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We Were Roommates, Not Lovers

Back from the Brink: A real-life story of a marriage in recovery

I was a very disappointed bride on our honeymoon and throughout our first years of marriage. I had a "soap opera" idea of what my wedding night was going to be like. It turned out to be a disappointment. My husband didn't seem comfortable having sex, and I didn't feel like I was a desirable bride on our honeymoon night—or during the rest of our sexless honeymoon.

After our honeymoon, we got into a comfortable routine with each other. We went to work and then came home and went out to play and have fun. We really got along well and were each other's best friend. We had the same interests and goals, enjoyed talking to each other for hours and liked each other's sense of humor. However, when we were in bed, I felt alone and rejected. I couldn't understand why my husband didn't want to have sex with me, except maybe once a week. It was as if we had two marriages. The day marriage was fun, easy, and agreeable, while the nighttime marriage was strained.

My husband's excuse was that he was too tired to have sex. I could tell in his eyes that it hurt him deeply when I would criticize him for not wanting sex. He would reassure me that he loved me and found me attractive; he just didn't know what was wrong with him.

I felt bad for complaining, because in fact, he was every woman's dream of the "sensitive" husband. He would kiss me, though not passionately, hug me, cuddle up to me, whisper sweet words in my ear, send me cards, bring me roses—everything but have sex.

This issue became such an emotionally charged one that it started seeping into our previously "perfect" daytime relationship. So we sought Christian marriage counseling. The counselor said that the way we interacted with each other was kind, fair, and loving. He could not find a root for the problem and started giving us a lot of practical sex advice. We tried it, but it was very strained and fake. To us, the advice was not helpful because our problem was not getting along, but rather my husband's lack of desire and interest in sex.

After four years of marriage, I became pregnant with our first child. I was not in the mood for sex during pregnancy, which really was ideal in our situation, and we spent a happily celibate pregnancy. However, three months after the baby was born, I knew we were in trouble. We had not had sex for almost a year, and the free spirit lifestyle, the crutch that kept us bonded together and happy with our marriage, was gone.

My husband also started experiencing other symptoms besides his lack of libido. He had been a very active guy who loved sports, but now he was very weak. He started losing muscle tone and started putting on some weight. He had so little energy that he would come home from work exhausted and collapse on the couch. I survived in a daze, concentrating on the baby and tiptoeing around my husband, not knowing what to say or how to deal with this new relationship.

We started withdrawing from one another and created a protective cocoon around our individual selves. My husband felt worthless. He was depressed about how he felt physically. Throughout this time, he kept going from doctor to doctor where they would tell him that he was depressed or that he had a psychosexual disorder. This made him feel worse, of course.

At this point, we decided to commit our lives and our problem to the Lord. We had nothing else, so we sought him, although separately. We didn't have family devotions or meaningful prayer together, but on our own we were each getting closer to God.

Finally, one providential day, he went to a doctor who said that she wanted to run a testosterone test on him. A few days later, she called and said that she wanted to have a conference with him. She said that he had a condition known as hypogonadism. His testosterone levels were extremely low. He was referred to endocrinologists, who started treating him right away with hormone replacement therapy. It was such a relief to put a name and a cause to what had been going on. We had high expectations that the medications would work and that our lives would finally be normal again. The medication did wonders to his strength and sense of well-being and it did give him his potency back, but it still did not give him a normal libido.

During this process we had two more children. I now had my hands full dealing with three kids and resented having to put any effort into being the initiator of our sexual relationship. I decided that the way I was going to survive without getting hurt was to see my husband as a sick person who couldn't help what was happening to him. I kept telling myself that it was as if he was in a wheelchair or had another chronic disease. However, to stifle my desire, I stopped all physical affection toward him. We stopped touching completely and became like strangers under one roof. The more I stifled my feelings and desires, the more estranged we became. We didn't really fight. We were just like roommates; there was no intimacy left. We were hurting, though. I couldn't bear to see my husband's eyes because they looked so full of pain and anguish. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and let it all out, but instead I just made the wall around myself taller every day.

The further apart we became emotionally, the more I noticed other men looking at me or paying attention to me. In the past, I reacted rudely to those types of advances. But now I felt flattered and started smiling back and engaging them in conversation. I felt guilty for flirting but told myself that I was justified in having some fun since my husband didn't see me as a sexual being. I thought it was all harmless since I never fantasized about these men or had any interest whatsoever in a relationship with them.

Then, one Sunday, one of the pastors at our church, whom I deeply respected, admitted his own adulterous relationship, and it shook me to the core. I realized that if that happened to him, it could happen to us. I was playing with fire.

I went to see a counselor on my own and told him how I was feeling. I wanted to know if it was possible for a couple to survive long-term in marriage as sexless partners without intimacy. He said "no." It is very dangerous to stop all intimacy and affection toward each other. He wanted us to try medicine to help bring my husband's libido up and urged me to bring affection back into our relationship, even if it hurt to be turned down.

This was a very hard decision for me. Even though it hurt not having intimacy, I was reluctant to go back to begging for sex and always having to be the initiator. However, I really felt the Lord telling me that this was exactly what I had to do. It was as if God was saying to me that I had to give up my dream of the kind of sexual life I wanted to have. All of a sudden I started changing my perspective and saw the good part of my marriage. My husband was an awesome father, a true partner in our household duties, a kind man with a gentle heart, and an encourager and supporter of everything I did. I realized that I hadn't married the perfect man, but neither was I the perfect woman.

Nevertheless, sex was and is a very important aspect of my life. I told my husband that having sex with him made me feel very close and loving toward him. I told him that I needed sex as nourishment for our relationship. He told me for the umpteenth time that he really doesn't think about sex, but once he gets started he really enjoys it, which was true. He promised he wouldn't flat turn me down again, but if he was just truly exhausted, he would give me a rain-check for the next day.

Then we agreed on some rules. We would not watch TV after 10:00 P.M., and he marked his calendar for certain days we were to make love—and he had to initiate the whole thing. He agreed, and it worked pretty well.

We did get out of the routine after awhile, but things have been going well, regardless. He now initiates sex half of the time, which is fun. The estrangement in our relationship is gone. We have also returned to being affectionate with each other, and he sometimes surprises me by giving me a passionate kiss or touch out of the blue.

We have been married for fifteen years, and as I look back at our marriage, I can honestly say that the depth and love that we have for each other is deeper than it has ever been before. Also, our physical intimacy is not the only thing that has improved. We have now gained spiritual intimacy, which we didn't have before. And that is the true glue that is holding us together.

Nancy Davies is a pseudonym for a writer living in the South.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Intimacy; Marriage; Sex
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2001
Posted September 30, 2008

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