Actually, I do convey to lower interest spouses that they should have sex with their higher interest mates. I wholeheartedly believe that sex is good for a marriage, a gift from God that expresses and fosters intimacy.
But I have received numerous messages over the years—primarily from men but not entirely—complaining that Christian bloggers, authors, speakers, ministers, and counselors cater to the lower interest spouse, letting them off the hook for their sexual refusal. Why, they ask, don’t we tell their spouse to have sex with them already?! Why is everything on the higher interest spouse to figure it out and draw the lower interest spouse into doing what they should have been doing all along?
I hear the hurt. I know the hurt. But I understand that many tactics to change the situation not only won’t work but can make things worse. Let’s look at six answers to why I won’t just tell your spouse to have sex with you.
1. There’s a reason your spouse won’t have sex with you.
Most spouses are not ill-willed jerks who don’t want their spouse to have the intimacy they deserve. Rather, they genuinely don’t understand its importance and/or have their own hangups. Their obstacles could involve anything from bad teaching, to past sexual harassment or abuse, to relationship strife, to health challenges, and many more.
So just telling them to have sex already would be like telling someone to run a race when they don’t see the point of running or have severe asthma. Wouldn’t it be more effective to resolve the issues keeping them from running and then invite them to race?
2. Pressure can backfire or build resentment.
Those of us in marriage ministry receive heartbreaking emails. Among them are stories from spouses feeling enormous pressure to have sex despite good personal or relationship reasons to hold off. Sex is not a positive for them (right now), and then someone says they have to do it anyway because it’s their biblical duty, or men need sex, or it will keep a spouse from cheating, or whatever.
Let’s go back to my race analogy. When I was a young student in gym class, I struggled to run long distances. Most of the time, teachers and coaches believed the problem was my lack of stamina or poor attitude and simply yelled louder at me to keep running. Turns out, I had mild, undiagnosed asthma. I finished my laps back then, but I hated every one of them and rarely run now.
That can happen to spouses with unresolved issues who schlep themselves to the bedroom anyway. They end up disliking sex even more and resenting the person (spouse) who forced them into that experience. That isn’t the outcome you want, and it could break your whole relationship.Spouses with unresolved issues who schlep themselves to the bedroom anyway…end up disliking sex even more and resenting the person (spouse) who forced them into that experience. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
3. God may be trying to teach you something.
Sometimes, sexual refusal is a natural consequence of the rejected spouse’s actions. For example, some spouses want their mate to play out scenarios seen in porn, or neglect their mate until they want sex, or pursue sex that’s brief or coarse and only for his pleasure, etc.
In such cases, not only is frequency of sex not the real problem, increasing frequency could embolden a spouse to keep hurting their mate. After all, they’re having their cake and eating it too.
Look, I don’t want to enable sin—neither the sin of ongoing sexual rejection nor the mistreatment of one’s spouse to get sex. Which is why I have spent nearly 10 years and millions of words trying to persuade spouses to treat one another well, to work through their problems together, and to find unity, mutual pleasure, and intimacy in the marriage bed.
Perhaps you’re not sinning as egregiously as any of my examples, but this could still be a wake-up call for you and your marriage. Before pointing fingers at our spouse, we should ask what God wants to teach us, and then let him do His work.
4. You’re the one reading my blog.
If my posts focused on telling lower interest spouses they needed to stop withholding and start having sex, I’d get a lot of kudos from certain readers. They would feel affirmed, vindicated, justified.
But how would that ultimately help? Yes, I recognize your hurt, ache for your pain, and have made it clear that sex should be happening in your marriage far more. Yet telling your spouse to just have sex with you isn’t going to resolve your issues, because your spouse isn’t reading my blog.
Many of them won’t read my blog—because it’s been presented as part of a pressure campaign or because they have underlying issues that make them reluctant to read such material. Moreover, it’s unlikely that a blog post from a stranger writing about a topic they don’t want to address will be the epiphany moment that gets them to change.
Meanwhile, you’re reading my blog, and you have more clout with your spouse. (After all, you once convinced them to marry you!) Maybe I can provide insight, encouragement, practical ideas, resources, etc. that help you persuade your beloved, and help you hold on until that breakthrough comes.
5. Duty sex won’t fill your emotional need.
A friend once explained that the longer he goes without sex, the more physical his desire feels. It becomes a raw hunger for his wife that longs to be sated. That’s where a number of rejected spouses are—yearning for physical closeness, a release of tension, and the surge of pleasure.
You’re like a starving person, and any food sounds like a fantastic idea. If offered spam, you’d take it.
But imagine a diet of spam. Every single time you sat down to eat, it was spam. Very soon, you would not be sated. You’d long for something more, something better.
Duty sex is spam. (If you like spam, substitute some other don’t-like-it food into this analogy.) You, your spouse, and your marriage deserve the full menu of sexual intimacy, the one that sates not only your nether regions but your mind, your heart, and your relationship. You may think any sex will satisfy, but it won’t.
And if it satisfies you long-term to use your spouse for sex, then you are not a loving spouse. Scroll back up and read about God wanting to teach you something.
6. I want you to have the sexual intimacy you deserve.
Demanding your spouse have sex with you might get you laid tonight (unlikely, but let’s presume for the sake of argument), but it will undermine the ultimate goal of sex in marriage by God’s design. The sexual intimacy you and your spouse deserve is mutually satisfying and strengthens your unity.The sexual intimacy you and your spouse deserve is mutually satisfying and strengthens your unity. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Again, if you’re in a sexless marriage, please know that I ache for your situation. It’s not good, it’s not right, it’s not sustainable. But because I want the best for you, and your spouse, I’m not going to take the short-term or harsh view of just telling someone who doesn’t want sex to “lie back and think of England.” Rather, I want that person to want sex as God intended, for all of its many benefits and for its own delight.
Marriages do turn around in this area. It happens. Thankfully, I get those emails too!
But it usually isn’t the flip of a switch. Rather, it’s a journey. The path depends on your particular situation, but God wants better for you. I want better for you.
And so, I’ll keep encouraging spouses to prioritize sex, address obstacles in the way, embrace God’s design, and invite one another lovingly into the bedroom, step by step.
51 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Just Tell Your Spouse to Have Sex with You Already”
Because nothing will say love and intimacy like “I’m having sex with you because this blogger on the internet told me I have to.”
(Nothing offensive meant to you in that J. You know I love your writing.)
Exactly! That would be…well, ick. 🙂
It’s been a long and grueling 19 months without sexual intimacy. Talk about a man starving and dying in the desert. Even “duty sex” would be nice at this point. We don’t even touch. There’s like a forcefield between us every time we get within a foot or so of each other that repels her away from me. No kisses, no hugs, no hand holding, no sitting next to each other on the couch. You talk about using a knife and daily stabbing a person in the heart, that daily rejection and ZERO physical touch in a sexless marriage is absolutely destroying my soul. Is this really what God wanted? I don’t think so. Talk about a living hell on earth. Been going through that for years and years now in this so-called covenant relationship.
No, of course that’s not what God wants. Which is why I try to help spouses figure out the WHY of their spouse’s refusal and get through on that. What you describe is not good for anyone. I pray that you find the words of wisdom and opportunity to press the issue in a way that speaks to your wife’s heart as well. Please don’t settle for this, but rather work lovingly to figure out how to restore what has been lost. Blessings!
But what do you do if the why is “I just don’t care, and I’m not going to do anything about it?” You’ve seen numerous comments from me, and after 23ish years, that’s the answer from my husband. Now, as bad as if sounds, I just have to be content with the financial security he brings me. I’ve always been very smart with our money, but, heck, maybe I can find contentment in a new pair of shoes because being flirtatious and giving , and never getting a response, has beat me down.
“When you say you don’t care about it, you’re saying you don’t care about me.” That’s ultimately what your husband needs to understand. And by the way, someone reading this is going to wonder why I didn’t tell all these husbands in the comment thread to be that blunt with their wives; it’s because typically women require more build-up, explanation, and affection to get the point across positively, whereas typically men need us to get to the point already.
You can acknowledge that sex is not important to him and you understand that he feels pressured, but that you’re struggling not to disengage because your completely legitimate emotional need is being ignored. Sometimes men are less able to determine the reasons for their disinterest (they are both biologically wired and taught not to label emotions as women do), so pushing him for the reason may be less effective than telling him you need to go to counseling together and come up with some strategies to negotiate and address the impasse.
Yes, there are still good reasons to be married beyond sex, but you know you’re missing out on the full experience. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. I wish I had substantially better answers, a magic bullet, a Fix Your Spouse’s Sexual Reluctance in 30 Days plan. What I do have it encouragement, hope, tips you can try, and resources like Boundaries I can recommend. Also, I can pray for y’all.
I will always welcome prayers, but between the marriage conferences, and the various christian marriage resources, nothing has worked. I pretty much have followed the advice given. I have read the “Love Languages” and took it seriously that he is an “act of service” guy(his answer to the questions). I have stayed in great shape even running a marathon while having multiple sclerosis for 15 years. I cook, clean, and keep up with the finances for our business but the most I get is a quick thank you and then he is back to working to build the business and his next lecture. He will NOT go to counseling. If I am to be honest, if I thought someone else would be interested in me, I would probably consider leaving once our daughter graduates. I’m tired at feeling like I’m spending my time just trying to get him to engage. I really must be that bad, if he doesn’t even want to try or care that I am hurting so much. Thank goodness, I’m a child of God and I’m good enough for him.
Of course you’re not that bad.
Sometimes I will say that I hear from a husband and wife about how much they do for their spouse and they increase their service and romance and everything else, basically giving the spouse all the perks of marriage, without getting back much for themselves. And I wonder if that’s actually undermining the situation. It’s hard to say in any particular situation, but it’s possible to give a spouse so much that they don’t feel any effort on their part is needed; they already have what they want. Just wondering…
I hear you.
You have an excellent point. However, each and every one of those reasons can also be applied to a husband/wife whose spouse is committing adultery.
Of course, no one would ever try to justify someone committing adultery the way that you appear to justify sexual refusal, even though the same Bible that says don’t commit adultery also says don’t refuse each other. Of course, this is something that I have never heard preached from a pulpit and I doubt I ever will. I have even read writers say that they just don’t believe that God would insist that someone have sex when he/she doesn’t want to, and explicitly say they don’t believe verses that say the opposite.
Let me give you an example. If someone is dying of thirst, and there is only one person who is allowed to give him/her water, telling him/her that the problem is all his/her fault is not helping him/her at all. And telling the denying person that he/she has valid reasons for denying water is only going to exacerbate the problem. Of course, a person will not die from a lack of sex, but a marriage certainly will. Frankly, I am very glad that you were not completely cut off from all sex for over 6 years, like I was, but you have no idea of the pain that is caused by this, and this post is extremely insulting.
There is a good reason that only the refused spouses are reading your blog. A refusing spouse generally does not care how his/her actions are affecting the other spouse and never seeks out any way to improve the marriage. He/she is satisfied with the marriage as it is, and is not going to make any changes. He/she gets to have the appearance and benefits of a happy marriage, while denying the other spouse a basic element of marriage. What you have done is to tell spouses who have been cut off from all sex for years that they are at fault, and they need to make changes. This is after years of being insulted and berated by a refusing spouse. Now they have been told by you that all the fault lies at their feet.
I have been reading your writings for several years, and I have even bought one of your books when I was in my sexless marriage. You used to at least somehow put some responsibility of this issue on the refusing spouse, but now you have justified sexual refusal in marriage.
Yes, if the refuser has only cut off his/her spouse for a few months, lovingly approaching the problem will work, but if it has been years, as in my case, slow conservative treatment of the problem is not appropriate. It is time for emergency surgery! That means the refuser needs to seek all possible treatment to resolve his/her issues to keep the marriage alive, and immediately apologize for his/her continuing, deliberate sin. Then commit to doing whatever it takes to create a real marriage, instead of a joke that insults the institution of marriage.
Let me explain what my refuser said. After 6 years of refusal, I told her that I was very hurt by her actions. She replied that to be married to her, I had to be happy and fulfilled in a marriage where we never had sex again. We are now divorced, and I am just now realizing the depth of her abuse. She had me believing that her physical and verbal abuse was all my fault, and I deserved every bit of it. This article would have given her all the justification that she would have needed to continue to abuse me.
I know you will not publish this comment because it is not agreeing with what you say, but please realize that your article has caused more pain than you will ever know. I know I will never see the day when any sermon says that sexual refusal is just as much of a sin as adultery.
Yes, I will publish this comment. It certainly does speak to the deep hurt a rejected spouse feels, and some refusing spouses have turned around when they realized the depth of the pain they’ve caused their spouse. Perhaps someone will read this and be motivated to heal their marriage before it’s too late.
But let’s take your adultery vs refusal example. From my perspective, it’s the same answer for me in that I don’t just tell people to be faithful in a terrible marriage no matter what. Rather, I tell them to figure out why their marriage is struggling and build a better relationship. Adultery is a sin, but the answer isn’t solely to not stray but to foster a better marriage where you are. As Proverbs 5:15-20 so aptly says:
Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
The father here doesn’t simply instruct his son to avoid temptation but also to foster sexual delight in his own marriage.
Likewise, I’ve flat-out said that ongoing sexual refusal is a sin (read that post here), but I also believe that it’s not enough to tell refusing spouses to have sex, but rather we should help them foster sexual delight in their marriage.
I can tell you from emails our podcast team has received that this is a good approach for many wives who have struggled to want or enjoy sex. When we explain and show them how to heal and/or be engaged, they are far more willing and often discover excitement they previously didn’t think possible.
One more thing: If someone does commit adultery, I think it’s important to ask those questions too. Why did it happen? What can be changed to prevent it from happening again? I reviewed a book a while back from a marriage counselor about healing from infidelity, and this can be a very important part of recovery.
Thank you for your reply. I honestly respect you and admire your efforts to try to gently help refusing wives to make some changes that will help improve their marriages. I am very happy that you have had some success. I do know that just telling someone that he/she is sinning & should stop is usually ineffective. But the truth is that a spouse who refuses sex with the other spouse is saying that it doesn’t matter what God says, they are not going to stop. Yes, they should explore the reasons, but they do need to know that their marriage is dying, and if they want the marriage to continue, they better do something about it immediately!
Your reply has clarified one of your fundamental beliefs for me. I do appreciate you referring me to your entry about sexual refusal in marriage being a sin. You did make it very clear that you believe it is a sin. However, you also said that it did not justify ending a marriage. Specifically, you said, “While I ache terribly for those individuals in this situation, lack of sex alone doesn’t seem to warrant divorce.” I don’t know if this is what you intend, but it appears that you are saying that if a spouse refuses to have sex, and makes it clear that he/she will never change, the refused spouse MUST remain in the sexless marriage forever. If this is what you mean, I do disagree.
I also believe that other sins alone warrant a divorce as well, such as addiction, verbal abuse, and physical abuse. However, there are no commands or examples in the Bible that justify divorce in these situations either. I do not believe that God expects a person to remain in a marriage under these circumstances. Frankly, I believe that a person who continually refuses sex in marriage over a year has broken the marital covenant and adulterated the marriage by injecting celibacy into a relationship where it should not be. And when a refuser has been told of the incredible suffering that person’s actions are causing, yet does nothing, the refused is not required to live in sexual frustration forever.
Also, in your prior post titled, “Does Sex in Marriage Keep You from Cheating,” you very clearly state that if a person commits adultery, it is on that person. The specific quote is, “If you cheat on your spouse, that’s on you. It’s your sin, not theirs.”
However, this post seems to give the refuser a pass to continue the same sin because there may be reasons. Frankly, my personal opinion is if you refuse sex to your spouse, that’s on you. It’s your sin, not theirs. Of course there are reasons, but those reasons need to be addressed and resolved, not used as continual justifications.
I honestly think that any person who is looking online for help with the pain of sexual refusal in marriage is not the type of person who expects a spouse to just have sex all the time. A person who looks for help is probably the type of person who has been researching and praying for help in this area, and this person has been doing this for years. In my case, I prayed for 25 years for God to take away my sex drive, to change me, to change her, or do whatever it took to resolve the problem, yet nothing ever changed.
I put up with all kinds of abuse for the entire 3 decades of marriage, but the one thing that drove me away was sexual refusal. So according to you, I was wrong for ending my “marriage” because that was the only reason for my divorce. I don’t know if this is your intention, but that is my interpretation of what you wrote.
I do think it is good to point out that the refused spouse could be doing something to contribute to the situation. However, I would respectfully ask you to consider writing some kind of disclaimer before telling a refused spouse that it is his/her fault that the refusing spouse is sinning. Maybe you could say, “Of course, your spouse is sinning against you, but your spouse is not here now. Since you are here, I would like to respectfully give you some suggestions that may help the situation.” That would certainly be easier for me to read than just being told that this problem was all my fault. I assure you, I have been blamed ever since my wedding night in 1988 when my ex-wife refused all sex on the honeymoon. Yes, I am finally out, but I lost 3 decades of my sex life because she refused to address the problem.
“That would certainly be easier for me to read than just being told that this problem was all my fault.” If that’s your takeaway, you didn’t read what I wrote. Sorry, but I’ve heard from soooooo many husbands that I should say X, Y, and Z, and if I don’t, it’s not enough. I’m not buying that. I’m here to help marriages and have helped marriages.
As for saying that the refuser is sinning, I’ve said that. I’ll say it again: Their sin of sexual abandonment is on them, not their spouse. But I also believe two wrongs don’t make a right, and sometimes the rejected spouse—the one typically reading my blog—could do something different to help the situation.
Moreover, I have kids, and I would not leave my kids without a father in the home because I’m not getting sex. It would be deeply painful, but I know the stats about kids of divorce, and I just wouldn’t do it. Others can make a different choice. I said what I believe, but I’m not the judge. God is.
May God bless you!
I would be considered the sexual refuser in my marriage. My husband is verbally and emotionally abusive and neglects me unless he wants sex. I can’t just ignore the way he has made me feel and get intimate with him anytime he wants. I do the best I can and I would love more sex. It is so very difficult to be that vulnerable with someone I don’t think cares about me. I feel I am just a convenience for him. He has had affairs over the years and I know that is on him not me. No amount of sex will make him happy. I want the kind of marriage where we are both happy and both want a sexual relationship. He refuses to see how much he hurts me with how he treats me. He wants me to change and submit to him more. It’s a two way street but he’s not willing to see his part in where our relationship is. I’m here reading this blog trying to better understand how I can improve. I’m not staying in this marriage long term, there have been too many lies and too much hurt from him. But I want to make sure that if/when I remarry that I know what a healthy sex life should be like. The refusers aren’t all bad, heartless spouses. We are hurting too. At least some of us are.
Thank you for leaving this comment. I’m so sad to hear what you’ve been through, but it does track with other stories I’ve heard, and it shows why it’s not enough to tell spouses to just have sex. Particularly if/when there are good reasons it’s not happening! God wants us to have sex in marriage, but not merely as a physical act satisfying one person but rather an intimate experience that benefits both spouses and builds the marriage. Sometimes it’s a matter of overcoming obstacles to that and convincing the refusing spouse that this goal is more than possible, but sometimes the goal isn’t possible because the rejected spouse is doing things that erode or destroy true intimacy. Again, I’m sorry for what you’ve been through.
Praying for you and your future! ♥
Don’t have sex with people who don’t want to have sex with you. It’s degrading to you and to them.
Also, don’t be married to people not sexually interested in you. It is a recipe for heartache and disappointment throughout the one life you get.
I pursued marital growth, I basically begged for space to pursue growth and develop a relationship that would be a foundation for a passionate sex life.
Asked, answered with a no.
Graceful exit at some point.
I’m so sorry. That’s a heartbreaking story in your life.
This is the challenge, though: “Also, don’t be married to people not sexually interested in you.” It could be for a season or an obstacle that can be overcome. Plenty of marriages do move from bad to good in this area. So it’s worth doing all you can until you can’t do anymore.
I agree. I am here. I am invested, I am simply doing all that I can (a la Schnarch and Winifred Reilly) to change what I can change in my marriage. Lord knows I have a ton of flaws and I keep working on those. I spent a long time trying to change my wife (who hasn’t) and finally figured out the message is to change me and go from there.
It is very sad at times, but I am far from having the worst marriage on the planet but I know that I am not willing, nor really capable of being completely and unreservedly loving in the face of this denial. I kind of know where the line of demarcation is. I am not going to pretend to be content with a half-hearted spouse. I am not going to browbeat that spouse any longer trying to drag her to the summit.
Her choices for her are legitimate. Mine for me are legitimate. If we can’t make them align in a way that can be satisfying to us both. We are left with some very difficult choices, right?
I hear you and totally understand. My wife and I have both hurt each other during our 26 years of marriage. We have both taken time to do an in-house separation over the past year to work on ourselves, but we haven’t done much of anything to reconcile and work on the marriage itself.
I have struggled big time with the ZERO physical contact of any kind and no sex for 19 months when Physical Touch is my No. 1 Love Language by far. Have told her this several times over the years and especially in the past year-plus, but to no avail.
It hurts and, like you said, if we can’t find a way to align and compromise soon, some very difficult decisions will have to be made.
It’s like the hackneyed phrase in courtroom dramas, “Objection! Asked and answered.”
So, when my spouse tells me, verbally and non-verbally, over and over, that she has no interest in a vibrant, passionate, growing, romantic and sexual relationship, I should just believe her. We have to be completely honest with each other and ourselves about what we’re facing. We tell ourselves a lot of stories (pleasing lies) so that we don’t have to face the hard choices.
Nineteen months seems like an awfully long time, but I don’t know your back story and certainly you don’t want to be cavalier about a 26 year marriage and whether you continue or not. But, are you really facing up to what the situation demands of you? Do you have the courage to weather the storm of confrontation (not saying you don’t, just you have to ask yourself). Do you have the clarity to know precisely what you’re about, and not cave if she’s angry, cries, or whatever (again, don’t know what precipitated the issues so I can’t comment specifically). Are you attached to your principles and vision for you and your life within your marriage or do you calibrate yourself to get manipulate the outcome you want (this was difficult for me).
What do you think would happen if you said, “babe, I am very frustrated with the status quo. I am not telling you what to do, I am not telling you what I am going to do. I just don’t know how long I am willing to continue with this marriage based on how things are going? I am not saying I want a divorce, I am saying where we are, stuck in limbo is agonizing and I don’t want to continue this way indefinitely”?
“So, when my spouse tells me, verbally and non-verbally, over and over, that she has no interest in a vibrant, passionate, growing, romantic and sexual relationship, I should just believe her.” Okay, but WHY???
I really wish I could get these wives at a table somewhere over coffee and ask them questions, woman to woman, to discover what the real issue is. Sometimes, by email or comment, I’ve learned that a gatekeeping wife was abused as a child or raped as an adult or experiences pain during intercourse or feels neglected as a wife or knows her husband looks at porn or hates her own body, etc., and her husband doesn’t even know. In fact, because of his sexual pressure, she feels he isn’t an ally she can trust with that information. Is that fair? No, oftentimes it’s not! Oftentimes, if she told her husband, she’d find more support than she could imagine. But she feels hurt and shame and has simply shut down. I’m trying to reach her. I want to reach her. I wish I could talk to women in every church in America (and beyond) and try to reach her!
I’m only sharing what I’ve learned throughout my ministry, and both sides break my heart: a gatekeeping spouse and a brokenhearted spouse. Seriously, TEARING UP AS I WRITE THIS. And I want desperately to find ways for these two people, who once fell in love and vowed their lives to one another, to embrace what God wants for them. So yeah, refusal cannot continue indefinitely. Rejected spouses shouldn’t settle, but they should ask…WHY.
J. Looking at these comments, have you ever considered having guys send you messages on what sexual refusal means to them and sharing it? You could also do the same with women. It could be the opposite sex has misconceptions on each side of what sex means to that person.
Yes, I’ve done posts like that. For instance: How the Sexually Rejected Spouse Feels and How the Sexually Disinterested Spouse Feels.
I agree with your post J. I do however wonder for those couples in the church if the refused spouse had the blessing to say “see ya” after being forced into a sexless marriage would refusers suddenly start trying to work on why they are saying no? In our case he just doesn’t care. It isn’t a need for him and he would rather put all his time and effort into work. He has literally told me that he doesn’t think it’s an important part of marriage. He will not change. He is aware of how much it hurts me and limits our marriage. He doesn’t care. I am a unique situation because of his life choices. I can leave and stand before God pure but many others can’t. There are many others in worse situations than mine. Would those refusers suddenly wake up if they thought divorce was an option? I know what scripture says but I have a hard to wrapping my brain around what marriage is for many refused spouses. Is this what God wanted? Is this really how he wanted us to deal with refusers? Allowing them to gain the other benefits of marriage without doing what he commanded?
I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through. Your husband should pay attention to your emotional needs and meet them. You obviously know your marriage isn’t all that it could be.
I actually think the answer is not just talking about the sin of refusal and/or stating that divorce is an option for those in long-term refusal marriages. There’s a case to be made for divorce for abandonment (1 Cor 7:15), and some suggest that long-term sexual refusal falls within it. Personally, I haven’t drawn a conclusion on that one, but that’s not my mission anyway. I’m fine leaving that up to the theologians and pastors.
Where I think the church is failing and needs to step up BIG TIME is talking about how God intended regular, mutual sex to be a part of marriage; how couples can deal with temptations, baggage, and relational conflict that interfere with intimacy; and how sex should be given its full due as a connector of husband and wife. Pastors should talk about all the scriptures that analogize God and His people to husband and a wife, so that we recognize that we’re living out a representation of God’s relationship to us! And when we deny our spouse, we are denying blessings He wants to give us.
If we stressed how vital and wonderful and God-honoring sex in marriage is, maybe we wouldn’t have to discuss whether this couple or that one should get divorced. Instead, they’d have the truth and support they needed to embrace godly sexuality.
And that is part of my mission.
I agree. That would be so much better than where we are now. My heart just breaks when you read the pain that comes through some of these comments.
I have actually had a couple pastors stand up and talk about the importance of sex in a marital relationship and how amazing it should be within the marriage boundaries.
Only problem is, if your spouse is sitting next to you during that same sermon and still leaves, justifying their decision to not be sexually active and openly refuse your pleas for intimacy, then you’re just screwed (unfortunately NOT literally).
Jesus spoke about about divorce, talking about how Moses allowed divorce for hardness of heart. Our marriage counselor brought that up a few years ago and that my wife was probably suffering from this.
Years later, I am starting to see the light and am finally realizing that our counselor was correct in how hard my wife’s heart had become.
How frustrating. And yes, each person can decide to listen to the truth or not. I was recently talking with someone about the importance of premarital counseling, and how you can find out at least in that moment how comfortable someone is discussing sexual intimacy. If they aren’t, it’s a yellow flag, an area that should be addressed. This is another thing churches can do—equip engaged couples so that they avoid landmines when they get married.
Praying for you.
What color is the flag when the person DOING the pre-marital counseling isn’t comfortable discussing anything resembling sexual intimacy in marriage and just ignores that entire discussion? And post-marital too for that matter? And believes that even sex in marriage between a husband and wife is, if not evil, is something “of the flesh” and should be severely limited as a sort of slippery slope?
How do we fight “city hall” with the truth when even her church refuses to acknowledge it? And like one of other commenters, Sean I think, I will NEVER hear a sermon about any benefits of sex in any marital “context”. They will pay lip service to this from top to bottom, but support refusal or any gatekeeping or restriction whatsoever a hundred percent and claim it is some sort of twisted, evil, sanctification as more Holy. And not talking about as a fast or something either. You have discussed in other posts that a fast cannot be for life I think.
Does not sound like drunk on your love I think it says in S. of S. to me. I don’t know of any hooch you can get drunk on with half a shot once a month if you are lucky. Much less every 6 months or longer. I don’t care how much of a tee-totaler you are. HA!
You’re right: There are still far too many pastors, counselors, church leaders, and Christians generally unwilling to discuss not only the temptation of sexual sin but the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage. We are called to deliver God’s message to the world. That primary message is the Gospel, but within is all the character of God, including his blessing of physical intimacy between two loving spouses.
When this message has not arrived yet in your church or your specific marriage, it can feel like my statements that this is changing in the Christian world are overly optimistic. But it really is getting better; resources now abound, and more and more pastors and counseling are speaking up and speaking well about this topic.
Still, I ache for those who didn’t get the benefit of this. It can feel like getting a terrible disease, and then years later, the right prevention or even cure is found…but not in time to avoid the hardship you’ve endured. I truly do wish I could snap my fingers, and overnight every Christian everywhere would receive quality teaching and counseling about God’s design for sex.
How awful for you. It is a tragic reality that people don’t recognize what really and truly matters until they can’t rescue the situation.
To your point about all the other benefits of marriage, how easy do you make it for him to maintain the status quo?
It is not petty to examine the ways you go the extra mile to show love and openly express that those are benefits for a spouse that is engaged in a romantic and vibrant marriage with me.
You don’t have to engage by his ROEs if you don’t wish to. Re-examine and you may find that you are doing yourself no favors by making the status quo too comfortable for him while you are agonizing.
Excellent resource for setting down some standards: Boundaries in Marriage by Cloud & Townsend.
I am very very sorry that you are dealing with this situation. Honestly, I believe that “Christian” refusers definitely are banking on the fact that divorce is not an option. Also, I think that sexual refusal is MUCH worse for women than men because they have to hear their female friends complain about how their husbands are chasing them around all the time. So the refused wife is constantly wondering what is wrong with her. I know many people disagree, but a spouse who refuses sex on a regular basis cannot love the other spouse. A person who can see someone else in need, yet do nothing is the opposite of Godly. 1 John 3:17. I really like The Message version of that verse, ” If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.”
I agree with some of what you say, but “a spouse who refuses sex on a regular basis cannot love the other spouse.” I’ve just heard way too many stories at this point from people whose refusal is understandable, due to past sexual abuse or poor self-worth or pain during sex (oftentimes, that their spouse doesn’t even know about!). And many of them simply do not understand the connection of love and sex as they should. In fact, their spouses pressing for sex feels unloving to them. It’s just more complicated at times than many realize, and getting to the core of the problem—diagnosing what’s really wrong—is key to determining what next.
And I have heard countless stories of spouses who claim they love the other, but they just don’t want to have sex. Of course the pain they cause does not matter in the least to them.
How does what you’re saying contradict what I’m saying? BOTH spouses matter.
Could the issue be spouses don’t know how to communicate. What I see is some compare their Marriage to others. The other issue I see is so many expect the Pastor to do it all when it comes to preaching. Why not Churches establish a solid Bible Study for Married Couples. Also I don’t see Married couples getting mentored anymore these days. When I was growing up couples would mentor others. There are so many Marriage Bloggers and it can be confusing because some are talking down to others. Not everyone is raised in the Church and to me some bloggers have down more damaged than good. I believe you do a excellent job.
Thanks, Archie! Yes, I think the contact and interaction in a Bible study or mentoring relationship can be particularly impactful. We need these personal relationships to support our marriages!
So I am the “no desire” spouse in our marriage, but it didnt start out that way. We married as virgins and sex was fun and the intimacy was incredible. I even used to wake him up for sex! But 3 years of verbal and emotional abuse has taken its toll. He would pack a suitcase and accuse me of adultery when he didn’t like the food I cooked, the way I did my hair, or the fact the I was having morning sickness all the time. (Some women have it all day long! That is not laziness, just medical fact.) I have cried until I was sick and then reached a point where I just said I don’t care any more. Now we have what you call “duty sex” because I believe I shouldn’t refuse unless I am too sick or in too much pain. So we average twice a week but I loathe being touched and kissed now. It makes me feel like a prostitute. This last year his behavior has been better. God has been convicting and changing him but unfortunately that doesn’t magically fix things for me. If your spouse has been through trauma it may take a lot of time and patience and work to restore your marriage.
What you’re describing is abuse, and you should not put up with that. I beg you to set some boundaries and/or seek help. Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage? When there’s abuse, sex isn’t the problem, and sex won’t solve the problem. You don’t owe an abuser duty sex.
We have gotten counseling and I do see sincere repentance and change. It was sadly a behavior learned from his parents and a controlling church (or cult) that he grew up with. I don’t know what the rules are for sex in a healing marriage but it hasn’t been easy.
I am so sorry for the abuse you have endured. I understand how horrible it can be. My ExWife did the same kind of thing to me. She would dictate my clothes, my hair, my voice, my sense of humor, and then demand that I do everything she wanted all the time. I really don’t see how I still wanted sex at all, except for the fact that I had a normal sex drive, and marriage was the only moral way to have sex.
This kind of treatment is unacceptable, and no one should be abused in this way. I hope things are improving drastically, and he can see the harm he has done to you. I know that my ExWife never will see the harm she did do me nor care a bit about it.
I’m the lower drive person in my marriage. I have had sex with my husband at least twice weekly, if not more for most of 20+ years of marriage. Recently I have slowed down a little.
So much of the marriage advice I see is that care is only given to the wife as much as she is willing to be a sexual object 24/7. If you are sick or your toddlers have exhausted you one particular day–it doesn’t matter–you need to suck it up and pretend you feel feelings you really do not feel. You are told you should be performing certain sex acts even if they are painful for you. You are told by other Christians you should do things that you don’t find edifying in bed. I have no problems with oral sex—–but the amount of pressure/shaming out there for women that are reticent to do so is absolutely astounding.
We can put out any kind of marriage resource we want–but if the information is skewed it does no good. There is a marriage book out there where a preacher tells wives they should not say no even if their husband is openly hostile towards them. It is a highly recommended book–who knows why.
I can’t know why everyone refuses–but I am sure some of the women out there feel they are not cared for except to the extent they are a sexual object. Not feeling cared for but still expected to be sexual 24/7 is so lonely and emotionally draining for so many women.
Thank you for saying that. It’s consistent with what I hear as well. The pressure out there tends to be for wives (and sometimes LD husbands) to have sex rather than figure out how to enjoy and desire sex more. And that can make a lower drive spouse feel used rather than valued.
I understand how being treated like a sexual object is absolutely horrible, and no one should be treated that way.
Interesting discussion, on a topic that is anything but simplistic, and very emotionally charged. I hope people are benefiting from it; people seem to be. I’ve been at both ends of it: been a husband who couldn’t possibly be more satisfied, and also one who couldn’t possibly be more frustrated. Relationally speaking, sex aside, sometimes both in a single day.
We pretty much both follow the example Paul preaches, of not refusing each other *except by mutual consent*. Unfortunately, the “mutual consent” has sometimes extended into months, even years. The upside is, whenever (or *if* ever) she’s in the mood again — watch out! In a good way, I mean.
I completely agree about duty sex. (And much else you said, like working out the issues behind the refusal. In our case, there are age, health, and past abuse issues to deal with.) I tried duty sex exactly once, many years ago, and had in fact forgotten all about it until reading this. It was no fun, for either of us.
Good blog, as usual. Please do keep us in prayer, we’re both dealing with a lot, re: the parenthetical above with our respective ages, and health.
Thanks, Wayne! Definitely saying a prayer for y’all. Blessings.
Many need to read this, especially men.
I often tell husbands that sex starts outside the bedroom, in your non-sexualy treatment of your wife. Many men don’t understand all the ways non-sexual things can affect the married life.
I enjoyed your article tremendously!
I wrote an article on 20 common marriage problems & solutions that definitely would lead to a sexless, and ‘romance-less’ marriage. I won’t link it here, out of respect, but I’d thought I’d mention it since many other Christian marriage ministries have enjoyed it.
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Not all sexless marriages have ‘refuser’. In our case, no one refused. It was a case of poor communication, letting circumstances overtake our sex and intimate life in general and not seeing the importance of being intentional about it. Both of us developed ingrained habits that became a way of life. Until, after many years, we could no more make love to each other than the man in the moon. It was years of navigating the ‘elephant in the room’, and by ourseves we could never have made the breakthrough. God saw us . The way our breakthrough came about could only have happened through His intervention.
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