Tag Archive | intimacy

I Hope I Never Stop Being Surprised

Today I am celebrating another victory. Of mine. In my journey to heal from the devastation and abuse inflicted by my husband’s sex addiction and intimacy anorexia. My husband might be celebrating too. Or maybe not. I don’t really know for sure. But it doesn’t really matter because although we were together, this part of our story is about me.

I felt eager anticipation for the weekend’s planned events. And excitement and joy as they unfolded. My heart was at peace. The usual clamor of my conflicting thoughts and beliefs still……

A couple of months ago, my husband purchased tickets for us to attend a concert in a nearby city. The show was scheduled for a Friday night, which meant there would be no work commitments for either of us the following day. My mind began dancing with the possibility of making the date a weekend getaway. Although we often go camping, we have never spent a weekend in a hotel being city tourists. The desire was stirring in my heart to go big on this one. But I was apprehensive to suggest the idea to my husband. In our old marriage, the proposal would have been entirely unreasonable and a long list of excuses provided for why it was impossible. My heart had been wounded so many times before by his unwillingness to spend time or money with me. I wasn’t worth it. Eventually I believed it and stopped pleading for his attention. But now. But now, my wishes kept bubbling to the surface. And I dared to hope that my husband would be a willing participant in a weekend getaway.

I fully expected my request to stay in a hotel after the concert and go to a spa the next day to require some persuasion. To my surprise, my husband responded positively with little hesitation. Nonetheless, I was proud of my accomplishment. I had acknowledged and placed enough value on something that my heart desired to gather the courage to risk conflict and rejection to ask for it.

My next success occurred the night of the concert as I fully allowed myself to relax in my husband’s presence, and feel and express appropriate emotions. I was excited. I was happy. That doesn’t happen often. I haven’t learned to entirely act and speak without caution. The fear of my husband’s disapproval and emotional abandonment still faintly lingers. But that night, I felt safe to be me. In a crowd of thousands, with my husband at my side, I enjoyed my own company.

The real breakthrough came the following day. And I didn’t even realize it until later that evening. Which is what made the victory that much more beautiful. It was natural. It required no mindfulness. It was just me unexpectedly, effortlessly and genuinely being a version of me that I had never met before.

We went to an outdoor thermal cycle spa. A place where we were both unfamiliar with proper etiquette and procedures. A place filled with other couples and women. Where I was required to wear a bathing suit. All day. A situation ripe for producing discontent, anxiety and fear in my heart.

But it didn’t. Not even one little bit for one little moment. Normally, I am distressed and highly self conscious every time I wiggle into a bathing suit. Admittedly, I am just as likely as any man to create a ranking of every female body in the vicinity. And of course, I lose more than I win. But somehow, I was completely comfortable with my body and paid no attention to its appearance or to anyone else’s. It was the first time I can recall knowing the freedom of personal body acceptance.

It was also effortless to control my thoughts and the need to see if, and where, my husband’s eyes were roaming. Every time I looked at him, it was because I wanted to look at him. And always his eyes were on me. Smiling.

I also felt a deeper contentment and connection with my husband that dissolved my tendency to compare our relationship to other ones. There was no longing in my heart to be more like them and less like us. The physical closeness and awareness of our bodies without any sexual pressure, hopes or discouragement was very sensual and created a unique physical and emotional intimacy that was new to both of us.

What I learned as my insecurities and hang ups melted away was that there is something much better waiting to fill that spot. Confidence. Courage. Adventure. Passion. Joy. Acceptance. Love. I found them all last weekend. Most notably in the cold water pool, after emerging from the sauna, with my hand covering my mouth so my gasps and screams wouldn’t violate the whispering only rule. It all felt incredibly daring and triumphant for someone (me!) who refuses to wear a bathing suit and go swimming at the beach in July.

My husband stood there grinning. Cheering on this new me. I wowed both of us. That’s what love can do. Our love. But most importantly, the love of our God who has more than restored our marriage. He has redeemed and rebuilt it beginning with the transformation and healing of the man and woman within it.

My husband is a new creation. But so am I. I have witnessed God’s relentless pursuit of my husband’s heart. As for me, God is mending bruises and fractures within my soul that I didn’t even know needed healing. My transformation looks different than his. But it is just as real. Just as astonishing. Just as beautiful.

Maybe one day I will stop being so surprised at what new thing God is doing in my life. But I hope not. ❤

Blessed is she that has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her. Luke 1:45

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Pray Anyway

You don’t have to believe in God to pray. That’s what our Sexual Recovery Therapist told my husband as he outlined the sex addiction recovery program my husband was about to begin. Having a day bookended by prayer wouldn’t have fazed me too much. As a Christian, I didn’t spend as much time talking to God as I could or should have. Twice a day would have been a stretch. But something I would have readily agreed to as a part of my recovery program.

And yet it wasn’t me seeking healing from a pornography addiction, compulsive masturbation and intimacy anorexia. It was my husband. A man who did not believe in the existence of God.

I was highly doubtful that my non-believing husband would agree to pray. My eyes had been glued to our counsellor’s face, grasping every bit of hope his words were offering us. The hope began to fade as I apprehensively glanced at my husband, anticipating his resistance to this instruction to talk to God every morning and every night. He was hesitant.  I saw the conflict on his face. Desiring freedom, but struggling to accept that prayer was part of the answer.

Our counsellor recognized the wrestling occurring in my husband’s heart. As he offered the encouragement that “You don’t have to believe in God to pray,” my husband slowly nodded his head and agreed to the plan.

I don’t know if my husband did pray every morning and evening. Or if he did, what words and emotions those awkward prayers must have included. What I do know is that twenty six days later, my husband asked me if I would begin praying together with him as part of an exercise to rebuild intimacy in our marriage.

I avoided answering the question. On my own, I pleaded, cried, spewed to God throughout my day. Now it was me wrestling with this strange idea to pray together. Although my husband had begun attending church with me the previous weeks, he was not yet ready to accept his need for a Saviour. And even though he was fully embracing his recovery program, my heart was unsure of just what exactly I was committing myself to by agreeing to establish spiritual intimacy while my pain was still so raw and fresh and our future unknown.

He pressed for an answer. His vulnerability was both endearing and unnerving. He was opening his heart to me, and to the world, and inviting me to do the same. A risky endeavour for both of us. That he was willing to take. Which, in my mind, distorted the dynamics of our relationship.  It had always been much easier and more comfortable for me to portray my husband as the villain. But now, as his character was consistently shifting in a positive direction, it ultimately required me to adjust alongside him lest we exchange roles and I become the monster in his place. I said yes.

He took my hands in his. And then his voice led the way in uniting our three hearts together in one intimate conversation. It wasn’t as scary as I had anticipated. I faltered in my words. In expressing my true feelings and thoughts. It wasn’t an eloquent prayer. But it was us. And I told my husband that night that even if we don’t say the right words, God knows what the prayer in our heart is.

We prayed together the next night too. And the following one. And for every day since that pivotal night on January 29, 2015. Even when circumstances physically separate us, praying jointly remains a steadfast component of our bedtime routines. By phone, text or email it happens.  One of the most loving, romantic gestures I have received was a prayer tucked in an envelope and carefully placed on my pillow the first time we were apart. Another cherished memory was praying together in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean in the minutes before midnight to ensure our commitment to praying together daily didn’t lapse because of a time zone change.

And then after seventeen months of praying daily together, a hiccup occurred. And this time, only one of us was able to pray. But it was enough…….

My husband was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Conscious, but with complete vision loss and confusion. When I arrived in the emergency room, and was given the opportunity to talk to him, I approached the bed, anticipating that my arrival would calm him. I gently told him I was there. He asked me who I was. I said “Cynthia.” He didn’t know who that was. I said “Your wife.” And he replied that he did not know my voice. He became even more upset and agitated than he already was and began to cry.

I started praying out loud for him. Right there in that emergency room. And as my words flowed, I watched the tension ease from his body and relax.

The next day, he told me that when I started praying, that was when he knew it was me. His heart and altered mental state recognized me by the words and cadence of my prayer. That was only possible because we had been praying together daily. And because I had learned how to pray out loud and was bold enough to use the new skills God had been developing in me. A year and a half earlier, my husband never would have known I was at his side. Or that God was.

My husband was heart broken in the following days that he had missed praying with me that night. I assured him that he hadn’t. I may have been the only one who spoke the words, but our hearts were united with each other and God.

Pray anyway. It just may lead to your own blessing and miracle. 

Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. 1 Chronicles 16:11

I Don’t Want to be Strong

I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want anyone to tell me to be strong. I don’t even want anyone to tell me that I am strong. In my experience, if that character trait is being mentioned, and I need to muster courage and resiliency to get through a situation, then something must be difficult. And distressing. And quite possibly, wrong.

Certainly there is a well meaning encouragement behind the words. An offering of support. Perhaps even given as a compliment. Or a reassurance of hope and the calming of a storm.

Early in my recovery from sexual betrayal trauma and the effects of my husband’s sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, I was tired of holding it all together. I didn’t know how to. And the thought of fighting the destruction was exhausting and overwhelming.

Hearing the exhortations to be strong made me want to scream “But I don’t want to be strong!” I just wanted to be. Whatever that was, I just wanted to be. I wanted someone else to be strong for me. Or better yet, to not have to be strong at all.

If my husband wasn’t a sex addict, I wouldn’t have to be strong. If I hadn’t lived in a sexless marriage devoid of love and affection for twenty years, I wouldn’t have to be strong. If I remained silent and willing to live in an emotionally abusive marriage, I wouldn’t have to be strong. If. If. If.

I thought I had to be strong. And I couldn’t do it. I felt defeated. I remember waking up in the morning already beaten down by the fog of a day covered in pain and uncertainty. My prayer before I arose from bed was not a petition for God to provide me with strength and courage to tackle my day, heal my wounds or save my marriage. My prayer was much simpler, honest and broken. “God, please hold me today.”

God, please hold me today. And He did.

I didn’t have to be strong after all. In my brokenness and weakness, God was more than able to step in and be strong for me. And what I found was that as I ceased fighting, and rested in God’s arms, He began to infuse me with His strength. It just came because it wasn’t mine. I didn’t have to put on my big girl pants because God put His armour on me instead.

God made me ready for my battle of restoration. My Defender. My Protector. The Mountain Maker. The Ocean Tamer. The One who put my life back into place when I thought it was falling apart. The One who showed me that He really does bring beauty from the ashes.

This would be a nice, tidy ending to the story now. But……that’s not how it always works. At least not for me. Sometimes I forget and try to do things on my own strength again. Someone may tell me that I am a strong woman, and that makes me feel proud of the recovery work I have done. I feel affirmed that someone has noticed the changes in me. Sometimes I forget that it wasn’t my own strength that brought me to this place of healing and restoration. Or worse, sometimes I don’t forget, I just don’t acknowledge the One who carried me through and lifted me above my circumstances.

Recently, as my husband and I have committed to improving our emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy, I have found myself once again relying on my own strength. And that isn’t working very well for me. I am struggling. Doing the one step forward, two steps back dance. I pray. But sometimes it isn’t with all my heart. Sometimes it isn’t with a surrendered heart.

God’s grace is sufficient for me. If I let it be. His power is made perfect in my weakness. If I give Him control. But I am still a teeny bit scared of trusting my husband with all of my heart and body. Which also means I’m not trusting God to protect me either.

I have the same power living in me that rose Jesus from the dead, and yet I stifle that power even when God has proven Himself faithful over and over and over again. Even when the battle has already been won.

Now, it is time for the tidy, happy ending, but I don’t have one to this part of my story yet. But it is coming.

God, please hold me today.

O Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress. Isaiah 33:2

Restoring Sexual Intimacy After Betrayal

I almost made it through last week’s D-Day anniversary and birthday celebrating. Of course, that depends somewhat on how you define celebrating. There wasn’t a party or a cake, but since Halloween is a day of significance in my story of betrayal, there were costumes, smiles and mini chocolate bars involved.

I regret telling my husband that Halloween was a triggering day for me. He did not know that until this week. Now we will both experience a layer of darkness to this holiday that has nothing to do with scary or sexy costumes, trick or treaters, pranks or stomach aches from eating too much candy.

My husband and I have chosen not to reveal our triggers to each other. We decided that knowing these things provided little or no benefit to either of us in our healing and recovery from sex addiction and each other’s sexual betrayals. There may be times it is necessary to communicate when something is bothering us, but for the most part, details have remained unspoken. It does not cause me to wonder or obsess. It allows me the freedom to walk beside my husband not worrying about who or what may be vying for his attention. I am not responsible for his recovery, nor can I control it. There is no point in me watching and questioning everything he does, or heaping more pain upon myself by avoiding places and situations that I have always enjoyed. I will save my energy for my own recovery and growing a healthy me.

To explain my emotional instability and edginess the last few days, I could have just indicated I was being triggered. That would have been enough said. I instantly felt remorseful and defeated for providing details that hurt my husband but that also made me feel like I had just fallen backwards in my own recovery. Because, truthfully, although I was being triggered, that wasn’t the main cause of my unhealthy behaviour. It was just the easiest excuse.

I was anxious. I was scared. I was feeling challenged and stressed. I was taking a risk. A risk that I initiated, but nonetheless, was about to stretch me thin as I began picking at the scabs mending the sexual wounds of my life and marriage.

I assume that rebuilding and restoring genuine sexual intimacy after a relationship has been ravaged by a porn addiction, affair, or any sexual betrayal or infidelity is challenging for many. I say assume, because apart from my own experience, I have heard or read very little about it. The silence roars and adds to the shame and stigma of the struggle. It is incomprehensible to me that other couples affected by sinful sexual behaviours aren’t having difficulty returning to the mutually fulfilling emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy of sex as God created, designed and intended it to be in marriage.

I have suffered immensely through twenty five years of a sexless marriage filled with neglect, rejection and emotional abuse. In our case, we are not rebuilding, but building something that we have never had. The inexperience and awkwardness of new lovers; the harmful and destructive effects of a porn addiction; the baggage of an affair and past sexual history and abuse; and age and health issues combine for a long, slow process of recovering healthy sexuality and intimacy.

I have become frustrated, disappointed, discouraged and impatient. I am angry at God. I have never received the gift of sexual intimacy in my marriage, and even now, with the wonderful healing and recovery we have received individually and in our marriage, it remains elusive. And that makes me cry. And it made me cry last week. I grieve for what I have lost. I grieve for what has not been returned. And when I dare to hope for more, my heart aches.

Last week, my husband and I bravely took a giant leap of faith for our sexual recovery. We have begun working through a book, 31 Days to Great Sex, by Christian author Sheila Wray Gregoire, which has daily readings and challenges designed to improve emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy in marriage. I am nervous, and it scares the heck out of me, but feels so right at the same time. I feel empowered by the format that is holding us accountable to having uncomfortable conversations, while providing a safe environment to do so. I am proud of myself, for both of us, for persevering and pushing through the hard stuff in search of God’s complete plan for marriage.

God sees my tears. And He cares. God knows the desires of my heart. He put them there. I am learning through this process that mutually fulfilling sexual intimacy is a gift in marriage. None of us are entitled to it. I try to reconcile in my mind that it may be something I never experience. That makes me sad.

I am holding on to the truth that God is a Redeemer. I must believe that He either is, or He isn’t. He either redeems, or He doesn’t. And if I trust God is a Redeemer, then I must have confidence that He is able to redeem all of my marriage. Not 50%, not 80%, but 100%. If redemption seems to halt somewhere along the way, it is not because God stopped. It is because I did. I don’t want to do that anymore.

As I wept and prayed last week, my Heavenly Father spoke these words to my heart:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

I am listening. I am trusting. I have hope in my Redeemer.

Prayer blocks

Why is it so hard to pray?

The typical excuses apply.  He already knows.  Why bother Him?  He’s too busy.  I’m too busy.  But for wounded hearts there’s something more.  Our struggle with intimacy also (or maybe especially) applies to our relationships with God.  When someone we trust violates our trust we initiate measures to protect ourselves.  Accusations take root deep within us.  Accusations against other people, against ourselves, against God.  Peace dissolves.  We prepare for the worst.  Our prayers, if we pray at all are cynical lists of demands and complaints.  Fodder for a large, impersonal ‘suggestion box’ in the sky.

Yet kept alive within our hearts a courageous voice cries out for something more.  To share ourselves without fear.  To know.  To be known.  To emerge from the complicated system of devices we’ve invented for the purposes of relating and interacting.  To be ourselves and not to be alone.