Q&A: Feeling Vulnerable?

We recently received an email from a husband regarding a problem that he and his wife are encountering.

I have a question about feeling vulnerable. My wife and I have a good marriage, but our sex life is hurt by what my wife calls “feeling vulnerable”. As in, she feels vulnerable when we have sex, which begins with her being interested and excited, and ends with her turning away and crying for 5-10 minutes. She steadfastly insists that this is not because of anything I do, but rather because our intimacy makes her feel so vulnerable. I want to believe her, but I can’t help but suspect that I’m somehow responsible. It’s hard to watch when she curls up and sobs, and it’s making me avoid sex because I don’t want to hurt her. Outside of sex she is loving and attentive. She never seems resentful or angry. It’s been like this ever since we got good at sex (both virgins when we married – it was awkward for the first year or so…) Has anyone else encountered anything like this? Any ideas or advice?

To begin with, I think that your wife is experiencing normal feelings because real, honest sex is very intimate and when we are raw like that it opens us up to be vulnerable like nothing else. That is why trust is such an important element of intimacy. BUT, having said that, I feel quite confident in saying that the likelihood that your wife was a victim of abuse is high because her reaction to vulnerability is extreme. (Edited to add: Please read the comment section as some women have said that they experience this and it is not connected to abuse.) It could have been sexual or mental abuse or a combination and come in a variety of forms. Perhaps she was shamed in her sexuality. At minimum she is operating with the lie that sex isn’t safe. Regardless of how she came to believe that lie, it is having a very powerful impact on both of you. She is being robbed of what God intends for her and as her husband I would encourage you to “wash her with the word.” Seek the Lord on how to appropriate this for you and your wife, but one part of it could be to speak scripture over her as she sleeps next to you. You might also consider having a conversation about her past and how it may be effecting her. Tread carefully here. Again, seek the Lord for wisdom on when and how to bring it up and for Him orchestrate the situation if this is something that needs to be addressed more directly.

Some questions I would ponder with her as she is open to them are:

Does she feel overwhelmed by the intimacy, which results in the emotion, but not necessarily bad?
If it is a case of the feeling being negative:
Does she find pleasure during sex? If so, at what point does it shift to feeling bad?
Do the tears come after an orgasm? Is it connected to the released of those intense feelings of an orgasm?
Are the tears accompanied by feelings of relief or of grief?
Does she feel that she has done something wrong or inappropriate?
Does she feel that she isn’t safe?
How does she feel about speaking with a counselor about these issues?

One area where I agree with your wife is that this has absolutely nothing to do with you. Based on what you wrote it appears that you are a loving husband who wants to experience all that should be yours together in your marriage bed. This is a good desire and I can completely appreciate how it is being compromised by her reaction to intimacy. If I were in your position I would be anxious about initiating as well.

To depart slightly from your specific situation, there is no doubt about it; sex can be highly intense and I think that if we want to grow in intimacy, we are going to need to choose to be more vulnerable. This is why sex has the potential to get better as we age together, but it is no guarantee. For many, sex remains only a physical act and when a couple isn’t working towards greater intimacy emotionally and spiritually as well as physically, the potential for sex to become stagnant and boring increases significantly. Married sexuality has been getting a bad rap in our culture more and more in recent years, but this discussion makes me ponder the question: How much impact has “surface sex” had on some peoples’ assumption that married sex is boring? What if more people were committed to increasing measures of vulnerability with their spouse even though it might end up costing them their soul; opened up and made bare? I wonder how the benefits of deep intimacy would impact the message that has been sent to so much of the western world about married sex.

But what a gamble! What if, in the process of opening our souls, we are rejected? Abandoned? Hurt? My husband’s and my financial advisers classify us as people who like safe investments, but I continue on with this gamble in my marriage without hesitation. And in a heart beat I’d do it all over again, though with hindsight being what it is I would have pursued deep intimacy sooner. The benefits far outweigh the costs in my opinion.

4 Comments

  1. OMG, I do that too! It is interesting to hear your perspective as my husband doesn’t care for it either– but he doesn’t seem to take it personally. If your wife is anything like me, she wasn’t at all abused. Sometimes, if I really let go, I feel so exposed that I just crawl into the fetal position until I feel safe again. It had nothing to do with my husband, on the contrary, I usually ended up in this state after the most wonderful sessions with him where I was in complete trust of the strength of our relationship and willing to be as free as I could be. After the climax, I would feel jolted back into reality, into singularity and it’d shake me up so much, losing that other world I had fallen in to. I think that I’d get so caught up and felt so ONE with him that it was devastating to be brought so suddenly back into singularity– which feels very vulnerable and devastating… I dunno— hard to explain but I tried. My husband would have done best to hold me lightly, but I can understand why that didn’t occur to him. Initially, he responded as if I was disappointed– almost like he felt that I was feeling let down. I wasn’t– I just needed coaxing back into the world where bills are due yaknow, a moment to regain composure after taking part in something so out of this world, and yet so real– a moment to come back into my body, as it were. In that moment of separation, it breaks my heart to be so flooded with emotion and unity and then coming down is so much less glorious than where you’d escaped to in your mind. I can be quite inconsolable. When I get to that point, I can’t talk to my husband bcuz I don’t have the words. Now, he just lets me cry and I’ve told him I love him so I think that while it hurts him to see me hurt, he understands it’s about my depth of caring for him and the intensity of the union– not a personal attack.
    I have to say that if you want her to continue to get that open with you— I would strongly discourage you from being aggressive with her when she’s feeling that vulnerable– BE GENTLE! Just be there, invite her to lean on you or ask to hold her. Ask her if there’s anything you can do to make things better– or tell her you’ll make her some hot tea :o) For me, the worst thing is when he leaves me or distances himself. The center of my hurt in that moment stems from the emotional let-down (distance) that came with the climax, so that behavior adds insult to injury even though I can’t vocalize it and even tho it appears as though I’m distancing myself from him– I’m just trying to cope with the transition, NOT DISTANCE MYSELF. So, stay close for as long as you can– if she’s anything like me. Hope this helps.

  2. To the loving husband who posed this question. Thank you for caring so much about your wife that you looked for help for her.

    Please reassure your wife that her feelings are shared by at least one other woman. During lovemaking with my husband, I occasionally feel so vulnerable that I react as your wife does. Fortunately, it does not happen all the time, as it sounds like it does for you. Honestly, my reasons had as much to do with insecurity and being afraid of being hurt as anything else. DH and I have struggled a lot overall and it seems (to me) that I always end up hurt. True lovemaking, as Cinnamon Sticks addressed above, requires intimacy and vulnerability to occur.

    I have always had the problem that I could not focus solely on what we were doing (to the exclusion of hurts in the past.) As Cinnamon Sticks mentions, it sounds like this is what your wife is struggling with. In my case, it was based on my relationship with DH. In her case, it sounds like it is based on another relationship. I will also agree that this problem is not caused by you. I will differ with her opinion on one point, though. In my relationship, as DH showed me that he could be trusted, I was able to feel comfortable being more vulnerable. I don’t mean that you have to prove something to her, but in our case, trust was destroyed and needed to be rebuilt. As it increases, I am more able to feel like the confident woman I was made to be – for him (and for Him)!

    I don’t know what is causing these issues with your wife, and my sympathies and prayers will be with you both. I hope that she can reconcile her internal issues. (I don’t know if my comments helped or confused, but I felt like I needed to at least let her (and you) know that she is not alone.)

  3. I am so glad that these two ladies responded to this situation. That’s really encouraging.

  4. I needed to followup on the trust issue that madeforhim addressed above. It took about 6 months of hell in our relationship before I could let myself get to that place again. I had fallen so much more in love with my husband that this new level frightened me and I became a different woman until I realized that the other side was better than holding on to what was comfortable. Now, I am excited about everytime we get to be together like this and the intensity thrills me but it wasn’t without cost to my very patient husband who didn’t understand why I was emotionally dodging him for months after I’d discovered this new place of love and vulnerability with him. Now, I’m busy making it up to him :o) in our new place. Make no mistake that I sort of ran away from my own husband for months and shut off the depths of me out of a fear that only his patience and sticking it out with me allowed me to release. Had he believed the me I became more than the me he’d experienced all these years, he would have left me and the bud wold never have fully blossomed. All the best– stick with her and it’ll probably be worth it. She may passionately repay you for the hurt it causes you to forbear. I love my husband more than I ever have and his commitment makes him so much more valuable to me, a gem in a world of lightweights.
    It’s amazing how easy it is to vocalize feelings in the realm of anonymity šŸ˜‰ God bless.


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