We had the honor and privilege of having Amy Langford on our GYMO podcast. Amy is an incredible life coach for marriage relationships. Amy’s knowledge comes not just from her research, but also from her own incredible life experience. Here, Amy shares with us the details of her own journey of sexual self-discovery and saving her marriage.
Tell me about your relationship…
We’ve been married 24 years with 4 kids. I think we loved each other very much and were set up in some patterns that we have worked a while to figure out. My husband was a problematic pursuer and I was a problematic distancer. He is the high desire partner and I was a low desire partner. He thought I would solve all his sexual desires and I thought he would take care of me and solve all my emotional needs. He pursued- I pulled away. He was needy for sexual validation and I was needy for emotional validation. And anytime any emotion was high, I would pull away. Trouble with the kids – distant from intimacy. Worry about money- distance from intimacy. Anxiety over my body or weight- distance from intimacy. Uncertainty about sexual expectations- distance from intimacy.
To further complicate the problem, the more I distanced due to emotions the more my husband pursued. The more he pursued to ease the rejection, the more I pulled away getting sucked farther into my emotions. He felt rejected and I felt smothered. It was a very real struggle. Eventually about 10 years into our relationship this pattern became an atomic bomb. I was experiencing severe depression after the birth of our fourth child- which dropped me to a place of zero desire and emotionally completely drowning. I really pulled away and he really felt rejected. He had turned to porn to solve his high desire and feelings of rejection. I discovered his porn use late one night while nursing my son.
Neither of us was in a good place. At the time, I thought this atomic bomb on our marriage was going to destroy us, and it was painful and very difficult, but it also exposed exactly where we needed to grow. And that exposure was very hard and challenging to sort out, but it was the best thing for us.
What did that atomic bomb expose for you?
What that atomic bomb exposed for me, was I needed to figure out how to develop a healthy relationship with my emotions and sexuality so that I could be autonomous instead of dependent and needy. I had lost myself in kids and housework and marriage. He was my emotional dumping ground and I expected him to listen and solve my emotions- which is impossible of course. Resentment built up because he didn’t solve my sadness, anxiety, or worry and I didn’t have any emotional bandwidth or desire for intimacy. You really can’t be intimate when all your emotional bandwidth is taken. And I was emotionally dependent, which doesn’t facilitate eroticism.
And what it exposed for my husband was that he needed to develop a healthy relationship with his sexuality so he could bring that integrity to our intimacy. His porn revealed that he didn’t know how to work through stressful situations without the buffer of porn. The porn revealed how frustrated he was trying to manage my emotions and his. He also had to learn to work through his own emotions. He thought his job was to take care of me and make me happy and if I wasn’t happy he was failing.
Intimacy doesn’t solve emotions… but it does expose them!!
How did you work through the atomic bomb?
The next few years were rocky. I took the moral high ground- he was shameful and compliant. We went to a religious therapist who told us he was an addict and would never recover. We never went back.
We struggled through trying and failing a lot because we didn’t have a framework to understand what was happening. He felt shame and I felt betrayed. He tried to stop viewing and would for awhile, but willpower and shame wasn’t enough- they sent him back to porn. I tried to control him and check his computer and phone- essentially being the guardian of his sexuality. He resented me for it. I worried about what he had seen and how I compared to it and that his sexual desire was out of control or evil. We were stuck in the message that he was an addict, immoral and broken and I was justified in my betrayal and felt insecure in comparison to the porn. We also accepted the messaging that I was somewhat more moral because I had lower desire and his higher desire made him less holy. At this time, porn use was considered so shameful in our religion that we really didn’t talk to others about it.
Things Started to Shift…
One shift happened when I read a book about “Good Girls Do” love sex and it opened my eyes that sex might be good and actually for me and not just to service him. This was a shift for me from thinking lower desire was more moral, but I still couldn’t figure out how to want sex and what was good about it. We were stuck in duty sex which left us both empty and unfulfilled. And there was still uncertainty about the goodness of desire and intimacy.
We went to another therapist who helped us work through the pain of betrayal and some of the emotional trauma- betrayal for me and shame for him. This helped lighten the emotional load and opened possibilities. We also learned there that he wasn’t an addict and that the porn was a buffer, like many other buffers for numbing emotional distress and desire for perfection- as a Dad and husband and provider. But I still felt he should only direct his sexuality at me and couldn’t understand the porn. I would often ask him “did you choose me today?” Meaning did you look at porn or not. It was a terrible question and did not help either of us. I never asked myself if or how I was choosing him.
Things Get Worse Before They Get Better
From there we immersed ourselves in learning- books, podcasts, classes on marriage and sexuality. At first we used the information as weapons against each other pointing out where the other was falling short and what they were doing wrong. He said I should initiate more, I still wasn’t certain what was so desirable about sex and how to work with my lower desire. I often felt empty afterwards and I couldn’t figure out why. I felt obligated and he felt rejected. There was so much pressure around sex. I didn’t feel that I could say no and he felt unwanted. At this point his higher desire became more moral and now I was broken and had to figure out how to increase my desire. We had a lot of talks but basically got nowhere because we were so defensive, emotional, justified and each needed to be right. We were stuck in our separate camps determined we were right.
Normalizing the Situation
But as we continued we also realized we were more normal than we thought- marriages had a higher and lower desire person, a pursuer and a pursued, and differences in desire and preferences. Many people were confused about their sexuality; if it was actually good, and how to integrate it into their marriage in a way that actually worked.
At this time more classes and podcasts began openly talking about marriage and sexuality, desire differences and meanings behind porn use. We started talking with other couples and found a lot of marriages were struggling like us. Seeing others and normalizing our struggle became a lifeline out of shame and feeling broken.
We started seeing the possibility of sexuality as goodness and a gift, even though we were actively struggling to figure out how. We started having more open conversations between us with moments of progress and understanding! We started seeing our differences in desire and emotional struggles as a part of our development and a part of being married.
Validation and Obligation
We learned about validation and obligation. He was seeking sexual validation and I was seeking emotional validation. I felt obligated to have sex which is a huge turn off. He felt obligated to take care of me which isn’t erotic. We learned about differentiation and what it means to take ownership of yourself. At this point we realized we were so enmeshed in each other’s emotions we were constantly drowning in them. We started working on becoming two emotionally distinct people and not managing each other’s emotions- but still caring and being invested in each other. We learned about self confrontation and how to confront your part in a relationship pattern and problem first. We started confronting our part in our relational patterns- how he pursued and how I distanced. We learned about emotional regulation and how to identify and process through our emotions and not taking ownership of each other’s emotions. This was a big big step!
Honesty and Kindness
We learned what it really meant to be honest and kind. We started being really honest and asking “what was hard about being married to me?” And actually listening to the answer – even though it hurt. We asked a lot of questions to understand each other. Each step created movement and shifts. Like tapping the blocks out of a jenga tower, we took out what was not working and eventually our old marriage and relationship to sexuality tumbled and we rebuilt a new marriage and relationship to sexuality.
Listening, Not Being Right
The huge shifts started to happen for me when I learned to listen, to not need to be right, not try to control, but to know him and understand him. I learned to love him as he was. The phrase you can love or you can control has really stuck with me. Also really listening takes a lot of grounding to not react or defend- but just listen. I also really started to be curious about who I was and what I desired in life in general and sexually too. I saw my pattern of disinvestment in our sexual relationship and how I had judged him as lesser for his high desire. Now that I understood him better I felt sorrow for my judgment of him. I really saw how I wanted him to solve my anxiety and how that was never his job. Also, I started studying a lot more about the female body and sexuality.
You’re Not Broken at All!
The huge shift happened for him when he accepted that his sexuality was good and he was not broken at all. He started seeing all the ways he was seeking validation in his life and he really started changing that pattern. His sexual/ intimate pursuit in our relationship changed when he wasn’t seeking validation. He overcame the need to view porn as a buffer. He became more honest with himself and with me. He learned to listen to and ask the hard questions. He also learned to love me deeper as I was. We were finally growing- looking forward instead of back.
A Time and A Space to Heal
In the middle of all this, I also went to coach certification and learned how to process my emotions and manage my mind. This was another huge shift for me to really learn how to process my emotions- especially anxiety. I didn’t realize how much anxiety was leading my decisions. I developed a stronger relationship with myself. I started a coaching business. I challenged myself and started facing anxieties instead of turning away from them. And he also started branching out and pursuing a new interest in horse therapy and working with disabled and vets -that he loved.
Another big shift happened when he gave me a generous sexual gift. He said that he didn’t want duty sex anymore, he wanted to be chosen, so he willing to wait for me to decide what I want and to develop my own desire. And he waited and gave me all the space. He didn’t pressure me or punish or push me. And during that time, I really looked honestly at myself and my desires and my sexuality and what I wanted. I knew I had a choice and I was free to make the choice.
I examined my meanings around sex, I examined my desires, I examined what I wanted in our relationship. I examined who I wanted to be and what I wanted to create. The space allowed me to own my sexuality and make some important decisions.
And I found some things….
What did you learn?
- Anxiety doesn’t produce eroticism. I had to face the anxieties I had around my body, my sexuality and my life. I had adopted these anxieties from many places. It was my responsibility to challenge them and create an accepting and kind relationship with my body, my sexuality, my strengths and flaws. He couldn’t solve my anxieties or create that relationship for me. I had to move towards anxiety instead of away from it. I also wrote down my desires in life and what I wanted and started owning all my desires in life and moving towards the anxiety of creating them.
I also had to set up some emotional boundaries in life to not let other life anxieties- like kids, finances, extended family- spill over into our sexual relationship. Unresolved emotional issues or negative emotions turn off our ability to be erotic. I learned how to process through anxiety so I could relax and be present for eroticism. I can’t enter eroticism from worry, anxiety, fear – rather I have to create a calm open space and then I can enter eroticism. You can’t feel pleasure and anxiety at the same time!
- Also I needed to really fall in love with myself and my body and my sexuality. I took time to inhabit and love my body and all the amazing things it does everyday. I practiced loving and taking care of my body, thanking it and expressing appreciation. I stopped saying critical and negative things about my body. I started taking better care of my body and health in general. I gave myself permission to enjoy pleasure and allowed myself to feel pleasure. So many women can’t receive pleasure or won’t allow themselves to feel it.
- I stopped asking if he was choosing me and started looking at whether or not I was choosing him. I learned to trust myself first and extend that trust to him because I could discern he was trustworthy. Good sex requires that you trust yourself first. I put the control of trust back in me instead of in him.
- I let go of the idea that he was responsible for our sexual relationship and took ownership of my own sexuality. I needed to find what contexts, meanings, interpretations and experiences I enjoyed and found arousing and only rely on him and his higher desire to provide those. We started collaborating. Our meanings of sex are what create its beauty- not technique or positions. I also gave myself permission to say yes and no to sexual experiences. Now I know that I am never obligated and never take care of him. Our sexual intimacy is a choice- never an obligation.
- I learned about things like sexual brakes and accelerators- what turned me on and off. I would examine what meanings brought me closer to him like: feeling sexy, feeling chosen, feeling like partners, seeing him as invested in our marriage and life, seeing him develop himself, sending each other fun/sexy messages, feeling desirable/ desired, flirting and connecting throughout the day, seeing our friendship, seeing his devotion, creating anticipation, creating fun, creating connecting conversations, role plays, erotic messages/meanings, playing with the forbidden or power shifts, etc.
Wow, Amy’s story is truly incredible. I hope hearing her story inspires you to take charge of your sexuality and do the work to become emotionally self-reliant. To learn more from her, listen to our podcast episode #101 or follow her on Instagram.