I lay still, eyes wide open in the dark, listening as his breath slows, quiet and steady, just like him. His sleep-heavy arm pulls me close.
Too close. Too long. I can’t stay there one second longer.
I turn slow, rolling over and away, then freeze as he stirs, then shifts back to his side of the bed.
I stretch out, claim my space, hide from his closeness.
It hasn’t always been like this, me tolerating his physical affection and then retreating to my own space. The very idea would have confounded me thirteen years ago.
Growing up, I’d been insatiably curious about sex and intimacy. This was fueled in part by natural sexual desire and in part by all the warnings, the mystery, the forbidden-ness of it. I’d read everything I could get my hands on about sex: sneaking romance novels home from the library, skimming Cosmopolitan magazine sex columns at the hair salon, and hiding in my closet with a flashlight and one of my parents’ books on marriage.
When we married, I threw myself into our marriage bed with enthusiasm. My husband and I were crazy about each other. We loved spending time together and talked about everything. I believed him when he said I was attractive. Being together came easy.
Fast-forward a few years, a few pounds, a few stretch marks.
I don’t recognize myself:
…alongside the exhausted mania of raising a medically-fragile child and the self-doubt of a mother-shaped body, a self-conscious shyness crept into our marriage. My body image was eroded by the airbrushed images of perfection, the stark contrast in my mirror, and the dirty job of motherhood. The sight of sagging skin and the smell of drooled formula clouded my senses. I stopped believing my husband’s compliments.
…Clingy children touched me flat empty. No more touching, not one more needy human being. I thought I could last the rest of my lifetime without sex.
…Depression, grieving when our medically-fragile daughter died, and doubt stole my joy.
It was a perfect storm of shame.
Instead of confiding in my husband, I hid. Failing to believe my husband spread like a cancer. When doubt rocked my faith’s core, I kept it a secret. I didn’t trust my husband to love all of me, including the ugly and the scary. I forgot that we can love and be attracted to a whole person, not just the body that wraps our souls.
I underestimated mistrust’s ripple effect. When you don’t trust someone, you can’t be vulnerable with them. And nothing’s more vulnerable than sex.
My sex problem is a symptom of a deeper problem.
Repairs have come slow. With the help of counseling, I saw that my husband gave me no reason to mistrust him. I’ve gained the courage to overcome my fear and share with him some of my ugly secrets. I am practicing the words in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love believes all things,” choosing to take his words at face value. God has blessed me beyond what I deserve with an amazing man who has waited for me and responded with unconditional love.
It’s a daily struggle to choose gratitude for this body, and the children God gave me through it, but I’m gradually growing more content wearing this skin. Maybe one day I’ll even be comfortable in it.
Bit by bit, as we build mutual trust, we uncover the tools we need to cultivate greater intimacy. It will take our lifetime, but I have new faith, not just in our eros, but also in his agape love.
I still like some space in bed. But today, I can enjoy fading into sleep nestled together like spoons.