Tag Archives: rebuilding trust in marriage

Q&A with J: “What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage?” Part 2

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.

blog post title + man sitting on bed with head in hands

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

I believe the place from which change can begin is a renewed bond of trust. #marriage Click To Tweet

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.

If your spouse is refusing sex and unwilling to even discuss the situation, he/she doesn't trust you. Click To Tweet

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?

How do you convince your refusing spouse that you're trustworthy? Click To Tweet

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.

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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.

Q&A with J: Boundaries in the Bedroom

Today’s question, the first reader question of 2016, is from a wife whose husband has a sexual addiction. When she wrote to me, things were not going well.

Not sure where to start … we’ve been married for 16 years and have experienced sexual addiction for all of it. I tried covering up his sin (don’t air your dirty laundry, don’t talk badly about your husband, etc) , tried to “be better.” I’m sure you’ve heard this long list and other ladies could add much to it as well.

Well, this time was it! I’d had it. He did start counseling about 4 months ago (which he has since quit) and is active in his SAA group with a sponsor (whom I’ve never met – is that weird or is it just me?). His counselor met with both of us back then and advised us not to have sexual contact for 3 months. Not that I’m ready yet – I’m still trying to set some health boundaries in our marriage with all of this (and starting from ZERO (boundaries?  What are those?)) but, I also have no idea how to re-engage. He won’t talk to me for more than about 4-5 minutes a WEEK unless it’s work related.  Yes, we work together too. His conversation is always “well, what do you want to know?” I feel like I’m asking a 14 year old how his day at school went! So frustrating.  And extremely lonely.

I’m in counseling trying to get myself healthy but this is obviously an area that needs to get healed as well and I just don’t know how to get this started. He is not living with me & the kids right now.

HELP! PLEASE!

Q&A with J: Boundaries in the Bedroom

Covering up sin. Let’s start with this line: I tried covering up his sin (don’t air your dirty laundry, don’t talk badly about your husband, etc) , tried to “be better.”

Yes, I believe in respecting privacy, showing discretion, and not bashing your husband all the time. But keeping sin secrets is a mark of dysfunction in a family.

Keeping sin secrets is a mark of dysfunction in a family. - @HotHolyHumorous Click To Tweet

People from highly dysfunctional families, especially with addictions, often receive overt or subtle messages to never share what happens in the family. By establishing this “no sharing” rule, the worst actors in the family get away with what they’re doing and problems perpetuate.

The Bible does not say to cover up sin.

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:20-21).

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Ephesians 5:11-13).

It is not a mercy to allow your husband or wife to continue in addiction, which destroys individuals and families. Of course, you have a responsibility to not air their sin on public street corners but with discretion and godliness. The most often cited passage regarding this is Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Confront ongoing sin in your family privately. But if it continues to occur and damage your spouse and your family, it’s time to seek help and intervention.

Choose carefully whom to involve, considering the need for trust, firmness, wisdom, and respect. That could be your pastor, one of your spouse’s friends, a mentor couple, a counselor, or someone else you know. But if you go to a church leader, and you’re only told to “be better” or pray more or submit to your husband (and his sin), seek help from someone else.

“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

Speaking up for what you need in your marriage. I wince a little when I write about “needs,” because honestly, I think we define way too many things as needs. It’s become a too-easy method of demanding your way to state your spouse must meet some need you have, even if it’s really just a desire.

But healthy relationships do need certain things, and among them are openness and trust. You don’t merely request those, however, and get them gift-wrapped and delivered into your hands. You must foster the atmosphere, habits, and commitment of being vulnerable and intimate in your marriage.

That means you get to ask some questions, and your spouse should answer them honestly. So when this happens — His conversation is always “well, what do you want to know?” — ask what you want to know! Might it feel awkward and foolish and frustrating? Yeah, sure. At the beginning, it might. But you’re re-establishing connections and building habits of communication.

If your spouse has been unfaithful, remember that you don’t want all the details. Your husband cannot untell you what he tells you. I absolutely did not describe to my husband particulars about my premarital promiscuous past, but he knows the person I was, the person I am, and what I do to keep myself in his arms and his alone. Because that‘s what matters.

Here are the types of questions that won’t help:

  • What sexual acts did you do with her? – just plants bad images in your head
  • How many times did you do this activity? – it’s not the number, it’s the sin itself
  • What did she look like? – it’s not about competing against another woman’s looks

And types of questions that make sense:

  • Where have you been? / Where are you going? – reasonable questions in any marriage, but even more so if a spouse has been secretive and broken trust with adultery
  • What do you think made you seek out other partners? – in an attempt to get at core causes and face them together
  • What are you doing to make sure you don’t fall into addiction again? And how can I help? – need accountability and support to change

You are two become one, and that means you get to have more knowledge about your spouse than others do. And if your spouse isn’t willing to open up, be vulnerable, and communicate about your marriage’s challenges, that’s a red flag waving. Of course you shouldn’t constantly attack him, but “what do you want to know?” sounds like a great question to me. So breathe deep, think hard, pray continually, and ask your questions.

Zero boundaries in the bedroom. You say, “I’m still trying to set some health boundaries in our marriage with all of this (and starting from ZERO (boundaries?  What are those?)) but, I also have no idea how to re-engage.” Zero boundaries? Does that mean he gets whatever he wants, and you never speak up for yourself in the marriage bed?

Let’s get super-clear here: You are not his sex toy. In fact, if you’ve been functioning merely as a means to satisfy his sex drive, flip that notion on its head. God’s intention for sex in marriage is a mutually intimate and satisfying experience.

God's intention for sex in marriage is a mutually intimate and satisfying experience. - @HotHolyHumorous Click To Tweet

The first boundary is you get to say yes or no. Look, I’ve heard all of the statements from well-meaning Christians saying that a wife should ever refuse her husband. But that presumes a husband who is attuned to his wife’s needs and well-being, and that simply isn’t always the case. He could be a complete jerk that way, but more likely, he received bad teaching about sex and faces ignorance about understanding women’s sexual arousal and desires.

Biblical submission includes willingness to submit to another — meaning it’s a gift you give, not a demand someone makes of you. Your body belongs to youand in marriage you choose to share it with your husband (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). You have that choice.

Our Heavenly Father wants us to bless each other in marriage willingly and frequently with sexual intimacy. But please know that your body isn’t the property of your husband, but rather yours to share with him, according to God’s brilliant design.

Other reasonable boundaries include:

  • What sexual activities you will or won’t do. Consider each activity and ask whether it is right and beneficial. If it involves third parties, harms either of you, or qualifies in the ick category (you just can’t go there), say no to that activity and find something else to do. We have a great deal of freedom to explore and pleasure one another in the marriage bed.
  • When to engage and when to reschedule. Sometimes sex is just a poorly timed idea, like if you’re recovering from illness, exhausted to the point of forgetting your name, or needed to take care of other family members. You can say not now and reschedule for later. I’m a proponent of rain check sex, when you speak up and say something like, “This isn’t a good time, but how about first thing in the morning?”
  • Where and how you are touched. Being touched in some places on your body may produce the opposite effect of sexual arousal. Or being touched with certain pressure or friction may cause unpleasant or painful sensations. You should be able to speak up verbally or move his hand someplace else. Be kind, but help your mate learn the moves that turn you on and bring you pleasure.

For more tips on how to set appropriate boundaries, see Setting Boundaries in the Bedroom.

When each spouse establishes and respects healthy boundaries, you don’t have much conflict about what you’ll do in the marriage bed. Because your focus is on mutual respect, satisfaction, and intimacy. Neither one of you gets to decide everything, because you are both considering yourself and your spouse. And you can relax, knowing you can trust your spouse to respect you.

How to reengage. Honestly, this is one I want to throw over to your counselor, his support group, and other local resources at your disposal. When and how to re-engage is a decision you must make with your particular circumstances in mind.

It’s a slow process to rebuild trust in a marriage. But ultimately it involves creating a safe atmosphere, then making a decision to engage, filling yourself with positive truths to fight bad messages and lingering feelings, and creating a new level of trust and intimacy. It can be done.

I pray your marriage is strengthened and that God carries you through.

Rebuilding Trust in the Bedroom

Q&AToday’s Q&A topic is about rebuilding trust in the bedroom. In order to engage fully in marital sexuality, you must be able to trust yourself with your spouse. So how do you get trust back when it’s been broken?

Here’s the question an Anonymous reader left on my Q&A with J at HHH post:

Sorry if you’ve already discussed this I may have missed it. Due to husbands indiscretions (while maybe tame to some, significant to me) recently having a difficult time with trust and the role [it] plays in marriage bed. Partnered with an increased libido for myself in last year, it makes a really twisted logic for my brain to process. I wanna but i don’t wanna. Really need to overcome quickly so we can heal and i don’t go crazy being unsatisfied/needs met in the bed. (for clarification he is all for my increased libido it just makes my heart hurt sometimes when i start thinking about it)..thanks for your advice.

If you need more than I give you here, there are certainly other resources. There are numerous resources on the web about recovering intimacy after an affair. Run a Google search, and you’ll get lots of advice out there. Make sure, of course, that they align with biblical teaching in their approach. Also, you may wish to seek counseling alone or with your spouse from your pastor or a therapist to work through the issues.

As for my advice, there are two things you can do after trust has been wrecked to rebuild it.

Ask for what you need. First ask yourself what you need (not want) to feel reasonably safe with your spouse. When a spouse has been unfaithful, it is not unreasonable to ask for things you might not otherwise do — such as checking their phone and emails or getting frequent reports on where they are and with whom.

But let me help you out here: You do not need the details of whatever indiscretions occurred. For instance, if your husband had an emotional affair, you don’t need to know everything they said to each other. If he went to strip clubs, you don’t need to know what all he saw in those places. You don’t need details because they are not the issue, and you won’t be able to get those images and thoughts out of your mind. They will merely cloud the current situation.

So what do you need? Perhaps you need reassurance that you are beautiful. Tell him. Ask him to specifically describe what he loves about you and your body. Perhaps you need more romance and foreplay to approach the bedroom. Let him know. Perhaps you need for the time being to have more control over sexual activity, such as being on top. (I say for the time being because this is to ease back in, not to become the regular approach.) Perhaps you need more eye contact or talking during sex.

This is so personal that I can’t tell you what you need. You must consider yourself, what happened that threatened or destroyed trust, and what would make you feel more assured that you are the only one he wants to be with. It is okay to ask for that. If he has left his indiscretions behind, he has made the choice that you are the one he wants.

Don’t make it a “since you did ___, I now need ___” statement, but rather something like, “I want to engage fully with you in our sex life, but I am struggling a little. Will you help me by providing a few things that will make me feel safer so that we can experience better intimacy?” Pose it as your desire to have a quality sex life with your husband, and then ask him for specifics that will help you get there.

Rewrite the script. When you’ve had a bad experience with something, you are rightly reluctant to do that again. It’s like how my husband ruined Ferris wheels for me by flipping the car so many times I almost vomited; I haven’t ridden a Ferris wheel since. That’s okay because I do not need to ride a Ferris wheel (how often do I even have the opportunity?), and my body and brain are just protecting me for another bad experience.

However, some things we have to do or should do even if we have negative thought patterns currently attached to the activity. For instance, thank goodness James Earl Jones had an English teacher who made him get up and recite poetry, thus overcoming his horrendous stutter. In this case, Jones and his teacher rewrote the script. As written, Jones was a hopeless stutterer, but by replacing bad experiences with new, better ones, actor James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader) became comfortable speaking in public.

Back to marital intimacy. You know you should be physically intimate with your husband. You want to be physically intimate with your husband. But the script as written is that your husband failed you and the trust is eroded. You are rightly nervous and reluctant to engage in an activity that brings back negative thoughts and feelings. But you can rewrite the script.

For that, you have to plunge in. Get on the Ferris wheel. Take the stage. Jump in bed with your hubby. Know that it will not happen overnight. It isn’t a 1:1 ratio of negative to positive. In fact, marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D. has stated that we need five positive interactions to balance out every one negative interaction. The good news is that you can take back your sex life and make it a positive thing. The challenge is that it will take time to create new memories to replace the old ones, new scripts to write over the old programs, new feelings to replace the hesitant ones.

Yet I know of no other way to make marital intimacy a positive thing than to engage in positive marital intimacy. You simply have to engage. Shove the negative expectations aside and do everything you can to enjoy the moment and rewrite the script. Eventually, you will have so many more wonderful memories than bad ones that the pain and mistrust will abate. Will it ever go away? I suspect that you will still be able to tap into those feelings from time to time. But they will be your history, not your destiny.

I believe in healing, forgiveness, and hope for your future. Read The Gospel in the Bedroom for more on that. It is my prayer that you both can move past your husband’s indiscretions and into the blessings of physical intimacy that God desires for your marriage. Thanks for the question.