Tag Archives: mismatched sex drives

How the Sexually Disinterested Spouse Feels

Earlier this week, I shared responses from higher-drive wives asked what they feel about the lack of frequency and/or quality of sex in their marriage. Today, I want to share their responses to a different question.

76 Responses

From a research standpoint, these answers aren’t as useful, because they involve conjecture. While we can express what we’re feeling, it’s more difficult to know what someone else is feeling — unless they tell you.

Even so, the responses are eye-opening and likely accurate. They represent what I’ve researched and heard from sexually disinterested spouses.

Take the vow

Once again, let’s make a promise that:

I will not use this post to feed my resentment or anger, but rather to grieve through my own situation and sympathize with others. Moreover, I will not use this post to challenge or berate my spouse.

I’m sharing all this, in hopes that we will recognize how a big gap in sex drive can take an emotional toll on both the higher drive spouse and the sexually disinterested spouse. Indeed, a mismatch in drives is the #1 sexual problem reported by couples.

A mismatch in drives is the #1 sexual problem reported by couples. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

That gap isn’t a problem if you can negotiate the differences, use the opportunity to display empathy and generosity toward one another, and pursue regular sexual intimacy for your marriage. It may be that one of you gets less than their ideal and the other participates more than their ideal, but couples who’ve worked through the mismatch report overall satisfaction with their sex life.

Where it becomes a problem is when the gap is enough that one feels deprived and the other feels pressured or inadequate, two words that show up in the 45 emotions my respondents named.

Without further ado…

Here’s the list

Question: What primary emotion do you believe your HUSBAND feels knowing that you want higher frequency/quality of sex than he is currently giving?

Accepting

Annoyed

Apathetic

Apologetic

Avoidant

Awkward

Broken

Burdened

Clueless

Disappointed

Discouraged

Emasculated

Empathetic (some)

Exhausted

Failure (like a failure)

Fearful

Frustrated

Guilty

Inadequate

Incompetent

Incredulous

Indifferent

Insecure

Insufficient

Irritated

Justified

Lacking self-confidence

Lost

Moody

Obligated

Oblivious

Overwhelmed

Pitiful

Pressured

Pushed away

Remorseful

Resentful

Resigned

Sad

Shamed

Sorry

Stressed

Tainted (by porn use)

Tested

Unsure

By and large, the most common statement from these higher drives wives was something like “he feels like less of a man.” The emotion named was emasculated. (See A Letter to the Low Drive Husband.)

That’s not what you’d hear about sexually disinterested wives, but the other emotions listed above apply — like burdened, obligated, resentful, and sad.

But aren’t sexually disinterested spouses obligated?

Sometimes a husband or wife (usually husband) writes me with the request that I demand their spouse have sex with them. Because after all, “they’re commanded to do so in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.” I then point out that this passage is about mutuality not selfishness, that their situation is not easy on their spouse either (see emotions list!), and that you get a lot more lovin’ when you approach your spouse with love! Agape love specifically.

We need to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and imagine the situation from that angle.

  • What if having sex made you feel desirable and cherished, but your spouse refused to have it with you?
  • What if you received little pleasure from sex, but your spouse demanded it regularly?
  • What if you became moody and sad during sexual dry spells in your marriage?
  • What if your spouse seemed to only meet your emotional needs when they wanted sex?
  • What if you felt your spouse’s lack of desire indicated that you were “less than” —less than attractive, less than worthy, less than loved?
  • What if you didn’t want sex because of your bad past experiences, but you didn’t know how to tell your spouse?
  • What if…

I don’t know your marriage’s “what if,” but all too often we don’t know for our marriage. We haven’t asked how our spouse feels about the situation. Or we asked, got a shallow answer, and stopped pursuing more. Or we got an answer but didn’t like the answer or didn’t let sink in and elicit empathy.

What’s the solution?

Here’s where my SEO and book sales would go up if I said: YOU CAN SOLVE THE SEXUAL DESIRE GAP IN YOUR MARRIAGE WITH THESE 5 EASY STEPS! And then I outlined the steps and made them sound quick and doable like a Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days commercial. Fortunately — or unfortunately for my pocketbook — I’m much more interested in telling you the truth.

The truth is that the solution depends on:

Your specific situation

Is the sexual disinterest due to relational problems? Medical issues? Past abuse? Something else? Is the HD spouse reasonable in their expectations? Pressuring for unwanted activities? Using porn? Something else?

The specifics of why there’s such a big gap matter. A proper diagnosis is needed for proper treatment.

Your and your spouse’s willingness

One spouse can have great influence and encouragement for a marriage to get on track. But eventually, you both have to be willing to work on your sexual intimacy.

You simply cannot make your spouse do something they don’t want to do. (If you do, that’s called abuse, by the way.) That said, you making changes could push things in the right direction.

Your understanding of God’s design

If you believe myths about sex, you’ll prescribe the wrong solutions and not get anywhere. Or your gains will be short-lived. (See our podcast episodes on Lies Women Believe: Part 1 and Part 2, Myths from Pop Culture.)

With the foundation of the Word of God and the truths about sex as God intended it, however, you can begin to see what a loving response would be to your particular situation. Moreover, you’ll know what you’re aiming for and the benefits of having that level of intimacy with your spouse.

Your resources

Access to necessary or useful resources can make a big difference. For instance, if a sexually disinterested spouse experienced childhood abuse, being able to see a trauma counselor could be the most important piece for building fresh intimacy. Likewise for porn recovery programs, Christian counseling or sex therapy, or a medical specialist to address physical issues.

Many couples don’t require that level of intervention. Rather, they need resources like mine, that help you understand God’s design, communicate more effectively, and experience greater pleasure in your marriage bed. Or they can use my resources to supplement those other interventions.

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For more great tips on how to have sizzling sex, check out this book for wives!

Take the first step

Regardless, the first step is talking to your spouse about the gap in sexual desire. For those who say they’ve talked about it a whole lot already, I suggest you clear the air and start over. That is, tell your spouse you know it’s been a point of contention and the topic makes both of you tense, but you want to start over and really understand their viewpoint better.

And then … do that. Ask questions and spend more time listening than talking. My book, Pillow Talk, can help with that, but you may need to introduce the conversation on your own before getting your spouse on board with going through my (fabulous) book. (You can download a sample here to see and share with your spouse what it’s like.)

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Now that I think about it, maybe your first step should be prayer, followed by opening up that conversation. As I write this, I’m saying a prayer for you — that you can address the big gap in desire in marriage, listen and show empathy, and figure out what the next step should be.

And I pray that that many more couples will begin to describe their sexual gap with emotions like optimistic, hopeful, contented, and loved.

As the sexually disinterested spouse, did you relate to any of this list of emotions? If you’re the higher drive spouse, did any of those emotions surprise you?

How the Sexually Rejected Spouse Feels

Not long ago, I posed a simple question in my higher drive wife group.

Over 100 Responses

The 111 answers I received reveal a lot about how a spouse regularly rejected in marriage feels.

Of course we’re not talking about the occasional no or not-now answers that are entirely reasonable within the course of a marriage! Rather, these are emotions experienced by spouses who see a pattern of sexual refusal or disinterest from their spouse.

Instead of writing a lot about their responses, I simply want to share the list of emotions, in hopes that:

  1. Frustrated, higher drive spouses will recognize they are not alone.
  2. Refusing or gatekeeping spouses (not just lower drive, which is normal) can see how emotional sex is for the HD spouse.

Related posts: Is Sex Disconnected from Love for Men?, Do You Personalize Sexual Rejection?

Take the Vow

One caveat, though: We higher drive spouses will now raise our hands and promise the following:

I will not use this post to feed my resentment or anger, but rather to grieve through my own situation and sympathize with others. Moreover, I will not use this post to challenge or berate my spouse for not giving me sex.

Later this week, I will share what those same HD wives believe their LD husbands feel about their situation. Because a big gap in sex drives affects both spouses emotionally. And it’s important to also consider the feelings our spouse is experiencing.

A big gap in sex drives affects both spouses emotionally. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
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Here’s the List

Question: What primary emotion do you feel as a result of not getting the frequency and/or quality of sex you desire in your marriage?

Adrift

Alone

Angry

Anxious

Apathetic

Ashamed

Betrayed

Bitter

Brokenhearted

Bummed

Cold

Dead inside

Depressed

Desperate

Devastated

Disappointed

Disconnected

Embarrassed

Empty

Fearful

Frustrated

Glum

Grieved

Heartbroken

Helpless

Hopeless

Hurt

Inadequate

Irrelevant

Irritable

Isolated

Jealous (of others)

Lacking confidence

Lonely

Misunderstood

Naïve

Needy

Neglected

Numb

Overbearing

Oversensitive

Pushy

Replaced

Resentful

Resigned

Robbed

Sad

Self-deprecating

Self-doubtful

Selfish

Tearful

Trapped

Ugly

Unaccepted

Undesirable

Undesired

Unimportant

Unloved

Unwanted

Unworthy

Weird

Worried

Don’t Give Up

Those are heavy words to process. But I want to leave off with the encouragement that many couples who’ve been in this place found their way up and out. We hear success stories in that higher drive wife group too, as sexual intimacy in marriages begins to improve with love, intentionality, prayer, and perseverance. The road isn’t always easy, but it’s a path worth taking.

As the higher drive spouse, do you relate to any of these emotions? If you’ve been a reluctant sexual partner in your marriage, did any of these emotions surprise you?

Q&A with J: Should A Higher Drive Spouse Lower Their Expectations?

Today’s question comes from a lower-drive husband (yes, there are many of them!). The husband started his email saying that his wife could have sex almost daily, while he’s fine with once a week or so. They’ve settled on 2-3 times a week, but their mismatch in drives still seems to be a point of contention.

Here’s his question for me:

I’ve been reading through all your posts about high-drive wives, trying to seriously take to heart any advice you have for husbands like myself. I am committed to trying to make things work ….

Your recommendations seem to be that the husband such as myself needs to see her needs and step up my game, and that the wife shouldn’t be ashamed of her desires and needs. Yes, I do see you talk about both spouses trying to meet the other where they are, and find a happy medium where both are satisfied, but that usually appears to be more in the context of significantly differing libidos like 4 times a year versus wanting sex every day. In our case, yes there’s a difference in drive, but it’s not that drastic, and we still have regular, not infrequent sex.

So I guess my question is this—from your perspective, am I in the wrong, or do we need to talk about the possibility of my wife lowering her expectations in regard to frequency? I just feel stuck.

Let’s start here with an important principle: Sex should be mutual in marriage. It should be mutually prioritized, mutually agreed upon, mutually pleasurable, and mutually satisfying. That’s how God designed it, and if any one of those is an issue, the couple should address it.

(If you want specific text proof, head over to 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, which I’ve cited numerous times. And that passage is less about rights than mutuality, by the way. Also, all of Song of Songs.)

But in practice, most marriages have one spouse who wants sex more than the other. Here, it’s a wife, which is more common than many think with 15-30% of marriages having a HD (higher drive) wife. Whoever is higher or lower, though, there will inevitably be times when one spouse wants sex and the other not as much. How do you negotiate that?

Let’s look at some commonly recommended options.

Never Say No?

This advice has been given to wives for I don’t know how long. But usually some well-meaning older lady tells a young fiancee or wife that to keep her husband happy, she should never say no to sex. Meaning whenever the HD spouse wants it—in this case, the man—they get it.

That could mean sex once a week. It could mean sex every day. But whatever the HD spouse desires, that’s what sets the pace of sexual frequency for the marriage.

This approach at least denies the legitimate reasons to say no to sex sometimes. If you don’t feel well, if you need to care for the children at that moment, if you simply can’t see straight because of how tired you are, it should be perfectly fine to take a rain check. Also, “I’d really rather try this tomorrow when I’m more refreshed” is a perfectly reasonable answer.

Saying otherwise makes it seem like one missed chance will sink the whole sex life. But our sexual intimacy is made up of numerous moments within marriage, and sometimes intimacy is even increased by a spouse understanding the other’s current reluctance and passing on a sexual encounter.

So yeah, you should be able to say no sometimes. That’s not depriving your spouse; it’s saying “not now.” Your feelings and desires matter too.

Only when you’re “in the mood”?

On the other hand, plenty say you should never be asked to participate in sex unless and until you are “in the mood.” If you don’t feel like it, you have carte blanche to wave it away without a worry. It’s your right to say no, and say no you will.

Take that viewpoint out of the sex arena for a moment and ask when this is ever a good idea. Your wife wants conversation, but you refuse to talk to her unless you feel the need yourself to discuss something. Your husband wants to save money for a trip, but you spend like a Kardashian until you suddenly feel like shoving a few dollars into the kitty. You both want to move to a house, but you don’t agree where, so you stay in your crappy apartment until one of you feels inspired to surrender. Does that sound like a good marriage?

Look, we do owe something to each other by virtue of saying “I do,” and that includes trying to meet one another’s emotional needs. Since sex is important not primarily as a physical release but as an emotional connection, it should be pursued regularly and generously.

Moreover, we should understand that “sex drive” sounds like your engine is revving before you put it into gear, but that’s not how libido works for many. Some have what has been phrased a “responsive” libido, meaning that you don’t get into it until you’re into it. That is, you can become aroused and enjoy lovemaking, but your desire begins with a decision to engage. Your sexual interest looks like this:

Which means you aren’t going to be “in the mood” until that second stage when your body awakens to arousal and begins to enjoy the experience. Once you know this about your desire, you might be willing to engage more than you originally thought.

Right Down the Middle?

Hopefully, we’ve established that it’s okay to say no, but it’s also good to say yes sometimes when you don’t think you’re in the mood, because you might get in the mood. But this husband asks specifically about frequency, and that’s an overall view of how much sex you should be having in your marriage.

Let’s say she wants sex four times a week, and he wants sex twice a week. Well, the obvious answer is to have sex three times a week, right? It’s a number right down the middle, so everyone should be reasonably happy. That’s a good solution, if you ask me (which you did).

But what if she wants sex four times a week, and he wants it once every three months? That’s a difference of 17 times versus 1, and the middle ground would be 9, or sex every 10 days. Do we think she’s going to feel satisfied with that? Do we even think sex every 10 days is enough in marriage?

Both the Bible and research would say no. To receive the intimacy and health benefits of sex, a couple should be engaging at least once a week.

To receive the intimacy and health benefits of sex, a couple should be engaging at least once a week. #marriage @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Now in reality, if a spouse only wants sex once every three months, or even once a month, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. That’s not typical or good for your marriage, and whatever obstacle is in the way of sexual desire or satisfaction needs to be tackled together.

But you can see how a strict middle-ground approach may not work for all couples either.

Who Gets to Decide?

Having covered some common advice on this topic, let’s get back to the question itself: “From your perspective, am I in the wrong, or do we need to talk about the possibility of my wife lowering her expectations in regard to frequency?” In this scenario, their difference is small, and they’re having regular sex, but she’s still pushing for more.

Should he come up to her expectations? Or should she lower them?

As the higher drive spouse in my marriage, I can honestly say that I’ve lowered my expectations. If I was completely in charge, we’d have sex more often than we do. But I’m not unsatisfied because we also have sex more than we would if my husband was entirely in charge.

Did we negotiate out a specific number of times? Nope. We just discussed what we each wanted, what saying yes or no means to us, and what challenges we had to engaging more frequently. It wasn’t a single conversation either, and I’m not going to pretend that each of those conversations was conflict-free. But we kept communicating, kept making love, kept working on our parts of the equation.

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Indeed, our frequency went up a few months ago, and I mentioned to my husband that his sex drive had apparently increased. His response? “It hasn’t gone up. I’ve just been initiating more because I know what it means to you.” Swoon, right?

What Does Love Do?

When it comes to negotiating sex drive differences, ask this question: What does love do?

When it comes to negotiating sex drive differences, ask this question: What does love do? @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

And not love as in “ooh, I feel heat in my nether regions when you come near!” I’m talking about agape love as described in the Bible:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

What does that look like in practice when it comes to mismatched drives? Well, the HD spouse isn’t self-seeking their own perfect number of times to have sex, easily angered by missed opportunities, or keeping record of all the times they didn’t get any. Instead, they’re patient, kind, protective, hopeful, persevering.

Likewise, the LD spouse isn’t self-seeking their own perfect number of times to have sex, easily angered by their spouse’s higher drive, or dishonoring of their beloved’s emotional need. Instead, they’re kind, joyful, trusting, and hopeful.

Honestly, a lot of advice I’ve given to HD and LD spouses pressuring for what they want in marriage could be summed up like this: HDs, back off. LDs, step up. And that’s really what I’d say to this couple. Yeah, she should lower her expectations a little, especially since he’s stepped up more. Though it’s probably a topic that will continue to be discussed and negotiated through various seasons of their life.

But ultimately, my answer is a question: What does love do? Once you define that, you can figure out how to address the mismatched drives in your marriage.

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

Welcome to my Thursday Q&A…on Saturday. Because Wednesday through Friday were Crazy Town in the Parker office, so I’m two days behind. Anyway, last week, I talked about addressing sexless marriage, or ones in which your libidos are highly mismatched. In that post, I suggested “if you want to make progress in a sexless marriage, you should make every effort to create a safe environment in which your refusing spouse can share and feel validated, loved, and supported.”

But let me go back and clarify something for those of you in the midst of a sexual drought in your marriage due to a refusing spouse: You’re in a terrible spot, and I ache for you. Likely you’ve tried everything you can think of to deal with the sexlessness in your marriage.

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

Some of the things refused spouses have tried:

  • Opening up conversations about sexual intimacy, only to be shut down by their mate
  • Trying to explain their level of desire, only to be accused of being obsessed with sex
  • Expressing their emotional pain, only to have their feelings dismissed by their mate
  • Working harder to meet their spouse’s emotional needs, only to have their own remain unappreciated or unacknowledged
  • Praying for God to take away their libido, only to struggle more with frustration and loneliness
  • Telling a marriage counselor about the sexlessness, only to have the issue tabled or being advised to deal with “more important things” first

It’s all very unfair. And I have no desire to add to the burden you already feel. Literally 100% of my ministry’s mission is to get marriages to embrace God’s design for sex in marriage — which includes frequent, meaningful encounters that satisfy both spouses.

However, here’s the difficulty I face in trying to help marriages like yours:

  1. Your spouse isn’t reading my blog. Refused spouses rarely read up on biblical sexual intimacy until after they’re convicted that something needs to change.
  2. Your spouse probably doesn’t understand the significance of sex. Yes, you’ve told them and they should get it, but what I’ve heard from spouse after spouse who eventually came around is they really, honestly didn’t understand what sex meant for their marriage.
  3. Your spouse is likely reacting from a place of fear or insecurity. It may have nothing to do with you, and it may not even make sense based on their previous willingness to engage, but after talking to formerly refusing spouses, I also believe this to be true. Many spouses put up barriers to engaging in sex or talking about their lack of libido out of self-protection.
  4. Your spouse isn’t likely to change unless and until you do. Whatever else Dr. Phil did or didn’t do, he gave us this gem of a phrase: “How’s that working for you?” Meaning that if what you’ve been doing hasn’t resulted in sufficient progress, it’s time to try something else.

So are you willing to try a different path and see if you can break through? I make no guarantees, but after looking at this issue from every which way I can think of, hearing others’ stories, praying for wisdom, studying the Bible, and culling through relevant research … I believe the place from which change can begin is a renewed bond of trust.

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

If your spouse trusts you, he/she is far more likely to listen to your concerns, express their own fears and insecurities, and be willing to work on sexual intimacy — because they trust that you have their best interests at heart.

Yet when the Bible talks about trust, it primarily focuses on our need to trust God. There are few Bible verses about trusting others, but several actually warn against trusting others:

  • It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans” (Psalm 118:8).
  • Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Psalm 146:3).
  • Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” (Isaiah 2:22).

Based on those verses, I have a lot of nerve suggesting spouses should trust each other. But while we’re often commanded to trust in God, the Bible doesn’t command us to trust but instead to be trustworthy. That is, it’s not “hey, go trust so-and-so” but rather “hey, be someone others can trust”:

  • The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Proverbs 12:22).
  • Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
  • Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).
  • “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (1 Timothy 3:11).

You see, we’re not commanded to trust people willy-nilly. Rather, God thinks it’s reasonable for us to discern whether someone is worthy of our trust.

And I’m going say this one without reservation: If your spouse is refusing sex and unwilling to even discuss the situation, he/she doesn’t trust you.

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

I’m not saying you deserve that! I’m not saying it comes from what you’ve done! It likely doesn’t. But right now, their fear and insecurity are bigger than their trust and willingness to be vulnerable. You’re going to have to build even more trust … by demonstrating (repeatedly) that you’re trustworthy.

How do you convince your refusing spouse that you’re trustworthy?

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

I recently listened to an audiobook titled The Code of Trust, in which a former FBI agent lays out five principles he used to get informants to trust him and share relevant information without payment and sometimes at personal risk. As I listened, I realized that so much of what he recommended coincides with how Jesus showed us to treat others. Here are his five principles, along with a biblical viewpoint of each.

1. Suspend Your Ego. Let go of your own agenda, your own desires, and remind yourself that it’s not about you. If anything, it’s about them. When people believe someone else is pursuing their good, they don’t have to protect and defend themselves so much. They can let down their guard and just communicate. This is tough, because we’re automatically egocentric. We experience everything through our own perception, but if we can let of our egos and really prioritize the other person, it can open up the path for trust.

The Bible says we should “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus said it this way to His apostles, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Later, the apostle Paul adds, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

2. Be Nonjudgmental. No one feels safe to express fears or insecurities when they expect criticism or contempt. Even if what your spouse feels seems utterly ridiculous to you, take it at face value and accept that it’s true for them. It’s not where you want to end up, but it makes sense from their context. Treat them with the same non-judgment you’d like to have for your feelings about sex.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). That doesn’t mean that we don’t use discernment about what’s right and wrong, or we don’t set boundaries, because other scriptures cover that. But it does mean that we don’t approach others with a judgmental attitude.

3. Honor Reason. What the author means here is to stick to reason rather than reaction as you interact. We tend to let our emotions get caught up in an issue as personal as sexual intimacy, and from a place of hurt, it’s easy to lash out — even with something as subtle as body language. (The issue my family has identified for me is vocal tone.) But try not to let emotion rule, and instead focus on listening to your spouse and responding calmly to what they say.

James puts it this way: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20). And from Proverbs 25:28: “Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control” (NRSV).

4. Validate Others. You don’t have to agree with your spouse’s point to validate the person who makes it. Just try to see things from their perspective and figure out why they might have arrived at the conclusion they reached. From the point of putting yourself in their shoes, you can probably validate their thoughts and feelings. Once you recognize where they’re coming from, you can better figure out where to go from here.

There are so many examples of how Christ met people they were. You can read story after story in the Gospels where Jesus tailored his message to the audience he faced, and by validating the person in front of him, He broke through their barriers. See His interaction with the Samaritan Woman and Zacchaeus for examples. The apostle Paul approached people this way as well: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).

5. Be Generous. Give more than you get. I’m not talking about all the stuff you’ve done to help or show love to your spouse (though that’s all well and good), but consider how your spouse could walk away from the conversation feeling they got something out of it, that you gave them something worthwhile. Depending on your circumstances, that could be anything from more time to talk while you listen to a specific promise to follow up with something they desire.

Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Jesus sets a more challenging standard in Luke 6:30-35: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Of course your spouse isn’t your enemy, but when you’re at odds about your sex life, they can feel like an opponent. And surely your spouse deserves as well or better than an enemy anyway.

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Now I don’t expect y’all to head off and start having incredibly effective conversations with your refusing spouse in which everything turns around in a moment. I wish that would happen, but since I choose to live in the Real World (when I’m not living in Crazy Town as referenced above), I don’t want to give false hope.

Rather this is what I’m suggesting: Spend the next week thinking about these principles. Do you agree or disagree with any of these being good for your marriage? Where have you fostered trust and where have you lost trust in your interactions around sexual intimacy? What would it take for your spouse to view you as entirely trustworthy?

If you want to know more about this Code of Trust, you can check out the book or listen to a podcast interview with the author aired on The Art of Manliness. And if you want to know more about trust generally, for heaven’s sake, pick up your Bible! Do your own study and see how Jesus fostered trust with people who came to believe in Him.

Q&A with J: “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!