A couple weeks ago my wife and I weren’t really connecting sexually – she was processing through some weighty heart issues brought to light through her women’s group, I was pretty swamped with work, and we have three young kids (enough said). We spent the limited time and emotional energy available to us communicating about the things on her heart and as a result, sex was implicitly and silently pushed to the side.
The effect of this was to make me feel somewhat disconnected from my wife, even as we were processing her heart issues together and I was beginning to understanding some aspects of her on a level I hadn’t before. The effect of this effect was then to make me feel ashamed of and irritated with myself.
She’s pouring her heart out to you, can’t you just focus on her and not your penis for once? Together you’re uncovering parts of her heart long hidden, so why is part of your own heart withdrawing like a sullen immature teenager? Didn’t you just write a blog post not long ago about the great sexual connection you were experiencing? Guess you were a little hasty with that one...
About a week into this we made time to have sex one night. As we got into bed I felt so numbed that all I could do was lay there next to her without speaking or moving for a long time. She could obviously tell something was off and as I began to tell her what I was feeling, the shame I had been carrying made me try to downplay it, to instead play the part of a dutiful and attentive husband in light of her own emotional journey at the moment. And then I heard myself say that actually, what I felt like was a pathetic loser, and the dam broke.
I realized that it was in fact because we had been growing in our sexual intimacy in an unprecedented way that the downturn from this growth affected me so profoundly. I had felt such hope for our sexual connection for the first time in almost a year, that the feeling of it being shunted aside and deprioritized once more hit me like a truck. And my desire to support my wife caused me to miss what I was actually feeling, and to interpret my feelings of sadness and hopelessness as selfishness instead.
When I say the dam broke, I mean it literally. I cried like I haven’t in years. I cried without reservation or self-awareness. I cried so hard that while laying on my back on the bed, I had to scoop the tears out of my ears every few seconds because they were filling up so fast. My wife, who is so gracious and soft-hearted, held me tightly and told me how brave I was for sharing my heart with her like I had. And just like that, one of the bleakest moments in our marriage this year turned into one of the most beautiful.
What I learned that night is that there is nothing inside us – no feeling, no emotion, no thought – that shouldn’t be explored and made known. There is a reason why Scripture is full of references to light overcoming darkness – the process of uncovering things concealed makes room for the Holy Spirit to bring truth. A few nights later, my wife told me how glad she was that I had been so vulnerable with her that night and that my openness actually caused a part of her own heart to soften, that another barrier in her against freedom and growth in our sexual intimacy had been removed.
The truth is, we can’t always internally identify what we’re feeling and sometimes when we think we can, we’re only seeing a distorted reflection of what’s really going on. When we open our hearts up to other people, not only do we come to understand ourselves more deeply, it has unique potential to draw them in and build connection that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. This is why the highest values in our group are honesty and vulnerability and how they set the foundation for how we continue to move forward together.