Some wives admit to mishandling sexual intimacy in their marriage and now want to make a change. In fact, they’ve started changing. They are approaching the marriage bed with a better attitude and attempting to make behavioral adjustments that show a greater willingness to work on physical intimacy.
So why isn’t it working? Why is he not responding with enthusiasm? Didn’t he say that’s what he wanted?
I’d been meaning to talk about this subject and then Sheila Gregoire wrote a wonderful post on How Do You Reset Your Sex Life? I encourage you to read it.
But I also recently addressed this with a reader who shared her own story. And my answer included this tidbit:
From what I’ve seen, making a change requires time for both parties:
- One spouse decides to change, but needs time and intentionality and practice to create a new habit.
- Then the other spouse needs time and repeated confirmation to believe that this change is real and permanent.
I suspect couples give up too soon on one or the other of these…before the positive effects of a new approach can be felt and appreciated.
The spouse who changes. This is the first part of any lasting change — the spouse who decides to change their dance steps. It can be either spouse and it can be in any way that affects the marriage bed. Maybe the wife has been a sexual refuser. Maybe the husband has neglected affection and romance. Maybe the wife has withheld letting her husband see her body. Maybe the husband has been watching pornography or even playing video games instead of making love with his wife. It can be any infraction — small to large — that a spouse now realizes she should change.
So the change begins. This is difficult stuff, because it typically involves a shift in both attitude and behavior. When you first try to break out of the mold and do something different, it can feel awkward and vulnerable. But you give it your best shot, alter your approach, and step out of your comfort zone.
It won’t be enough to do this once or twice, though. If you want to change the sexual intimacy in your marriage, you have to create a new habit. You have to practice this new attitude and behavior until it becomes a part of you and your marriage. And it can be easy to give up too soon.
Like trying out new dance moves, you can stumble your first time out. You might feel “sore” emotionally (or even physically) afterward. Your commitment can waiver. Is this really such a good idea? How quickly can I reap the reward? Is this worth the extra effort?
Here’s the tough Christian truth: Whether or not your spouse ever responds appropriately to your more godly attitude toward sexual intimacy, you still have the obligation to do what’s right for your marriage. It’s the example set by Jesus — to love and put others first (see Philippians 2:1-11 and 1 John 4:19).
Hang in there and keep going when you’ve decided to make the right change. God will bless you for your faithfulness, although it may be in unexpected ways. However, your marriage may simply need time to adjust to the new you to begin to live into more God-honoring sexual intimacy.
The spouses who responds. Just as one dance partner can change steps, the other may choose to follow or stay put. If your spouse has suddenly changed, it can be unsettling. Your first response might be eagerness and encouragement, but it could also be nervousness and suspicion.
After all, why the change? Are they trying to manipulate you for some other purpose? Is there something they’re hiding? Is this simply a fluke? You may want to tamp down any excitement, because you can’t stand the thought of falling so hard again; you’ve had your hopes up before, and having them dashed is too painful. As Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
It usually takes time for the receiving spouse to believe this change is really happening, that it’s not for some ulterior motive, that it could become permanent. Experts say it takes maybe 28 days to create a new habit, and maybe it takes that many times of your husband not rejecting you or your wife trying different positions or activities to believe that a shift has really occurred.
So what’s your Christian duty here? Be patient, loving, forgiving. Realize that your spouse is trying to change and help them through. It may not be a seamless transition to a new pattern of sexual intimacy for your marriage. Your wife or husband may mess up, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sincere or that you won’t reach a better destination together. It can be a struggle to stick with it, but in Luke 17:14 Jesus says, “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” So your job is to hang in there with your spouse, continuing to be the husband or wife you should be.
Changing together. I truly believe many couples give up too soon along this journey. We’re impatient to receive the rewards of our efforts. Maybe that’s why there are so many farming references in the Bible about sowing and reaping! People in an agricultural society would have certainly understood the time-lapse between planting and harvest — and in between, cultivation and care are needed.
My own analogy has been dance steps. It takes two to tango and two to change. If one of you introduces new dance steps, it takes a bit for the other to pick up on them. And then it takes even more time to practice the dance and make it part of your repertoire. The change isn’t immediate. It takes time.
But in a covenant marriage, you have time. Use it.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Another recommended article on this topic: I‘m Changing But My Husband Doesn’t Seem to Notice from Forgiven Wife