When I was 5 years old, I walked to a convenience store with my parents. My nose was counter height and I remember standing there at the counter eyeing some little foil-wrapped chocolate footballs. They were probably five cents back in the mid-80’s. I picked one up to “look at it” and then dropped it into my pocket.
I totally stole a candy from a convenience store.
On the walk home, I felt so guilty about it that I threw the candy into some bushes.
I never told anyone about that for years, but it burned a hole into my memory.
Fast forward to today: The whole family was heading out to dinner, but my husband needed to leave directly from the restaurant to catch a flight, so he was driving separately. I pull out of the garage and out of habit, hit the button to close the garage door. Before I could reverse the garage door, my husband started backing out of the garage and the top of his car got scratched. It could have been much worse if the garage door had been damaged, but luckily it is fine.
I slide the window down and yell “Sorry! Habit!” and was on my way. My son said, “If I did that, Dad would be SOOOO mad.” I responded with, “Oh, Dad is really mad at me, but he can manage his own emotions.”
Over a 5 cent candy as a child I feel guilty for years. A possible hundreds of dollars worth of damage and no guilt today. Sure, I feel sorry, but guilty is not the descriptor I would use.
Even just two years ago, I probably would have cried over a mistake like this.
So why the change?
The answer is: I have learned how to manage my emotions and let others do the same.
(Let’s be realistic. Your average Joe does not manage their emotions. They react, resist or avoid their emotions. So when I say I let them manage their emotions, I mean I let them have their emotions and don’t feel responsible for them.)
I know that in most situations, guilt is not helpful.
Guilt is only useful in moral right and wrong. (So technically, my stealing at age 5 is an appropriate situation for guilt.)
Accidentally closing the garage door out of habit is not a moral wrong. I can try to make it right, and maybe I will get a paint kit for the scratches, but that’s about it. There’s no repenting needed. I apologized and that’s about all I can do. It was a simple mistake.
I say all this, because guilt is a hot topic with sex.
But whether or not you have sex, or how often, is also not a moral right or wrong.
God never said “Thou shalt have sex with thy husband three times a week.”
Guilt will not be useful, and may even be harmful.
Remember, guilt means “I have done something wrong.” Sometimes it leads to shame, which is “I am something wrong.”
Why do you feel guilty when you don’t have sex, or don’t want to have sex?
It comes from a thought. Probably something along the lines of “I should have sex.”
Then, how do you act when you feel guilty?
You probably do some form of hiding– don’t talk openly about it, fall asleep, withdraw into your mind, etc. (Guilt likes to hide.)
And then the impact of those actions is that your husband continues to want sex with you and you continue to find evidence that you should have sex. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that gets you nowhere.
Guilt is a negative emotion that our brains really want to avoid. So when you associate guilt with sex, your brain wants to avoid sex at all costs.
Here’s the other thing: your brain prefers the guilt to the resentment that comes when you do have sex, but you don’t want to. So recognize that guilt is the “better” option, but it is still optional.
When you gain confidence in yourself, a natural by-product will be less guilt. But you can choose to just not feel guilt now too.
What if it’s not true that you should have sex?
What if it’s ok if your husband is upset about it?
What if owning your emotional responsibility will eventually lead you to feeling closer to your husband? (With hotter sex?)
These are skills you can absolutely learn. And the great news is that they apply to every situation with any emotion, not just in the bedroom. Or in the garage as the case may be.
I have time this week for some consult calls if you are interested in learning more. Feel free to email me or hop on my calendar.