The Wall:  Keeping Myself Emotionally Safe


Do you feel emotionally safe with your husband?

Note: In this post, I will be discussing feelings of emotional safety. The focus is on the feelings, not on actual safety. If you are being emotionally abused, or if you fear for your physical safety because of physical abuse or the threat of it, please seek help and support as soon as possible. What I am writing about here does not apply to you. 


Sometimes women describe their struggles in trusting their husbands with these words: they don’t feel emotionally safe.

A variety of things can lead a wife to feel a lack of emotional safety: a conversation, a husband’s sin or thoughtlessness, or her own baggage. I feel emotionally safe when I know my feelings (the good, the bad, and the ugly) can be shared with Big Guy without coming away feeling “less”–less valued, less loved, less worthy, less accepted. When I come away from a conversation feeling “less,” I feel emotionally unsafe.

In the next few posts, I’m going to explore emotional safety. Today, I’ll share how my feeling emotionally unsafe led to problems with the sexual intimacy in our marriage. In the next post, I will share some strategies for learning to feel safe again. Then, I will consider emotional safety from a husband’s perspective.


I still remember the conversation that marked the beginning of the worst years of my sexual disengagement from my husband.

We’d made a difficult relocation for Big Guy’s job. I struggled to make new friends and to start over in a profession where I’d seen some recognition and success. The church didn’t have anything I could participate in during the week. I was sad and lonely. Without any female friends to open up to, my husband was all I had.

I don’t remember my exact words. They were probably something like, “This move has been really hard for me. I don’t have any friends, I’m having to start all over in my career, and I miss our life before. I feel so lonely.”

While I don’t remember my exact words, I do remember my husband’s: “I don’t care. There’s no point complaining because what’s done is done. Figure it out for yourself. I don’t want to hear about it again.”

I remember what flashed into my mind as I heard my husband’s words. How can my own husband not care how I feel? I have no one else to share my feelings with. I just opened up about something that has been so hard for me, and he refuses to acknowledge them or even just let me talk. He doesn’t care about me. My own husband doesn’t love me.

What I came away with was a feeling that I was not emotionally safe. My husband had shown me that he couldn’t be trusted with my feelings. He didn’t want my heart; he only wanted servicing and information that directly affected him.

I sat in shock after he left the room. I bared my heart to him, and when I was so vulnerable, he stomped on it. I will never allow him to make me feel like this again. Never again.

That night he approached me for sex. I agreed–but I mentally checked out. I simply could not allow myself to be connected and emotionally vulnerable with the man who had dismissed my heart just a few hours earlier. The fact that he asked for sex when I was so deeply upset cemented the idea that he didn’t care about me; he only cared about what I could do for him.

I understand now that my words of sadness had stirred up his own difficult emotions. He was still getting used to his new job. His job had initiated the move, so he thought I was saying that my feelings of unhappiness were his fault. He was confronted with a sobbing wife who presented a problem he couldn’t fix. His harsh words were a result of his own feelings of inadequacy. His approach for sex that night was an effort to restore the connection he knew had been damaged.

Our relationship truly had been damaged. My emotions are such a core part of how I experience life. Even now that I work to not let my feelings drive my decisions or behavior, my emotions are ever-present. In sharing my difficulty and sorrow with my husband, I had exposed myself to him. His dismissal and rejection of my words were, to me, a dismissal and rejection of my innermost self. His words wounded me deeply, because I had been completely open with him.


Never again.

I began to hide my heart from him.

It used to be that I would share anecdotes from my day with Big Guy. I would tell him about conversations with colleagues, humorous things that happened in my classes, the funny comment from the cashier at the grocery store, and so on. To protect myself from further hurt I stopped doing this. If sharing a story would reveal anything about my heart, I would keep it to myself. I would communicate only information that was directly relevant to my husband.

After years of sharing, it was hard to learn to withhold my stories and life from him. There were many times I would experience something and think about telling Big Guy, only to catch myself and remember that if I told him the story, he would see something about me that I couldn’t bear to have challenged or dismissed. The thought made me hurt all over again, so I would tell a colleagues or my kids—but not my husband.

Sometimes it was painful to withhold. My experiences and emotions are the story of my life, and I ached to tell my story—but I knew I would ache more to have my story dismissed again by my husband. I just couldn’t take the risk. I didn’t realize that the less he knew about me, the further we grew apart.

I withheld my heart from my husband, and because my heart had always been involved in sex, I began to withhold sex, too.

Every time I made a choice not to share myself with him in some way, I added a brick to the wall between us–a wall I was sure he had erected. Every “no” that I said to sex because of feeling so disconnected to him added a brick. Every time I said “yes” because I was tired of being pestered, I resented how he could just look past our problems to get his jollies. And there was another brick.

Over time, the bricks made a wall that was tall and thick.

My husband craved intimacy with me. He would talk with me about his unhappiness about our lack of sexual intimacy. He would say, “It isn’t about the sex as much as it is about the intimacy.”

I would hear those words and think that intimacy was never to be ours.

It was too scary, too risky. I had already gotten progressively restrictive with sex throughout our marriage due to exhaustion and stress from parenting and work, but now I was withholding myself. Withholding sex wasn’t as much about denying him what he wanted as it was about holding myself safe behind a wall of emotional protection.

It’s hard to be one flesh when there is a wall right down the middle of your marriage bed.

The wall stayed intact for a long time.


Do you feel emotionally safe with your husband? Have you built a wall to protect your heart?

In my next post, I’ll share some things that can help tear down the wall and rebuild feelings of emotional safety.

Posts in this series:

Do you feel emotionally safe with your husband?

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7 Comments on “The Wall:  Keeping Myself Emotionally Safe”

  1. As I read this, I sit here with a heart so badly smashed up that I just want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and never get up again. This started a little over 24 hours ago. There have been apologies on my side but not from him. So, no, right now, I don’t feel emotionally safe and the wall I been so carefully deconstructing is in danger of being built again. It hurts too much to be this vulnerable so I have emotionally checked out (for the time being). Worst part is, this is our first weekend in twelve months without my mother who has dementia being here and, instead of the weekend of intimacy I had imagined and hoped for, it’s been a weekend of conflict and disconnection! So sad, and no way to get that time back!

  2. Is there a difference between husbands and wives here? I recall being hurt emotionally by my wife and getting over it very quickly and moving on. My wife however took several days or more. Fortunately over the last 50 years we have shortened the time it takes to take down that wall. But I still wonder if there is a basic difference between the sexes that needs to be considered.

    1. I think there is probably some general difference, although this might be reversed in some marriages. It takes me much longer to process the emotional fallout from something than it does my husband.

    2. Hi, Mike. I think it might depend on the seriousness of the “fallout” and whether or not there were apologies. If I’m hurt and I tell my husband and he apologizes, then in my eyes the relationship is restored and I move on (even if I still feel lingering hurt, that doesn’t necessarily go away right away but it doesn’t affect how we interact). If there is no acknowledgement or apologies, then that is a different story. That’s hard to get over when your hurt is not acknowledged. I know for my husband, he doesn’t need the acknowledgement as much as I do. If he can rationally process it, he moves on. For me, the relationship is about connecting, and so if there’s no acknowledgement when I explain my hurt, I feel like he’s saying that his actions were okay (and that adds to the hurt).

  3. Remembering a turning point in my relationship with my husband. I shared my soul and he replied with something he needed me to purchase at the grocery store. I recall thinking he just wasn’t capable of engaging in conversations that involved my feelings, so I began doing what you describe, and sharing more with others than with him.

    Ended up in an emotional affair with a man I had dated years before who was very good at listening AND articulating. I wasn’t so much avoiding conversations with hubby to avoid hurt, I was taking my needs to someone I determined was interested in meeting them. In that respect, it was more of a detour than a wall.

    But I do have a wall of protection that rises and falls with the ups and downs in our relationship. We build up the wall when we see our husbands as our enemies. As you pointed out in an earlier conversation with me, when we see our husbands as our enemies, sex feels like a violation. This person you cannot trust to treat you kindly and gently is touching you in your most intimate places and penetrating you. Salt in the wound.

  4. (Edited to break up paragraphs)

    Men and women are VERY different. Men do NOT understand how women’s brains (and FEELINGS) work and women are CLUELESS about how a mans thinks and feels.

    Let me offer a little more (potential) insight into your husbands point of view on how HE hurt you that day. He had to move his family for a job. It was a difficult relocation for you, it was probably worse for him even though he is not going to show it or share that with you. If you know what to look for you can see it but women always think it is something else… he’s giving me the silent treatment, he’s ignoring me, he’s angry, he’s moody… no he is hurting and under a lot of pressure and you’re not helping so he’s keeping you at arms length so you don’t make it worse. The move was something he was probably not happy about either but he felt he had no choice. A man’s responsibility to support his family weighs HEAVY on him ALWAYS. Sometimes so heavy it is hard for him to even breath. He is having to deal with the pressures of a new job, which can be OVERWHELMING! The kind of pressure that makes you want to run away, hide, curl up in a ball, hide your eyes and hope it goes away but as a man, we cannot do that, we cannot even think about those feelings and emotions and pressures too much because we have to get the job done. Our loved ones depend on us (literally) for their very existence. Failure is not an option. We have to stuff our feelings and emotions (the best we can) and move forward. So consider all that your husband was going through trying to deal with the move and the new job and no friends etc… etc… etc… himself. The weight is so heavy on him that he can hardly breath as it is. He already senses and knows that it’s tough on you also and that makes him feel even worse. He is struggling to just put one foot in front of the other.

    What he really needs at this point is your support, your understanding, your help, your encouragement but instead you come up and tell him how hard it is for you and how unhappy you are. What he hears is that your life sucks, you hate it, and it’s all his fault (as if he had a choice in the matter). What it felt like to him when you did that was you walked up to him and poured a skillet of hot grease on his head and while he was distracted trying to deal with that you kicked him between the legs. He felt like he was being attacked; and the very person who should have been helping him was making things worse. That inflicts a deep wound in a man and he reacted not out of thought but out of instinct. His words could have been much more harsh but he just tried to calmly convey the facts (as facts help us men deal with things better). You left hurt and what you did not realize (at the time) was, so did he and from his point of view, you started it. Women seem to want to blame men for everything but they need to see that just as insensitive men hurt them, clueless women hurt the men also and at time’s do much more damage than they realize.

    I really thank you Chris for this site and opening yourself up to share with us all. I have been married almost 27 years and it has been horrible for us both. I am really trying to understand her better and I’m encouraging her to try and understand me better also. If we can just get our thinking straight, it will change our point of view and we might have hope for a better marriage also. Your words are more encouraging than you will even know.

    1. I understand all that about what he was feeling–now. I didn’t then, just as he didn’t understand what I was feeling. We were both unable and unwilling to look past our own feelings to see each other. I don’t think it’s fair to say that women want to blame men for everything. While they may be true at times, it is an unfair generalization–and it is no more true than to say that men want to blame women for everything.

      We ALL need to consider situations from the other point of view. When we face difficult situations now, we are both better at understanding each other and not assuming ill intent. It is such a better kind of marriage now. I am praying for you to see good growth in your marriage as well.

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