Question: I have been married for eleven years to a woman who has been emotionally and verbally abusive to me when it comes to our sexual intimacy, particularly areas of my performance. I saved myself for the woman I married but she had plenty of experience before I even knew her. She no longer puts me down or compares me to other men or does other abusive things to me during the times when I do not perform up to snuff like she’s used to but I am still paralyzed by the fear of condemnation, shame and abandonment. I fear if I do not live up to her demands, which she still shows frustration about, I will lose my dignity as man and will wind up unwanted and alone.
My question is this. Everyone tells me that the first step I need to take is to stop taking responsibility for her selfish and abusive reactions when I don’t live up to her demands. I realize that I have been taking her words to heart by telling myself, “She has told you that she never had problems like this with other men. So if you were just not you, if you were not the defective, inferior man that you are, she would be happy.” I want to believe that is a lie, but on some level, I still believe it is true. Wouldn’t she be happy with another man who was better attuned to her sexual demands? She was before it seems. Please help- I’m suffering horribly inside.
Recently she said she was unsure if she wanted to still be with me because “I just don’t love her the way she needs.” I’ve ramped up some things and learned more ways to please her in the bedroom and she seems happier but in the meantime, I’m dying inside. The pressure, the shame, the fear, feeling held hostage. Can you help?
Answer: There is so much in your question I was reluctant to even tackle it in my blog because I don’t think I can adequately address your concerns in the space I have to write. But I’m going to try to give you some things to think about and hopefully it will be a start. First, I want you to know that you are not alone and I applaud your courage in being able to write and ask for help on such a sensitive topic.
You wrote: “Wouldn’t my wife be happier with another man who was better attuned to her sexual demands? She was before it seems.”
I’m not so sure that’s true or she would have probably married one of those other men instead of you. Although your wife has said some very damaging things, please be aware that Satan is also at work here and is using a particularly sensitive area for men to attack your personhood. You are a whole package, not just a sexual machine. There are many things that make up a good husband and a successful marriage and being a good lover and having a mutually enjoyable sex life may be one of them, but is never the whole picture.
I have female clients who tell me that they have a great sex life and still have a terrible marriage. Their husband may be good in bed but he doesn’t help with the kids, he doesn’t listen to their feelings, they can’t have a conversation, he can’t hold a job or be wise with finances or is spiritually dead. As I often say in marriage counseling, “No person comes to a marriage holding all 52 cards in a deck. There is no perfect wife, no perfect husband. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We can improve, we can grow, but there will never be a person who will make us happy 100% of the time. If that’s what we’re looking for, we will always be disappointed.”
I believe that one of the reasons God warns us not to be sexually intimate before marriage or even outside marriage is so that we don’t have other experiences from which to compare. It is very painful to be measured against someone else in such an intimate area as sexual performance. Your wife is acting selfishly and sinfully against you when she criticizes your lovemaking skills and I’m glad she’s stopped doing that now. But from what I read, you still can’t get her hurtful words out of your own head and when she still demands more or says you don’t love her the way she needs, it seems that you are taking the entire responsibility for a good sex life and a good marriage on your shoulders. A healthy and thriving marriage takes two people who are committed to working together expressing mutual care, mutual respect and mutual honesty.
Your self-esteem and self-image have really been impacted by this pain. I don’t know what you were like before marriage but you say that you often tell yourself, “So if you were just not you, if you were not the defective, inferior man that you are, she would be happy.” You are defining your worth as a human being entirely through your wife’s sexual satisfaction. That is not healthy or even true. When we allow someone to define us, they have the power to control us.
And, looking at things from a slightly different angle, is it possible that her expectations of satisfying sex are unrealistic, or even sinful? Is it possible that her previous sexual experiences have caused some damage to her own ability to have sexual satisfaction in a way that most couples would enjoy? For example, I’ve worked with individuals who have told me that they aren’t able to achieve orgasm without including some sort of sadistic element to their sexual experience, or others who have said that unless they do xyz, they aren’t able to be satisfied.
Women have also shared with me that sometimes they feel in adequate in the bedroom when their husband’s have been addicted to porn. There is no way they can live up to someone else’s sexual fantasy life.
I’m a little troubled by your wording when you say, “pretty much everybody says I need to stop taking responsibility for her selfish and abusive reactions when I don’t live up to her demands.” They’re right, but who is everybody? In other words, who have you talked about this problem with? Are you being wise in who you share this with? It’s important that both you and your wife recognize that your marriage has deeper problems than just her sexual satisfaction and these other areas need to be addressed and worked on. I hope you are taking steps to receive marriage counseling as well as getting some individual counseling for yourself.
Your fear of being unwanted and alone keeps you stuck in some ways. Why are you so sure that if your wife no longer wants you, no one else will? There are many men and women who are rejected by their spouse these days and after grieving those hurts and losses, are able to move on and establish new relationships with other people. They did not allow the rejection of one person to define who they were. (i.e. I’m worthless, a loser, no good, unloveable) This is something you must work on changing and you can do this with or without your wife’s help. God is the one who defines us, not another human person.
I wish I could say more, but instead I want to invite other readers who have gone through something similar to share their journey with you.
This week’s question: When reckless words have damaged the very core of your identity, what have you done to heal? How have the truths of God’s word become more real than the hurtful words of another person?
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