Editor’s note: In their book Surprised by the Healer, Dr. Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow feature first-person stories from women they’ve interviewed. This excerpt from their book comes from a woman named Kathy.
I snuck into bed, barely moving the covers to avoid arousing my sleeping husband. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking I had succeeded, but before long Scott rolled over and cradled me against his body. I automatically tensed and soon one tear slipped from my eye.
I was silently crying out, God, help me! Why can’t I be like other women? Although I tried to go along with my husband’s sexual advances, pain and fear once again won this battle. With a sigh of frustration, Scott rolled away, leaving a gap in our marriage bed. His bride of sixteen years couldn’t perform the one act that brings such closeness to other couples. I’d failed again. As Scott fell asleep, a flood of tears wet my pillow.
What was wrong with me? How had our marriage come to be filled with so much pain?
For the first seven years of our marriage, we enjoyed a pleasurable sex life and often went on getaways to celebrate our love. We brought our son home from the hospital on our fifth wedding anniversary; soon after I became pregnant with our daughter. We were a happy couple with a good marriage, but after I gave birth to our second child, I experienced postpartum pain during intercourse. I told my doctor about the problem, but he could find nothing physically wrong. The severe stinging pain continued and got worse over the next several months. I returned to my doctor, but he said I should just have a glass of wine and relax and then the discomfort would go away. But it didn’t. My perfectionistic tendencies and shame kept me from telling anyone else, including my husband, about the pain I was experiencing. For over two years I hid my pain and tears.
With two toddlers and a full-time job, I felt I was justified in telling Scott that I was too tired for sex. But I couldn’t avoid all of his sexual advances. Every attempt at intercourse felt like a violation, and I soon began to fear and avoid sexual intimacy. In time it became difficult to have intercourse at all. Finally, I broke down and told Scott of my pain. He was afraid to hurt me further and for a time, all intimacy stopped.
Words can never express the depth of communication provided by physical intimacy. Sex helps to say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you.” It physically expresses “I love you,” “We’re in this together,” or “I think you’re beautiful.” In our marriage this kind of communication came to a screeching halt and our relationship suffered greatly.