June 2, 2015

When our Sexual Feelings in a Relationship Change.

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We had just gotten back from a tedious day at the doctor’s office where my husband had finally gotten his diagnosis.

As he followed me into the house he already seemed smaller to me, as if, by shrinking down inside himself he could avoid reality.

I couldn’t bear to look at him and instead stood in the dining room looking out the picture window at a hummingbird who had put her nest on the tip of a slender branch of cactus. I wondered what the mother bird could have been thinking. Her nest was obviously too heavy for the branch that swayed precariously in the breeze.

In a ridiculous effort to put a positive slant on the day, I started to say something about the new life that the hummingbird was bringing to our front door. But, given my husband’s diagnosis, I hardly believed my own words. Down deep inside, I didn’t feel like anything new was heading my way at all. Down deep inside, I was afraid that my life, like the hummingbird’s ill placed nest, wouldn’t be able to hold the weight of what was coming.

“I can do this.” I repeated to myself, hoping that with repetition would come belief. “I can do this.”

As it turned out, I could do it. I could do all the things that needed to be done.

I could do the bathing and the shampooing, the shaving and the buttoning, the cooking and the cutting up food and the driving everywhere. I could be practical and level-headed and make all the arrangements and carry in all the groceries, get the car fixed and do all the things that I had at one time relied on my husband to do. I could do all that and also do whatever else needed to be done.

No. Doing the practical stuff wasn’t hard. It wasn’t until I was blindsided by an emotional response that I hadn’t expected that things got hard.

Three or four years after the diagnosis, I walked into our family room one evening carrying my husband’s dinner plate out to him. He looked even smaller and more drawn to me than usual as he thanked me and reached out for his plate with trembling hands. I don’t have any idea what it was in particular, the fact that I had fixed one of his favorite foods, the fact that I had just set him up with his remote for the TV and put his drink by his side, but as I walked back into the kitchen, I kept seeing in my mind’s eye my husband’s trembling hands reaching out to me for his dinner plate.

Somehow, some way, that simple gesture triggered such an arousal of my nurturing, maternal-self as to make my knees quake.

I was overwhelmed with unbidden feelings and with the conflicting realization that came with them.

Not only was I was feeling motherly towards the man I was married to, the man I was supposed to be having a sexual relationship with, but I was feeling only motherly towards him. I couldn’t dig down inside and find the place where I felt the love of a wife or of a sweetheart or of a lover. When I dug down, all I felt was—something else. Something definitely not wife/sweetheart/lover.

I also felt the presentiment of something slipping away. How was this going to affect my marriage? How was this going to affect me?

Don’t go there, I said inside myself. Don’t even go there.

A few days later my husband and I were standing at the bathroom sink, while I was combing his hair. He had a long ponytail and his hair was tangled and needed a shampoo. I was thinking about when I would next have the time to shampoo him and as I glanced into the mirror I had a powerful muscle memory of having stood in front of a mirror and done that very kind of grooming before. My hands recalled other times, other places, other heads of hair that I had combed while wondering when I would have the time to shampoo them. My hands remembered doing the same thing for my children.

It was so simple.

In that second I knew that I had already crossed over the line between being my husband’s wife/sweetheart/lover into being his mother/caregiver/nurse. With just a glance, the reality of something that had been lurking around the edges of my consciousness since that evening when I had brought him his dinner in the family room swam up to the surface of the mirror.

While my mind had tried to keep me from thinking of it—the memory stored in my hands forced me to think of it and I knew that continued sexual intimacy with my own husband would feel to me like I was acting out a taboo—the taboo of a mother behaving erotically towards her child.

I mentioned it to the support group I belonged to and got blasé “Oh, yeah-that-happens” kinds of responses. Or “Sex? What’s that?” kinds of responses.

What I didn’t get was anybody saying that it had been a sea change for them too. That it made everything different and not just at the level of genital contact but at the level of the kind of physical closeness and mutual trust and oneness with another human being that comes with sexuality. That the bond of sexual intimacy, one of the most powerful behaviors that holds a marriage relationship separate and apart from other relationships, was gone and that what was left was something that neither one of us had asked for or wanted.

I tried living with my new/old memory—tried to push it down with the other dogs in the cellar whose barking I didn’t want to hear. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t ignore my feelings. The sexual, erotic self that had always been a part of me wouldn’t let me. She was dying—and she was fighting for her life.

My husband and I would go on to live together for another six years.

Over that time, I would find my way to a new kind of closeness with him. A kind that made room for my nurturing-self and out of which would grow an almost brother/sister bond that I hadn’t had with him before. I would however never recover the deep glowing embers or passionate flames that had once fueled my responses to him and it was a loss that continually ate away at me.

The time would come when he and I would simultaneously recognize that we each wanted that aspect of love in our lives and that to have it, we would have to move on.

One morning, in the midst of packing, I went into the dining room and saw that the cactus on the porch was sending out shoots again. I remembered the hummingbird nest that had been there that day almost 10 years before when my husband had gotten his diagnosis. As I thought, the cactus stem had turned out to be too fragile a base after all and the nest hadn’t survived.

Maybe the mother hummingbird just didn’t know, I thought. Maybe she didn’t know all that it would entail. Maybe, like me, her one thought had been “I can do this. I can do this.” And maybe she didn’t think of anything else, she just clung on to the hope that everything would work out.

But in the end. She couldn’t do it.

And in the end. Neither could I.


Relephant read:

6 Reasons She’s Not Initiating Sex. {Adult}


Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr

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