My initial impetus for pursuing a change in how I approached sexual intimacy was selfish: my husband was depressed, and sex was the only thing I could think of that had a chance of making him easier to live with.
Once I realized that my control over our sex life had been hurting him, my goal was no longer to change him. My goal was to be a better wife sexually.
Women who decide they need to make similar changes do so for different reasons: they are convicted that they have been sinning, a barrier has disappeared and they wonder why they’ve been making such a fuss about sex all this time, they are worn down by the unhappiness in their marriage or the fighting about sex, or they’ve had a wake-up call with a husband’s words or actions.
Sometimes, though, women make changes in order to change their husbands. Although this was my starting point, once I actually began making changes, this was behind me.
In two months, it will have been four years since I began to make my changes—four years in which I have learned to say “yes” rather than “no,” come to want sex for my own sake and not just as a form of generosity to my husband, faced my own sins and sorrows, knocked down the walls I’ve had up against my husband, and submitted to God (finally).
Had I been waiting for feedback or a similar change from my husband to determine whether I was on the right track, I would have stopped my efforts after about a month.
It is tempting to make our own efforts contingent on another person’s response. After all, a response can give us positive feedback and fill us with warm fuzzies that encourage us to keep going. A spouse’s efforts can help us feel like what we’re doing is worth the effort.
The problem with this is that if we don’t get this positive feedback, it is easy to justify discontinuing our efforts. “It’s not working” leads us to “I already tried and it didn’t make a difference, so I’m obviously not the problem.”
Changing yourself with expectations for someone else’s behavior is a recipe for disappointment.
Change yourself because it is the right thing to do, because you want to be the wife God calls you to be and the wife your husband needs, because you want your marriage to be better—but don’t change because you want your husband to change, too.
Change because you want yourself to do and be better.
When One Person Changes
I changed myself, and that led to a different version of my marriage:
- The biggest problem between us was no longer an issue. My husband no longer had to wonder when he would have sex again, so he was able to let go of his anxiety and frustration about that.
- My husband’s baseline of tension was much lower. Whereas in the past, it would take very little to upset him, he became less likely to get upset. Not only was he no longer anxious about sex, he was experiencing the physical and mental benefits of regular sexual activity.
- My stress was lower. I no longer dreaded the tension of wondering if my husband would ask for sex and how I would respond.
- Having more sex was good for me physically and mentally.
- The emotional intimacy between my husband and me began to grow as we spent more time with each other.
Changing yourself can change your marriage.
These changes were enough to make our marriage substantially and noticeably different. Our kids noticed. Our relatives noticed. Our friends noticed.
Just one person has the power to make a marriage better.
But Wait . . . There’s More!
I was thrilled with the effects of my change on my marriage. Even if I hadn’t continued growing after we began to experience these benefits, we would both be content. I changed in order to be and do better, and I was reaping the harvest of my effort. It was enough.
For nearly three years after I began my journey, my husband changed only to the extent that he no longer faced the same situations..
I have always been very disrespectful toward my husband, and that is the real thing I want to change. I want to create a space in which my husband can grow as a man and know that I value and respect him as a man. I want to be more comfortable in letting things go that don’t truly matter to me and save my own assertiveness and leadership for when I think it matters. I tend to be very controlling, and I want to get more comfortable with not having to be in charge of everything.
I didn’t expect my husband to change as a result of my efforts. I didn’t expect that he would grow—but I wanted to make sure that if he wasn’t growing, it wasn’t because I was in the way. So I worked hard on the Respect Dare, saw my relationship with Christ transformed through the process, and began to pray for my husband’s own Christian walk—for his sake rather than for my own.
I stayed out of my husband’s way . . . and he began to work on himself.
Over the past six months, he has worked hard to be a better husband. He has shared more of his heart with me in this time than he has during most of our marriage.
Just this weekend, I saw him making an effort to do things for me because he knew I wanted them done. He has made an effort to be affectionate in both sexual and non-sexual ways. He has paid attention to things I’ve expressed. He has been working to be different, just as I have done.
Just one person has the power to revitalize a marriage—and somewhere in the process, it just may begin to nurture a place for the other spouse to grow.
Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I encourage you to visit the Love and Respect blog for a post that encourages you in this area.