This is the sixth in a series of posts 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 3, part 4, part 5, 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.
In her original post, A Wife’s Heart, Chris shared eight recommendations for helping a wife in the process of healing her heart. In our last colloquy, we discussed the fifth and sixth of Chris’s suggestions; it had been our intention to include discussion of the last two, as well, but we realized we had too much to say about them.
So here is our discussion of suggestion #7:
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.
“My husband saw none of that—yet I was working hard….” If we don’t see it, how can we acknowledge it?
If you see any steps at all, simply know that they are the result of much that is invisible. If you’re on a ship in the north Atlantic and see an iceberg, you should know enough to realize that there’s a whole lot more going on that you can’t see than that you can.
You speak of icebergs. What comes to my mind, for me, is glaciers, as in, “moving at glacial speed.”
I appreciate the difficulty—but how do you speed up healing? A husband shouldn’t have to just sit back and keep his fingers crossed and hope his wife just gets on with it, but he can remove barriers to her own effort, pray for her healing, and continue to support her genuine effort to make progress.
Most wives who are working to change their approach to sexual intimacy find that although the initial steps are unbelievably slow, at a certain point they pick up momentum. And then, everything seems completely different. Lori Byerly describes this as “the tipping point.”
[Chris continues from above]I get very frustrated by husbands who say, “My wife told me two weeks ago that she was going to try to change. She’s even reading books and blogs and has stopped saying no—but why isn’t she a sex kitten yet? She must not be really trying.”
For us, it was six months before I was able to say yes most of the time and genuinely participate in sex most of the time. And by “most of the time,” I mean maybe six times out of ten. The other four times I wasn’t doing so great. It took a full year to be over that first hump of slow and barely-visible progress.
If you tell a strangling victim that you are gradually easing up on the garrote, maybe a little patience can be extended? 🙂
What do you expect a hurting wife to do? This always puzzles me. I know now that my feelings don’t have to drive my behavior, that I don’t have to be in the mood to have sex and enjoy it, and that it is when I’m upset with my husband and don’t feel like having sex that sex does the most good. I know all of that now.
Before I figured all this out, though, I truly didn’t know how to proceed. Some women can jump into the deep end and make a change overnight—but most of us can’t. Even when I realized how deeply I was hurting my husband and would read things such as your strangling analogy, I didn’t know what to do. How do I make myself have sex? And since it isn’t just sex that is the problem (it’s intimacy), how do I forge through that if I don’t know how?
“Just do it” sounds like such a simple thing. When you have a habit of resistance, though, trying not to resist can result in, well, freezing. I remember standing there sometimes thinking, Well, Chris you can do this thing. You’ve had sex with him before. You know you can do it. Come on, move your feet. Walk toward him. Lift up your hand. Touch him on the arm. Speak. Say his name. I was convicted about what to do, and I knew what to do—I just didn’t know how.
You have a heart for refused husbands. What can these wives actually do to move at a faster-than-glacial pace so their husbands’ pain can ease up sooner?
Talk. Acknowledge hurts. Ask for forgiveness. Show empathy. Commit to getting help. There is a saying that while the swan looks like it is serenely gliding across the water, it’s paddling like crazy underneath. For a refused husband, what is going to hurt is a glacial pace with a serene demeanor. Your recent Three Step post presents how-to’s that are “more than glacial”.
I agree that these things are very important. They seem to be more about his healing than about hers, though. What I’m asking about is how to speed up her heart healing.
Acknowledging the ways she’s hurt her husband—even when her actions are the legitimate by-product of his hurting her—can support her healing indirectly.
The critical issue really is whether or not she genuinely wants to heal. Sometimes it is very painful to face our hurts. For me, some of the pain had to do the baggage I brought into the marriage, but some of it turned out to be pain I brought on myself in the process of resisting sex. Seeing myself in the mirror was unpleasant.
I was responding to your “What do you expect a hurting wife to do?”, which came in the context of acknowledging small accomplishments. I guess my comment is more along the line of what I would HOPE a wife who is working to heal would be able to do to not only work on her healing but her husband’s, as well.
I hope she would do these things as well. I don’t know if it’s a likely expectation, though. After all, we also expect that wives will approach their marriages as a sexual relationship, and that is often a struggle.
And about it being more about his healing than hers? I’m thinking that my suggestions aren’t so much about his healing as her reassuring him that she is actually concerned about him, and that she is paddling like mad under the surface.
[CSL continues from above] Question: at some point along the way, doesn’t pride become a problem, if the hurting wife says that she doesn’t need help, that she can heal, just be patient and let me work it out? Doesn’t it come across as if she is still saying, as she has in the past, “on my terms”?
I’m not advocating her telling her husband to be patient while she works it out. She may well need intensive assistance from a pastoral or professional counselor. She can intensify the work, but that doesn’t mean she has control over the actual healing. Some wounds heal differently than other wounds, and not all women heal at the same speed.
I know that this sounds simplistic, but most of these guys aren’t looking for an escape hatch. Like the wives who are hurt and don’t know what to do, these guys, too, are hurt and don’t know what to do. However, they are long-term veterans who signed up for life-time monogamy, and that quite willingly in the beginning. If they can believe that there is a real hope again, then they will be there for their wives.
But the operative word is “if.” One phrase that has been haunting me this past year is from Prov. 13: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick….”
My one regret about my process of healing is that I didn’t invite my husband into the process. I was so afraid that I would fail or that he would put pressure on me to do things faster or differently than I simply figured I would talk to him about it after I had it all figured out.
That decision had the effect of delaying my husband’s healing. During the first six months when he started to see some changes, he had no way of knowing that it as the result of intention and effort. That whole time, he could have been praying to support me or at least not getting increasingly anxious as he wondered how long it would last. I’d deprived him of years of joyful sexual intimacy already, and then I deprived him of the opportunity to begin healing alongside me.
[Chris continues from above] Husbands should recognize that each visible step is the result of much internal work—and that healing is not just a three-week process.
BUT (all caps, so you know it’s important) husbands shouldn’t believe that one solitary event or action is the harbinger of a thaw. You and I have read so many happy praise reports by husbands, saying “My wife did XYZ! This is a sign that God is working”, only to have the poor sod come back a day, week or season later and say, “My bad. It was just an aberration, nothing’s changed.”
After all, as the old Aesop moral says, “One swallow does not a spring make.”
Individual blips and bleeps and efforts are wonderful—but they do not represent progress in and of themselves. Progress is better measured by asking, “How is our marriage different than it was one month ago? Three months ago? A year ago?”
Just like refusal is a pattern of “no” and not just a single instance here and there, progress is a pattern of genuine effort, not just a single instance here and there.
I can go with that. Just not indefinitely. 🙂
[CSL continues from above] Also, don’t husbands run the risk, in some cases, of actually producing a backlash by acknowledgement and/or praise? I’m envisioning an “all he wants me for is sex” reaction. Eggshells; everywhere, eggshells.
If a wife has not herself indicated that she is making efforts, I think it is wise to say nothing about it. It would have pushed me away. My husband did see the small visible steps of my efforts. I began to initiate sex more and I got more involved in sex. What he didn’t see was the enormous effort that was behind each step.
Perhaps “recognize” would be a better word than “acknowledge.” Even if he says nothing to her, it is good for him to see that small slow steps are the result of much effort on her part.
So, recognize it, even appreciate it, but keep it to yourself until she openly tells you what she has been doing? (Why am I having that “Does this make me look fat?” warning go off, in the back of my mind?)
Yeah, pretty much.
My husband used to say that he was having to walk on eggshells around me. I thought the same thing about him. Go figure.
Uh, well,……… I’m gonna keep my big mouth shut! 🙂
This shows both wisdom and restraint on your part. 🙂
Chris, we made it with no broken bones and only a few scrapes and bruises. I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that this suggestion would generate so much discussion. My money would have been on the fifth one.
I wouldn’t have expected so much discussion of this one, either. I think we’re doing rather well. I have to ask, though—have there been scrapes and bruises on both sides or just on mine?
We process things very differently, you and I. You can turn inward at the drop of a comma, where as I apparently become abstracted in concepts, gazing off into the distance. I think it is “J” of Hot, Holy and Humorous who calls her husband Spock. Imagine an irascible Vulcan, and I think you’re pretty close to having a view of CSL.
(I did get the vapors, however, when you said that my “withdraw affection” suggestion was wrong.) 🙂
Have you considered having your wife weigh in on any of these?
Are you kidding? Have you seen how far indented we are now? 🙂