(Note: in this post, I am addressing husbands who find themselves in Hades-marriages. However, Paul B.’s suggestions and my comments and suggestions apply to any wife who finds herself in the same situation.)
This is the third in a three-part series; here are the links to part 1 and part 2.
With my last two posts, I have been addressing a dirty secret about marriage that we Christians don’t like to talk about, that of truly Ugly! marriages, which rather than “made in Heaven” seem to have been spawned in Hades. These marriages are an embarrassment to us because they mar the image that the church wants to promote, that of marriage as a union “blessed by God”.
The catalyst for my two previous posts were a pair of entries on Paul Byerly’s Generous Husband blog. In his first post, he told of having a nightmare that shook him emotionally, that of being trapped in a Hades-marriage. His next post told of his thoughts on how he would deal with his situation if he were in one. In my last post, I went over the first three suggestions that he made in his post, Dealing With A Nightmare Marriage, and I want to present some thoughts on the rest of his post. To recap, here are the first three of Paul B.’s suggestions:
Suggestion #1: First and foremost I would need a solid relationship with the Lord.
Suggestion #2: I would pray and try to figure out what my reasonable responsibilities to my wife were.
Suggestion #3: Next, I would build a healthy life beyond my marriage. I wouldn’t intentionally exclude her, but I wouldn’t say no to things just because she wasn’t interested.
And so, on to Paul’s next…
Suggestion #4: As to sex, even if I still had a drive I would pull back. If she really wanted it I would feel a biblical obligation, but I wouldn’t seek sex and I wouldn’t jump on offers she made. If I still had a sex drive to deal with I’d take care of that in the shower as needed.
In my first Ugly post, I spoke of spouses approaching their homes with anxiety and trepidation. What does that say about a marriage when one of the two marriage participants dreads coming home? And what does it say about a relationship when a spouse, who would be good-willed, feels that to protect and heal him-/herself, they have to retreat from the marriage bed?
It is sad that that which is supposed to be unitive in a marriage now becomes a point where separation for the purpose of self-protection becomes necessary. Just as the home becomes a place of anxiety, so too the marriage bed becomes a place of avoidance.
I realize that for some of my readers, this decision to pull back from sex is moot, as they already are refused, so it isn’t a big loss. I’ve already written about emotional and physical distancing, in a post entitled Therapeutic Distancing. But Paul B.’s suggestion hints at a danger in attempting to distance for healing, when he writes, If she really wanted it I would feel a biblical obligation, but I wouldn’t seek sex ….
The danger is that distancing may lead to a cooling of ardor. Just as a single ember begins to lose heat and stop burning when it is removed from a fire, so, too, separation and distancing can cause detachment.
In previous posts, I’ve told how I read on a secular forum for sexless marriages, and I’m seeing something that is relative to what Paul B. is saying. On this other forum, I have noticed an increase in discussion of becoming counter-refusers. These men and women in Hades-marriages speak of no longer being attracted to their spouses, but instead experience revulsion at the thought of re-establishing sexual intimacy in their marriage.
Again, what is supposed to have been unitive in a marriage has, instead, become a chasm of separation. Instead of “It’s y’all’s sex life,” it has become, by necessity, “his and hers” sex lives.
So, yes, if need be, Paul’s suggestion to pull back from sex is valid; I would just add that you keep in mind that you need to guard your heart against allowing scar tissue from your healing to damage your sexual relationship down the road.
(Note to any wives reading this post; if you have to distance yourself from your husband, do so! There is no room for “You owe me sex” if sex is one of the ingredients in a Hades stew. But my caution still applies: guard against hardening your heart sexually.)
Suggestion #5: As I began this process I would write her a letter and let her know what I was doing. I would explain I wanted a real, healthy marriage, and was eager to get counselling with her to accomplish that. I would also tell her I would no longer pretend our deeply broken marriage was alright.
Just to sure that we’re on the same page, I’m assuming that this marriage didn’t become ugly right after the “I do’s”, but took some time to develop. And I further assume that you have spoken with your spouse about this nightmare of a marriage, that s/he is not laboring under the illusion that everything is all skittles and beer in your house, and that any letter announcing your belief that the marriage is off the rails won’t be a complete stunner.
Okay. So you’ve talked, you’ve discussed, you’ve argued, and all to no avail; you know that you are in a Hades-marriage, and you need to work on yourself. Paul’s suggestion of a letter is excellent, as it is a way to marshall your thoughts into a cogent statement of intent. You need to be deliberate writing this letter, taking your time in order to craft a dispassionate explanation of your intended actions. This is not not something you just dash off! Presenting your concerns and intentions in the form of a letter as an added benefit; it can be presented without interruption by argumentation.
Recent reading has convinced me that after you have written your explanation, you need to have someone that you trust read over it. When you are writing, past emotions and hurts will be stirred up, and it is quite possible that these emotions will translate into accusations and a recounting of injuries. Instead, have a trusted friend or relative help you edit out any recriminations so that a plain statement of your intentions and motivation comes through.
Paul B.’s further recommendation that you desire counseling for the both of you is good, and if your spouse will join you in attending counseling sessions, all the better. However, it is often the case that requests for couples’ counseling are refused (sometimes by such acidic barbs as “You’re the one the with problem!”), so I would recommend that in your letter, you include a statement that you are going to go to counseling with or without your spouse. S/he is invited to come along, but you are going whether they agree to go or not.
Paul Byerly’s suggestions can be succinctly summed up thusly:
- Get back to God
- Get in touch with yourself
- Get a life (again)
- Get out of bed **
- Get help
There’s a saying that goes, “When you’re in Hell, don’t stop to set up camp; get going!” I see Paul B.’s advice to those of you in a Hades-marriage as the same: get going! One of my favorite aphorisms from Pogo is “Don’t take life so serious, son, it ain’t nohow permanent.” If you are in a Hades-marriage, get going. It doesn’t have to be your permanent abode.
** I was going to say coitus interruptus, but that messed up the alliteration, and I do so love alliteration.