husband would complain about what I still was not doing rather than enjoying what I was doing to him. I fell down many times, and it was always hard to get up. Sometimes, I felt like I’d been floored, with the wind knocked out of me. I would make a genuine effort, and my husband would respond out of years of frustration–and then it made me harder to try again the next time. I was unsuccessful more often than not in the beginning. It’s been hard work. Our marriage’s sexual growth hasn’t been easy for either of us–even for my husband, who acknowledges that I’ve done much of the work and he’s been the recipient.

The sexual connection my husband needs is complete. He feels loved as never before. He knows he is desired. He sees me doing hard work to strive to be respectful of him. As the tension has largely faded away in our marriage, I now feel greater emotional connection as a by-product of the sexual connection. So we both get what we need, and we both feel loved. He needed sexual connection, and I learned to provide it. I thought our journey to recovery was over and that we could now just work on maintaining what we’ve achieved.

Recently, however, I’ve been sensing that we may be on another leg of the journey. I have observed my husband making a point of paying attention to my emotional state in ways he never has before. Opening my heart to him sexually has resulted in greater emotional vulnerability on my part. If I am weepy, he holds me. When his actions or words are followed by my tears or a visible attempt to control my response, he pauses to think about what he’s just said or done. He apologizes when his actions or words hurt me. He is making an effort to change in how he interacts with me on an emotional level.

Nearly three years ago, I began to be intentional about improving our sexual connection. Is it possible that my husband is beginning to be intentional about improving our emotional connection, the thing I need in order to feel loved? Or has he been doing this for a while and I’m just now noticing?

For a few years, we’ve been traveling a path of me working to provide something he needed and him working to learn to accept it. Have we taken on different roles now, with him working to provide something I need and me working to learn to accept it?

My husband is trying to unlearn old behavior and new ways of responding emotionally. There is going to be trial and error. He is going to make mistakes. He will fall down, and I need to remember to respond with gratitude for the effort rather than with the frustration of having felt emotionally disconnected for so long.

In a recent conversation, my husband was quite growly about something sexual. I found myself wondering why I’d gone to all the effort to put myself out there, to learn to meet my husband’s sexual desires, to do all the work I’d done of changing myself. Why did I even bother?

But now I can look at that conversation and shift my point of view. I was seeing it as a response to my efforts of sexual change. However, when I look at it as a sign of his efforts at emotional change, I recognize that it was my husband learning how to connect emotionally. Instead of feeling frustrated and useless, I feel loved and honored by his effort.

I know my husband and I will both make mistakes. This next leg of the journey will challenge me as I learn to accept my my husband’s work. When I look at how far we’ve come in three years of effort so far, I’m excited to think of where we are headed. The journey that I thought was over will take us places I never imagined our marriage would go.

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14 Comments on “The Next Leg”

  1. “Opening my heart to him sexually has resulted in greater emotional vulnerability on my part. ” This is so awesome! You must be very happy! I’ve heard this same pattern over and over again; it’s the same one I experienced as well.

    1. I used to be weepy all the time, and then for several years I wasn’t. When I started crying easily again, I knew the walls around my heart were coming back down. I was so happy about it that I naturally cried tears of joy.

  2. That is awesome, you have made one part of the journey and now your husband is making that same turn around trying to meet your needs. I love it. It is truly a win, win for both of you. I have heard often that when a woman makes an effort to take care of her man, he makes an effort to do the things for his wife that she wants and needs him to do.

    May the next leg of your journey be even more wonderful than the last leg of your journey!!

    1. Interesting. Does that suggest that going in the opposite direction (a sexually refused husband devoting himself to his wife’s emotional needs for several years) might lead to her responding sexually?

      1. Although I greatly respect the “love and respect” model taught by the Eggerichs and see lots of benefits in it – I know from experiencing it my marriage, loving a wife doesn’t translate into respect for a husband – It might have amounted to “slivers of respect” but for the temperature of the marriage as a whole – it actually put me in the commanding seat. I’ve heard from 4 other wives (personally) it did the same thing to them. But the 5 of us could just be isolated incidents – it’s hard to nail it down b/c it’s [sexually submitting] is such a twitchy subject.

        1. I don’t think think the answer to my question is “yes,” either. I’m intrigued by the fact that Jay Dee and I both experienced the pattern where a wife’s sexual commitment then led to a husband’s emotional commitment. It’s never as simple as it sounds–although when I think of how many sexually miserable married men there are, I wish it were.

        2. Agreed. So now we have 7 of us: (yours and Jay Dee’s marriage, mine and the 4 that I know personally) – perhaps there’s more to it – who knows!

      2. The world is not black and white, but I do believe that a husband devoting himself to his wife’s emotional needs will be rewarded by her responding sexually. I can speak from my own experience. After all, wasn’t this one the outcomes of your recent survey? Perhaps it wasn’t stated this way, but that was how I interpreted it.

        1. What I saw in the survey was that relationship issues was cited more than anything else as what led to the refusal. (I didn’t think to ask about what led away from refusal, but I suspect there may be another survey in my future.) I think part of the problem in addressing those deeper issues is that by the time we realize they’re there, they are so ingrained that it is hard to dig into them and see how they are connected to sexual interactions.

      3. No. Didn’t work with my wife. When I have given her more time and energy she doesn’t return any of that to me. It just enables her to have more energy to do the things that she thinks are important and taking care of me isn’t one of them. The Generous Husband had a great series last year on being too busy and I tried to get her to discuss them with me. She was open to discussion, but did it really change her behavior? Not much. I thought the priorities in life were supposed to be: (i) take care of your basic needs first, (ii) take care of your spouses needs next, (iii) take care of your children’s needs next, and (iv) everyone else, including church service, volunteering at the local school, etc. all came after the first 3. But for my wife (iv) came first, sometimes even before (i), then (i), then (iii), and I got what was leftover, which wasn’t much, since she has so many “important” things to do, and then only some of the time, and sometimes with a bad attitude.

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