"What's wrong with me?" wonders Sarah, 22, a lovely brunettte with worried eyes. "I love Jim with all my heart. He's everything I could ever want in a husband -- and here I am driving him away."
Jim and Sarah married with stars in their eyes and the belief that the future would take care of itself as long as they were together. They decided to live a rural life and began to build a house on land her mother gave them. "We bought a portable storage shed to camp in, and Jim began hauling rock from the river bank, mixing concrete and hammering lumber." It was fun and romantic -- for a while.
But now, after two years of roughing it in the wilderness with the nearest neighbor miles away, the loneliness and boredom have begun to take a toll. The trouble is, Sarah has never had the courage to tell Jim about her change of heart. As a result, their marriage -- and in particular their sexual relationship -- is in jeopardy.
At first, Sarah chalked up her lack of interest in sex to the fact that the initial thrill had worn off. "But now, the mere thought of lovemaking fills me with revulsion. When I do force myself to attempt it, I tighten up inside, emotionally and physically," she adds softly. "I want to be the kind of wife my mother was. I know she was unhappy in her marriage to my father, but she never complained and was always there for him. Jim deserves a responsive, loving woman," she says, her eyes filling with tears. "And if I can't figure out what's wrong with me, I'm going to lose the person I love most in the world."
But tall, soft-spoken Jim, 26, assumes he must have done something to push his wife away, and he's convinced he's letting Sarah down just as he let his mother down. As a child, Jim couldn't fathom why his mother would criticize the fun-loving father he adored. Not until her death when he was in the Navy did he realize that his philandering father had been unfaithful to his mother for years. "I was blind to my mother's suffering, but I won't let that happen again," Jim vows. "But I feel like a monster inflicting torture on this poor quivering creature who can't stand for me to touch her." Sarah deserves someone who can make her happy, he adds sadly. "I wish it were me."
Learning to trust
"Though Sarah and Jim came to counseling for a sexual problem, the real issue in their marriage is lack of trust," says Evelyn Moschetta, a New York marriage counselor. "They are both so terrified of losing the other that neither wants to risk expressing emotional needs."
Insecure Sarah, in particular, has been raised to believe that a woman's job is to keep everything running smoothly and peacefully for her man. Though she has begun to dislike their life and resent the fact that the dream they are pursuing is no longer hers, she allows small irritations to pile up instead of talking about them with Jim. However, rather than causing an explosion rage, as happens to many people, Sarah's anger stayed blocked inside and took its toll in the bedroom.
Once she realized this and was able to tell Jim, "I want to live like other people, to go out, eat dinner in a restaurant, see a movie -- something other than just building a house," their relationship began to change and mature. In time, they both began to communicate intimate feelings more freely, without fear that their partner would desert them.
It's not easy to nurture trust at any stage of a relationship. The following exercise is a playful test of how comfortable you and your spouse are with each other. Use it to get started on a general discussion and awareness of the importance of being genuine, forthright and open in your marriage.
The first part of this test is for wives: Stand in front of your husband, facing away from him. Let yourself free-fall backward into his arms and trust that he will catch you.
Now, for the men: Put on a blindfold and let your wife take you on a tour of your house. Trust that she will guide you safely up and down stairs and around corners.
Now, sit down together and ask yourselves: What feelings came up while you were doing this test? Wives: Did you feel anxious and uncertain that you could depend on him to support you? Husbands: Did you take baby steps as you were walking around, unsure whether you could count on her to steer you safely? Did you feel out of control?