This is the third post in a series in which Chris Taylor, of Forgiven Wife, and I dialogue about ideas and issues brought up in her post, A Wife’s Heart. (Here are the links to part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7 and part 8.) Chris and I have chosen colors to help with reading clarity in trying to incorporate our comments into her original text; my comments are in blue and Chris’s in purple.
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.
Chris, as I promised, it didn’t take me long to kick over the traces. It’s been over a month since you wrote A Wife’s Heart and since I read it. Just as that video, The Nail, truly bothered you, this last paragraph has me going like a dog trying to eat peanut butter (a funny sight, btw.)
“Not a single one of these suggestions would have touched my heartache.” Above, you link to my various posts on Addressing The Sexless Marriage, including the one with Job29Man’s Shot Across The Bow. In our discussions, you have said that Job’s Shot wouldn’t have reached you. But when I go back to what he wrote, I find this as a major part of his appeal to his wife:
“This is not the marriage we both committed to. If you have rebuke for me. I am all ears. I want to be the best husband for you that I can be. You can lay it on me and I will not resist, but will redouble my efforts. I will withhold NOTHING from you. I will give up ANYTHING that you feel is needed. You just say the word. But if you will permit me now to state my own complaint to you in the same spirit… I am a sexually miserable man.” ~ Job29Man, Shot Across The Bow
I don’t believe I’m telling tales outside of class when I mention that you aren’t entirely enchanted with the Shot Across The Bow. But since you wrote “not a single suggestion” could have touched you, I am wondering how this level of vulnerability could fail to reach the person you were.
How could it fail to reach me? I don’t know—but it did fail. My heart resisted anything that would require me to change.
Logic would suggest that only a selfish witch could not respond to such vulnerability from her husband—and in this case, perhaps logic is valid.
The quick and easy answer is to say that I was a selfish witch and be done with it. (And just in case anyone is wondering, “witch” is not my first choice of words.)
But I don’t do quick and easy much, do I, CSL?
My husband didn’t quite use Job29Man’s approach, but the only time he ever approached being vulnerable was when we were talking about our sex life. And often, that vulnerability would lead to a nice time together in bed that night because I finally had a temporary emotional connection with my husband.
1 – “didn’t quite use Job’s approach” *buzz* Flag on the play? That’s an awful lot of writing not talking about MY question…..
Wait, what was the question again? 🙂
It is difficult to write about any of these things without being disrespectful to my husband. He was miserable in our marriage, and he had begun to develop some health problems that affected his mood and his ability to think clearly. He was not at his best—and yes, I fully acknowledge that much of this was solidly on my shoulders.
I love the guy. When I began writing about the changes in our marriage, I promised God that I wouldn’t obscure truth to make myself look good—only to protect my husband and family. I have stuck to that promise and will continue to do so. Saying too much shows my husband as someone other than the man I know him to be. I’ll see if I can say a little more, but if I’m vague, it is because he is my husband.
I understand completely.
My husband said he would do anything to fix our problem—but sometimes those words were said in such anger that the tone contradicted the words.
Sometimes he would say he would do anything and then he would tell me I needed counseling. I finally asked him if he would go with me, thinking that our problem was bigger than either one of us. He said he would go—but only to help figure out what I needed to fix.
He refused to admit that he needed to make changes—just as I refused to admit it about myself.
Oh, the benefit of 20-20 hindsight!! 🙂
But anything beyond that required trust and my own vulnerability. My husband would sometimes tell me he would do whatever I needed in order to have a better relationship.
This sounds promising……. (sorry about the pun)
So the next day, or a few days later, I would test him to see if this was true. I would bring up an unresolved issue between us, desperately wanting him to ask me what I needed from him in order to heal—because I did want to heal. I hated carrying around that heart pain.
He failed the test. Every. Single. Time. He would tell me that the issue was from a long time ago and I just needed to get over it. Or he would say that there was nothing he could do and I needed to deal with it myself. Or he would try to placate me. Or dismiss me.
1 – This is putting me onto the need for a follow-up to my Shot post, which I’m going to start working on today.
2 – I know we can’t retroactively referee every fight, but I’m wondering why you didn’t take a stand on HIS promise? (cue “Standing on the Promises”)
After all, he had promised he “would do whatever was needed”, right? So an appeal to integrity and telling him that “get over it” is not keeping his word to you didn’t work?
Why do you assume I didn’t take a stand? I tried to—but considering that my feet were on pretty shaky ground since I wasn’t standing on my promises, either, that didn’t go far. But I did mention it to him several times. He didn’t react well.
Mea culpa, mea culpa. But then, again, I’ve always been an advocate of the well-timed hissy fit.
I don’t seem to have perfected the art of the hissy fit. My attempts tend to result in crying, screaming, and a lot of snot. If only I could channel my inner Julia Sugarbaker . . .
Every time, my belief that I couldn’t trust my husband with my real emotions or my true self was reinforced—and that served to reinforce the walls I had around my heart.
(Oh, my Lord! So many new posts!)
I’m going to forego Freudian unpacking of “my belief” and “trust” and ask this: Was there an element of your response that perceived an opportunity to conduct a test of your husband, a “let’s see how the rat will perform in the maze today”? (“rat” not in the pejorative sense, btw.)
I know I am a veritable psychological study. I’ve thought about the “rat in the maze” question many times. You know how much I dislike any implication that a refusing wife has a malicious intent. I react negatively to that. When I have that negative reaction, though, I recognize that it is because there is a disturbance in the force, er, in my heart. So when I see something that implies maliciousness, I always spend time in prayer and introspection about it.
I’ve done a lot of deep reflection and have faced a great many difficult truths about myself over the past several years. You know I have been transparent in my writing and have not covered up the dark places in my heart.
The answer to your question is no. At least I think it is. I would not be surprised to someday remember having this kind of thought—but I don’t think this was the case.
Still, since I do find myself bristling even to read that question from you, I know that I need to continue to dig down and figure out why it really bothers me. I do have some ideas, and they have nothing to do with performing lab tests on my husband and everything to do with my own emotional baggage.
It was never a situation of setting up hoops for him to jump for. I acknowledge that sometimes there were hoops for him to jump through, but I never thought of myself as having set them up. I thought they were hoops set up by society or by the bible in an obstacle course called “How to Be a Husband.”
All too often, I think, we have the ability to separate ourselves into parts and become an observer as well as a participant. This allows us to distance ourselves from the import of the action, from our responsibility to be involved in the action. Physically, we may go through the motions, but mentally, we’re standing aside, clipboard and stopwatch in hand, taking notes.
This describes how I had sex for quite a few years.
The only time he shared his true feelings with me was when it was about sex. That told me that sex was the only thing he cared about. When I tried to see if he could care about me and my heart, too, he showed me that he didn’t.
His vulnerability and words played as false. His words said he wanted true intimacy in every way with me—but in refusing to meet me at my point of emotional need, he told me that the only kind of intimacy that actually mattered to him was sex. My full self was something he tolerated at best just to get at what was between my legs.
Today, you realize that Hubs could have written the paragraph like this: “Her words said she wanted true intimacy with me, but her refusing me at my point of physical need told me the only intimacy that mattered to her was friendship. My full self was something she tolerated just to have comfortable companionship”?
Of course I realize that—now. In fact, it was the moment I realized his point of view that I made the decision to change.
After a few times of this, his words of vulnerability ceased to make an impact on me. His emotional rejection of me was an attack on my ability to hope for more in our marriage.
With apologies to Arlen and Mercer, “Round and round we go, down and down we go, In a spin….” 😦
Our marriage was in a downward spiral, with one person’s hurt feeding the other’s. Round and round, down and down, . . .
I am so thankful for the Sexually Refused forum at The Marriage Bed.
As am I. It is what finally opened my eyes.
I want to circle back to the selfish witch part for a few minutes. Unfortunately, I was a self-centered woman. I couldn’t see beyond my own protective walls. On a theoretical level, I understood that a marriage required sacrifice, thinking about the other person, giving, and so on—but in my actual day-to-day life, I didn’t know how to do this. It occasionally occurred to me that I was seeing an opportunity to be giving, but my own hurt (my grudge?) would hold me back.
Setting my hurt aside would feel like I was betraying myself and saying that my own emotions didn’t matter. My husband didn’t value my feelings, so I had to be the one to do it.
During the last year before I began to make changes in our marriage, I got a little heartless. During that time, I wanted to hurt my husband because I was so desperate to continue protecting myself, and the best defense was a good offense. (I wrote about it in this post.)
You ask me how this level of vulnerability in Job29Man’s words could fail to reach the person I was. Here’s how:
1 – Actions that don’t match the words cancel the words.
2 – Selfishness interferes with the ability to truly see a spouse’s heart.
1 – I’m writing that Shot Across the Bow follow-up as we speak.
2 – True. But you haven’t convinced me that the Shot approach is wrong. 🙂
I wasn’t trying to convince you that it was wrong. I was trying to convince that it wouldn’t have worked on me because the words would have come at me in the context of a marriage and from a husband that didn’t align with those words.
Alright, “inform me.” 🙂
If I had a different husband or a different marriage, perhaps they would have worked. And perhaps our marriage wouldn’t have gotten to the point that it did.
In a marriage where there is consistency and trust and two generally good-willed people, I do think this approach can work.
In a marriage where the husband has contributed to his wife’s heartache, however, trust has been eroded. That is exactly why I think it is important for a husband to find out if he contributed to any of that hurt.
If he did, and if he works to support her in her healing, that in itself might strengthen the intimacy between the two of them in a way that changes what is needed in order to address the sexlessness.
I thought this was going to be a hard one.
You think you’re getting off that easy?
I wouldn’t say that any of this has been easy. Simple? Yes. I have the blessing curse blessing curse ability of introspection. I can pull together many different pieces in my memory and connect them to my emotional journey. I remember far more than I sometimes wish I did. So it’s simple to figure out what to say in response to your questions.
Easy, though? Not by a long shot. Revisiting difficult parts of my emotional journey is never easy. Would it surprise you to know that the process of writing these responses has involved the shedding of many tears for me?
1 – “He failed the test. Every. Single. Time.”
Knowing your propensity for self-examination, this one should get you going: what part of you ‘knew’ he was fail? knew that Hubs wasn’t up to the task? went “I knew it, just as I expected”?
The first few times, I expected that he would do as he’d said because he is a man of integrity. However, his own hurt and a lack of experience with any woman’s emotional storms interfered with his ability to do what I asked and understand how important it was. After that, I expected that he would fail because his previous actions showed me that I should expect that. But each time, I hoped he would pass with flying colors. I desperately wanted my husband to love me. I wanted so much for him to show me that my love was truly worth anything to him. I wanted to know that I was worth loving, even when it wasn’t easy to do so. I wanted to know that he cherished me. I wanted so very much for him to pass the test.
Part of the downward spiral, though, was that each time it was harder to step outside my walls enough to hope.
The part of me that knew he would fail was the part that had been hurt by his failure in the past. The part of me that was hopeful was behind that wall, cheering him on.
This is going to be a staple of what I tell husbands on this blog. Thank you.
2 – Going back to the paragraph that you wrote and I paraphrased for Hubs’s point of view – I’m taking that we’re agreeing that both had valid needs and didn’t know how to break the logjam of conflict, right? (Be careful…. 🙂 )
We both had valid needs. We both knew how to break the logjam of conflict: the other person had to change! Neither of us was willing to admit that the first step to breaking a logjam was to start with the log in our own eyes.
Ooh, nice one! I’m thinking that dynamite might be too drastic? 🙂
If dynamite is what it takes, . . .
That’s it for my little (*snort*) detour, folks. In our next post, Chris and I will start looking at the section her A Wife’ Heart that deals with her recommendation for creating an atmosphere in which a damaged heart can heal.
Huh? We aren’t done with this yet? Just what did I sign up for, anyway? 🙂
What part of “Mwahahahaha” don’t you understand? 🙂