A story of hope, Pt. I

O my goodness, ladies. I am SO EXCITED to finally be sharing a story with you that has touched my heart so much. Please welcome Joan, a higher-drive wife and amazing woman who has been married for over 35 years. As she so eloquently states, she is “spice” and her husband is “love”. She is bravely and faithfully sharing her story, and in doing so she is truly embracing the Godly model for older women found in Titus 2. Her story brought me to tears and gave me hope and strength for my own journey. I pray it will do so for you, too. Joan’s story will be shared in two parts, today & on Friday. So be sure to come back and hear the rest of what she had to say.

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We have been married 36 years and have 4 grown children and 8 grandchildren. I am “spice” and my husband is “love”. When I barely knew how to love he has always loved me and been consistently faithful. Although he has largely operated out of shame and remorse due to his rebellion and involvement in the drug culture of the 70’s, I see freshly every day how blessed I am to have this “new creature in Christ”- a truly godly man. And that it was sin (pride) in me which shaped much of my reaction to the issues of sex in our marriage. God is showing me that my response is my responsibility. That He is a good God, and a Sovereign one. That nothing of our journey here on earth, when offered to Him, is wasted.
We aren’t really sure if I was always the higher drive partner, but we agree that his difficulty with  my needs as a “physical touch” (love language), wreaked havoc in our relationship. We also agree that God used the resulting excruciating pain to make us more like Jesus.
So, my hubby is not averse to my sharing our story- but it is difficult for him because I think most men with seemingly high drive wives can often feel like a failure, not wholly normal. Mine did.
This is my story so far, divided into phases.

Phase 1– The First 10 Years– Beginning of “The Fight”
My father emotionally rejected my mother, and not surprisingly I entered marriage with much ambivalence and fear. My being a Christian and virgin juxtaposed greatly to my husband’s new faith in Christ and his promiscuous past (including a brief, failed marriage). Yet, during that first year, with understandable difficulty trying to figure things out sexually, I was shocked that he only wanted sex about once a week. There were short periods of daily sex, but between those I would inwardly panic- unable to express my feelings of rejection, inadvertently going silent and “tugging at him” at the same time. In those early days he admitted that he had been taught to fear, as many men do, being controlled by a wife, and also that “aggressive girls” were not “good girls.” That this crazy thought was even in his head devastated me!
Then in answer to my desperate prayer during our 2nd year, he made a concerted effort to switch gears, learned how to meet my needs, making sure I was getting all I could out of our times together. Soon our first two children arrived close behind each other and, boom, I was again bombarded with fear. Surely babies would banish our new-found sex life. I was busy and happy being a mom. Why would the suspense of wondering when he would want me again set up a crazy cycle? I was insecure. However, even though his stability and love kept us afloat, by our 10th year his work was demanding- and sex was sporadic. He was puzzled by my unhappiness and confusion. What had I missed learning about sex? While people thought we were the cutest family, secretly I wondered what was wrong with me. Or, what was wrong with him? Was this a  frequency problem? Or was it my response to irrational fear? “The Fight” was on, even though we didn’t call it that– yet.

Phase 2- The 2nd Decade –Crazy Cycle
During this phase my husband developed a myriad of physical issues and mild depression. All this was understandable, given his self-abusive past, yet every time back injury or pain  robbed his interest in sex, I thought he was rejecting me. So a pattern settled in – emotional closeness followed by a physical ailment or emotional/sexual withdrawal. At year 14 and 15 two more babies arrived. My libido dropped while they were toddlers, and fortunately my husband missed the closeness of being connected sexually. He was concerned when I didn’t have a sex drive- and was willing to work at it. But by now I was conflicted. Should I go for the closeness of sexual intimacy, only to be rejected and frustrated? Or should I not want it and operate emotionally detached? I hated the feeling of detachment and I longed for closeness. So even when I did detach, I resented his lapses. These cycles were driving me crazy.

Phase 3- Menopause and Cancer– “Logs” Revealed
At the onset of perimenopause (around age 45) I suddenly got a surge of libido again. It was as if I were a newlywed- only much free-er. I felt I must get better at sex, therefore needed practice. Second, I believed I deserved lots of sex because I had saved myself until my mid-twenties. It was an entitlement mentality brought on by a fresh influx of new fear. This time it was the fear that life was slipping through my fingers–our eldest daughter was getting married! But now my husband was used to sex about once a week, and didn’t respond to my rejuvenated needs. Nearing 50, he thought I was being ridiculous, patently telling me I was “demanding.” Heading into menopause, feeling as though I was finally getting “good” at sex, enjoying it with more abandon, it was utter torment to be rejected– worse than ever before. I was now more able to pour out my heart to him, expressing the deep yearning I had for him, and when he didn’t respond, devastated, not being able to sleep, I often roamed the house at night. “The Fight” was no longer the elephant in the room. It was identified by both of us as the intruder who wouldn’t leave.
Where was God now? I blamed Him- I blamed both of them. I began to see that my relationship to the Lord was under its most rigorous attack or test. Would I trust God with my life, my needs? My husband was a good provider, a good father, and a good friend. Of course he had faults. But by any normal standards I knew he also would be considered a good lover. I just couldn’t see then that this whole mess sprang from me being “all about me.” I had made an idol of my needs at his expense. Sex and romance had actually been idols from before we were married. Mired in grief I thought the flow of tears would never end and I’d be carried to the morgue from a puddle one day. I was actually becoming engulfed by blackness— bitterness. During this time we sought counseling, never quite able to resolve our confusion in this “fight.”
When breast cancer arrived, we were totally unprepared. Yet hubby sprang into action, working diligently to care for me, selflessly thinking the sex issue could be revisited later. Really mature thinking. But for me, it was so much deeper. Through the surgeries and treatments we continued to have sex occasionally because I insisted on it– supposedly for him. Ironically, I cried after each time. I couldn’t explain my complicated emotions about sex while sick. Then in the middle of cancer treatment, God did begin an amazing work. Through a counselor, He opened my eyes to the log in them. This man told me I wouldn’t get well unless I changed my thinking about my problems. (I had secretly asked God why He would heal me….for this husband? Why? That’s how serious my bitterness had become!) I asked God to remove the huge log to see the gift of tremendous moral support my husband had given– more support than any woman could hope for.

Thus I began to dig out of the darkness. Even though I still couldn’t grasp how my sexual needs had to be placed on the altar, I willed to become grateful for the man God gave me, grateful for all the good things I did have! More than could ever be listed. And I did get well. Our home became more enjoyable. Nonetheless, besides the physical aftermath of breast cancer, I came out on the other side with “heart” scars.

Please come back on Friday to hear the conclusion of this incredible story. Joan shares how God is dealing with her heart scars, the challenges brought about by aging, and how she is walking in the light with her marriage & marriage bed.

I love each of you ladies, and I hope and pray that this story impacts your heart as much as it has mine.

Annabel

4 thoughts on “A story of hope, Pt. I

  1. Thanks so much for your vulnerability, Joan. I can’t quite identify with all that you’ve shared but agree that the sexual relationship can be a complicated one–especially with the transitions of life. I know of some who struggle with issues you described and will refer them to your article. I’m certain it will give them great insight and comfort. Thanks also to you, Annabel, for sharing this helpful story.

  2. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find these stories so refreshing. Identifying so many similar situations in my own life, gives me hope. Even just yesterday I noticed I’m getting ‘grouchy’ again. I’ve got to keep the big picture in mind. Looking forward to part 2!

  3. This really resonated with me..We are in year 12..Personally I don’t think sex and romance and wanting that level of intimacy with your partner equates in no way as an idol..It is a vital part of marriage..I believe we should be meeting one another needs even when our needs are not the same..I am struggling..My husband is similar, great provider,loving father good friend but our marital bed is lacking and I feel rejected and angry alot.

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