A reader recently sent me the link to A Letter from a Husband to his Wife on Sexual Refusal and Reluctance and asked me what I thought.
The article provides a sexually neglected husband’s point of view and discusses his frustration, the humiliation he feels, the temptation and jealousy he faces, his yearning to be desired, and his desire for his wife to allow him to be captivated by her body.
The feelings expressed in the piece are authentic. They are consistent with what my husband used to say to me, and they have been echoed in many emails and comments I’ve received from husbands who are in a sex-deprived marriage.
I tend to read with the awareness of two selves. One is my former self who refused to have a healthy sex life with my husband. The other is the woman I am now who understands so much more about healthy sexual intimacy and how men experience sexual deprivation.
My reaction to the article intrigued me. I understand—now—that for most men, sex plays a much more important role in their emotional well-being than I had ever realized. I recognize the pain and loneliness a sexually deprived husband experiences. It is real, difficult, and overwhelming. I get all that.
Yet there I was, reading the article as though I hadn’t learned anything at all during the past several years. I found myself verbalizing the same responses I used to give my husband. I even rolled my eyes at one point. (This is how I really know the article expresses authentic feelings.)
Our sex conversations often involved Big Guy being truly vulnerable. He would talk about the same frustration and humiliation described in the article. I remember sitting across from my husband (somehow, these conversations never involved us sitting next to each other) while he opened himself up to me.
My husband’s honest words about his vulnerabilities made me feel an emotional connection with him. I would think, Hmm. I don’t really understand how the lack of sex relates to any of these feelings, and I don’t think sex is the real problem—but this man who is sharing his heart with me is a man I want.
I would feel a stirring of my heart (and even a stirring of other parts sometimes). I was overjoyed to know that my husband was capable of such emotional depth. It was what I’d been craving for so long, after all. I would begin to think that maybe, just maybe, I could want to have sex with this man.
And then . . .
“ . . . and I want you to initiate sometimes. I want you to desire me.”
My walls flew back up, locking into place.
Just when he would have gotten me thinking that maybe it would be good to have sex more often, he would mention initiation and I would shut back down.
There I was trying to wrap my mind around having sex more often, and he threw a whole new thing at me. What did initiation have to do with anything, and why did he have to bring it up when I was feeling all gooey and lovey from his emotional sharing?
He was the one who was so unhappy with our sex life, and instead of him doing the things that were so obvious to me about helping me want sex more, he was telling me I had to figure it out on my own.
Why did you have to ruin it by bringing up initiation? I would think. All that stuff about the emotions . . . I was actually believing that. But you were just saying that to soften me up for what you really wanted, and all you really want is the sex, isn’t it? It’s bad enough that you’re always complaining about sex, and you just about had me convinced to agree to have sex more. But no, that isn’t enough. It’s never enough is it? You want more sex, and you want me to have to do the work. You say you want me to desire you and initiate. If I’m not in the mood, what do you expect me to do—wave a magic wand and turn myself into some other kind of woman just so you can get laid and have your ego fed at the same time? It’s never enough, is it? I’m never enough.
I would feel heart-broken that I’d allowed myself to be vulnerable to what I saw as my husband’s emotional manipulation-and I was furious at him for having taken advantage of my desire for emotional connection like that.
It never occurred to me that my husband saw sexual initiation differently than I did.
I thought of initiation as an indication of sexual arousal—and since I rarely experienced any arousal until after we’d begun sexual activity, I didn’t even understand how it was possible for me to initiate. My husband always seemed to initiate when he was already aroused (or so it seemed to me), so I saw that request as putting a demand on me that I physically couldn’t even do. It was a completely unreasonable expectation, in my mind—and absolutely unconnected to the emotional things he’d said to me.
To my husband, though, the request that I initiate was deeply emotional. To him, sex was the path to the deepest emotional connection possible. It was the ultimate means of expressing and receiving love. My initiating would be a way of letting my husband know, in the clearest way possible, that I loved him and that I wanted him to love me.
He wanted to feel pursued—not because he wanted the physical release of sex, but because it helped him know that I loved him as deeply as he loved me.
When he would open his heart to me, his expressed desire for initiation was very much connected to the other emotions he shared with me. When he shared that with me and my walls went back up while I chastised him for being so demanding, he felt rejected when he was already quite vulnerable.
I used to view my husband’s request for me initiate as selfish. As I read another man’s words about initiation, my eyes started to roll and I thought about how hurt and upset I’d been every time I’d heard those words from my husband . . . but then my heart settled and I thought about all that I’ve learned about my husband in the past few years.
Does your husband share his desire for you to initiate sex? How do you respond?
Do you roll your eyes and allow yourself to be hurt and frustrated, just as I used to do? Or do you recognize that your husband has shared his heart with you?
My husband asked that I initiate because it helped him feel loved and showed him that I wanted him to love me.
If your husband asks you to initiate, what do you think it means to him?
Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. Song of Songs 1:4
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