Tag Archives: restoring intimacy in marriage

Q&A with J: “How Do We Get Back to Intimacy?”

Today’s question is from a wife who wants greater sexual intimacy with her husband, but they face some pretty big challenges.

My question is how do my husband And I get back intimacy?… I’ve had a hysterectomy so no more kids. We are good with that. Our marriage “broke” 8 weeks after we married due to porn. He didn’t want sex with me anymore and preferred porn and I found dating websites he was signed up too. I was in shock! We obviously had sex again but probably only 10 times in all these years. We’ve done [counseling] on and off. We go to church. We’ve grown in faith. He says I don’t do my “duty” of sex. That makes it awkward to me. But he’s communicating about it with me which is progress. I don’t have those feelings to want him like that, mainly emotionally maybe partially from surgery…. I think the rejection and lies over the years turned me off…. How should I handle this to grow with him?

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As often happens in a struggling sex life, there’s more than one challenge here:

That’s a lot to deal with. But as usual, the way to break through is to take the next step forward, then the next, and then the next.

To the reader, there are good signs here, in that the tenor of the message makes me believe that he has stopped watching porn. You have attended counseling, go to church, and have grown in your faith. These are important steps forward that bode well for laying a better foundation, both for marriage and for sexual intimacy.

The porn needs to stay far, far away. As the question says, “He didn’t want sex with me anymore and preferred porn…” That’s one possible result of persistent porn use — a rewiring of the brain to respond more easily and consistently to imagery than real life stimulation. Many men have reported impotence problems that have stemmed from too much porn watching and self-stimulation.

Rebuilding intimacy after the porn then requires rewiring the brain back to the sensations of physical intimacy with another person. That takes time and intentionality, but those who follow through can expect far better feelings than they ever experienced with porn. Because God’s design for sex contains not only physical pleasure, but emotional and even spiritual highs that perversions of sex cannot provide.

If your husband isn’t aware of how porn has affected his sexual responses, you should do some research with him. Read An Open Letter on Porn from The Gottman InstitutePorn Can’t Deliver What We’re Created For from XXXChurch, The scary effects of pornography: how the 21st century’s acute addiction is rewiring our brains from The Telegraph, and How Porn Changes the Brain from Fight the New Drug. (By the way, three of those articles are from secular sources, so this is not merely a moral claim religious people are making. It’s science that isn’t surprising to Christians because we know God didn’t create us for porn.) By understanding what’s happening, you can then work on rediscovering sexual intimacy slowly and surely through reawakening your senses and physical pleasure.

But now, three things in particular strike me as needing to be addressed.

1. His rejection and lies.

Sex requires trust and vulnerability. If a wife doesn’t feel physically and emotionally safe, it’s difficult to engage. This is why there are so many resources stressing to husbands how important it is to woo your wife, be kind to your wife, protect your wife, and demonstrate love to her. It’s why infidelity is so hard to recover from, because it breaks trust between spouses. And it’s why building a friendship, not just a sex life, is an imperative in marriage.

Ultimately, you have to invest in the relationship, not just the marriage bed. You two need to rebuild trust in your marriage before you can rebuild trust in the bedroom. How that happens exactly is a little hard to say. It will likely require ongoing conversation, quality time together, investing in what’s important to one another, and even more counseling.

You each need an opportunity to express what would make you feel loved and safe, and then each spouse should pursue making that happen. As much as they can. Of course, your requests need to remain reasonable, but we should be pursuing the good of one another throughout marriage.

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (1 Corinthians 5:15).

2. She has a low libido.

Maybe it’s because of his rejection and lies, maybe it’s partly a result of your hysterectomy, maybe it’s just your set-point. I’m not sure why, but the lack of libido may need to be addressed. I can give you a lot of suggestions, because I do know them, but I have some really fabulous friends who specialize in helping women with low libido. So check out:

Bonny Burns at OysterBed7, who also has a workbook you can go through

Chris Taylor at The Forgiven Wife

Sheila Gregoire’s excellent Boost Your Libido course

It could be that dealing with the relationship issues reawakens your libido. However, many women who experience a prolonged time of not being sexual require purposeful effort to get their libido going again.

Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (Song of Songs 2:7) — and then awaken it!

3. He’s pressuring her for “duty sex.”

So look, I believe that we are obligated to have sex in marriage. Strictly speaking, it’s a bit of a duty. But you know what? “I just love having duty sex with my spouse,” said no one ever.

'I just love having duty sex with my spouse,' said no one ever. #marriage Click To Tweet

We sometimes cite 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 to back up the notion that your spouse owes you sex, but if you really read the passage and let it sink in, you’ll see how it stresses the mutuality of sexual intimacy in marriage:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

If I were in your shoes, I’d turn that around with my husband and ask how he’d feel if I told him he was duty-bound to converse with me, to take me out on a date, to give me extended foreplay — that he owed me. While there’s some truth to that, would it make him excited to engage in those activities? Wouldn’t a different appeal work better?

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7).

Explain to your husband that you want sex to be for both of you, and focusing entirely on what he gets out of it discourages the trust and intimacy you need in your marriage bed. And believe it for yourself. See Sex Is for You Too! by Sheila Wray Gregoire and Dear Wife, You Deserve a Great Sex Life Too from Calm.Healthy.Sexy.

Does this mean you then turn him down every time? No, of course not. You do need to rebuild sexual intimacy in your marriage, but stress the need for mutual pleasure and connection. Explain that you’ll be more excited about sex with him if/when he prioritizes your experience too. And let him know what you want in bed. That can help your husband feel that you’re a willing — or even eager — partner, but you deserve to be considered in the encounter as well.

As usual, I could say more, but this post is already really long. And there’s a lot of reading material in all those links!

One final thing: I strongly suggest that you grab my devotional book, Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage. And not just because the ebook happens to be on sale right now for $2.99. Rather, it’s a helpful resource in guiding you through what God says about sexual intimacy in His Word and how to align your thinking and your actions with His design for the marriage bed. Although aimed at wives, some couples have gone through the devotionals together and say they have prompted great conversations. Maybe your husband would go through Intimacy Revealed with you.

Intimacy Revealed Sale Ad

Q&A with J: “We Exist Like Roommates”

Today’s question fills me with a heavy sadness. Yet I know this wife isn’t the only one with this kind of marriage.

I’ve been married for almost 10 years. It’s been rocky for 8. We have two beautiful children and love Jesus and we both want things to be better but almost don’t know where to start. We are at a place where we exist like roommates. It makes me so sad. I can’t remember the last time we had sex or even kissed. I still have hope though. As dumb as it sounds I don’t even know how to get “us” back. Please help. Or give me tips. I know we can’t be the only couple who has been stuck like this.

Q&A with J: "We Exist Like Roommates"

How does a marriage reach this point? Some marriages simply drift, as spouses pursue different paths and their romance and relationship are neglected. Others experience deep conflict for years, until the spouses are so weary they stop fighting and move to a silent stalemate.

But when we vow to love, cherish, and honor our spouse “till death do us part,” we don’t imagine a lifetime of sharing quarters like roommates. We want more.

How do you turn things around? How can you discover, or rediscover, that passion and intimacy you desire?

Do you both want to work on it? What happens next depends somewhat on whether you’re both on board with the plan. If you sit down with your husband, explain how you want greater closeness and passion in your relationship, and he agrees that things need to change, you have more to work with. The two of you can then talk about what you both want, what would make each of you feel more loved and happier in the relationship, and even pursue marriage counseling if needed.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Please don’t make conversations like this a complaint-fest about the past. Just trust me based on my hard-learned lessons: This is a sure way to escalate unhappiness, defensiveness, and conflict.

You can appeal to the past for things that worked well and ask about reintroducing them. You can talk about how you see your future. You can point out what the Bible says about marriage and how God wants His dear children to have loving relationships and deep intimacy. Lay out what you long to have for your marriage and the benefits you, your children, your church, and your community will reap when you nurture that covenant bond.

Whether he’s on board or less eager, make an effort to . . . 

Renew your courtship. Remember when you first met and flirted and spent time together and anticipated seeing one another and shared those initial kisses? You started at zero and revved things all the way up to marriage before — why not do it again?

I recently listened to a replay of an interview with Willard Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs on Homeword with Jim Burns, and he made the point that four of the top ten needs in marriage are most important to continue throughout he marriage:  Conversation, Recreational Companionship, Affection, and Sexual Fulfillment. With the exception of sex, you get all of the others when you simply date your spouse.

That’s a great place to start: Asking your spouse out on a date. You don’t need to announce it like that. Consider what you used to do together or what your hubby loves doing, and then make plans to do just that. Be willing to try new things — some marriages have been strengthened by her learning to fish or him going to a craft convention. It’s not only about the activity, but finding ways to spend more time with your spouse and remember what you enjoy about one another.

Renewing that courtship brings positivity to the relationship and makes the little things around the house or even some big things around the house fade to the background while you get to know one another again. This isn’t the time to discuss big issues between you, but rather court one another and enjoy time together to refresh your romantic feelings.

One more thing about this: If some habit of your spouse drives you nuts while you’re out together, plan around it to making the date experience work for you. For instance, my husband holds the World Record for how long it takes to pick out a light bulb at Lowe’s. True(ish) story. Point being that he is a super-slow shopper, and this impatient wife used to get a bit unnerved during our shopping excursions — until I downloaded a crossword puzzle app onto my phone, and now while he’s taking his sweet time I step off the side and enjoy a word game. Everyone leaves happier.

Even if he’s not on board . . . 

Shower him with love. We live in a culture that promotes falling into passionate, can’t-live-with-you love before even considering marriage. But having spent quite a bit of time in Scripture studying the topic, that’s not what the Bible says about good marriages. Couples came together in marriage for all kinds of reasons, but God’s prescription for a healthy relationship is showering one another with love — the sort of love described in 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:21-33, and Song of Songs.

Head to the Bible for inspiration on what active love looks like. Memorize some of the “one another” scriptures and pray for help in living those out. Remember the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Learn how to speak your husband’s love language. Many talk about “unconditional love,” but the phrase I’ve adopted that helps me to know what this looks like is extravagant love. When you feel that extravagant love from someone else (the kind of love Jesus showed for us), it draws you in.

Honestly, of everything I tried, the daily work of extravagant love made the biggest difference in restoring my own marriage.

A lot has been made recently about husbands needing respect more than love, and I agree. To many men, they flat-out won’t feel your love if they don’t feel your respect, your admiration, your support. So make sure that “love” you show includes respect for the man God made him to be — whether he’s there yet or not.

Initiate sexual intimacy. If you’ve been physically disconnected, start slow — with small touches, hand-holding, hugs, soft kisses. But at some point, you want the whole dance of marriage — including some mattress mambo.

I could give you all kinds of ways to make hints and set up your bedroom and work yourself slowly back into lovemaking. However, if you and your husband invest more in your friendship, your courtship, and extravagant love, you’ll likely both have interest in getting back into that groove. Guys are notoriously in favor of straight talk, so just tell him: I want to make love.

You can say it in all kinds of ways — using euphemisms, body language, etc. — but make sure you’re straightforward so he can’t play does-she-or-doesn’t-she in his mind. Odds are he’s missed that aspect of your marriage too, but if that remains a problem, check out a bunch of my other posts or sit down with a Christian marriage counselor to work on deepening your intimacy.

It’s ambitious to hope that a 1200-word post will help you move from roommate status to that thrilling so-in-love feeling you long to have with your husband. Yet I believe this is a start. Blessings to your marriage and other struggling with this situation.