That title is a tough question for many of you. Some marriages are struggling in the area of sexual intimacy, and one or both spouses feel trapped in an impossible situation. Your spouse doesn’t fully understand what you’re going through, and you don’t know how much longer you can hang on.
I get it. I really do.
Because that’s where my marriage was for days, weeks . . . okay, honestly, it was years. I didn’t feel that way every single moment, but there were more moments when I thought we wouldn’t make it than I expected we would. It was so very hard to hang on and believe things could get better.
I’ve said many times on my blog that you cannot change your spouse. You can make requests, explain yourself, encourage change, and make your own choices. But you can’t force someone else to behave the way you want. God gave your husband (or wife) free will, and He won’t take that away because it’s not working out well in a particular moment.
I believe spouses in unhappy situations need to ask themselves that question: What if nothing every changes? What if my spouse keeps doing X? What if we continue to have this struggle?
Such questions may feel like a recipe for despair, and maybe even divorce. But NO! That’s not at all what happened when I finally asked myself that question in the worst time of our marriage. I didn’t want to base my answers on the fissures in my heart or the frustration in my head. I wanted biblical, common-sense answers. What I discovered is what I want to share with you today — those of you whose sexual intimacy isn’t everything it should be, and who feel like giving up.
You have many other blessings in your life. When something is going wrong in your life, it’s easy to fixate on that. Likewise in marriage. Believe me, I spent years dwelling on everything that was wrong in my marriage, not bothering to consider what was going right.
That gave me a skewed perspective of the whole and sapped my energy to work on the area that needed improvement. It brought resentment and anger. And it made me blind to my own contributions to our problems.
Instead, consider all the blessings in your life — both in your marriage and elsewhere. Your sex life isn’t what it should be, but you likely have other benefits from being married. I know that doesn’t cover over the problems, but it may give you a healthier perspective and infuse you with a positive desire to work toward increased intimacy.
You can change the way you approach your situation. You are not powerless. You probably feel that way, but you have a say in how you deal with what’s going on. You choose your attitude and your responses.
Sometimes inadvertently enable our spouses to mistreat us regarding sexuality. We cooperate with the cycle of frustration or shutdown. We bring our anger to the forefront and operate from a selfish standpoint.
What if you changed the way you approached the situation? What if you stepped away from the role you’re playing in making things worse and discovered positive ways to approach your spouse and your marriage?
Without knowing your specific situation, I can’t say what that looks like for you. But most of us have some inkling of how we are adding to the problem. If you don’t know or need help figuring out how to change your approach, I recommend seeing a Christian counselor who can help you work through alternatives.
You still have an obligation to your family and to your God to do the right thing. Sorry to break it to you, but you don’t get a waiver from God because your spouse mistreats you. You are still called to act in ways that mirror Christ and exemplify love.
Now if your spouse has been unfaithful or abusive, you might well have reason to leave — permanently. But most troubled marriages fall short of this. Most of us are just unhappy. Yes, the issues may be big or they may be small, but they are likely not insurmountable.
Which means you can still do your part — by being the most loving spouse you can be. I recognize how hard that prescription is, but once again, I have personal experience on this one. Holding myself responsible for living out God’s commands was key to the resurrection of my failing marriage.
But even if my marriage had fallen apart, I could stand before my God and my family and say that I’d done everything I could possibly do.
You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Many of you are heartsick right now, your hope deferred because it feels like nothing will ever change.
But there are happy-ending stories for marriages and marriage beds that seemed they would never work out. If you doubt things can change, read the testimonies of wonderful marriage bloggers like Paul and Lori Byerly, Scott and Sherry Jennings, Chris Taylor, and others.
I’ve received great comments on my blog from couples who rediscovered sexual intimacy after years of frustration, and my email inbox has messages from now-happy couples that were very unhappy with their intimacy before. It happens.
You don’t know what’s coming, but if you can remain faithful, something beautiful could come your way. Pursue the best for your marriage, get help if you need it, and continue to hope that your future could be better.
Once again, even if nothing changes, continuing to hope can get you through a lot. It sure beats despair. And it can help us to “be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Are you ready to give up and feeling like nothing will ever change? Or do you have a hopeful story to share about your journey from unhappy to happy in your marriage bed?
36 thoughts on “Your Sex Life: What If Nothing Ever Changes?”
Thanks for this. It’s so easy to be tempted to focus on all that we are not receiving in marriage that we fail to remember, like Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Marriage reveals, that marriage isn’t about making us happy but making us holy. We can become so selfish when we are fixated on our situation, thinking that if that one thing would change, if my husband/wife would just do x, all would become perfect. I’m learning all this the hard way & this post was such a great reminder.
It’s a tough message, because we long for an easy fix. But I think Gary Thomas makes a great point in his book.
Thanks for this post, I am sure it comes from deep experience and may tears. I want to try to keep going, honestly I do. And I know you are right, there are many many positives and blessings. But there can also come a time when you are so drained, so devoid of emotion, and strength, so discouraged…how do you keep going? When you start fantasizing day after day that just maybe today can be your last day?
How do you keep going? It’s a great question. I suggest it’s through paying more attention to changing yourself than your spouse, asking God for His divine help, and taking one step, one day, one minute at a time. You can’t change everything in your past, you can’t have guarantees for the future, but you can do your best today.
I’m so sorry that you’re in this struggle. I pray that you find hope and healing very soon.
I read something like this on the Spice & Love blog. I disagree slightly with your last paragraph — I don’t think we can always living hoping for some things, particularly those things that are beyond our control. I don’t mean to live in despair, but I think you have to let go of some hopes and find new ones to replace them.
For example, I live in a marriage where my husband is disinterested in sex. I got married when I was 33. I’m now 35. If I’m having sex once a month — and I cannot influence when we have sex — I am never going to have children, unless it’s just dumb luck. If I am a rosy sunny optimist, and in, say, 5 years my husband wakes up and decides he wants a sexual marriage …. I am still never going to have children. The biology isn’t on my side. *And I can do nothing to change this.*
I can’t hope my way out of it. This isn’t an “oh, maybe someday….” situation because there is no someday. For me, the only way to survive is to let go of some hopes (children and family and a life that isn’t all about my job) and try to substitute new ones.
That’s a good point, Sunny-Dee. By having hope, I’m talking about things improving, not necessary getting exactly what you originally wanted. Some of those expectations won’t work out, but you may find satisfaction in other ways. My heart goes out to you.
If nothing ever changes? Then I guess I will never know the blessing of being a “regular” wife with a husband who pursues. I will never know what it feels like to be a real woman, I will never know what it feels like to be desired by a man (more importantly by the man I love and who claims to love me.)
You are right, though. My fixation on this issue is getting old. I’ve stopped talking about it, but I still feel it. I need to try to get over it, accept things for what they are, and move on. I need to throw myself into other things, like cleaning more, exercising more, having more hobbies that take me away from home.
I can’t change the fact that for some reason, my husband is not interested in me in the one way I long for him to be! But I can change my attitude. Instead of being sad about it, I can just build a wall, stick my feelings of inadequacy behind it, paste a smile on my face and choose to be happy.
I’m getting better at it. For example, I told him this afternoon that I had a “costume” that was for his eyes only. He seemed really excited. But as he is snoring on the couch, it’s not going to happen. I have a closet of many sexy items I’ve bought that he’s always too tired to see. I feel badly because he feels badly and then he says “I really did want to see it” but I know that’s not true because he always falls asleep, and if he is awake, he has never asked me to put anything on when he’s wide awake. So I think we both know he’s not really that interested, and I’m kidding myself when I buy something “sexy” that he will even care. But this time, I’m not even going to say anything. I’m just gonna let it go. Why complain? It just upsets both of us. I’m just gonna stick those feelings on top of the pile behind my “wall”.
I am blessed in other ways. He’s faithful. He claims to love me. He’s good to me and our children. I need to focus on those blessings.
Thanks for the reminder. All I can control is my attitude and that’s what I need to focus on. Nothing else has worked. Not even praying for God to take away my desire for my husband and my desire for marital intimacy. I am going to try praying for God to help me change my attitude.
I don’t believe it makes you an irregular wife that your husband doesn’t pursue you. If he’s falling asleep, etc., I think the issues are more likely with him and maybe his mood or level of stress or even hormonal levels. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t welcome your touch or thinks you’re unattractive.
Also, I don’t mean this: “build a wall, stick my feelings of inadequacy behind it, paste a smile on my face and choose to be happy.” No wall-building, denying your pain, or inauthenticity in marriage, please. You can still own your discouragement (as David often did in the Psalms), but we can’t lash out with it or let it make us become unloving spouses. We have a higher calling, and we can — as you say — ask for God’s help in changing our attitude.
I am thankful your husband blesses you in other ways. May you hang onto that, while trying to improve the other.
Forgive the question, but how is it possible to own your discouragement and yet not lash out with it – at the same time. You mentioned the Psalms. Do you mean to lament to God, but keep my feelings hidden from my husband?
Even if the issues are with him and his stress, I wish he could understand how badly his lack of interest makes me feel. I can’t even tell him about it or he kind of pouts and makes me feel badly for even having desires for him.
Yes, you can admit to yourself and to God what you’re feeling. But let me clarify that not expressing something to your husband isn’t necessarily hiding it. Let me give you an example: My husband drives me insane with the way he forgets and loses things. That’s just how my absent-minded Spock is. I’ve learned that I can speak up every time my blood pressure rises, OR I can keep my negative commentary to myself, try to see the situation in a more positive light, and work through my frustrating emotions with God in prayer. Am I being dishonest? No. I’m just following that age-old advice of not saying anything when you don’t have anything constructive to say.
And by the way, that’s biblical with all the scriptures about building one another up instead of tearing each other down. We can be honest but responsible with our words.
Thank you for the explanation. I’ll try!
This is a post that is needed. I am approaching 3 decades of marriage – sexually frustrated starting week 1. I have seen several therapists, read a mountain of books, poured over wonderful blogs like this, all to no avail. My DW just would dig her heals in deeper each time I even brought the subject up. Just about 2 years ago I could feel myself falling into depression over this again. I decided I had to stop pursuing her and just assume it might never get better. I went to a new therapist and mentioned my marriage issues, but I told him that I am here to get my mental health squared away – not necessarily my marriage. That worked out for the better. I did good for about a year, then it started hitting me very hard when I would see a happy woman looking like she was in love and it would just kill me. So back to the therapist I go. The only change is I notice my wife says, “thanks” more often than before – but nothing more. It is amazing how less attractive someone is once you just stop pursuing them. I don’t like this, but it beats being deeply depressed and risk loosing my job.
Being sexually starved for 35 years, it has been challenging to remain faithful to my DW and to God. Fortunately, I have not left my wife or God. Learning to be content in my circumstances (Paul wrote about this in Philippians) has been a key for me. It has not always been easy and I am thankful both my wife and God have been faithful to me.
Sorry, but she has not been faithful to you.
Yeah, I get that. Intimacy in Marriage has written compellingly about The Sexual Sin No One Will Talk About. I personally think this is a tough call. Thanks for your comment.
Thank you so much for your encouragement in this. So many people are in a place in their marriage where they want to see change, but have given up hope that it will ever happen. Thank you for giving us a place to put our focus and ways to rejoice in our lives even though things are not always going as we hope.
This was an incredibly timely post — I’ve been trying to deal with the consequent depression from a less-than intimate marriage to a wonderful woman. It’s a tough paradox; I’ve got an adorable wife who is smart, funny, and beautiful. Yet, our intimacy has been stuck in low-gear since the honeymoon. Now 25 years later I’m beginning to come around to the idea that this really will never change.
This past year we had what I thought was going to be some real change in our intimate relationship. We actually discussed matters and we agreed to work towards upping both our volume and variety. Then it all slipped comfortably back to our old ways. When I mentioned that we’ve had sex the same way for our entire marriage she was a little stunned. The three or four times we tried something different registered as major milestones for her and constituted a thriving and vibrant sex life. At this rate, I’m bound for two more of these “adventures” before I die.
I’m now more depressed than ever. It’s beginning to unravel my business. I don’t sleep anymore and nothing provides comfort. But, with all that, I am morally obligated to be happy. I believe that. I also believe I need to work toward finding a way to do what God has commanded me to do — love Him and serve my fellow man. Part of that is not being a sad-sack, and being loving and generous to my wife. J’s post is helping me realize that while things may never change, and I do think that’s the case, I need to find other aspects of my marriage to enjoy.
If anything, there’s the big positive of not living in a country where I’m shot at everyday. If that’s all I’ve got, then I need to buck up and see that as something worthy of gratitude. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s tough and that my heart is broken, but maybe there are bigger things on the table which need my time and energy. Maybe the next life will provide some compensation. I imagine what could be, and the happiness we could share, but I’ve been incapable of sharing that vision, so there it is. I don’t know how to start the conversation again, or if it’s even worth the discussion, small progression and eventual return to how it’s always been. David Schnarch is right about the lower-desire spouse controlling the relationship. It’s out of my hands. It’s best to realize this and do my best to move forward in that framework.
J, thank you for all the work you do.
I still ache for you. But I applaud your fortitude and desire to honor your marriage. I do pray things change, somehow, someday.
All I can do is try to remember that God loves people who hate him, even though he provides for them. Just like I provide for my wife even though she hates me.
I’m not sure I see it that way. Even God eventually distances Himself from people who want nothing to do with Him. But I definitely believe in extravagant, walk-extra-miles, sacrifice-like-Jesus love.
My prayer for each of you is that God will help each of your so-far-disappointing marriages to be a lot better and more loving. May He help your partners and yourselves as well. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
After a long discussion/fight last night, and getting the standard “…tell me what else I do wrong…” I can’t take it anymore.
There is no hope and I’m about to just give up. I’ve decided, for my children’s sake, to just live here. I will no longer dream of being loved or happy.
B, I’ve read your painful posts many times on this and other blogs, and my heart breaks for you. When your husband says, “…tell me what else I do wrong…” my guess is that he’s not hearing your pain, but rather accusations. We men can be a little dense like this; our wives are pouring out their pain to us, and all we hear is that we’re awful husbands and total failures as lovers. If he feels like he does everything wrong in your eyes, then it will be harder for him to generate sexual desire.
I’ve discovered this in my own marriage. I’ve tried telling my wife how painful it is when she doesn’t want me to make love to her (or even kiss or touch her). Then it dawned on me that having a pained, needy husband probably isn’t very sexy to her. I’m at an age where I’ve come to realize i will probably go to my grave without ever having the sex life I would like. But, as J aptly points out, God still expects me to love my wife as Christ loves the church. That means accepting her as she is, low libido and all. I’m learning to be okay with that. My job is to love her; hers is to respond. I can only deal with my side of this equation. I can’t make her respond, and complaining to her is counterproductive. I still do things to let her know I’m sexually interested; I just do them without expressing pain or even expecting a response. For example, I’ve begun sleeping naked. It lets her know I’m ready any time she is. I don’t mind that she doesn’t care that I’m in the buff; it makes me feel good even without her response. You say you have a closet full of sexy things for his eyes only. Wear them anyway, without being concerned about his response or lack thereof. Wear them because they make *you* feel good. If he responds, fine; if not, that’s okay, too, because you still have the pleasure of knowing you’re a sexy woman.
B, I feel your pain. every time I bring up sex it always ends in “I can never do enough, what else did I do wrong”. I am on a path to leave even though I know that is not gods will. I just feel so unattractive, so unmanly etc, some wifes just don’t get it.
Unfortunately that is because many many wives just don’t care about their husband’s pain. It is easy to see, just look at all the harsh comments about the husband who is not sensitive to his wife’s needs for loving, sweet lovemaking in the post that came after this one. Probably those are deserved, but you will NEVER see a woman get anything close to the harshness under any circumstances. Even a wife who is refused gets a lot of understanding. But a refused husband? He needs to just suck it up and be grateful that he has a wife! Virtually all women and most men just tell him to not care about sex so much. The truth is that women have choices and men have responsibilities. A woman whose behavior is never her fault, but a man is always responsible for his behavior and the behavior of everyone else. Sorry, but if that is bitterness you hear, it’s from being abused physically, verbally, emotionally, and sexually by a “Christian” woman for almost 30 years. Of course, I will be flamed for this post, but that is fine, I am used to it.
If you’re in an abusive marriage, why are you sticking it out and simply growing bitter? I always advise that if you’re in an abusive situation, get help. Blessings!
First, because my daughter has made it clear that if I divorced her mother, she would never forgive me. Second, because very few people believe that a woman would act like she does, and because church people believe that it is ALWAYS the fault of the husband. Every sermon eulogizes women and demonizes men. Women who insult their husbands are funny, Men who ever hint that a woman has any fault are told they are terrible jerks. All a woman has to do is to make the slightest hint that her husband has done something wrong, and every person she ever sees immediately runs to support her. A man who suggests that his wife might have done something wrong is told that he is a selfish jerk who just doesn’t understand women.
I’ve heard plenty of sermons holding both spouses responsible. And if you read my blog, hopefully you know that I believe husbands and wives are equally responsible before God and to their spouse to be faithful and loving. I’m saddened that you’re going through this, and I pray that things improve…somehow.
I’m the wife, not the husband.
I feel very unattractive, and some husbands don’t get it, either.
I feel fortunate to have run across this website. After nearly 34 years, I have given up hope that things will ever change. Like G above, we used to have conversations, only a few frankly, and things improved for a short while, but soon enough, the back sliding would begin. It caused me tremendous amounts of self-doubt, self-loathing and genuine grief. I blamed myself. No sane person could possibly reject sex if they enjoyed it. I reasoned that if you found a new restaurant and liked the food, you naturally would come back more often. When that does not happen in your own sex life, the chef must be at fault. The continuous frustration led to anger which led to resentment. “If you don’t love me, why stay?” The part I could not understand the most was the nearly total lack of communication. For the past two years we don’t even talk about not talking about it. I tried to bury the pain. Then I tried to drown it. I nearly drank myself to death.
Fortunately I stopped drinking, found a very good counselor and went to work on the only person I could control – myself. She helped me find my footing; find myself again – the old me – the confident me. I stopped the self-destruction. I began a new life. I have turned the page on the life I wanted. It will never be. But the one I have now is in most ways better. Now I work out often, run more often than that and I have regained my edge. My work life is better than in years. I have found a new relationship with my kids, and most importantly with God. He never left me; he was right where I left him.
My wife and I have no real disagreements, no shouting, but, we still don’t do the dance. We are the best of friends, just not lovers. I have finally realized that I don’t have the problem and never did. I cannot and never could change her mind about sex. She is the only one that can do that. Would I like her to change? Yes. But not for me or even us. If she changes, it should be for her. But I now don’t believe it will ever happen. She is quick, intelligent and a child of God. An awful lot is written that what she is doing is doing is a sin; she is in effect being unfaithful. It may or may not be, but that is not for me to judge. That is between her and God.
To be honest, I still struggle sometimes with it. But it is only for a few minutes. Not the days and weeks that it used to be. Our blessings include an otherwise excellent relationship, 3 wonderful children (all single) and a granddaughter. We have had many, many blessings bestowed upon us. I don’t have any sage advice for you all. All I can say is to work very hard on yourself, stay true to God and find your cross.
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Individuals need to work this out for and with themselves, their spouse and God. Probably every situation, each marriage, is different.
I have wrestled with this at length and come to the conclusion that if there is no change in the relatively near term it’s time (and was probably time long ago) to end the marriage. For background, we’ve been married 35 years. The first 25 were very low frequency (~ 2x/year) and the last 10 have had no physical contact at all. Since late last year we have discussed this a great deal, with no change. There is still a wall of can’t/won’t/don’t between us that starts with “don’t kiss me on the mouth” and goes all the way up from there.
I have come to the conclusion that it’s outright sexual unfaithfulness and that it fundamentally negates me as a person. There was no “…as long as you don’t touch me, kiss me or try to have any kind of sexual contact with me” qualification in our vows, and there are no health or past abuse issues standing in the way.
I don’t know how much healing either of us can grow into at this point, since we’re now in our late 50s. Unwinding all of that history (and I know my mind and spirit has been badly damaged by the pattern that we created together in our marriage – and I’m sure that’s true for my wife as well) will be immensely difficult.
At the end of the day, I know I at least will be much better off without the constant drag of rejection and denial, the expectation that I should live happily literally as a eunuch, and without the unavoidable resentment (I’m sorry, I wrestle with this all the time – but dealing with the resentment is like trying to control the Columbia River: no matter what you do, there’s always a huge new quantity upriver coming at you).
Yes, I agree that it can rise to the level of intentional unfaithfulness. As a culture, we tend to give up too soon, so I’m constantly advocating for people to hang in there. (Especially since I know my own story of hanging in for years and being so glad I did.) But I know that in some situations, a spouse absolutely will not change no matter what you do. In that case, I would seek wise counsel to make sure I was doing the right thing before I walked out. But I get where you’re coming from; I really do.
Praying that something changes in her — I know you married each other for a reason, and I’d love to see your situation redeemed. Blessings!
Thank you for understanding. 🙂 I agree that we are a very impatient culture, focused on what we are owed rather than what we should contribute…focused on having rather than being, buying our way out of problems rather than acting and changing our way out of problems.
I think that Paul speaks part of God’s direction and desire in Phillipians:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
The sexual connection in marriage is so fraught. But it is not open for question, I think, that we were created as sexual beings – we promised each other to relate to each other sexually as well as emotionally, intellectually and in every other way – and unless the married partners both agree that they have chosen to voluntarily relinquish that part of their selves and their relationship, it is very hard, since there’s no other honest, godly way to address that element of who we are.
So…we should press on. I press on. But at some point, I think individuals can reach the conclusion that the relationship has fundamentally departed from its proper, intended scope and after prayer and counseling and a lot of repentant self-examination leave a marriage. 🙁
As a sort of post script (which you may or may not want to edit out, due to some of the recent stuff going on at that blog), I ran across a post several weeks ago that I thought made the point that we should act, not feel, and give, not seek to receive, in our marriages. It’s here: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/04/17/lie-truth-marriage/ [J’s warning: The linked post has a couple of instances of profanity.] If you needed a kick in the backside to get yourself back to work, this is a pretty blunt reminder. 🙂
Replying to my own reply… 😉 One of the things that makes this so hard – and something I don’t think I’ve seen discussed much – is that as a refused spouse it’s really easy to take your focus off what YOU (what I) should be doing and become preoccupied with what your spouse isn’t doing. That’s not what we are called to do and it’s not what makes a marriage work, so I find myself in this loop that starts with “what should I be doing that I’m not doing” and generates some more introspection and love-work but then yields to discouragement and, honestly, blaming…and then the cycle starts again. I really don’t want to do less than God calls us to do, but this area is super-hard (and super-hard to have good conversations about, even when the rest of your conversations really work pretty well). No easy answers…
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