"Excuse me. I’m changing," I said as I shut the door in my husband’s face.

"Oh yeah, that’s right. I’m not allowed to see you," Derek said sarcastically as he walked away.

For years I changed my clothes in our walk-in closet. I couldn’t stand being exposed – physically or emotionally.

If Derek saw my disfigured heart, would he leave me? Could he look at me with love again?

Derek knew about my past. Childhood sexual abuse. Abortion. He didn’t know that those memories still affected me. I retold my experiences without a drop of emotion.

That’s me – a master of disguise.

When I needed a good cry, instead of being honest, I created a crisis. If Derek asked about our finances or his dry cleaning, I snapped. Being angry was easier than being vulnerable.

After years of marriage mediocrity, Derek and I sought Christian counselling. No seminar, book or sermon had helped. A life-sized barrier stood between us.

"I want a deeper relationship with Derek," I said to my counsellor during an individual session.

"You value self-protection more than intimacy," he said. "You can’t have both."

No wonder I felt so alone.

Protecting my wounded heart

I acted like I didn’t want or need Derek’s affection or sex. I slept on the edge of our mattress and gave lifeless hugs. When Derek called me from work, I played it cool. Yet deep down, I ached to say, "I need you. I’m sorry I’m so cold. I know it’s wrong, but I don’t know how to make it right."

Talking honestly with Derek gave me stage fright. I couldn’t speak a word of encouragement or ask for what I needed. The love song of my heart was silent.

My cold body language told Derek I was angry and sad. He had no idea what to do. When he showed me attention, I responded with apathy. My counsellor told Derek, "Tiffany will fight you all the way. Don’t stop trying to love her."

Maybe you and your spouse can relate. If either of you has an abusive past, intimacy can be difficult to cultivate. But there is hope. For me, it took a Christian counsellor, truckloads of tears and prayer – and a painful revisit with my past. I had to forgive my offenders and accept God’s forgiveness in order to give and receive love.

Learning to trust

Writer Walter Anderson once said, "We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone, but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy."

My breakthrough came when I surrendered my self-protection. A friend encouraged me to write good-willed in my journal, Bible and on my mirror to remind myself Derek was not another predator.

He is my good-willed husband, who is for me – not against me.

Trusting required that I start sharing my daily life with Derek. I told him when I had a hard conversation with a friend or when I had fun writing or shopping. He listened. At first, I feared Derek was judging me. I wanted to run, but I chose to remain open. My biggest fear – that Derek would reject me – never came. Over time, Derek drew closer and asked more questions. I felt loved.

My decision to trust has brought me a newfound intimacy in marriage. Because I believe Derek’s love is sincere, now when we disagree, I no longer think he is rejecting me. Conflict with healthy resolution has brought deeper understanding between us.

Above all, I’ve learned to trust God. Regardless of my circumstances, God is present. He is constantly working in my marriage.

Am I completely exposed with Derek all the time? No, but I’m more open than ever before. I constantly remind myself to trust God and Derek as I share my secrets, fears and dreams. I have to fight my former instinct of self-protection.

Being vulnerable is risky, but that’s how I found true love.

Tiffany Stuart is married with two children and lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

© 2009 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox