Q&A with J: “My Marriage Bed Is a Mess” Part 2

Last week, I talked about the many emails in my inbox with specific stories of hardship surrounding the marriage bed. While I desperately wish I could clone myself and answer every single question fully, I simply cannot.

I’m one tiny part of the Body of Christ, and what I say isn’t the only wisdom out there by any means. I do what I can, but I trust that couples in rough situations can find godly answers from various sources.

Still, I want to share six candid responses that come to mind when reading stories from people who write me and essentially say, “Our marriage bed is a mess.”

Blog post title with unhappy couple in bed

Previously, I covered three possibilities that could apply to your circumstances. Very quickly, they are:

1. You’re married to a selfish jerk; that is, a spouse who dismisses your beliefs, belittles your feelings, and/or thinks your body belongs solely to them to be used as a sexual tool.

2. You are the selfish jerk, meaning you’re the one complaining about how you’re not getting everything you want in the marriage bed and arguing with your mate about how you’ve been mistreated.

3. You have a poor theology of sex, meaning you have been taught and/or adopted erroneous beliefs about sexual intimacy that have had a negative impact on your marriage.

For each of these issues, I provide some answers in the prior post.

Now for the next three responses that often occur to me as I read various scenarios. See if one of these applies to your situation:

4. You’re making mountains out of molehills. Just in case you’re not familiar with that idiom, it means that you’re taking what should be a minor issue and making it a major issue in your marriage. Such emails come from people who:

  • Get overly frustrated with their spouse for not doing a specific sexual activity. For instance, I understand the man who’d like his wife to swallow when she performs fellatio. What I don’t understand is acting like your sex life totally stinks because she won’t!
  • Take deep offense at mild slights. One example here would be the woman who cuts her husband off from sex because he glanced at a pretty girl in the restaurant, figuring somehow that means he’d rather be with her.
  • Hold grudges from past problems. These spouses have amazing memories and can bring up a whole Samsonite store of past baggage when it suits them. Any current issue is seen in light of their tally of offenses from the past, whether or not it applies.

One of the major shifts that helped my marriage so very much was starting to ask myself how much something really mattered. Was the slight personal? Or was my husband behaving in a way that was core to his personality or world view? Was it something I absolutely had to have? Or could I let it go? Was I accurately assessing what was happening? Or making assumptions that weren’t necessarily true?

I still have to do this from time to time, because it’s oh-so-easy to think that something that bothers you is colossally important. But it isn’t always that important. Sometimes you can just talk it out or let it go or … keep your mouth shut, pray for God to work on your heart, and be the one to change.

5. You’re making molehills out of mountains.

This is the spouse who watches “a little porn” and doesn’t think their mate should be upset. Or they had an extramarital affair and complain that she isn’t getting over it quickly enough, because after all, it’s “in the past.” It’s the spouse who doesn’t really like sex and thinks it isn’t that big a deal that it’s been a month or two.

While the previous problem was like people who get a paper cut and think they’re dying, this category is for those who are like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, missing arms and bleeding profusely while proclaiming, “It’s just a flesh wound.”

Monty Python & the Holy Grail: King Arthur fighting armless Black Knight

Good gravy, what’s it going to take for you to understand your spouse is in emotional pain? And that you need to do something about it. Starting with taking your vows to love and cherish your mate seriously. That includes valuing their feelings and trying to work through issues together.

Even if something doesn’t seem big to you, find out why it matters to your spouse. Ask what they’re going through and show genuine compassion and respect. Also find out what really matters to God, because you might well have some false beliefs about what intimacy in marriage should look like. Soak yourself instead in the truth, the way God designed sex in marriage to be. It comes down to this: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

It comes down to this: 'Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.' Click To Tweet

6. You need to ask a different expert.

Having studied a lot about sexuality, and specifically sex from a biblical perspective, I consider myself something of an expert in this field. But I’m not a medical doctor or a licensed counselor or a church pastor or a parenting guru. I know my limits.

If you’re dealing with physical or body chemistry issues that impact your marriage bed, the first and best place to start is your doctor’s office. You may need to push for some answers, or even change doctors, but almost every physical challenge that affects your bedroom has an answer or treatment that will help. Ladies, if you’re looking for someone to consult, check out my post on finding a good gynecologist.

If you’re need resources on teaching young children or even teens about sex, I have written several posts for parents (like this one, this one, and this one). But I’m really not up on books, curriculum, or speakers in that field. My target audience is marrieds, particularly wives, and I mostly keep that focus.

There are other issues as well that I get asked about where I just don’t know and believe other experts are better qualified to answer. If you have a question about sex, consider who might be the best source. Maybe it is me, and I’m obviously happy to answer many questions I receive on this blog. But you might need to talk to your pastor, a doctor, or someone else to get the guidance you need. If you aren’t sure where to go, ask wise friends, whom I hope you have.

Once again, I wish I could get to more emails and answer each specifically. But hopefully these six answers address some of the challenges out there in marriage beds. I encourage you to ask some questions and try to figure out what the source of your problems is. And from that place, you can figure out what step to take next.

In all things, cover your marriage bed in prayer. And know that others are praying for you.

27 thoughts on “Q&A with J: “My Marriage Bed Is a Mess” Part 2

  1. Emily

    Just a little heads up- points 4&5 are the same. Wasn’t sure if that was purposeful or not.

    I appreciate you and all you do! Thank you !
    Emily

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thanks, Emily! But actually, they’re not the same. Mountains / molehills are flipped. But I did add italics to try to clarify. I appreciate you letting me know it wasn’t as clear as I wanted. 🙂

      Reply
      1. e2

        Emily may have hit on something, even without intending to. I wonder if one spouse’s mountain is sometimes the other spouse’s molehill. My wife and I have a few issues we’ve wrestled with for decades. While I confess that, in some cases, I make the issues larger than they need to be, I sometimes feel as if she sees them as smaller than they really are. And, on other issues, we’re just the opposite, with me minimizing what she seems to be maximizing. My guess is that, on these issues, it doesn’t matter which one of us moves, just as long as one of us does.

        Reply
  2. libl

    I get confused because I am not sure if in my situation I am the selfish spouse or he is. Just to recap, my husband wants me to orgasm through intercourse alone. He refuses foreplay, oral, and manual on me. We have settled on my masturbating during intercourse so I can “come first.” Otherwise, I cannot orgasm unless by manual or oral. Rarely, I can have some sort of vaginal orgasm during intercourse, but it isn’t as releasing as the other orgasms.

    It is often told to men that if your wife isn’t comfortable with oral or manual that you shouldn’t make a mountain out of it so long as you are having satisfying PIV often, otherwise you are selfish.

    I have stopped asking for it because he made it crystal clear he doesn’t like and doesn’t want to do those things, and he won’t. IF by some chance he does, it is so half-baked it ruins it for me no matter how I try to be appreciative of whatever he is willing to give that I cannot orgasm. At least if I guy gets half-baked duty sex 9 times out if 10 he can still orgasm.

    Am I selfish? Is he? Us both?

    Am I making a mountain? Our currently relationship/sex life leaves me with little to “get excited about.” Thus, I have to rely on fantasy (I fantasize about things I’d like him to do to me), and masturbation to help me through. He has actually told me to leave him alone and masturbate because I want him to give me an orgasm and he feels I put too much of the work on him. I don’t believe this is right so I know I must stop, but that leaves me with no means to orgasm during sex. I am hoping that maybe, just maybe if I go cold turkey long enough I will learn to orgasm during PIV, and learn to be excited about having sex with him as is.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Given this snippet of the story, my initial thoughts were (1) he’s selfish and (2) he has a poor theology of sex. That said, you might need to seek (6) a different expert, as in quality marriage counseling because someone else might need to intervene to explain how women’s sexual response works, how his approach is negatively affecting your relationship, and what sex in marriage should look like (including why it will be so much better for him too). You could also try seeing if he’ll read a book on the subject together, like 31 Days to Great Sex by Sheila Gregoire.

      Reply
      1. libl

        Thanks, J. 🙂

        Where we live there isn’t a qualified marriage counselor for miles upon miles. He won’t go anyway, and our finances wouldn’t allow for it.

        I have explained female sexuality to him, and MY sexuality and he said he knows all that, but that he doesn’t like manual or oral, I take too long (20 minutes tops), and it puts too much work and pressure on him.

        He has watched a variety of sex ed videos (non-explicit), so he gets the education. I suppose now because I have shut up he is content with the status quo. I ask him once or twice a year if he is satisfied and wants anything different, but he never asks me.

        I have Sheila’s book and tried reading it to him, but he wasn’t interested.

        Right now, I am working on me. I needed to know if I am selfish because I am currently addressing my side. I need to stop any sinfulness or wrongful actions (fantasy and masturbation…and possible selfishness, which is why I asked), and I need to find the courage to speak up and start asking again.

        I took the advice of a man on another blog page who suggested I give hubby the sex he wants for a time to make it a positive experience for him again and possibly more open to pleasing me. It seemed to work in that he says he is fully satisfied.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          My sarcastic self flared, imagining saying things back like, “Well, I’m not doing your thing then, because you take too little time.” Or “I’ll be glad to have more sexual intimacy when you’re ready for me to actually have sexual intimacy.” But of course, it’s a balance of boundaries and communication and working on yourself. We do want to lean in marriage toward greater kindness and submission, but I agree that you need to continue advocating for what God wants to have: a mutually satisfying marriage bed.

          Reply
        2. Amy

          I’m sure he is fully satisfied! He’s getting all the sex he wants and desires, but you are still left without complete satisfaction. Sorry, but it irritates me that some guy is telling you to just give your husband what he wants so hopefully it will bring him around to wanting to please you too. All this is likely to do, is make your hubby content in the sex life he is getting, not change his way of thinking towards your overall satisfaction.

          You are not being selfish in wanting complete satisfaction too in the marriage bed. It is about mutuality, both spouses being sexually fulfilled. I hate to say this, but truthfully, it is your husband who is the selfish one.
          While my hubby and I don’t have the frequency I wish for, I will say that he is never ever selfish with me during sex. He is always more concerned about my fulfillment than even his own.
          So stop thinking of yourself as being selfish. Sex is for both spouses within a marriage and that includes both husband and wife reaching orgasm and having that complete satisfaction that comes with it.

          Look at it this way: what if on your anniversary you and your hubby go out to a nice restaurant. You both order the prime rib (or whatever you like) dinner. You both enjoy the delicious home baked bread and soup or salad that comes beforehand, growing excited about having that perfectly cooked, juicy steak. The waitress brings your entrees, but you do not get a steak on your plate, only the baked potato and veggie, because they ran out. Meanwhile, your hubby is really enjoying his steak while ignoring the fact that you don’t get a full meal. And while the sides are still delectable you feel disappointed and unsatisfied because you didn’t get the main course. But you you don’t want to act selfish, so you grin and bear it and are ‘happy’ that your hubby was so satisfied with dinner.
          Do you see where the selfishness lies in this scenario? It is not you. And what if 50% of the time you ate out this same thing happened? After a while you may decline going out to dinner because you come away so unsatisfied and growing more resentful that your hubby seems oblivious to the fact that you are not getting fully satisfied at dinner.

          While we as spouses do need to be generous and give unselfishly to one another, there comes a point when we are sharing in something mutual in our marriage, such as sex, that both spouses come away happy, content and satisfied.

          Reply
          1. Reiko

            This! I’m in a similar situation as libl, and the comparison is right on. So yes, I stopped wanting to “go out” because there was little connection or satisfaction for me. He just wants to watch me take care of myself, now that I know how. (In a healthy marriage I’d have no problem with doing that *some* of the time, of course.) But without counseling being an option (I did try to get help from our pastor but he wouldn’t do anything as long as my husband refused to discuss the issues), I don’t know what the next step is. Giving him all the sex he wanted didn’t work. Asking for what I wanted didn’t work. Giving him none of the sex he wanted didn’t work. What’s left?

          2. J Post author

            Well, persistence, for one thing. But do you have any options for mentors in your church? The older teaching the younger (even if that’s simply maturity in the faith or in marriage) is a biblical concept that we probably don’t use often enough.

        3. Four Under Four

          I’m really sorry. That’s a stinky situation. If you have tried ever other route, is it possible to say, “I refuse to participate in a one-sided, un -biblical sex life. You are missing out on God’s plan for you, and I refuse to help you be selfish in this area. Every time you refuse to help me find some pleasure in our marriage bed,I will immediately be off -limits to you. I will stop wherever we are in intercourse and walk away. Until we can do this thing together, we can’t do it.”? I don’t even know if that’s really biblical, but going along with his selfish use of your body is destructive to him and you, and I know God is not pleased with it. It seems like it might take something drastic to get your husbands attention in this area.

          J, if this advise is inappropriate, I am sorry. It is not my intention to give bad advise.

          Reply
          1. J Post author

            I think the boundary is just fine, but I’d word it rather differently. Instead of using “you’re selfish” language, I’d keep it in terms of yourself…like “I really want to have to sex with you, but until my pleasure is taken into account, I can’t be fully present in the marriage bed” or “I long for us to sexual intimacy, but I just can’t let myself be in a one-sided sexual relationship. When we can both have pleasure in the marriage bed, then I’ll be 100% on board.” And I wouldn’t make these ultimatums, rather calm statements of what you’ll happily do, while making it obvious about what you won’t do.

            Moreover, you don’t have to wait until everything is exactly as it should be. Improvement, progress, even baby steps should get a positive response.

            Ultimately, what you decide to do has to be in the context of (1) what have I contributed to make our situation worse or to enable improper behavior? and (2) what’s the loving (defined biblically) thing to do here? It’s not loving to keep a tally (“Love keeps no record of wrongs” – 1 Corinthians 13:5), but love also doesn’t dishonor others (v. 5 again). And you have to be careful not to deprive your husband (1 Corinthians 3:5) so that you can gain the upper hand, but rather to set reasonable standards for sexual intimacy in line with God’s calling for intimacy in marriage and erring on the side of grace. I hope that makes sense.

          2. Reiko

            Thanks. It’s definitely tricky to find the right balance of setting boundaries. I know I haven’t handled it as well as I should have because I’ve already set my boundary on this as carefully as I could, and the result of that has been his withdrawal and refusal to initiate. He just wants me to tell him when I’m in the mood so he doesn’t ever have to be declined again. But why would I be in the mood for what he’s offering? Until he shows that he’s offering something more balanced, I’m not particularly interested, unfortunately.

          3. J Post author

            See that’s what is tricky too: A stalemate doesn’t help your marriage. So if two people just retreat to their corners over this issue, it could spell trouble for the whole marriage. I’m saddened that you’re in this situation, but if the boundary doesn’t work, I think you’ve got to try someone else. It’s not good to just pretty much say, “Then fine, we won’t ever have sex,” because sexual intimacy is something that can help nurture the marriage so that you want to work on relationship issues. It goes both ways: relationship affects sex, and sex affects relationship. Which makes it difficult at times to know where in the cycle to step in and try to make change.

            I encourage you, though, to foster your friendship with your husband and consider when/how you can get back into having sex in a way that may not be perfect but helps the marriage as a whole. Of course, I don’t know all the particulars, so this is general advice. Blessings!

    2. Tom Hillson

      Libl, I hope I am never as uncaring and unloving to my future wife as your husband is to you. I’m sure I won’t be. Wow. I can’t believe it. I’m sorry.

      Reply
  3. libl

    I don’t feel right with that boundary because I feel it will cause more harm than good. I have been through enough turmoil in my life and marriage and am on a path towards healing. We finally got to a point where I can afford to see a physician. I really don’t want to throw a stick in my bicycle spokes.

    I don’t believe he will ever change unless God drives him to his knees.

    I asked my question for my sake because everywhere I read it tells husbands who want, say, oral sex, but their wife doesn’t, to stop being selfish and putting pressure on her. Maybe it is a double standard because men can climax easily during PIV, but most women cannot, if at all, so acts like oral and manual on a woman are important towards mutuality.

    Before I set such a strong boundary, if I set that at all, I need to become brave enough to speak up about my dissatisfaction. But, before I do that, I need to overcome my sin of fantasy and masturbation.

    Everyone who read this please pray that God wakes him up about this issue.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I agree with you, libl. Well thought out. And a demonstration of how you have to take suggestions you read, think about your own situation, and apply them with wisdom and prayer. Blessings!

      Reply
    2. Amy

      I see that comparison like oranges and apples — a husband backing off from asking for oral sex from his wife who doesn’t really want to and a wife backing off from asking her husband to help her orgasm during sex, which is what you are wanting. While yes, it’s often true that women need more stimulation like oral, manual or a vibrator to reach orgasm during sex, to me it’s a whole different thing from a man wanting a certain sex act like oral and not forcing that issue if his wife has hopefully tried but isn’t wanting to do it, and a wife asking her husband to participate in helping her achieve an orgasm, whether that includes oral or not.

      You’re simply wanting to feel the same satisfaction from sex that your husband is getting and wanting him to help you get there too. And as most of us women know, it’s very rare that a man is not going to climax during sex compared to the wife, so wanting our husbands to help us achieve an orgasm is not selfish, and it doesn’t mean necessarily he has to give oral sex either. If a husband has tried and for whatever reason does not like to give oral to his wife, then yes, I think it’s fair to not pressure him since there are other ways of helping a wife climax. But in your case I see your husband just selfishly saying no to doing anything, except maybe halfheartedly doing something at times, to help you. And that is not okay.

      I hope that you will be able to communicate your needs and find a way to hopefully have him hear you. This isn’t just about oral sex or orgasms, it’s about selfishness and somewhere along the way he has discovered he can be selfish in this area and get away with it.

      Reply
    3. Four Under Four

      Libl, I have a great deal of respect for you, and I am praying for your husband to see the damage he is causing, and start fixing it. My suggestion was not meant to be a vindictive measure on your part, but more to make him actually aware of the problem. This is based on my personal experience with my own husband who, loving as he is, sometimes doesn’t really understand what I’m going through until I force him to walk in my shoes. For instance, after our second child was born, my husband pressured me a lot to keep up with our old “late night, hanging out with friends” habits. The thing is, our baby was extremely colicky, and I was getting at best three hours of broken sleep a night, with no naps during the day. I was utterly exhausted. He knew I was tired, but really didn’t feel like it was that bad. Until I made a deal with him. For one night,I would wake him up every time I was up, and he would have to stay awake until I could go back to sleep. Three hours into that and he was profusely sorry, and was far more understanding and helpful towards me after that. His issue wasn’t that he didn’t care,he just didn’t understand.

      You know your husband better than anyone. You know if that kind of thing would be a wake up call or a marriage death blow. From my perspective as an outsider, neither one of you are experiencing sexual intimacy anyway, so it seems just that you BOTH bear the burden of that until you both find a way to fix it together, whereas currently, you are bearing that burden alone. And it is big! He is denying you an entire aspect of your humanity, yet expects you to fulfill him. (This is similar to a wife refusing her husband, but with the added aspect of demanding frequent orgasms anyway.)

      What if your finances were so limited you couldn’t afford to feed both of you? What if you still gave him a full plate of food all the time, but skimped yourself because there wasn’t enough? You might complain about it, and an observant husband would notice and take action, but a thoughtless or obstinate spouse might judge the budget based off his own full belly and just ignore the issue while you slowly starve (and really, a weak, starving wife is not good for him, either!) It might not be until he is served your own portion sizes that recognizes a problem. That was the thought behind my comment. I hope you can see that I didn’t mean unkindness towards your husband. I appreciate your ability to take advise and discern what is right for you, and I really pray you find some answers.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        I just want to add that I know libl is here on my blog often enough to glean quite a lot of what I’ve said about a healthy theology of sex.

        Of course it’s hard to take one part of the scenario and give very specific advice, but what I appreciate most is when spouses are intentionally trying to figure out how to make progress in their marriage bed. This, libl, is clearly not an ideal situation, and there are issues both on your side and his side. But I do believe that your husband needs to rethink his approach, and I pray that you can find words of wisdom and/or the right actions that can make a difference. Many blessings!

        Reply
  4. Mitch

    I feel for the spouses on the negative end of selfish relationships. I was once married to a selfish, narsasitic, childish, score keeper. She knew how much I longed to be with her and would make me wait until I did what she wanted (non-sexual) and offer up sex as a reward. Even though the sex was out of this world, (lengthy encounters with multiple orgasms) I eventually felt very empty and the value was greatly diminished. I confronted her about how I felt which was imidiately turned against me. She already had a guy on standby and fled the state leaving me with two sons ages 2 and 5. I took that time to read Gods word, set boundaries and develop healthy relationships. We divorced and I was granted custody of my boys now 10 and 13. I remarried after 3 years and still face some struggles. My relationship with my new wife is way better but now the sex is rarely present. It’s depressing. I’ve brought it up in a non threatening way on multiple occasions to which it’s answered with better frequency for about a month before we get back on once a month if I’m lucky. She knows the importance of sexual intimacy from my perspective but it gets put on the back burner and I’m expected to wait until she is ready. I’ll flirt and check her sex temp periodically which doesn’t often register. I’ll leave her alone for a week or longer so there isn’t any pressure and still not a hint of interest in me. I’m nearing 40 and often think about developing ED or prostate issues by the time she finally gets the urge to be sexually adventurous. Maybe then would she understand and feel the emptiness from what is lacking in this marriage now. At least then it would be for a medical reason and not because I don’t feel like it.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it 2,376 times… 🙂 Do you know WHY your wife isn’t engaging in more frequent sexual intimacy? Because there’s a reason, and pushing her to have more sex isn’t likely to work nearly as well as finding out the reasons why and addressing those. You might check out my How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse post. Wishing you all the best!

      Reply
      1. Mitch

        Thanks J. I’m sure it’s stress on her part and not feeling her best. She has complained about her weight and questions why I would even want to see her in the nude. She’s been overloaded with tasks at work. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill and being selfish but we have gone like this for a few years now. I feel the more patient I am, the more passive I become. The more passive I am, the less I lead. Maybe I need to start playing golf again to divert my thoughts and attention elsewhere.

        Reply
  5. e2

    C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Four Loves” that one of the first things erotic love does is obliterate the distinction between the selfish and selfless. Unlike agape love, which “seeks not her own,” erotic love has both selfish and selfless components. So, it’s not at all selfish (in a bad sense) to desire to receive sexual pleasure from your spouse. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, if all you have for each other is purely unselfish agape love, your sexual intimacy will be incomplete. Imagine, if you will, having a spouse who was always willing to unselfishly give you pleasure, but had no selfish desire to receive pleasure from you. You might consider such a sex-life to be lacking in fullness.

    Reply
  6. Libl

    Thank you, all, for your words. I really do appreciate it. Please pray, too. I admit that I am scared to death to even mention this, let alone confront. I’ve done it before with horrible results and the last several years have been rebuilding any sort of sex life from that point.

    Right now, this is the first time in our marriage he actually seems to enjoy sex freely and for the first time he is being more adventerous. This is the first time he has suggested us getting away as a couple for us, for sex. This is the first time he has expressed ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to undo all of that. It took so much out of me the first time. This is the first time since he stopped giving me oral and manual nearly 8 years ago that he actually participates in my pleasure (which is me masturbating during PIV). It isn’t perfect by far, but it is a LOT better than the hell we had before. This has taken nearly 5 years to rebuild.

    Only God knows the path, the hearts, the motives. I need His wisdom so much.

    Reply

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