Welcome to my Thursday Q&A…on Saturday. Because Wednesday through Friday were Crazy Town in the Parker office, so I’m two days behind. Anyway, last week, I talked about addressing sexless marriage, or ones in which your libidos are highly mismatched. In that post, I suggested “if you want to make progress in a sexless marriage, you should make every effort to create a safe environment in which your refusing spouse can share and feel validated, loved, and supported.”
But let me go back and clarify something for those of you in the midst of a sexual drought in your marriage due to a refusing spouse: You’re in a terrible spot, and I ache for you. Likely you’ve tried everything you can think of to deal with the sexlessness in your marriage.
Some of the things refused spouses have tried:
- Opening up conversations about sexual intimacy, only to be shut down by their mate
- Trying to explain their level of desire, only to be accused of being obsessed with sex
- Expressing their emotional pain, only to have their feelings dismissed by their mate
- Working harder to meet their spouse’s emotional needs, only to have their own remain unappreciated or unacknowledged
- Praying for God to take away their libido, only to struggle more with frustration and loneliness
- Telling a marriage counselor about the sexlessness, only to have the issue tabled or being advised to deal with “more important things” first
It’s all very unfair. And I have no desire to add to the burden you already feel. Literally 100% of my ministry’s mission is to get marriages to embrace God’s design for sex in marriage — which includes frequent, meaningful encounters that satisfy both spouses.
However, here’s the difficulty I face in trying to help marriages like yours:
- Your spouse isn’t reading my blog. Refused spouses rarely read up on biblical sexual intimacy until after they’re convicted that something needs to change.
- Your spouse probably doesn’t understand the significance of sex. Yes, you’ve told them and they should get it, but what I’ve heard from spouse after spouse who eventually came around is they really, honestly didn’t understand what sex meant for their marriage.
- Your spouse is likely reacting from a place of fear or insecurity. It may have nothing to do with you, and it may not even make sense based on their previous willingness to engage, but after talking to formerly refusing spouses, I also believe this to be true. Many spouses put up barriers to engaging in sex or talking about their lack of libido out of self-protection.
- Your spouse isn’t likely to change unless and until you do. Whatever else Dr. Phil did or didn’t do, he gave us this gem of a phrase: “How’s that working for you?” Meaning that if what you’ve been doing hasn’t resulted in sufficient progress, it’s time to try something else.
So are you willing to try a different path and see if you can break through? I make no guarantees, but after looking at this issue from every which way I can think of, hearing others’ stories, praying for wisdom, studying the Bible, and culling through relevant research … I believe the place from which change can begin is a renewed bond of trust.
If your spouse trusts you, he/she is far more likely to listen to your concerns, express their own fears and insecurities, and be willing to work on sexual intimacy — because they trust that you have their best interests at heart.
Yet when the Bible talks about trust, it primarily focuses on our need to trust God. There are few Bible verses about trusting others, but several actually warn against trusting others:
- “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans” (Psalm 118:8).
- “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Psalm 146:3).
- “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” (Isaiah 2:22).
Based on those verses, I have a lot of nerve suggesting spouses should trust each other. But while we’re often commanded to trust in God, the Bible doesn’t command us to trust but instead to be trustworthy. That is, it’s not “hey, go trust so-and-so” but rather “hey, be someone others can trust”:
- “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Proverbs 12:22).
- “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
- “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).
- “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (1 Timothy 3:11).
You see, we’re not commanded to trust people willy-nilly. Rather, God thinks it’s reasonable for us to discern whether someone is worthy of our trust.
And I’m going say this one without reservation: If your spouse is refusing sex and unwilling to even discuss the situation, he/she doesn’t trust you.
I’m not saying you deserve that! I’m not saying it comes from what you’ve done! It likely doesn’t. But right now, their fear and insecurity are bigger than their trust and willingness to be vulnerable. You’re going to have to build even more trust … by demonstrating (repeatedly) that you’re trustworthy.
How do you convince your refusing spouse that you’re trustworthy?
I recently listened to an audiobook titled The Code of Trust, in which a former FBI agent lays out five principles he used to get informants to trust him and share relevant information without payment and sometimes at personal risk. As I listened, I realized that so much of what he recommended coincides with how Jesus showed us to treat others. Here are his five principles, along with a biblical viewpoint of each.
1. Suspend Your Ego. Let go of your own agenda, your own desires, and remind yourself that it’s not about you. If anything, it’s about them. When people believe someone else is pursuing their good, they don’t have to protect and defend themselves so much. They can let down their guard and just communicate. This is tough, because we’re automatically egocentric. We experience everything through our own perception, but if we can let of our egos and really prioritize the other person, it can open up the path for trust.
The Bible says we should “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus said it this way to His apostles, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Later, the apostle Paul adds, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).
2. Be Nonjudgmental. No one feels safe to express fears or insecurities when they expect criticism or contempt. Even if what your spouse feels seems utterly ridiculous to you, take it at face value and accept that it’s true for them. It’s not where you want to end up, but it makes sense from their context. Treat them with the same non-judgment you’d like to have for your feelings about sex.
Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). That doesn’t mean that we don’t use discernment about what’s right and wrong, or we don’t set boundaries, because other scriptures cover that. But it does mean that we don’t approach others with a judgmental attitude.
3. Honor Reason. What the author means here is to stick to reason rather than reaction as you interact. We tend to let our emotions get caught up in an issue as personal as sexual intimacy, and from a place of hurt, it’s easy to lash out — even with something as subtle as body language. (The issue my family has identified for me is vocal tone.) But try not to let emotion rule, and instead focus on listening to your spouse and responding calmly to what they say.
James puts it this way: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20). And from Proverbs 25:28: “Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control” (NRSV).
4. Validate Others. You don’t have to agree with your spouse’s point to validate the person who makes it. Just try to see things from their perspective and figure out why they might have arrived at the conclusion they reached. From the point of putting yourself in their shoes, you can probably validate their thoughts and feelings. Once you recognize where they’re coming from, you can better figure out where to go from here.
There are so many examples of how Christ met people they were. You can read story after story in the Gospels where Jesus tailored his message to the audience he faced, and by validating the person in front of him, He broke through their barriers. See His interaction with the Samaritan Woman and Zacchaeus for examples. The apostle Paul approached people this way as well: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
5. Be Generous. Give more than you get. I’m not talking about all the stuff you’ve done to help or show love to your spouse (though that’s all well and good), but consider how your spouse could walk away from the conversation feeling they got something out of it, that you gave them something worthwhile. Depending on your circumstances, that could be anything from more time to talk while you listen to a specific promise to follow up with something they desire.
Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Jesus sets a more challenging standard in Luke 6:30-35: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Of course your spouse isn’t your enemy, but when you’re at odds about your sex life, they can feel like an opponent. And surely your spouse deserves as well or better than an enemy anyway.
Now I don’t expect y’all to head off and start having incredibly effective conversations with your refusing spouse in which everything turns around in a moment. I wish that would happen, but since I choose to live in the Real World (when I’m not living in Crazy Town as referenced above), I don’t want to give false hope.
Rather this is what I’m suggesting: Spend the next week thinking about these principles. Do you agree or disagree with any of these being good for your marriage? Where have you fostered trust and where have you lost trust in your interactions around sexual intimacy? What would it take for your spouse to view you as entirely trustworthy?
If you want to know more about this Code of Trust, you can check out the book or listen to a podcast interview with the author aired on The Art of Manliness. And if you want to know more about trust generally, for heaven’s sake, pick up your Bible! Do your own study and see how Jesus fostered trust with people who came to believe in Him.