When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV
I was asked today, “Before your change, did you know, somewhere inside, that it was wrong to say no so often?” This followed two weeks of being asked variations of that same question—publicly, in private, by strangers, and by my husband.
So when the question popped up in a blog comment this afternoon, I had to laugh. Some questions come from out of the blue, but not that one. I’ve been thinking about it for two weeks. Well, actually, I’ve been thinking about it for a couple years. I responded to the question, but since I’ve continued to think about it, I thought maybe I would say a bit more.
It seems like it should be a simple question to answer. Did I know I was wrong to say no?
“Wrong” is a tricky word for me. I grew up in a family and church that didn’t talk about sin or being wrong. Or I would hear things like “that isn’t God’s best for you” or “What would Jesus do?” I’ve never had a good inner barometer of wrongness. And the Bible, well, I got good at treating the Bible as a buffet, picking and choosing the verses that best supported my own views.
So did I know it was wrong to say no to my husband? No—but here’s what I know I did know when I was refusing:
- Saying no hurt my husband. I admit that sometimes, I was pleased about this. I remember a couple times when that was my intention. I wasn’t out to get him as much as to make sure he remembered that I was hurt. I shouldn’t have to hurt alone, I thought.
- Saying no was hurting our marriage. Sometimes I cared about this, but not always. I figured that if the marriage was meant to be, we wouldn’t have developed the problems with intimacy—so the fact that we were having problems became proof in my mind that God hadn’t wanted us together in the first place.
- Everyone else would probably think it was wrong to say no. By “everyone else,” I mean everyone within the scope of our lives—our parents, our friends, people at church, even my colleagues who scoffed at the idea of God and rolled their eyes when I mentioned having gone to a church program.
- God would think I should have sex with my husband. I remember once thinking, in a Smothers Brothers “you always liked him best” kind of way, “God, you made Adam first so you’re on my husband’s side.”
- Although I sometimes complained in general ways with other women about our husbands’ interest in sex, I never told anyone I said no. If anyone had asked me, I wouldn’t have admitted it. If I’d ever accidentally admitted it, I would have downplayed how frequent it was. In fact, many of my friends thought I was sex-crazed. I was. I had a high level of physical desire for release—but my emotions and self-entitled hurt were so powerful that this desire was suppressed much of the time. One of my friends told me that in ten years of marriage, she had never denied her husband because her first marriage fell apart due to intimacy problems. I didn’t apply her wisdom to my own marriage, but I did learn that maybe it wouldn’t be seen as okay to do what I was doing. I never told a single soul that I ever said no to my husband. Even online, where no one would know me, I never told anyone until well after I’d stopped. I didn’t even realize I was ashamed.
All these things should have told me that saying no was wrong. Even aside from the big one—that God would think I should be having sex with my husband—I should have known.
But I didn’t know. In my mind, one thing trumped all: my husband had hurt me emotionally (it was largely a communication issue at a time in life when I was already pretty raw from some transition challenges). I thought it was unreasonable for anyone–even God–to expect me to have sex with a man who hadn’t apologized and wasn’t willing to let me talk about feeling hurt. I completely believed that saying no was justified and that everyone who would think I should say yes (including God) just didn’t understand.
I could not step out of my self-centered way of viewing everything that affected me. I was immature. I was childish. At the time, though, all I felt was misunderstood and hurt. So I can’t say that I knew I was wrong. I knew it was hurtful. I didn’t know it was wrong, because I could see my saying no only within the context of my emotional state.
I knew I had the power to make our sex life better. I knew that if I would just stop being so resistant to sex, much of the tension in our marriage would dissipate. But I saw that as caving in and suppressing my own feelings. That was not okay in my book. I knew all those things, but I didn’t know it was wrong. I knew it wasn’t God’s best, but I didn’t know how to step out of my own cycle of hurt.
I even knew what I needed to do in order to change our sex life. I needed to be more engaged while we were in bed. I needed to initiate sometimes. I needed to pay more attention to my husband’s body.
The problem was this: I didn’t have any idea how to do any of this, and I wasn’t convinced yet of why I should. I wondered, How do you get past feelings of hurt and justification? How do you find the courage to make the first move when you have so much time and energy invested in learning to deflect and cast blame? How do you begin to change an attitude? How do you change your heart? How do you make yourself even want to do these things?
I feel like I’ve grown up since I started making changes. I still have self-centered tendencies. I still let my emotions color my actions. But I have finally begun to give up childish ways.
Did I know that it was wrong to say no so often? I honestly don’t think I did.
But I do now.
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