By Marion Hilliard, M.D.
Condensed From: Women and Fatigue – A Woman Doctor’s Answer
A happy bedroom takes on the attributes of a sanctuary for a married couple. Within these four walls, husband and wife reach the height and the depth of the expression of their life together. If they both feel that this is a resting-place for them to keep returning to, their children will also feel it.
I remember rushing home after school as a child and shouting for Mother, as every child does, and then running upstairs to Mother’s and Father’s big bedroom and finding her sitting by the window, sewing. She could have sewed downstairs in the living room, or even in the kitchen, but we all came to feel that this room was a sanctuary to her – the place where she was most at ease in her home. Any bedroom can be happy if a woman will learn that her happiness comes about differently from the way her husband’s does. This takes knowledge, search, patience, humour and love. It is rare for a couple to achieve their dreams when they first marry.
What things detract from the happy bedroom? The first and most important is fatigue. No doubt about it, a happy married life takes energy! When a woman is tired out, her emotional life is at a dead level. A sense of defeat and disillusionment follows when she begins to doubt her ability to love and to make love. Girls who are about to marry should understand this. Too often they are tired out at the beginning of their marriages, exhausted from the bridal showers, the shopping and the many decisions which accompany this important step. One young patient of mine called me the morning after her wedding, weeping inconsolably.
“Last night wasn’t anything like I thought it would be,” she said. “It was my fault. What shall I do? I couldn’t seem to feel much like making love. I just wanted to go to sleep.”
“I know the trouble,” I said. “You were so short on rest up to your wedding that you had to fall apart when it was over. Your husband is probably exhausted, too. Take it easy, let nature take its course, and in forty-eight hours you’ll both be laughing about it.” The girl came to see me on returning from her honeymoon. She said that she and her husband had talked the matter over. He had been tired out, too, and he had been worried for fear the fiasco had been his fault. Then they did a sensible thing: they blamed the whole thing on fatigue and forgot about it.
After the honeymoon, as family demands on her energy multiply, many a wife develops a take-it-or-leave-it feeling about lovemaking. Some women, afraid of becoming pregnant because they don’t want to give up their jobs, frequently use fatigue as an excuse. Others, when ten or twelve years of marriage seem to have worn off the glamour, will develop “symptoms” to serve them. I have had women bring me lengthy lists of complaints, hoping they could tell their husbands, “The doctor says I can’t.” On other hand, many wives have come to me to find out how they can get their husbands interested in a sex life again. One patient complained, “Honestly, all he thinks of is his job and getting ahead in the world. I want another baby so badly, but he seems indifferent.”
“Give him time,” I counselled. I knew that the couple had had a particularly difficult experience with their first child, and it was east to understand that the husband might not want to repeat such a trying time very soon. Eventually she did get pregnant again, and this time the whole thing went more easily.
The months after a new baby comes home can be crucial time for a marriage. When a mother comes to me for a final examination after she has had her baby, we talk about the resumption of her sex life with her husband. Something new is going to develop in their physical relationship, I explain. As they go back and pick up this part of their life together, they will feel a great tenderness which can keep growing throughout their marriage. But often the patient will say, “I am just too tired to start yet.”
“You may be,” I say to her, “but I doubt that your husband is. Your love together is just as important now as it ever was, and you must take care of it. You feed your child so it will grow in stature. Just so, it’s up to you to nurture your marriage and see that the child grows up in a happy home.”
In most marriages, at some time, a husband or wife will refuse lovemaking because of distraction, excitement or, most likely, personal hurt. This is a powerful weapon because it touches the innermost sensitivities of the partner. But it is a weapon a husband or wife should never use. To do so is not good for you, your partner, your relationship, and your happy home.
A favourite patient and friend of mine whose husband had died when her two children were babies came into my office after an interval, engaged again and completely transformed by her new happiness. But a year later she was back, her blood count down and her spirits low. There was a blank, life-isn’t-fair look in her eyes. “He doesn’t pay his bills,” my patient’s inventory of injury began, “and he drinks a little too much. He has had two jobs in a year. I’m afraid to quit mine because we need the money.” To top it all, her children by her previous marriage were becoming problems; her new husband refused to discipline them, and he took sides with them when she tried to. Finally she said, “How can I respond to his lovemaking when I feel the way I do?”
Situations as tough as this have been faced by thousands of women: the expectation that a man will support them and make a home for them is not realized; they had hoped to be protected, but find that they must be the strong ones. This is a time to count up one’s assets and realize that one’s desire to make a marriage work is meeting a supreme test.
“You knew he was a risk when you married him,” I said. “And you can’t sit in judgement on him now. You must accept him for what he is – lovable, happy-go-lucky companion. You ask me how you can respond to his lovemaking. I say you can go further than that. You can know the finest love of all – compassion. You can comfort him, for he knows his limitations and he loves you.”
“But it’s not fair,” she said. “I have to work all day and then come home and get dinner while he stops to have a drink with his friends.”
“Of course it’s not fair,” I agreed fervently. “It never will be. But, first of all, I want you to regain your vitality of last year.” My friend was worn out with thinking and judging. I knew she should be still for a while and let love catch her up again. She would find that a love full of compassion and giving can be a more wonderful, truer love because it is built on knowledge and acceptance and not on false expectations. Before she could achieve this, however, she had to overcome the fatigue that saps all vitality from love. “When you come from work,” I told her, “make yourself take time to get some nourishment, put your feet up, let the drive of the day slip away while you find out what happened at school. Your children will love to find you listening again. As soon as this resting place is happier and more peaceful than a nearby bar, your husband will come home quickly, too.”
It is sad to me that some women note that they feel indifferent to lovemaking and stop there. To create a happy bedroom, they need to understand that making love with their husbands is only partly a physical phenomenon. It engages the mind and heart as well as the body. For her own sake, and her husband’s, a woman must work to create that atmosphere of love which is a communication of body, mind and, particularly, heart – so that lovemaking becomes, again and again, a renewing of the whole human being.