This is the seventh 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 6, 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 Chris’s seventh suggestion; this post, Chris and I will discuss her eighth and last suggestion from her original post.
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.
It’s a life change; that’s all there is to it. If what you did in the past led to the sorry state you were in, what makes you think that you can go back to it?
Yes, it is a life change. What I’m getting at isn’t just to keep doing the new things, but to continue to make new efforts to grow.
You’ve seen me write, many times, “As long as the status quo is tolerable, the status will remain quo. It is only when the status quo becomes intolerable that you will move to change it.” A corollary would be “If the status quo was stinkin’, why go back to it?” It’s common sense to think that the things that brought about change are the things that will sustain change. 🙂
My entire post was written to show husbands what might be going on in their wives’ hearts with sexual refusal and to suggest what they can do to help her deal with hurt he has placed there.
Fearfully I ask, “Uh, just what percentage of refusing wives are motivated by relational hurt (hurt hearts), as contrasted with refusers who have other motivations (asexual, bad teaching, other)?”
That is a good question, and I don’t know the answer to this. I suspect it is far more than you might think. Even in these other instances, relational hurt often compounds a different problem. So even if the root of the refusal is something other than the relationship, the only part the wife might be able to recognize is how her husband hurt her. The fact that her husband’s actions didn’t inflict pain as much as evoke pain that was already there might not show up on her radar.
“I suspect it is far more than you might think.” I think we’re going to have to disagree on this one. As I’ve been reading around the blog-o-sphere, what I keep coming across are posts by bloggers such as Byerly, Gregoire, Parker, and even Taylor [*chortle*] in which they refer to really bad teaching about sex in the Church. Bad teachings aren’t the same as relational hurt, and, at least in the Christian world, I’m thinking that runs a distant second, if not third or fourth, to bad teachings about sexuality.
I think many refusal situations have many contributing factors. Sometimes it is bad sexual teaching—but a woman who isn’t aware that she is a victim of bad teaching will see only her husband’s actions. His response to being sexually deprived may be to withdraw, immerse himself in work or hobbies, or turn to porn. She knows that she feels hurt by these things and believe that they are the reason she refuses. Her perception may be that relational hurt is the reason for the refusal.
Years ago, I attended a workshop that spoke of four layers: surface problem, surface cause, root problem, root cause. It seems to me that drilling down only to the hurt isn’t getting to the root cause, especially if the root cause is the bad teaching that the wife brought into the marriage and led to the hurt.
Bad teaching is such a tough nut to crack, sadly.
But we can’t ignore it to chase the chimera of “healed hurts”.
(Thanks for including me in a list of such wonderful marriage bloggers.)
The list would have been incomplete without you.
[Chris continues from above] Even more than relational hurt, though, I think the biggest foundation for sexual refusal or resistance in marriage is baggage. Far too many women have experienced childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault. Many of us have witnessed men not treating women well—either through outright abuse or, more subtly, through words and actions that show the opposite of honoring and cherishing. We bring all those things into marriage to help us know what men are like. It is damaging, and I encourage women to work through that baggage.
Okay, a distant third or fourth, then. 🙂
In my situation, stuff I brought into the marriage created a bad foundation. When I experienced hurt, I had absolutely no tools or understanding for dealing with that hurt in a spiritually mature way.
I know that there has been much written lately about how the baggage of the past affects the current marriage. I’ve scanned it and kenned the gist, but I’m thinking I need to go back and do some in-depth reading on this. It doesn’t seem right, however, to allow the past to hold the present and future hostage, does it?
It isn’t right, but it is the way many of us are. It’s like a broken record where the needle gets stuck on the broken spot.
A husband should not, however, become a doormat.
Husbands need to declare their emancipation from Relationship Jail?
I don’t think they need to declare anything as much as just not accept the mantle of prisoner in the first place. Have you seen V for Vendetta? There is a scene when Evey walks out of her cell and is told that she’d been imprisoned only by her own fear. I sometimes think about how many of us feel imprisoned in our own marriages because we fear too much.
That’s what I see The Shot, The End, and my eight suggestions as doing, a declaration of no longer being imprisoned.
(As to Vendetta – never watched it. That the mask became the symbol of OWS anarchists turned me off.)
Oh, dear. Do we have to talk about politics now? I’d rather not. 🙂
Vendetta preceded OWS anyway.
No discussion. Just explaining why I haven’t seen it. 🙂
Her feelings should not drive the marriage. Her wants do not necessarily reflect her actual needs. Her lack of following does not relieve him of the responsibility of leading. There should be no hoop-jumping or eggshell-walking.
This is going to call for some adroitness and agility. And, methinks, some more “relational hurt”. After all, Demonstrating Care For Her Feelings (suggestion #2), and yet push against them when I feel that they are invalid seems like a Sisyphean task.
It is possible to care for her feelings without letting her feelings drive things. Let me try to think of an example from my own marriage . . . okay, here’s one: I have a tendency to experience a lot of anxiety when I’m in an unfamiliar environment or around people I don’t know. My feeling is that I would just as soon not do new things or go to new places. If those feelings were driving my marriage, my husband and I would not do new things together. What my husband does is to care for my feelings. When we are somewhere new, he holds onto my hand as long as I need him to. He checks in with me to be sure I’m okay before we proceed. He knows that it is good for me to have new experiences despite my feeling that I don’t want to. He acknowledges what my feelings are and he helps me cope with them. He is demonstrating care for my feelings even as he doesn’t let those feelings drive our marriage.
A husband can demonstrate care for his wife’s feelings by holding her if she is upset, verbally acknowledging her right to those feelings, and providing comfort. However, he can also go on to say something like, “Your feelings are valid, but the way you are dealing with those feelings isn’t healthy for our marriage or our family. We need to figure out how to work through this.”
I know it’s late in the game to spring this, but is “Your feeling are valid” always a valid statement?
I think feelings are always valid in that they are real. Whether the feelings are rational or helpful is another story—but they are just as real if they are crazed and nonsensical as if someone else can logically understand how they developed. One of the most hurtful things my husband has said to me is, “Your feelings are wrong.” It is much better for me if he simply accepts what my feelings are and helps me move from there.
So yes, I think that is always a valid statement—but it shouldn’t mean that anyone stays stuck there.
Husbands hurt, too, and I recognize that some of my suggestions would be very painful. And none of what I suggest is a guarantee. However, if relational hurt is part of the foundation of a wife’s refusal, the only way true heart change is going to happen is if she heals from that hurt. He can support the healing, stay out of the way of the healing, or be a barrier to her healing.
And what percentage of that is legitimate, and not nursed grudges? Not to be argumentative, but I would like to know what you think about it.
It is hard to say. Even a nursed grudge has its roots in legitimate pain. My experience has been that until the original pain is addressed, there’s little point in addressing the grudge.
Maybe yes, maybe no. Certainly from unmet expectations, but whether those expectations are legitimate or not is another issue. After all, expectations of pampering and pedestals are a bit much, right?
Those kinds of expectations go beyond an issue of whether a wife’s heart has been hurt by her husband. They sound more like entitlement and punishment to me—although there is a part of me that wants to smack myself for having just typed that.
Hey, wait a minute! Did you just give me an opportunity for an “Aha!?
Fortunately, I have learned to work through the layers of grudge to get at what that pain is. Sometimes it takes me a while to get through, but I do get through it.
I can’t speak to percentages. I know my own experience. I also know what I hear from many wives who contact me, and that is fairly consistent with my own experience. The women who read my blog and contact me do so because something has resonated with them. I don’t hear from the other women much.
For me, the percentage question would seem to be important. After all, in your original post, you said that The Shot and some of my suggestions wouldn’t have worked for you, and I know that you are representative of a segment of refusing wives (well, you WERE, that is). The implications are enormous.
I know that you hear from refused husbands, and that while you have great concern for them, you know that you are called to minister to hurting wives. Do you hear from wives who AREN’T hurting? After all, your readers are not just hurting wives, as evidenced the husbands who you hear from.
I do hear from wives who aren’t hurting, although they frequently are struggling with something. Sometimes it’s a matter of having gotten into a habit of sexual neglect, and now they’re struggling to purge that bad habit and grow in new ways. I also hear from quite a few wives who have worked through much of their hurt already. That is so encouraging to me, to get to hear from women at different stages of growth in intimacy.
[Chris continues from above.] When both spouses are hurting, someone has to make the first move toward healing.
I like the discussion between elovesc35 and myself, in the comment section of our Third Colloquy. elovesc35 said that The Shot “failed miserably”, and yet….. 🙂
Yes, I saw that comment, and it brings me full circle.
Just in time, given it’s prolly the penultimate colloquy. 🙂
I think The Shot wouldn’t have worked on me—but I admit that I don’t really know for sure. I do know it would have made me furious and deeply hurt. It’s possible that I would have chosen to work through that—but it’s also possible that I would have checked out of the marriage altogether. I was so caught up in relational hurt that I felt stuck. The Shot would’ve moved me, but it’s hard to know which direction I would’ve gone.
The Shot is a risk—but if nothing else has worked and if the husband has worked on his own growth and is willing to do the work to help his wife heal, it may be a risk worth taking.
Hence the warning I give, “As long as the status quo is tolerable, tolerate it. When the status quo becomes intolerable, don’t.” We both know of a guy who, at the end of his tether, did The Shot, and his wife chose divorce valuing sexlessness more than marriage.
When it becomes intolerable and a husband’s genuine work on himself has not led to any change in the marriage (and I’m talking over a period of a year or two, not “well, I stopped watching porn, and two weeks later, I’m still not getting any action”), it is time to lay out all the cards and draw a line in the sand—not as a threat as much as a glimpse into the trajectory of the marriage.
So many Christians experience guilt about their sexual desires. A wife who has chosen celibacy for her husband has already abandoned the marriage (although she may not realize it).
Well, there you have it, folks. Chris and I have gotten through her eight suggestions with souls and spirits relatively unbruised. Our next post, the last of our Colloquy, I think we will draw things to a close with final comments and ideas, and maybe address something that came up in the course of the series and might need a final touch-up.
Chris, at one point, you told someone that I had the gift of pushing buttons, and that some of the rabbit-trails have been challenging. Do you have any questions that you think maybe I should answer?
Whoa, dude, you’ve just handed me a blank check. 🙂 I’ll have to think about this one and let you know.
You’d better hurry up. After all, having just had another birthday, you might find yourself racing to be my advancing senility. 🙂
But at least let me bask in the glow of an “Aha” for a little bit. 🙂
While you have the gift of pushing buttons, I don’t. I’ve had questions for you as we’ve gone through this series, but I’ve either asked them or re-directed them into my own comments somehow.
What I want to ask is for a glimpse into your marriage with Mrs. Librarian. (Who knows? Maybe asking personal questions is what pushes your buttons.!)
My original guest post addresses dealing with past hurt in the relationship. I believe it is important to go back and deal with that if it is causing trouble in the present. However, I also think it is important to become a good husband now. In fact, a husband’s consistent demonstration of his love and trustworthiness may be the very thing that his wife needs to reach out to him in working through the past.
While I’ve talked about working through the past from a hurting wife’s perspective, I think it is also important for men to know how to be good husbands going forward. So here are my questions for you:
How do you and your wife deal with feelings of hurt in a healthy way? What lessons have you learned about your wife’s heart or about how to be a husband in your years of marriage?
Those are the kinds of things I want to ask–not to push buttons, but to share your insight into how to be a husband.
Chris, I have a proposition for you. Instead of lengthening this post, let me devote a whole post to answering this question in full. Since this series of Colloquies was started by your post “A Wife’s Heart”, how about I end it with a concluding post on “A Husband’s Heart”, or something to that effect? That way, our posts could serve as a set of bookends to the Colloquy series.
This makes sense.
And so, the curtain is drawn on the Summer of Colloquy. All that remains is for me to write a bracketing post, attempting to answer Chris’s three questions:
How do you and your wife deal with feelings of hurt in a healthy way?
What lessons have you learned about your wife’s heart?
What lessons have you learned about how to be a husband in your years of marriage?
I will try to post this next Friday.