A closed heart
While staying with a very close friend this past week, we had a very long personal talk about her marriage. This friend is in a sexless marriage, her choice – not his, and is not willing to change things at this point. My opinion of some of the things that went on in their marriage that caused her to shut off marital sexual relations has changed somewhat because of my attitude transformation about sex, but I can not condemn her for this choice. I am not convinced it is the best one for her, but I understand why she made it.
I have cried with my friend as she battled the horrible pain and torment caused because of problems her husband had with pornography over the course of her 25+ years of marriage . I helplessly watched her self-esteem plummet and her testimony of the gospel slowly decrease as a couple of Bishops unwittingly made her feel responsible for her husbands pornography use and the sexual problems it caused in their marriage. And I encouraged her during her long struggle while she tried to rebuild her self-worth and learned to stand up for herself, which she has accomplished to a point, but only after detaching both emotionally and physically from her husband. She finally found a way to turn his problems back over to her husband and find some relief from the pain, but in the process she also lost all of her respect, desire, and love for him. Yet, she stays married to him, a man she does not even like.
Their marriage continues on a superficial level, they still sleep in the same bedroom, he still tries to get sex from her occasionally, and she turns him down. For the most part they function on the surface as a married couple, but the reality is they live parallel lives, coming together only to discuss parenting schedules and family issues when necessary. I know that she stays in the marriage mostly for financial reasons because she quit her education so he could finish his when they got married and she has been a stay at home mom since. I am not sure why he stays – actually I am quite perplexed about why he stays in the marriage. Why he keeps trying to get her to engage sexually with him when he knows exactly how she feels towards him and knows she will reject him, I can not comprehend. They have a sick and dysfunctional relationship and are now seeing how it has also hurt their kids in a myriad of ways. The wounds are numerous, for both my friend and her husband, and in some ways they have gotten worse, infecting their whole family.
I asked my friend if she thought she could ever forgive her husband for what he has done over the years and accept that he has a problem and love him in spite of it. I asked her if she felt she could ever rebuild a sexual relationship with him again. She insists she has tried over and over, she has prayed over and over – begging God to help her to love him and accept him, she has tried to fake it till she felt it, but nothing has worked. And now she is done trying. She says it wasn’t the pornography that caused the major damage to their marriage – although it certainly played a big part, it was his lying and the sneaking around and the way he closed himself off to her that hurt her the most, which she said he still continues to do. He has never cheated on her with another “live” woman, although he came very, very close, yet he could not be completely loyal to her or honest and transparent with her about his behaviors and he has not been honest and open with her emotionally and physically. She feels the wounds are too deep now and can not be healed. And then she said something that I have been pondering ever since. She said, “I can not open my body to him because my heart is closed to him.”
Pornography use and guilt caused her husband to close his heart to her in their early marriage. Years of pain from trying to deal with his closed heart finally caused her to close her heart to him and then eventually she also closed her body to him. This is how they both have chosen to treat their painful wounds. And now they both co-exist within a physically and emotionally almost dead marriage – both ignoring the wounds, going their separate ways while still living together. I can’t begin to express how this saddens me because of the joy and happiness that I know they are missing out from not having a healthy marital relationship. At this point in their marriage opening their hearts back up would probably take a miracle, an enormous amount of work with an extremely good counselor, and a great deal of faith in the healing powers of the atonement of Jesus Christ. For now – my friend has given up on that ever happening and is content with her life and her closed heart because she no longer feels the pain.
There are so many reasons why we close our hearts to our spouses – hurt, resentment, pride, fear, rejection, and stupidity to name a few. Pain from the relationship becomes so unbearable that we feel we have to stop the pain however we can. So we avoid the issues causing the pain, and we close our hearts off emotionally so that we no longer can feel anything. In essence, closing our hearts serves as an emotional pain-killer. The longer our hearts remain closed, the more addicted we become to not feeling the pain, and the harder it is to open our hearts back up. Based on our past experiences, we fear our spouses who have wounded us, and we fear more pain and further injury so we move into a self protective mode – medicating the pain, covering the wounds so we can not see them and building walls around our hearts to close them off and keep them safe. In this state, we can not feel, we can not love, we can not forgive, and most importantly we can not heal. Our emotional wounds remain and our pain is only alleviated.
When our hearts are closed, we become comfortable in our anesthetized state and our fear of feeling all of the negative emotions can be paralyzing, keeping us from moving forward with our lives. Opening our hearts back up is risky and scary for valid reasons. Once our hearts are opened back up, we are faced once again with feeling and treating the painful wounds and dealing with the issues that caused them. This process can be even more painful than the original pain because the wound has gotten infected from not being treated. We also become vulnerable to more wounds because there are no guarantees that opening our hearts up will fix the relationship or that our spouse will not continue to hurt us.
Yes, opening our hearts up in relationships that have been painful in the past is risky and yes, we can be hurt deeply again. But as long as our hearts remain closed there is no chance of fixing the relationship, we remain in a wounded state, and our emotional healing is stifled. If we open our hearts back up, we can become healthier and grow stronger as we address the pain by healing the wounds instead of just covering them up and ignoring them. If the relationship survives, it also can become stronger if both partners are willing to deal with the real issues instead of hiding from them.
Relationships are hard and some are often unbearably painful. Closing off our hearts in order to stop feeling is certainly one way of dealing with the pain and negative emotions, but it does not solve the real issues. Along with blocking the emotional pain, closing off our hearts may also be blocking true emotional happiness and joy. When faced with severe marriage difficulties it can be hard to choose between true healing or long-term pain relief – an open heart or a closed heart!
From watching my friend, and from facing difficult relationship issues myself, I totally get why one would choose the closed heart and long-term pain relief it seemingly offers. In fact, after pondering what my friend said, I realize that I had made that same choice myself – for different reasons and mostly because of internal emotional wounds caused by my own faulty thinking patterns. I closed off my heart and my body to my husband thinking I was making the right choice, but the reality turned out different, and instead I hurt my husband deeply and created a dysfunctional marriage.
Thankfully my husband chose to keep his heart open to me and after I finally opened my heart and my body back up to him, we were both able to heal most of our wounds and begin to work on rectifying my costly mistake.