Blue? “Sprucing up, CSL?” Today, my words are in blue. Read on, for an explanation.
In May, I asked a couple of my internet friends/fellow bloggers/WordPress mentors what they thought of me writing a post on the oft-heard “All you think about is sex.” One, Chris Taylor of Forgiven Wife, expressed unease with the concept, and so, while I decided to push on with the idea, I tried to take her concerns into account. Since that post, Chris and I have discussed it a bit further, and I asked her if she would like to write a guest post giving her take on the matter, from her perspective.
Of course, as we are both loquacious and given to gnawing on ideas like a beagle on a bone, her post has triggered further discussions and so I suggested that we conduct a brief colloquy on her post. Here is her original guest post:
A Wife’s Heart
I’ve been watching CSL’s posts on addressing a sexless marriage with great interest.
He recently wrote, “As has been pointed out to me, I have a concern for husbands who are suffering through truly sucky marriages that are draining them of God-given, God-intended life.” I’ve certainly pointed that out to him a time or two—only I’ve said, “CSL, you have a heart for hurting husbands.”
(Just a quick note from CLS: well, you have to have your Universal Translator on. Then the message comes through.)
It’s always about the heart with me, and I have a heart for hurting wives—because I used to be one.
CSL’s recent post “All You Think About Is Sex!” hit a little too close to home for me. I am a woman who used to believe (and say) that all my husband thought about was sex.
Although my marriage only once approached the definition of a sexless marriage (10 or fewer sexual encounters in a year), my husband and I had a dismal sex life for nearly twenty years.
As a refuser/gatekeeper, I avoided sex as much as possible. I frequently usually said no to my husband’s advances. My one initiation a year was begrudging (“I suppose you’re going to want sex, so let’s get it over with”). I tolerated sex rather than enjoyed it. I used his actions and words as evidence that he didn’t deserve sex.
Looking at it logically, it should have been clear to me that simply giving in to sex once or twice a week required a lot less time and effort than all my avoidance did—not to mention the time we spent arguing about sex.
Looking at it logically, however, would have missed the heart of the issue—namely, my heart.
The Heart of My Refusal
My heart issues began with some baggage I brought into my marriage. The heart of my refusal, however, lay in relational hurt.
I am married to a good man—one whose love for me and commitment to our marriage has modeled Christ for me in a way nothing else has. The poor guy just didn’t know what to do with a wife who lived everything through her emotions—and he made a lot of mistakes.
My biggest hurt was the lack of emotional connection in our marriage. (I’ve written about it here.) The only feeling he ever communicated to me was, “I’m horny.” When I tried to share my own emotions with him, his usual response was either “Get to the point,” or “I don’t need to know that. Just tell me what I asked.”
I often process my emotions through conversation. The way I deal with problems is to talk through them (yes, sometimes over and over). The talking helps me heal, and the experience of being heard helps me feel close to the person who is listening.
At a time when I needed to talk about some struggles I was experiencing, my husband dismissed my feelings as invalid and told me I just needed to move past it. When I brought up those struggles a few years later (because I still hadn’t dealt with them because I hadn’t yet had a chance to talk about them), he informed me that it was all a long time ago and I should just get over it.
This may sound small, but for a woman who experiences everything emotionally, it was devastating. It was like this every day for years.
He occasionally shared his feelings with me—but only in regards to sex, nothing else. Fighting about sex was the only time I saw his heart. The only time sex was good for us was after we’d had an argument that resulted in him telling me how hurt he was. It was exhausting for both of us.
Just as my husband felt unloved as a result of my lack of connecting with him sexually, his lack of connecting with me emotionally made me feel unloved.
CSL has recently written about grudges. I admittedly am still in the process of becoming a reformed grudge holder—but I don’t know if what I was hanging onto was a grudge or my fear of being hurt.
My response to my hurt was to retaliate in order to protect myself. I was wrong.
I would have benefitted from CSL’s advice to deal with grudges by letting graced train me, considering whether my right to be hurt was in conflict with following God, and choosing to live in God’s grace rather than immerse myself in my hurt.
I was wrong.
If your wife is resisting sexual intimacy because she is hurt, she is wrong as well. (If you’re a real jerk and are sinning against her, then that statement does not apply. It also doesn’t apply if your wife is carrying trauma such as childhood sexual assault.)
It would be nice if it were as easy as telling your wife she is wrong or pointing out her sin. Really, that would be so much simpler.
Unfortunately, if your wife is hurting, that isn’t likely to work
It may be that the way to her sexual heart is through helping her heal her whole heart.
Healing a Hurting Heart
I didn’t know how to open up sexually when I felt like my husband didn’t love me. My heart needed to be healed before I could even hear what he was expressing about his desire for the intimacy that came only through sex.
As I’ve read CSL’s series, I’ve thought how reasonable it all sounds: the talk, the shot across the bow, the end of normal life, withdrawing romance, withdrawing affection, sleeping in separate bedrooms, removing the wedding ring, etc.
Those are all logical suggestions. When the problem is that your wife needs to change her thinking or is generally just too overwhelmed by life, they may work very well.
Here’s the thing: a hurting heart will not be healed by logic.
Not a single one of these suggestions would have touched my heartache. In fact, some of them might well have compounded the hurt I was already feeling.
If a wife is refusing because of her heart, then, what is a husband to do? How can he help her heart heal?
One approach I’ve written about (see this post) is to create an atmosphere in which she feels loved and safe enough to understand herself and begin to trust him with her heart—and with her body.
Help her grow in her walk with God. Encourage her to seek the Great Healer. Do Bible studies with her if she is interested. Pray with her and for her.
Demonstrate care for her feelings. When she shares something difficult for you to hear, it likely has been difficult for her to say. Honor her courage and trust. If you have done something to hurt her, listen to her. And repent. And ask for forgiveness—for what you did in the first place and for not having heard her before. My husband is a good man and never meant to hurt me—but his acknowledgement of that hurt was what I craved more than anything else.
Demonstrate a willingness to do hard work for your marriage and for her. A clear as it may be that your wife is the one with the problem, show her that you will work to grow as well. Show her that she is worth your effort.
Share your heart and feelings with her, and not just about sex. Yes, this means to talk about your feelings sometimes. It doesn’t have to be deep serious stuff, either. When she asks about your day, share a joy or frustration—and be sure to include how you felt. Saying “I was frustrated” or “I felt encouraged” invites your wife into your world. (If this sounds overwhelming, you may find this list helpful.)
Do not withhold affection. (This directly contradicts what CSL has said in one of his posts.) I realize that it is deeply painful to give your wife a non-sexual hug when you are sexually starving. However, the withholding of affection sends a message that the only time you care for her is when you are having sex. If your wife’s heart already hurts, this will make it worse, not better.
Stay calm in the face of her emotional storm. If your wife is an emotional person, there may probably will be times when she reacts emotionally or overreacts. Be a stable and calming presence to show her that you can be trusted with her strong emotions—even if those emotions are directed at you. I once was able to tell my husband, “A hug is never the wrong response.” So he learned that silence with an embrace usually was the thing that helped me settle down the most.
Acknowledge progress and effort. Slow progress is still progress. Each visible step I took was the fruit of weeks of serious but hidden work on myself—teaching myself new ways of thinking, reminding myself of the pain I’d caused my husband, taking lots of deep breaths, and working to heal my heart. My husband saw none of that—yet I was working hard and making great strides. It seemed like slow progress from the outside, but it was progress nonetheless.
Continue with these efforts even past the point of change. If you support your wife in healing her heart and your sex life improves, keep at it. Stopping when the sex has improved sends a message that sex is all that matters—and that may hurt her heart all over again.
If your wife is one who lives life through her emotions, taking the logical approach CSL describes here may not actually be the logical approach.
Logic won’t heal a hurting heart—but love and care can go a long way.
Another way to put it might be this: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade—but be sure to use the amount of sugar that is right for each person’s taste.
If your wife is one who responds to calm logic, then follow the recipe that CSL has provided. However, if your wife is a woman who does better with an emotional approach, be sure to adjust the sweetness and care accordingly so she will actually drink the lemonade you’ve prepared.
An excellent article, with many good insights into the heart of wives that a curmudgeon probably doesn’t have.
But. (You knew that had to come, right?)
But being the right royal pain in the tuchas that I am, I have questions and musings, and I have all the tact of the kind of doctor who pokes you where you’re hurting and asking, “Does that hurt?” Don’t you just want to smack him/her?
So Chris and I are going to talk, via posting, about some of the ideas that she has presented. Be looking for these posts to appear over the next few days.
(By the way, I’m going to park my humility for a second and pat myself on the back and say that props have to be given to yours truly. After all, it’s not too many bloggers who would invite a guest blogger/poster to come to their site and say, “He’s wrong.” So pardon me while I break my arm patting myself on the back.)