Tag Archives: sexless marriage

Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 4

For a whole month, I’ve been tackling sexless marriages as the primary Q&A topic, not to mention a couple of other posts:

Q&A with J: “My Sexless Marriage Is Making Me Lose My Faith in God”
Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 1
Q&A with J: How Do I Write a Post that Helps Sexless Marriages?
A Prayer for Those in Sexless Marriages
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 2
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 3

Today, as promised, I’m providing some concrete steps of what to do to address the issue of sexlessness in your marriage. But I encourage to look back at the above posts to make sure you’re laying a foundation of trust and avoiding negative communication styles that could undermine your efforts.

Blog post title + couple in bed, turned away from each other

And let’s return to this gem: Love must underlie all your efforts. Without genuine love for your spouse, it’s all for nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

If you do all the right things but your spouse feels manipulated, that won’t help your marriage.

If you do all the right things but your spouse feels manipulated, that won't help your marriage. Click To Tweet

Sure, your spouse might comply out of guilt or the seeming futility of arguing, but that short-term win will damage your relationship over the long-term. Not to mention that God isn’t impressed with a spouse getting more frequent sex merely to satisfy his or her selfishness; that’s just not the picture of sex in marriage our Creator paints. Rather, it’s one of shared, mutually satisfying intimacy.

Some of you are likely saying, “I don’t care how begrudging the sex is right now; I just need some sex.” Oh, how I ache for you! But I stand by the belief that it’s worth pursuing higher, long-term goals so that you and your spouse can have the physical blessings God wants you both to have.

So what can you do? Let’s talk about steps for addressing a sexless marriage.

Set reasonable goals.

According to the popular SMART acronym, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Your goal, I presume, is specifically to have more sex which is measurable by a certain number of encounters per week or month. But the third and fourth criteria, which overlap, are tricky. Because what’s currently achievable and relevant probably isn’t what you ultimately want. It may be far less than you want.

However, if your wife’s issue is that she endured sexual assault in her past, she isn’t going to suddenly switch her emotions and start jumping your bones the moment you walk through the door. That’s not achievable. Nor is it reasonable to expect a mom of four little ones to clear her calendar for a long night of lovemaking twice a week when she’s exhausted and can barely stand the thought of being touched by any more hands. (Trust me, that’s a thing.) And the husband who stopped having sex because his libido tanked with his high-stress job and decreased testosterone with age won’t simply rediscover his mojo buried somewhere under the bedroom pillow.

So write out your ultimate objective, but then break it down into smaller steps. If you find out that you two can leapfrog a couple of steps, great. But by setting goals that are baby steps forward, achieving each one will show you’re making progress and encourage you both to continue. Here’s an example I put together:

ULTIMATE OBJECTIVE SHORT-TERM GOALS SMALLER STEPS

(covered later in post)

Have mutually pleasurable sex twice a week, in which orgasm occurs at least half the time Reboot our sex life with a sexual encounter in the next three months Start a conversation
Write down what issues my spouse brings up and consider how I can address (not argue) them
Show physical affection without any expectation of or overture for sex
Follow up with a second conversation one week later
Demonstrate through actions that I care about other forms of intimacy as well Plan a date with an activity my spouse enjoys
Line up babysitting, finances, and any other details required to make the date happen
Set aside fifteen minutes to talk with and listen to my spouse each day
Spend time in the Bible and in prayer aligning my desires with God’s plan for sex Identify relevant scriptures and read through one per day
Ask my spouse if they’re willing to pray with me and follow through if yes

You could break this into even smaller steps, but maybe this gives you an idea of how to approach such a task.

Start a conversation.

Notice I said start, not have. Few of us are convinced from a single discussion to change our minds, hearts, attitudes about any subject. So why do we keep thinking we can launch into one conversation with our spouse and achieve a major breakthrough? I’m betting 99.9% of you will need to have multiple talks about the lack of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

I’ve learned a lot about effective conversations from my parenting successes and failures. Those areas in which I’ve influenced my teens the most are ones where I opened up communication lines and slowly, albeit intentionally, got my message across. I didn’t push my opinion, but I did let them know where I stood. Then I asked what they thought, and I listened. When their perspectives seemed skewed, I calmly gave my two cents without expecting them to immediately see things my way. But when I’ve tried to control their conclusion in a single conversation? Yeah, that’s where I’ve fallen on my face. Most people don’t want to be told what to do, much less what to think.

Likewise, take an easy, multiple-conversation approach to your spouse with this sensitive subject. Start the conversation by letting them know that you want to be able to discuss issues freely and supportively in marriage, whether it’s finances or annoying habits or your sex lives. Don’t push much beyond that in your first go-round. Just get across that you intend to do whatever you can to provide a safe atmosphere for the two of you to work together to increase all forms of intimacy in your marriage.

Later you can follow-up with a “Have you thought about what I said?” and/or “Is there anything you wish I understood about your sexuality?” And yeah, listen and don’t expect a ten-second miracle. Miracles do happen, but oftentimes we forget how many steps the Israelites took to reach the Red Sea that God parted for them.

Invest in your friendship.

We’re far more likely to do things for people we like — including listen to their concerns, help them solve issues, and spend time together. But let’s face it: In some marriages, the spouses love each other, but they don’t much like each other. Is it any surprise then when sex doesn’t happen?

If you’ve neglected your emotional and recreational intimacy, it’s time to revive that part of your marriage. Do it because it’s a good and right thing to pursue, but you may well reap the benefit of better communication and progress with your sexual intimacy.

Think about what activities your spouse enjoys and make them happen. Show interest in their hobbies. Listen to their stories. Chuckle at that joke you’ve already heard eighty-seven times. Ask how you can help with their day. Engage in random acts of kindness, just because.

Again, don’t do it out of manipulation. Your spouse likely knows you well enough to sniff out ulterior motives like a hunting dog on a fox. This is when you’ll need to keep your own lines of communication open with the Heavenly Father, to stay on track with keeping a pure heart.

Woo your spouse like you did before.

Remember when you snagged that honey-bun of yours? All you did to capture their attention and adoration? Of course you can’t just pretend to be back on those falling-in-love days. In fact, half of your friends couldn’t stand how mushy you were back then, and it’s good that you’ve settled down into a more mature relationship with bills to pay, a home to maintain, and family to care for.

However, some of the ways in which we wooed each other could have hung around and benefited our marriage. I can’t say exactly what those things are because they vary from relationship to relationship. In my own marriage, we let dating fall by the wayside for too long after the kids came, and until a few years ago, we didn’t foster kissing nearly enough. Re-introducing such romantic connections helped us feel more connected and opened up more opportunities for sexual intimacy as well.

Ask yourself this question: What do I do regularly that makes my spouse feel special?

Not what do I do for my spouse, but what do I do that makes my particular spouse feel special. Some of you could write a page-long list of all the things you do for your spouse, but they don’t really speak love to your spouse. Figure out what actions make your spouse feel special and loved and then do them, regularly.

Set proper boundaries.

So far, you might be feeling like everything’s geared toward your spouse getting what they want and none toward you getting what you want. Well, here’s a rubber-meets-road statement: Your needs and desires matter just as much as theirs. Not more, mind you, but not less.

Some of you pursuing the steps I’ve laid out so far will get push-back that is simply unacceptable. It’s not okay for your spouse to call you a pervert because you want to have regular sex in your marriage. It’s not okay for your spouse to keep blaming you for past hurts you’ve apologized for and done everything to rectify. It’s not okay for your spouse to compare you to someone else who mistreated them. It’s not okay for your spouse to accuse you of egregious sins you haven’t committed. It’s not okay for your spouse to call you bad names.

Setting boundaries is the process by which you encourage the extinction of bad behavior. People tend to continue with bad behavior when it allows them to get what they want. Take away the payoff, and they’re less likely to repeat the behavior. However, where people get caught up in applying boundaries well is one of two areas:

  1. You stop before the process has sufficient time to work. It takes time for the other person to recognize that things won’t return to their former state. Most people are likely to push even harder before finally accepting that a new normal has been set and adjusting themselves accordingly.
  2. You start behaving badly yourself. Instead of setting a boundary, you launch a counterattack. Your message gets lost with the other person feeling like they have to defend or argue back. When using boundaries, you constantly need to check your emotions and remain calm.

What does a boundary look like? If your spouse calls you a pervert, it’s not: “I don’t have to put with that! I’m a completely normal husband who just wants to have sex with his wife.” Instead, it’s something like: “It hurts that you would call me a pervert when I just want to be intimate with my wife. I want to hear why you feel that way, but I reject that label.” And if your spouse continues on that trajectory, you end the conversation, calmly but firmly. “I really want to know why you feel like this so we can address it, but I just can’t stand here and let you call me names. We’ll have to talk later.” And then, you walk away.

But ack!I that means no progress happened, right? No, it doesn’t. It means you’ll need to take more time to establish communication guidelines to foster better conversations in the future. Remember — long-term view.

Offer to pursue outside help.

Let’s say your spouse is refusing because:

  1. They have an issue they own (e.g., prior molestation, health problems, a porn addiction) that makes it difficult to have sex; or
  2. Not feeling any real libido themselves, they see no point in pursuing sex in your marriage.

These scenarios cover the vast majority of sexless marriages. And both of them could benefit from outside help.

In the first case, you offer to move heaven and earth to help your spouse heal, emotionally and/or physically. You encourage your spouse not to give up on getting answers. You research the issue with them, making sure your sources are solid and biblical. You suggest a new doctor, a new treatment, a new support group, a new marriage counselor. You watch the kids while she goes to the support group. You have a garage sale to pay for his subscription to porn-blocking software. You make it clear that whatever outside help you (both) need, you’re all in. And you will not give up until you both experience the blessing of physical intimacy God intends for your marriage.

The second case is obviously harder. Because most such spouses just don’t understand how hurtful and isolating their refusal is. They don’t feel this need to have sex, and they can’t fathom why it’s such a big deal to you. It would be like someone trying to sell this South Texan a pair of snow tires. Why would I need that? Why would anybody need that?

You should still offer to get help — to speak with a counselor, a pastor, a mentor couple in your church. Tell your spouse you know this is an area of contention, but you’re willing to sit down with an external mediator and hear what they have to say. But here’s where you have to do your homework: Find out who will be sex and marriage positive. Don’t pick the first Christian counselor in the phone book, but ask around and see who’s got a good reputation for giving both spouses a fair shot in the counseling room. You don’t need someone just taking your side or just taking your spouse’s side, but rather someone who will listen to both of you and address the underlying issues so that you can find unity. Say to your pastor, “What do you think is going on with the sex lives of married people in our congregation?” and see how he responds. You can learn a lot that way.

Don’t try to stack the odds in your favor by speaking specifically about your situation and making sure that person’s on your side. Your spouse will likely learn about that and feel manipulated. (Because they were manipulated.)

Also, if your spouse thinks you need a help in some area, be willing to go get it for yourself. Indeed, some of you would benefit from saying to your spouse, “I want us to get marriage counseling, but if you don’t want to go, I’m going on my own. I need someone to talk to.” That alone will motivate some spouses to show up, if only to spout their side of the story. But if they don’t, you’ll still have someone to speak with who can help you get perspective and take active steps to help your marriage.

Call it quits?

That’s a question mark there, because it’s not what I advise, but something I get asked about often: Is it okay to leave my spouse if he/she refuses to have sex with me?

Is it okay to leave my spouse if he/she refuses to have sex with me? Click To Tweet

After a lot of thought on this one, I believe divorce likely is permitted when sexual refusal is deep-seated, persistent, and aggressive. But in such cases, they’re are usually many other problems in the marriage that make calling it quits an option.

But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something. There could be good reasons to stay.

I’ve heard from several spouses who’ve said that as soon as the children are grown, they’re done with their spouse. Do you really think divorce won’t affect your adult children? My parents divorced when I was in my mid-twenties, and it still hurt. Moreover, the consequences of having two separate families where there had once been one continues. Look, my parents had good reasons to call it quits, but I just want you to understand that divorce isn’t an easy walk-away for anyone. Sometimes divorce is the best choice, the only choice, but sometimes we think it is when it isn’t. As difficult as it would be for you, it might be worth staying for the sake of your family and community as a whole.

Here’s another reason to stay: I’ve got several testimonies in my inbox from couples who rediscovered their sex life in later years and are so glad they didn’t throw in the towel. Sometimes a refusing spouse finally realizes the damage they’ve done and decides to turn things around. Or a libido awakens when the demands of parenting or a high-stress job fall away. You just don’t know how this is going to go, and shouldn’t you give everything of yourself to your marriage before walking away?

Stop being a jerk.

I added this last one, because I do hear from spouses (male and female) who are so harsh in the way they talk about their spouses that my initial reaction is, “Good gravy, who wants to sleep with that?” Frankly put, some of you aren’t getting laid because you’re acting like a jerk. So stop it.

Stop insulting your spouse publicly and privately. Stop looking only for people to agree that you’re getting a bum deal and be willing to seek real answers. Stop grousing about the unfairness of life, and deal with the hand you’ve been given. (Someone else who’s getting more sex has a different crappiness in their life. Trust me.) Stop being an unhappy person your spouse doesn’t want to be around. For more on this point, you might want to read Kevin A. Thompson’s excellent post, I Wouldn’t Sleep with You Either.

And this is now the longest post I’ve ever written. If you stayed with me this long, I pray you found something helpful. Believe me, I’m pulling for you.

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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.

A Prayer for Those in Sexless Marriages

Thank goodness for the Houston Astros being in the World Series! Or this whole month might have just been me brooding about the sad state of our world. (Sorry, Yankees fans, but again…you’ve been FORTY times in the World Series, and this is our SECOND. You can take it.)

In the world of sex, however, I’ve been struck the last several weeks by the many #MeToo stories and how those have negatively impacted how wives view their bodies, men in general, and sexual intimacy. Indeed, this is the topic of an upcoming podcast episode of Sex Chat for Christian Wives which we recorded last night.

And here on my blog, we’ve been talking about sexless marriages and what to do, along my personal struggle to provide answers that actually help a tough situation.

So many spouses are in a state of deep anxiety, and this verse really hit me today:

Anxiety weighs down the human heart,
    but a good word cheers it up (Proverbs 12:25).

I really want to give y’all a “good word.” Today, I thought the best thing I could do is offer a prayer for sexless marriages. I hope you’ll pray with me.

blog post title + woman praying outside with sunrise in back of her

Lord, Father,

We know that You desire spouses to be one flesh that no one should separate, even a spouse within the marriage (Matthew 19:4-6). But some spouses have stepped away from sexual intimacy, leaving their mate feeling sad, frustrated, and lonely.

Your Word that You are close to the brokenhearted and save those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). So many in sexless marriages are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit; Lord, be near to them now. Make Your presence known in the midst of their hardship.

Although understanding is elusive, we affirm that You are present and will walk with us in the worst of circumstances (Isaiah 43:1-2). Indeed, Your Son and our Lord Jesus Christ experienced the deepest of sorrows, abandoned by others and suffering on a cross, and You brought Him through. When it seemed hopeless, You resurrected our Savior. We pray for that same power of resurrection to bring a reawakening of sexual intimacy in marriages where it’s been lacking (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Surround these couples with believers who can speak into their situation, who can provide wisdom for pursuing reconciliation. Give Your Church the yearning and the resources to speak not with timidity but with power and love in favor of Your design for sex in marriage — for regular, mutually satisfying physical intimacy (2 Timothy 1:7). Help those of us who can minister to sexless marriages to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15) and offer godly wisdom (Colossians 3:16).

We pray for those called to minister and teach on marriage and sexuality, for we are imperfect and stumble in our words (James 3:1-2). Help Your message come through, despite the flaws of Your messengers. Humble us to understand that we don’t have the answers so much as You are the answer. May all our “solutions” ultimately point to You.

Open the eyes and the ears, the heart and the mind of the refusing spouse (Isaiah 32:3), so they truly see the emotional pain of their spouse and be convicted of the significance of sexual intimacy in their marriage. Guide them to see that sex isn’t just for their spouse, but for their own heart and soul. Help them to see the beauty of being fully known and valued in the marriage bed (Song of Songs 2:3-5). 

Give the refused spouse compassion for their spouse and what they’ve been missing out on as well. Give them the right words to express their emotional pain and to break through the emotional barriers. Help them to be peacemakers as they pursue sexual intimacy for their marriage (Matthew 5:9). Refresh them in their weariness (Jeremiah 31:25).

Lord, above all give us love for one another. Help us in our marriages and in our churches to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). And give us Your ultimate rest in Christ Jesus (Matthew 11:28-29). Let Your love show through us (1 John 4:11-12).

In the name of Your Son and through the Holy Spirit, we pray.

Amen.

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Q&A with J: How Do I Write a Post that Helps Sexless Marriages?

Y’all, I’ve been agonizing over today’s post. I’ve spent hours thinking, researching, writing, and revising the next post to answer this question: “What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage?” I have a draft of the post, but as I sat here trying to finish it up, I felt this overwhelming sense that it’s not ready — that I can’t click Publish for that post just yet.

The question I’ve been asking myself all week long is How do I write a post that helps sexless marriages?

blog post title with image of wood person sitting down and staring at a large question mark

Look, I have ideas and specific tips. But I feel the weight of this subject on me, knowing how spouses in sexless marriages feel so beaten down. And throwing out suggestions on how to address sexual refusal, and then having the refused spouse try them and fail yet again, isn’t helpful! That could result in dashing all hopes that things could change.

And yet, I know for many of you, they can change.

How do I know?

Because that’s my story. Not specifically with sexual refusal, but in the whole realm of sex. I am a different person in my viewpoint about sex than I was thirty years ago.

It’s also the story of my marriage, that was once so bad I couldn’t see how it could ever be whole or happy again. And yet, God revived that too. Things changed.

In fact, it’s the whole story of God: That He is a God of new beginnings, of reconciliation, of hope. Ezekiel 11:19-20 puts it this way:

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”

I had a heart of stone at one point. Now, if you’d asked me at the time, I would have said my heart was just fine, thank you very much. But looking back, I can see the work God did in me. So I know people can change, relationships can change, life can change — all for the better.

I want to give you that hope. Real hope.

But I don’t feel like the post I originally planned to put up today is ready. I need more time to pull it all together and present something that can genuinely help your struggling marriage. God has, for whatever reason, given me this platform to minister to marriages, wives in particular, in the arena of sexuality, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.

I’ll be back next week with that post. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for your marriage. Maybe you could pray that God will give me the right words for your marriage too.

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And if you’re wondering why I don’t just spend more time today or tomorrow working on the post, I’m getting on the road in about an hour to go visit my son at college. So that’s just not possible right now. I haven’t seen my older son in almost two months, so he’s my priority this weekend. Many blessings, y’all!

Q&A with J: “What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage?” Part 1

So no one actually asked that question exactly as the title communicates. But it’s been asked of me, and several marriage bloggers I know, quite a few times. Too. Many. Times.

Blog post title + woman sitting on bed with head in hands

You might be wondering how prevalent sexless marriages are. Someone asked this question in the comment thread of my last post (Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?). Here’s my answer:

It’s really hard to get great statistics with sex. For obvious reasons, it’s all self-report, and people don’t always report accurately. Maybe someday, some tech guru will devise a study where you wear an innocuous gadget that will note when you have sex and then report that. (Although, even then wouldn’t people try to game the system like they do with FitBits?) But the primary estimate I’ve seen is 15% of marriages being sexless, meaning fewer than 10 encounters per year.

As for actual data, here are two snippets:

“Searches for ‘sexless marriage’ are three and a half times more common than ‘unhappy marriage’ and eight times more common than ‘loveless marriage.’ There are 16 times more complaints about a spouse not wanting sex than about a married partner not being willing to talk.” – Searching for Sex, New York Times

In a survey of nearly 16,000 Americans between age 18 and 60, by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, 12% reported not having sex in the prior year. How common are sexually “inactive” marriages?, Relationships in America

So yeah, it’s a common issue which needs to be addressed.

And as much as I’d love that title above to say, “5 Foolproof Ways to Bring Your Sexless Marriage to Sizzling!” that’s more cow pattie than I’m willing to step in. Even in my tallest boots.

Thus, I’m going to take some time with this topic, probably a series of three posts about marriages that are sexless or experience highly mismatched drives. If you’re in a drought, you’ll likely want to stay tuned.

But if you’re not in a sexless marriage, you may be tempted to skip the next few Q&A posts. I urge you to keep reading, however. Because you know someone in a sexless marriage. It could be a neighbor, a co-worker, a close friend, a family member, the woman who sits next to you in the pew at church, or the preacher standing at the front. How can our churches minister to them if we as individual Christians don’t understand the problem, show compassion and support, and help them address their struggle?

So let’s begin…

In everything I write, I want to be both biblical and helpful.

When I turn to Scripture, there is a specific answer for confronting someone who sins against you, in Matthew 18:15-17. But is it wise to follow that prescription to the exclusion of others on the topic of marriage? Shouldn’t we have a broader understanding of what God thinks about marriage and problems therein? After all, just one chapter later, Jesus says this:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

So what should you do? Should you start with confronting sin, as persistent, unyielding sexual refusal is? Should you focus on praying for your spouse? Should you just suck it up and “love your spouse more,” as is often suggested?

After thinking about this long and hard (and with a thanks to this comment from E), I believe the starting point must be this: TRUST.

Most spouses do not one day decide to turn into Maleficent or Darth Vader and become your worst enemy, at least in the realm of sexual intimacy. They don’t think to themselves, I don’t care how much it hurts him/her.

Instead, what I’ve most often heard from formerly refusing spouses who turned things around is they were protecting themselves from something that felt worse to them than denying their spouse sex. Meaning their refusal came from a place of fear.

That fear could take all kinds of forms:

  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of awkwardness
  • Fear of being in pain or discomfort
  • Fear that their spouse’s love is only about the physical
  • Fear of being taken advantaged of
  • Fear of being made to do something they don’t like
  • Fear of being compared to previous lovers
  • Fear of being compared to porn

I’m not saying every single instance of sexual refusal is about fear, but I’d venture to say it’s a very high majority. For some reason, the refusing spouse feels unsafe in the marriage bed.

For some reason, the refusing spouse feels unsafe in the marriage bed. Click To Tweet

So is it any surprise that when you bring up the topic of sex, they become defensive right away?

But what if you’re confronted by someone you trust entirely? When you are 100% sure that the person has your interests foremost in your mind, that they genuinely want the best for you, that they are a friend who loves at all times? What if you feel entirely safe with someone?

That’s what Dr. Gary Smalley in his book, The DNA of Relationships, identified as a core principle of a healthy marriage — a safe environment. Too often, we are caught up in a “Fear Dance,” in which we protect ourselves by building a wall or even a battering ram against others.

Truth is, you have your own fears too. I get it. But 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.

I’m not saying you support the sin — of course not! But you show understanding and sympathy for the fear underlying their refusal.

(By the way, yes, I also believe you should feel validated, loved, and supported in your marriage. But your spouse isn’t reading this post, so let’s start the change with you.)

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Consider that church discipline passage mentioned above, Matthew 18:15-17. Immediately before that section, Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep, in which the loving shepherd seeks tirelessly for the one lost sheep and rejoices when he finds it. Jesus starts by valuing others and showing that He can be trusted. Likewise, it’s our compassion and trustworthiness that allows us to confront a fellow believer and have a chance of breaking through to reconciliation.

Look at these verses as well:

Wounds from a friend can be trustedbut an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:5-6).

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Whatever you do next, the foundation must be trust. Isn’t trust something you had when you married each other? Didn’t you believe that this person loved you and thus wanted good things for you? Didn’t your spouse believe that about you?

But it’s easy to lose trust over time. Or for the falling-in-love feelings to fade and fear in your present or from your past to come creeping back in. And we often don’t even realize what happened. We just feel like we have to fend for ourselves, because no one else is going to do it. Or at least not as well as we can.

Our barriers are intended to preserve our soft places, to cover our crevices of fear.

What I’m asking is easy to understand, but extremely hard to do: Let go of your own fear, your own barriers, and open yourself up to your spouse’s fear. It’s what needs to happen to create or rebuild trust.

For you to make any headway with “I want more sex,” your spouse has to believe that you want more sex not just for you, but for them. They have to see you as a safe person with whom they can share themselves fully, and still be accepted and loved. They have to trust that your perfect love can drive out their fear.

Your spouse has to believe that you want more sex not just for you, but for them. Click To Tweet

Which, no, won’t be perfect, but buoyed by the Holy Spirit, it will be enough.

Next week, I want to talk specifically about how to build that trust — that is, actual steps to demonstrate your trustworthiness and begin to break down the barriers that divide you. Then we’ll get to some specifics on addressing the issue of sexlessness in your marriage.

In the meantime, I want to hear from those of you who went from a sexless or sexually unsatisfying marriage to healthy and holy sexual intimacy. Please send me an email and tell me your story, particularly what actually began the turnaround. Thanks!