‘Michelle, we haven’t had sex in a year.’ My husband rolled over in bed with a blank look on his face.’: Couple stress importance of ‘boundaries’ in marriage, ‘you don’t owe your partner anything’

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“Two years ago, my husband and I were living in a quiet, little blue house in Suburbia. We had two dogs, Bruiser and Button, stable jobs, and freedom. It was absolute bliss, a dream come true. But things took a real 180 twist one Saturday morning when I began to feel something ‘off’ with my body.

Now, being the hypochondriac that I am, I immediately turned myself in to the Google clinic and self-diagnosed. My internet search was something along the lines this: ‘Why are my breasts swollen and do I have cancer?’ Well, as it turns out, combining the words ‘breasts’ and ‘cancer’ in a mere Google search will only get you so far. That was it. I had ‘breast cancer.’ I was sure of it.

Only I didn’t. With my level of paranoia, I found myself at the doctor’s office that following Wednesday – yes, I really am that dramatic – for a checkup about my concerns. I remember the tension, thickness of the air as my doc’s cold hands pressed against my breasts. ‘No lumps, but let me process the urine sample.’

So, I sat in that bright white cage, terrified. Yet, the scariest had yet to come. Not even five minutes later, she retuned with a beaming look on her face. Happiness? Laughter? What was it? I couldn’t tell. But I knew something was totally, without-a-doubt up.

‘Michelle, I’m 100% sure you’re pregnant! Congratulations!’ I’m…what? Who? Congrats? How? I’d give a million dollars to see the look on my face in that moment. I was in utter disbelief. Not only was I not trying to get pregnant, but I was ‘infertile’ and on birth control! I assured her there must be some mistake. As it turns out, there was not.

I didn’t know how to tell my husband. We both knew we wanted children at some point in the future, but we were only 24 and 25 years old! We were planning to begin the adoption process at age 30! So much for planning. Yet, when I broke the news, he couldn’t be happier. His joy made me feel less uneasy.

And so the story goes. 9 months in the oven. Stress beyond belief. Worry. ‘Am I going to make a good mother? Am I ready for this?’ Comfort. Fighting. More stress. Laughs. Excitement. Clothes, toys, lots more clothes. The nursery. 1,000 parenting articles.

Even before the baby arrived, our lives as individuals had changed completely. The stress began to get to our heads. Suddenly, we were fighting about nothing. Yet, at the end of the day, we had to realize it wasn’t each other we were mad at. We just felt unprepared for change. It’s a complicated feeling, really. To be so happy and excited, but so scared at the same time.

Now, one thing I’d like to discuss that I feel no one really talks about is this: sex.

When our beautiful baby Mara was born, our lives were entirely uprooted and catapulted beyond belief to someone who does not yet have children. In those first few months post-baby, we didn’t have sex at all. And even when things ‘slowed down’ and we got used to the whole parenting thing, it still didn’t happen. I was so wrapped up in the brand-new joy of motherhood that when the lights went out at night and baby Mara was asleep, I had no energy or desire for intimacy. It got to a point where we were almost at the one-year mark, completely sexless as a couple. It was something that weighed on my mind, but never enough for me to confront the topic with my husband.

One day, after I turned out the lights, my husband rolled over in bed with a blank look on his face. ‘What?’ I asked him. Yet, somehow, I felt like I knew. ‘Michelle, we haven’t had sex in almost a year.’ Immediately, I looked down. I didn’t know how to address it. I simply said, ‘I know, Steve. I’m so sorry.’ I was so terrified that I was letting him down. Was I being a bad wife? What was wrong with me? Had motherhood broke me? Killed my sex drive? Tears filled my eyes. His next words were so important to hear. They changed everything!

‘Don’t cry! And NEVER apologize. You don’t owe me sex. In fact, you don’t owe me anything at all. Ever. It’s your body. I just wanted to make sure everything is alright with you, and also maybe get some reassurance that you don’t think I have some hideous dad bod now!’

More relieving words have never been spoken. His words really made me reflect on how I viewed myself as a woman. For so long, I had been taught that sex was something I was supposed to give. A gift for others, and not myself. This, ladies and gentleman, is why I love my husband so much.

If you’re dating, married, babyfied or babyless, know that you don’t owe your partner anything! Sex is something that should be fun for everyone. You will go through periods in your life where you might need to take a hiatus from the ol’ thing, and that’s okay! I’ve heard too many girlfriends tell me they did it ‘just because’ or just to ‘shut him up,’ or even because it had ‘been a month’ so they had no choice. That, to me, is one of the saddest things ever. I hope we can all continue to respect each other’s boundaries and wishes. After all, that is what marriage is all about.”

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