Men, I've seen it in your faces. An element of confusion mixed with moments of suffocating helplessness. You don't want to expose your girl, but you also aren't sure how to ask if this is just what her new normal is. I know it could be awkward for me to open up this conversation with you in person, but I hope my perspective can be of some assistance to you here in the safety of the web press.
The man who feels this way may have been married only briefly, or it may have been for years. Either way, he can vividly recall the woman he first caught a glimpse of, the woman he dated, the woman he proposed to and the woman he vowed to be with forever. He was drawn to her because of her bright smile and light-hearted attitude. But, her spontaneity and good-natured teasing have somehow turned into low-level micro-managing with a dash of manipulation. Her voice sounds like it has a callous on it somehow. He asks her what is wrong, but she doesn't really know. Instead of initiating connection and intimacy like she used to, now she can hardly respond.
He might be thinking, "Maybe this is just what marriage does to people? Maybe the rumors are true and the ' ol' ball & chain' has weighed us down? But,.. we were planning to defy that trend!"
That man is asking, "What happened to my wife? And, will she ever come back?"
The short answer? Yes. It is possible.
The long answer? It could take some time. And dedication.
Because great is the depth of every human heart and we cannot be unraveled by a simple formula. Don't pretend you can and you will make it a lot further down the path to wholeness than those who believe ignorance is bliss.
There are three things that I want to share with you:
1. It is impossible to make it through life unscathed.
You need to remember that your wife has been facing pressures since before she can remember. (I know you have too, but this isn't about you right now.) And these pressures are not just "I should get good grades" pressures. Women were designed for relational safety and permanence. It is what drives her to hope for a "bestie", to dream of an engagement ring, and to read random articles titled, "How to Keep Your Man Happy"
Women all over the world face the pressure of "Keep your mess together or you will end up alone." It is a menacing threat that follows her; some days the voice is louder than others.
She has been receiving a whispered message from media, magazines, and matriarchs that tells her, "Be as sexy and skinny as possible. Be as self-fulfilled and independent as possible. Be as alluring and mysterious as possible. Don't be needy, yet try to be accessible. If you play it right and attain a certain level of perfection, your dreams will come true."
But, let's be honest - where has this left her?
Checking over her shoulder and checking down at the scale. Pretending and parading.
At the very least, she feels exhausted and uncertain. And this isn't even taking into consideration the heart aches involved in broken relationships or in random sexual encounters that left her with unanswered questions.
She has probably been called names and quite likely been victim to crimes. She has witnessed and felt things that she wishes she hadn't, and has watched her friends buckle beside her under a similar pressure. She may have hidden herself in buckets of icecream, Netflix series and online habits that she doesn't want to talk about.
And then she met you.
2. In order to handle pressures, pain and sorrow, we need a safe place to go through a healing process.
And she felt safe with you. Safe enough to say "yes" when you asked her for coffee. Safe enough to say "yes" when you asked her to be your wife. And now in the strong fortress of the happily-ever-after of marriage, she has let her guard down enough to stop performing. She may not know why, but something in her is finally being honest: "I'm not okay."
The trouble is that in our society, we have also become convinced that sadness and pain are an indication of weakness. Even when we were children, to cry in front of our peers was a humiliating experience. So, we learned to only cry in solitude. Eventually many even harden themselves to that option. Vulnerability is too risky.
After all, we can't appear needy. And sorrow is needy.
But now, in the commitment of an even semi-healthy marriage, the pain in a woman's heart finally gets its chance to surface. She stands in the perfect storm of a cold front of the past colliding with the high-pressure system of the present. And you are the closest bystander to the wreckage.
I'm so sorry. That must be so difficult and confusing.
Now is the time that your wedding vows need to become your creed. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. That wasn't just physical health you were talking about, right? I guess NOW you realize that.
You get to choose to be the husband that holds steady and creates a healthy atmosphere for your bed-ridden wife. She will have her own choices to make to get through this. You can't control her though; you only get to control yourself.
3. If you will remember that her primary needs are relational safety and permanence, you have insight to help her navigate through the storm.
Here are some practical ways that you can apply this truth:
You can redefine manhood for her. If she has been hurt or rejected by a man in the past, she may have fear or sorrow that is inadvertently being assigned to you. I know you cannot be perfect, but you can be consistent. And when you make mistakes, you can be humble, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. You can do what is RIGHT instead of what is EASY. You can be a protector instead of a predator. You can value her for who she is as a person and not just what she can do for you, either sexually or otherwise.
You can nourish her soul with your kind words. Like a tree that reaches for sunlight, a woman's heart leans towards affirmation and intimacy. She may be afraid to soften her heart for fear of being hurt again, but over time your words can wash away the filth and pressure of the past. As the Bible says, "Don't be selfish; don't look out only for your own interests." Look her in the eyes; tell her the treasure that you see in her. Affirm her talents, affirm her beauty, affirm her influence, affirm her efforts. Don't give to her because she necessarily deserves it; give to her because you love her.
Guard her from those unrealistic, cruel pressures.
Start to learn what sources amplify the message of "Be perfect or be alone" and don't allow them entry into your marriage. Even on the hardest days, in the tensest moments when you don't understand what she needs, assure her, "I don't know what to do right now, but I will not quit. We will figure this out." You may even visiblysee the weight come off her shoulders. She was made for commitment.
Understand if her heavy heart sometimes can't connect in sexual intimacy. When facing stress, statistically men will tend to want more sex. When facing stress, women will tend to want less sex. It would be an understatement to say that this is a tricky difference to navigate through!
You will need to be understanding of each other, but for the context of a hurting wife, husbands will need to be very patient and tender. You cannot pout if you don't get your way.
Remember that ultimately, a man doesn't just want the bodyof his wife; he wants her whole heart in it too. That takes trust.
And trust takes time.
And for the record, sometimes heartfelt communication is the best type of foreplay.
Walk with her into the processes of healing.
It can be a scary journey, unearthing the shame and memories from the past. Tell her that you will stand with her during that process, no matter how long it takes.
Ask someone on the outside of your situation for wisdom and advice, for prayer, or to be a listening ear. Read reputable books together, find resources, or join a support group.
Don't let pride or fear hold you back!
Get away together when you can; date her. Don't be afraid of her tears, and open your arms to her weary body. I believe that over time she will learn how to put into words what she has gone through and what she needs. As she does, the poison will be extracted from her heart. She will need to choose forgiveness over and over again in order to overcome; model forgiveness in your home. Be merciful to those who do not deserve it.
Take the risk and ask if you can pray for her. Put your hand gently on her shoulder, pray and carry some of that burden away to Jesus on her behalf.
There is so much hope, dear friends. We serve a God who doesn't go to bed at night but stays awake, watching over us. He gave His own Son for us! Why would He spare any other precious resource of heaven? A miracle is possible. The knots can become untangled and the maze can be deciphered. Our precious Jesus has done all that is necessary to bring us onto the Lord's team. If the Lord is for us, who could be against us?!
Men, don't forget who your girl really is, underneath it all. She needs someone who remembers and can remind her when she forgets.