When we started fixing our marriage and my wife realized how important sex was both to me and to our relationship, we started improving our physical relationship. We had sex more often, and it was more varied. We both enjoyed the changes.
However, a discussion frequently came up again and again for many years afterwards. It’s one that many couples have who have gone through this process also face. It was always frustrating a frustrating discussion for me because I knew what I wanted to say. I just didn’t know how to say it. How to express what I felt.
So, this is my attempt to do so and hopefully it will help someone else in the same situation.
A changing dynamic in marriage
As the sexual gatekeeping ends, the dynamic changes. Often, due to the culture of sex in the marriage and the attitudes, the higher drive spouse hides their true drive. They tone it down for fear of rejection or reprisal. This often doesn’t just happen with sex, but it happens across the board in the relationship. In order to seem less interested in sex so as not to be perceived as a sex addict, they pull back on all intimacy. They become less affectionate, less interested in communicating, less willing to show and share their emotions.
But, when the marriage changes to allow for more sex, they start to open up more. They start to be more authentic. This, unfortunately, can cause the other spouse to feel overwhelmed. While they typically like the attention in all the other areas of marriage, dealing with the fresh onslaught of sexual desire can be disheartening.
They have made a massive change and for some it can kind of feel like “finally, we fixed it”, only to then be struck with the notion that “we’re not done yet”. That there’s more their spouse expects from them. At some point, many of them end up crying in bed one night saying “I’ll never be good enough for you.” or shouting it as they storm out of the bedroom. They feel they’ll never measure up to what their spouse wants from them as a sexual partner.
It’s completely understandable that they feel this way because as they open up more to sex, the high drive spouse feels more intimate and more willing to make suggestions, requests and share their desires. So, it can feel like the more you change, the more you are expected to change.
A similarity with new Christians
I’ve seen this dynamic occur in new Christians as well. As they learn more and more about God, as they change their life, many of them hit a breaking point. A point where they think “I’ll never be good enough. God will never love me.” And as mature Christians, we know the answer to this. God loves you as you are, and loves you too much to keep you there.
God doesn’t expect perfection from us, but He will continually convict us to strive to be better. To grow closer to Him, for our own sake and for the sake of our relationship with Him. He will love us equally if we do or don’t, but it’s easier for us to be close to Him if we continue to grow.
The same thing goes for spouses
Just as with God, the high drive spouse isn’t expecting perfection. What they want is to be closer, while often still being very happy at the progress that has been made. It’s not that their spouse “isn’t good enough”, it’s just that they feel even more intimate now, and so there is an even stronger desire to be yet more intimate, in all areas. That doesn’t mean it has to happen overnight. In truth, you may never achieve their desired level, just as we’ll never achieve God’s desired level of closeness with us in this lifetime. But that’s not the point, is it?
The point is to be focused on improving intimacy, not in achieving perfect intimacy, a goal we know we can’t meet.
The problem is this can be a difficult concept to convey. I know for us it took years to finally settle this discussion. In fact, it’s only in the last year that I think we’ve resolved it.
In the meantime, any push for “more” can be met with rejection, or hurt feelings, and that’s okay. We need to give our spouses room to feel hurt, to feel rejected, to feel angry and sad and lonely. We also need to give them room to express those feelings. Because, then we can discuss the conflict, we can address the feelings. We can explore what is causing them and how to heal. But, when we bury feelings, whether it’s a desire for our spouse or a sense of inadequacy in meeting those desires, or if we get upset that our spouse has those feelings, then we cheat ourselves and our spouse out of an opportunity to grow closer together. If we do that, then we teach them to be less vulnerable, and thus less intimate and that’s not a goal that anyone really has.
Not many people go into marriage thinking “I really just want to be able to say I’m married without all that intimacy stuff.” We get married because of the intimacy, so that we can experience it on all levels, to deepen and grow it together. But that comes at a cost. Deepening intimacy means becoming more vulnerable and that means we’re going to get hurt.
My point is, a change in the marriage like this is going to take some time. It can take years for both spouses to heal and recover. The wounds that get uncovered along the way can be surprising and deep. You both need to take the time to talk through them, to allow each other to process, to share and to grow more intimate, in all areas.
Use this time to do that, don’t shut each other down
Unfortunately, the natural tendency is to react badly. When our spouse feels hurt, we get defensive. Often we resort to offensive strategies in those cases so the “blame” doesn’t land on us. When we feel bad, we try to turn it around on our spouse, to make it their fault. We end up treating our spouse like an enemy and we adopt an “us vs them” mentality. Instead, we need to address problems as “our problem” and solutions as “what we are going to do about it”.
This issue is no different. Each spouse needs to have the space to be able to talk about how they are feeling, openly and honestly, without fear of being attacked in return. A genuine sharing of feelings, fears and hopes. This will bond the two of you together stronger and make your marriage even more intimate in the long run. We just need to actually listen to what our spouse is saying. It’s difficult to do, but not impossible.
My point is that when you feel you “aren’t good enough” for your spouse, ask them what they really think. Then do them the courtesy of believing the answer they give. Don’t assume they’re lying. It’s not fair to either of you.