This week I coached a woman who hasn’t had sex with her husband in five years.
I’m guessing you might have a lot of thoughts about that.
She did too.
That’s what you do when you’re a human, you observe something in your world and then you tell yourself a story about what it all means.
Her story went like this: “He doesn’t want to have sex with me. I’m pretty sure he cares about me still, but it’s a big problem that we aren’t connecting in that way anymore and I really don’t want to live like this. It’s so embarrassing.”
As we talked, she revealed that he’d had some medical issues with his prostate and that there was some erectile dysfunction happening. He has the pills to help with that, but she believes he doesn’t want to take them.
She also mentioned that they sleep in separate bedrooms.
Have for a while.
When I asked her how that came to be, she said she’d given him an ultimatum (her word, not mine) that went something like this: “If you’re not going to sleep with me, you might as well sleep in another room until you decide whether or not you want to be together like that anymore.”
Now here they are.
Five years without sex.
She’s feeling rejected and she worries about what the future of their marriage might hold.
She also told me over and over that she loves him and wants to stay married, but doesn’t want to feel this terrible anymore.
The way she spoke about her situation made it clear to see that she believes it’s the lack of sex that’s causing her to feel so awful.
Maybe you agree with her.
We’re conditioned in our society to believe that other people’s words or actions have the power to inform, and sometimes even dictate, our emotions.
But that isn’t the case.
Which is such good news.
Because if it were true that other people’s words or actions could influence our emotions, we’d be walking around at the mercy of people around us, hoping they’d be kind enough to let us feel okay that day. So scary. And so disempowering.
The truth is, not having sex for five years, or fifteen years, or even fifty years is totally neutral. It’s neither good nor bad. Until she tells herself a story about it. Then the thoughts that make up her story cause her emotional experience.
And that’s all on her.
Such a powerful position to hold in your life.
I know I may have lost you here, but keep reading…
At the time of our session, my client believed that her husband was “glad for the ultimatum because he now has a free pass to not do something he doesn’t want to do anyway. It’s a great opportunity for him. And he just doesn’t care about how that feels to me.”
Her brain had just accepted all of those painful statements as truth. Even though he’d never said any of them.
Maybe you’re doing something like this in your marriage too. Think back to the last time you felt a disconnect with your husband. Try to recapture the story you told yourself in that moment.
Was it a story filled with curiosity and connection?
Or defensiveness and pain?
Your brain’s job is to protect you from perceived danger. And sometimes it does so by hurting you ahead of time. At least then you won’t be surprised if something bad happens.
The rub is, you may end up suffering unnecessarily.
Let’s get back to my client. It’s possible that she’s right and her husband really is relieved.
But it’s equally possible that he’s telling himself a story that leads him to feel threatened and rejected in the wake of the ultimatum. He wants to have sex again, but he’s scared.
Could be true.
I asked my client how things might be different if she believed the alternate story.
Her brain immediately came up with creative options to baby step back toward connection.
And that felt a little better for her.
She’s on her way.
Your brain is such an amazing tool. It keeps you alive every day and it protects you in most situations.
But sometimes it’s wrong and identifies a threat where there isn’t one.
Mine does it too.
Good news is, if you notice a story that is particularly painful, you always have the option to explore whether or not it’s true.
100%. For sure.
Usually, that’s hard to know. And often, allowing the possibility for a different story to be true is the first step toward the marriage you really, really want.
You don’t have to believe everything you think, Bees.
Think on purpose as often as you can.
Life changing stuff, right there.