My inbox is filled with questions from spouses telling me about their hardships regarding sexual intimacy in their marriage. I have maybe 100 such emails, and I often feel bad that I cannot get to each and every one. I imagine these individuals finally, painfully telling the details of their concerns and hoping to find some answer that will set them on the right path.
Yet my time is limited, my own marriage and family require attention, and God doesn’t expect any one person to do it all. I’m just one finger, or maybe just a toe, in the Body of Christ. I take heart that even Jesus sometimes turned away from the demands of people to keep His focus on the primary mission: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16).
Since I don’t have the time and resources to answer each of those emails, I want to share six responses that come to mind when reading various stories of marriage bed difficulties. These are for the people who write me to essentially say, “Our marriage bed is a mess.”
I’ll cover three today, and three next week. Perhaps one of these touches on your particular situation.
And, by the way, I’m going to be really candid. No mincing words.
1. You’re married to a selfish jerk.
Sadly, some of you are living with a selfish spouse who dismisses your beliefs, belittles your feelings, and/or thinks your body belongs solely to them to be used as a sexual tool. Perhaps they also pursue sexually sinful practices and expect you to get involved or to look the other way.
If that’s your situation, you have to stand up for you! Set some boundaries. If you don’t know how to do this, go read Boundaries or Boundaries in Marriage by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Then follow through.
If your spouse’s attitude and behavior reaches the level of abuse — verbal, emotional, even physical — you have to stop allowing and enabling that. Even walk away, for your safety and wellbeing. And please no one tell me that suffering through abuse is somehow analogous to Christ suffering on the cross. Jesus allowed Himself to be mistreated then for a specific and higher purpose. But two other times, He escaped people wanting to physically harm Him:
“At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:59).
“Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp” (John 10:39).
A selfish jerk likely won’t change unless you throw a wrench in the gears, meaning you stop playing your part of the system. Instead, calmly oppose mistreatment wherever occurs, to others and to yourself. That’s biblical.
“Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17a).
2. You are the selfish jerk.
Sometimes the spouse who writes me is the selfish one. They complain about how they’re not getting everything they want in the marriage bed and explain how they’ve whined and argued with their “beloved” about how they’ve been mistreated without any progress. Wow, I’m sure that makes you a lot of fun to be around. ?
If you’ve given your spouse the clear impression your only interest in them is getting exactly what you want sexually, why are you surprised they don’t want to sleep with you? If you’re always complaining, often angry, or only touching them to get sex, you’re not an appealing lover. Kevin A. Thompson wrote a great post about this: I Wouldn’t Sleep with You Either.
Your answer is to remember what you did while you were dating, falling in love, first married. Are you doing those things now? What kind of person are you to be around? Do you need to focus on giving your spouse the gift of happiness? Are you making sex all about you? What about your spouse’s needs and desires? Ask yourself some tough questions, and then pray for God’s help and guidance on what you can do to be less selfish and move loving. (I’ll give you a hint: It looks more like Christ.)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus….” (Philippians 2:3-5).
3. You have a poor theology of sex.
Theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” More specifically, it can refer to “religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed” (Oxford Dictionaries). One core part of my ministry is correcting erroneous beliefs about sexual intimacy; that is, throwing out our wrong thinking about sex and replacing it with God’s design for sex in marriage.
Unfortunately, too many Christians still have beliefs about sex that aren’t in line with how God our Creator made sex. And those ideas of what sex really means, how it should practiced in our lives, and what to do when we face challenges impact our marriage beds. What plenty of spouses need is an adjustment in their theology.
So when people write me and say that they heard something was wrong or something was right when it’s really the opposite, I wonder if we shouldn’t simply open our Bibles more and see what our Lord Himself had to say about it all. Of course, some people don’t know where to look, and that’s something I’ve tried to address often. It’s also a problem that our churches and pastors don’t talk enough about sex and marriage. Sometimes what we spread is just off-the-mark, like my recent post for Crosswalk.com on 10 Myths about Sex You Heard in Church.
If this is where you are — not really knowing what part sexual intimacy should play in your marriage — then continue reading my blog and check out other responsible Christian marriage blogs like To Love Honor and Vacuum, OysterBed7, Heaven Made Marriage, The Forgiven Wife, Calm.Healthy.Sexy, Awaken Love, and the like. A part of me would also like to tell you which sources to avoid, but instead I encourage you to study your Bible more so that you will be “be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Also, read books that cover this subject well, like my Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, Sheila Gregoire’s The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and Julie Sibert and Jeffrey Murphy’s The Pursuit of Passion. And listen to my podcast with three other marriage and sex bloggers, Sex Chat for Christian Wives. Get others around you reading and listening these resources so that you have allies. Ask your pastor and/or elders to introduce more resources for married couples. In short, seek truth. I know there are a lot of voices competing for your attention, but truth is out there for those willing to pursue it.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it….” God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day” (Genesis 1:27-28, 31).
I have three more overall answers to many questions I’ve received, which I’ll cover next week.
If you’re one of the readers I haven’t specifically answered, please know that I appreciate you writing me, my heart does go out to you, I wish I could clone myself and do much more, and I’m praying for you and your marriage.
5 thoughts on “Q&A with J: “Our Marriage Bed is a Mess” Part 1”
Thank you for bringing up the issue of abuse and the need to walk away from it.
Also thanks for bringing up boundaries. I suppose walking away from abuse is setting a boundary.
Where did we get the idea that suffering through abuse from your partner was somehow fulfilling God’s will?
I’ve never heard it from the pulpit or any Christian leadership.
Thanks for this post.
I still occasionally lurk J. A few good topics lately. I hope more of your readers will seek professional help, because so many frankly would benefit from it, I know you write about marital intimacy, but for clinicians intimacy issues can cover or uncover deeper marital issues.
Honestly, what bothers me the most about some comments are the well meaning men who write in with their own experiences and expect your target female audience to believe it is helpful, to agree with them or care , uh no, usually not guys, it might be good therapy to you but not usually helpful to the women who wrote the question or the comment….men, she is not your wife…women do not think like we do, they do not even think like each other. So my advice gentlemen is to read/ listen carefully, and take time to process what the question is, what she is really asking or saying, then decide if it is beneficial to them if you should interject your own life experience on a post, where it may not even apply. Or worse, some of you men start some tangential conversation away from the real question. J, I appreciate that you let them comment and some exchange is healthy and good, I just wish more men would reflect carefully before they write. Ask does this just help me? or really help the question and conversation?
J, I am glad you hit on wives as the selfish ones, that is something that has always been a marital and a sexual issue, but I see more of now. I have several husbands who have been or still are the emotionally abused ones in the marriage. Abused men can be even more difficult because they try to hide it from their wives to avoid more pain, or they suffer from severe emotional trauma. Nagging, angry words, venting to him about his manhood, and you ask why he is not interested in sex? Some men on the more emotional scale can have a highly emotional response to a few minutes of angry words (just venting as many wives put it), but I see at least 4 men who have permanent neurological disorders, triggered by the perceived questioning of their core maleness, & their marriage relationship, etc., even having sex again with their own wives, because men can find respect and admiration, validation that used to come from their wives at home, easily at work, or other sources. Women, men can be very resilient but sometimes you can be quite wrong, and maybe he won’t even tell you, because he does not want to hurt you. These can be difficult situations that require much work to save, or better a marriage after.
I hear so many people post he or she won’t go to counseling and I prefer to counsel both spouses, but once one makes that first step, either a husband or a wife comes in my office, often the other will come in because they want to know what they’re spouse is telling me and are fully ready to share their grievances or “side”…whatever works to save a marriage or help make one better.
Move this around if you think parts help a different thread. Sorry for the pseudonyms
It’s so hard to know what the core problems are in someone’s marriage when all you get is a short email. That’s so tough. I’m glad they reach out to you.
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